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I have something interesting to share with you this week. I do me melook 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.

Where am I headed?

Where am I headed?
You know sometimes, that question becomes so intense for me that I practically feel ill. I dread asking myself that question. I came across a writer recently at our monthly literary gatherings and what might pass for open mic sessions. I am usually the moderator for this literary stampede and it is an experience I enjoy very much. I still do. I always feel a sense of awe meeting these authors and poets. Over time I had observed a pattern. Most of the guest authors also like me write poetry. It is not a general thing but in recent weeks, I had come across such . Our very recent gathering gave me nightmares. No.. don’t get me wrong, the experience was exciting, felt humble to meet such quiet great authors and poets, but it left me with the urgent question I asked as the title of the piece.
It is an irony of authors to think they possess the original thought. You know assumed that idea came to them first. Is there an original thought? Can an Author claim originality? These questions tend to keep me tossing and it generally ends up in some really artistic nightmares I can tell you. I remember asking my chief editor if he wants to have second thoughts when I learned from the site that they were into sci-fi, and such stuff that had no relation to my everyday experience. I am very indifferent to technology and am intrigued by science. I never really grasped it . I could therefore never think of writing in the past about osmosis not to even think of present day atomic/nuclear science and my friends write about esoteric science.
Okay, I heard you groan asking yourself what you were doing here reading this. But I am not apologizing you know, you wandered in here and now I have you by the throat, I am going to moan all I want. So there!. Hey!, where are you headed? I have not finished moaning. So where am I headed? Everybody writes beautifully about sci-fi, and I can at best talk about my tradition and culture. I feel frustrated that I can’t talk about African Sci-fi.
I don’t feel like writing about magic, because we really do not call it magic but asimple way of existence that even our professors are sometimes hard pressed explaining. See?
A friend of mine from the other side of the pond yawned , gave a supercilious smile and in his most condescending manner, said I was quite exotic. Very interesting I thought, and wondered which part of his anatomy will bear the brunt of my anger. Exotic eh? Which part of sci-fi will explain the brand of technology that helps you call back a son from the farm by simply holding your palm to the air and ask the son to fetch an item from the farm to bring it home because you had forgotten it at the farm? Magic? No.
Those were the things I had fun talking about in my book Numen Yeye. The things we do with the ease of a yawn and is translated as some ritual. But where am I headed was the question right? So okay at the monthly open Mic, I listened enraptured to pieces of poetry in my local language that defended womanhood. The lesitners were quiet after one reading and a young man asked a timid question, asking the lady poet why she wrote the poems in own language.
Her answers were poetry in motion. She asked nay challenged us to render our thoughts in our native tongue and show pride in who we are. I groaned inwardly as the words came to me..”Another one comes to the surface again”. Blast, I complained inwardly, “I am as black as I can be and happy to be one, I make no apology for who and what I am but I am darned if I am going to allow someone tell me the colour of my hopes”. My face must have been expressive of my inner turmoil, because my chairman asked me if I wanted to make a comment. It was like walking on eggshells as I cleared my voice, told an angry Numen to let me speak. She was angrier than me by the way. I never told you that she has developed this irritating habit of going everywhere with me, since her story came out in Numen Yeye. Anyway…. ahem .. I gave a slow look and in what I hoped was a calm voice opened my mouth.
“what you have said ma’am is very beautiful sentiment, we all should speak only in our language. I have followed the experiment that we should teach our children all the subjects in our language but let us remember a few things while we are about it, we asked for independence from our Masters in the political sense and must earn the independence in other aspects from the rest of the world. It is not going to be easy but do take a look around, our children no longer even speak English but a language that is not recognizable by any country because the English do not speak it either. At best they may call it Nigerian English, (my editor had problem with my English for heaven’s sake I groaned inwardly) but is best understood as the “now Englis” (no it is not a typo).”
I still had an audience and took courage by stating that, the average Nigerian wants an identity of being part of civilization and it is thus difficult for him to resist the need to be more American than the the American or British. We have lost an understanding of our roots, our culture, our tradition and are trying to put a shamed distance from where we came from but do not really know where we are headed. I think that was when those awful nightmares started. I have been asking myself plaintively since…Where am I headed?

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