By day, Sheg Aranmolate is finishing his medical degree at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. By night, he has written two books — the latter of which, a novel entitled Bountiful Famine, recently was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
We recently asked the native Nigerian, who graduated from UMBC in 2005 with a bachelor’s in biochemistry and molecular biology, and 2006 with a master’s in applied molecular biology, a few questions about his UMBC experiences and what it’s like juggling a writing career with the challenges of medical school.
Q: Can you tell us a little about how you found out about the IMPAC nomination, and what it means to you?
A: I would love to say that I was working down the street one day and I saw a billboard ad informing me of my nomination or that I overheard my nomination on the radio as I was driving to the gym. However, I must confess that I actually found out about my nomination for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary award via an email that was forwarded to me from my publisher. My excitement and gratitude to be nominated for one of the world’s richest and most prestigious literary awards is beyond words. The IMPAC award is similar to the Grammy’s for music and the Oscar’s for film, and because nominees for the award are selected by librarians all over the globe, and more amazing to be one of the youngest authors at age 29 (John McGregor was 26 when nominated in 2002) and for my debut novel to be nominated for this award, all I can say is that I’m very grateful and thrilled about the possibly of winning the 100,000.00 euro prize. On a psychological point of view, being the only Nigerian on the list and having being selected by a library in Czech Republic, the nomination as boosted my confidence as a writer and further compelled me to write more novels in the future. I can now say with pride (not the malignant type of pride) that I’m an award nominated novelist and perhaps internationally recognized.
Q: How do you balance your creative life with the busy life of a medical student?
A: I personally believe that every one of us is creative in one way or the other, and I further believe that creativity should be a way of life and that being said, it should come as easy as, say, tying your shoes or brushing your teeth, well that’s if you like brushing your teeth. On a serious note, I see creativity and imagining as a way for me to escape the sometimes harsh realities of the world that we live in. As a result, at time when I get stressed out as a medical student or overwhelmed by the suffering of patients’ in my care, I use writing, sketching, painting or photography as an outlet to relieve stress.
Q: What, in particular, inspired you to write Bountiful Famine?
A: This is a very interesting question because growing up as a child, I don’t want to say that I had some type of dyslexia, but I was always a slow reader as a child or maybe I just never developed reading quickly. I used to imagine a lot of things that I saw and so I would imagine my own stories and imagined how books ended from the cover. But then, I was fortunate enough to be on a television show called Oprah’s Big Give, which was a national television show where she selected 10 people from around the country to make a difference in the communities and to show the power of giving and philanthropy. I was 23 when I was picked for that show and I saw that as a platform for me to inspire others. I have always had the zeal to inspire people and so after that the show, I wrote my first book iACTUATE — a book on my personal philosophies about life. After the publication of my first book, I came to realize that story telling is a better way to inspire people because they get to paint a picture for themselves rather than having the author tell them what to do or how to think. This, I must say, is the main reason why I wrote Bountiful Famine. It was a way for me to show some of my experiences and to show people that pain and suffering are universal to every human being and to show that love exists even in the worse conditions; humanity still prevails even when society fails.
Q: What activities did you participate in at UMBC? Do you feel like your UMBC experience helped you achieve your writing and academic goals? If so, how?
A: One thing that I can proudly say is that I participated in several activities while in UMBC and these activities greatly and positively shaped me to the man that I am today. Does this sound too cliché? Humor aside! While I was in UMBC, I worked as Maintenance Assistant and also as a Residential Assistant for the Residential Life. During my tenure, I learned the importance of hard work, and the values of professionalism and integrity. I also learned to become a more compassionate leader towards the residents that were under my watch. I worked for 3 years in research under the guidance of Dr. Bieberich in the Department of Biology at UMBC, where I learned the basics of research science and the importance and impact of cancer on our society. I was a part-time (unpaid) writer for the Retriever Weekly newspaper, where I pioneered a biweekly column on fitness, wellness and inspiration – famously or perhaps infamously titled “The Fitness Guru.” This was the inception of my aspirations to become a writer because I saw firsthand how my words acted as a powerful tool that inspired many of my readers to change for the better. On a lighter note, I was UMBC’s Homecoming Prince for the year of 2004, I believe, and I remember vividly the excitement that I felt when I was crowned and when I received the $75.00 gift card to Arundel Mills mall for a shopping spree. This was an oh, so, prestigious recognition, you have no idea. I have many other activities that I participated in while at UMBC and due to space limitation and because I don’t want to bore with every single detail, I will refrain for now and spare you the agony (just kidding). Overall, I must say that UMBC was great to me, and as an international student from Nigeria, UMBC was more that I could have asked for from an institution for higher learning – it was a place where young boys and girls were turned into young men and women respectively.
Q: What’s next for you as a writer? And what are your goals for after med school?
A: As far as my writing career goes, I’m currently jotting down some super-fresh ideas, I mean very super fresh ideas, for a new psychological thriller plot and I’m flirting with the idea of writing another novel in the near future. From a medicine standpoint, I presently have a keen interest in surgery because like writing, surgery employs the use of the surgeon’s imagination and also because of the subtle differences between humans, no two surgeries are the same. My overall goal and plan in medicine is to use my skills and knowledge to make the world a better place for generations to come. Perhaps, I might conduct some missionary-type trips to under-developed regions in the world and maybe even get involved with international NGO’s. I like to keep an open mind and let the ever changing world to be beacon to my future accomplishments.