You know, there is always the question of asking yourself if you are ever going to be a best seller in your lifetime. These days, those are the questions that I find myself asking each time I start writing a story. The question started simply enough. A very young child came to my house and we started chatting. He wanted to know why I was hunched over my computer almost all the time he was in the living room. I blinked and tried to focus on the young man. He noted that most times he called to say hello to my children, he invariably found me typing. I took a deep breath and wondered if I should do one of two things.
You know look down my nose at him and reply in a pitying voice on how he has missed the true calling of the writer and tell him he was not likely to understand what writing meant to me, yeah, I am still broke and I am not sure if I can claim that I have sold my book in thousands never mind millions. What? No, I am not about to discuss my despair either. Hey!, I mean my despair that I am never going to finish writing all I have to write. I never have enough time and the stranger thing is, I have had days that I sit by the computer and the stories just goes on in my head and the computer remains blank. That is really frightening when I wonder if all this is going to be worthwhile. I am not trying to change the world neither am I likely going to change my immediate community, unless I wish to be a liar.
That is another thing, my neice doesn’t think I work anyway. She came over to spend the holidays when I was part of a television series on teenage reproductive issues. She had liked me and was enthusiastic about the series, I NEED TO KNOW. She read the stories every night, staying up all night sometimes. I was preening and waiting for the commendations to flow in. She looked up and I saw real bewilderment on her face.
“seriously auntie, I have never met all these people you talk about in your story, you are just forming them up right?”
“You mean like I am making them up”? I asked her slowly puzzled at what she was implying. Here, let me insert a warning: We are writing Nigerian English and my friends across the pond may have to hold on for a translation later.
My niece nodded and I smiled, “Yes of course , that is what is called fiction, the situations are real though”.
“You mean Ikechukwu is not real?”
“No my dear, the young boy that acts the part is real but that is just his television name”.
“Hmmm, very easy job Auntie, just sit down, dream up stories about people and you get paid for having fun”.
I stared at her, opened my mouth to explain what enter- educate drama is all about and clammed shut as she stared askance at me. She commented that she envied my job and wondered why I had not become a millionaire at the very least. She said she might one day take up my job.
That was years ago, the juice train left and I stared into the hard glare of straining to make two tired ropes stay glued. Digital television, internet radio and programmes took me to hunger street and I needed to look at dim areas of my creative mind to quell the noise of my growling belly.
I have been writing since I can remember the meaning of pain, hunger, dreams and a compulsive need to talk to persons I have never met. My imagination wakes me up every dawn as the sun dips her fingers on my hopes and gives me a taste of its promise. I have like a thousand stories, impatiently jostling for attention. Men I know so well in my head, conversations that seem unending, situations crop up and I ponder on their solutions. An urgent need to tap a shoulder and start a conversation.
I am doing one right now right? Were you interested? Oh well, you got this far. That must count for something. But you see, a new fear is peeping at me. How much time do I have?
Will I ever write a best seller? Sometimes I picture a vast field, the sun is setting, the players are all gone, I am staring at the lonely abandoned ball in the field, the stands are silent and a lone figure walks onto the field, he touches the ball and hears in his soul the roar of his dreams and he makes a lob into the far end of the field. The sun yawns and calls me over.
I will see you soon my friend.
I have something interesting to share with you this week. I do look forward to doing so for a few more weeks with some of the most interesting minds I came across during our recent convention. Remember I had promised to let you know what happened at this convention. I very rarely attend convention as there seemed to be more politics attached to the hosting than the event itself, but I felt this was different. It was going to be a gathering of creative minds and I looked forward to the event. Happily for me the author I had threatened to scalp for his less than admirable portrayal of womanhood did not attend. So I enjoyed myself and tried to ask a few questions around. It was like feeling my way around. The attendance was in the hundreds and there was some sort of mini book fair as publishers came to display the books of their authors. In the package given to us was a collection of poetry and I came across this one.
The Blithesome Butterfly Adder
Like the rainbow in its effulgence
You glistened into the horizon of my existence,
Your dazzling colours enrapturing my unwary soul.
Like the butterfly in its splendour
You fluttered with zest and zeal.
Your serrated wings a galaxy of beauty.
Like the rich new wine
You galloped gingerly down the goblet.
With your aroma, you compelled even the celibate appetite.
I reached out in my thirst for a satisfying drink.
Oh, what hemlock!
Like the gaboon viper
You patiently laid ambush and with avarice
You feasted on my helpless heels
Even when not provoked.
Ensconced in the bowel of the forest,
You dug your garish gash with uncommon adroitness
into the innocent tree, intent on felling it.
With feigned fervour, you ran through the streets
bemoaning the fate of the same tree.
I leap in joy for freedom,
Inured as I now am, the gash can go no deeper.
I cry in pain for your numb captives,
held in slumber and stupor by your practised pretence.
So I went looking for the poet, here is what happened.
Please tell us a bit about yourself
1. My name is Oluchi J. IGILI. I’m a female Nigerian author and a dramatist both by training and engagement. I’m currently a university teacher where my duties include instructing students both in the theory and practice of drama/theatre. I ventured, if you like, into writing because I find it as a veritable window of opportunity to express myself, my thoughts and my concerns about the world in which I live. In this regard, I share my thoughts through poetry, drama and prose fiction.
Nigerian authors seem to be very much in the background as far as international aweeness is concerned, is that a true assessment?
2. To say anything about one’s country except that which paints her in glowing colours would, ordinarily, be politically incorrect. But I think it is patriotic to admit that Nigerian authors are lagging behind in terms of awareness of what is going on on the international scene. To a very large extent, only Nigerian authors in the Diaspora have a good grasp of what obtains on the international front and in consequence, they enjoy a lot of international recognition. That is not to say that Nigerian authors living within the country cannot hold their own in terms of their creative prowess. What it simply means is that the writers in Diaspora are privileged to be to enjoy many opportunities not yet available to Nigerian authors living and writing in the country.
Your poem is striking as it suggests a deeper level of human experience. What genre of writing do you subscribe to?
3. I engage in any form of creative writing (poetry, drama or prose) that enables me to give expression to my innermost concerns for my society. Another way to put it is to say that I subscribe to any literary genre that has a clearly discernible commitment to issues that affect humanity. Without any equivocation whatsoever, I belong to that school of thought that says, art, whether it is literary art or any other form of art, should be placed at the service of humanity. Art should not be an architectural masterpiece which lacks utilitarian value. Art for art’s sake? Not for me.
At the recently concluded convention of the association of Nigerian authors, there was a move to bring the female authors together, what do you think informed such a drive?
4. Yes, I am aware of that move to bring Nigerian female authors together. Nigerian female writers are making the effort to come together under one umbrella or the other. One of such platforms is the Association of Nigerian Female Authors (ANFA) among others. The reason for this, I believe, is not far-fetched. The female Nigerian writer needs to be more visible and the best way to achieve this is to have a platform from which to seek both to be seen and heard. As much as I know that some of our male counterparts are sympathetic enough (I use that word deliberately), one can also understand that they are not too prepared to yield much space to the female writer. So, there is the need for Nigerian female writers to come together and create a strong visible image for themselves. If we fail to blow our trumpets, like they say, we should not expect any body to do that for us. And the time to do that is now.
As a published author, what has been your experience?
5. There are a number of challenges which I believe are common to writers in my clime. There is the problem of a continuously dwindling reading culture which has been worsened in recent years by a barrage of technological devices that have made reading very unappealing. Whereas in the past people spent their leisure times on reading, technological devices have provided ready alternatives that are a lot less intellectually tasking. It does not take much intellectual muscle to sit down in front of a TV screen to watch a movie or soap.
Another issue which published authors have to grapple with here is piracy which has made writing to be a non lucrative enterprise.
Tell us about your published book and how we can get a copy
6. My most recent literary out puts are a short story in Tales From the Sun and poems in One Poem, Fifty Seasons: A Collection of Poems in Honour of Sola Owonibi and they are available in leading bookshops. A collection of short stories is right now in the quarry.
Share a typical day with us
7. My typical day is basically the same as that of any serious minded wife, mother, public servant, responsible citizen and committed Christian, all rolled into one, who must also find time to put pen to paper and give vent to the creative impulse.
What do you see as the Nigerian literary scene?
8. The Nigerian literary scene has a lot of issues/problems to contend with. It seems to me that there are too many ‘writers’ who should have no business writing. In short, there are too many sub standard, poorly written works on the Nigerian literary scene. That is not to say that there are no good books any more but the not-too-good ones have become rather common place. Self publishing is another monster on the Nigerian literary scene. Many Nigerian writers do not see why they should submit their manuscripts to established publishing houses for thorough vetting. On the other hand, well known publishing houses also have the reputation of ripping off writers particularly upcoming writers. These are some of the problems the Nigerian literary scene is contending with.
I have had to convert my English from my Nigerian roots to what my publisher says will be internationally accepted format, have had such an experience?
9. Nigerian writers are no doubt faced with the challenge of writing a ‘brand’ of English language that must of necessity retain the flavour and nuances of native Nigerian languages in which they think and from which they draw their thoughts and passing same across in an acceptable format to international readers. So the challenge is about how to strike a balance between reaching the Nigerian reader for whom the Nigerian writer writes primarily and at the same time achieve international acceptability. This is not a particularly easy line to toe.
Talk to us about our reading culture and predict what may be possible in the next five years.
10. The reading culture of the average Nigerian is whittling daily, no thanks to technology such as television, telephone and other social media. Except something definite is done deliberately and urgently, the future is really bleak in this regard.
Finally what lessons or insights did the recently concluded convention offer you as an author?
11. One take home for me from the recently concluded convention of the Association of Nigeria Authors is the undeniable role of the literary artist in nation building. As noted by the keynote speaker, Prof. Toyin Falola, creative writers must connect text and imagination with policies and politics. In other words, the Nigerian creative writer must be actively involved in nation building because he has a lot to offer. This again tells us that art for art’s sake has no place in the Nigerian cum African literary landscape.
Thank you for chatting with us
Thank you for sparing time for this interaction.