Tag Archives: Nigerian Literature

“emotion runs under one umbrella, it is the ‘weather’ that changes.” Uche Peter Umez interviews Jumoke Verissimo

Interviewer’s Note: JUMOKE VERISSIMO has performed her poetry in Nigeria, Macedonia and Norway; some of which have appeared in “Migrations” (Afro-Italian) Wole Soyinka ed., “Voldposten 2010″ (Norway), “Livre d’or de Struga” (Poetes du monde, sous le patronage de l’UNESCO) and are in translation in Italian, Norwegian, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Macedonian. Some of her fiction has been published in print and online magazines. Jumoke is regarded as one of the most exciting poets amongst her contemporaries in Nigeria. Her poetry collection I am memory was adapted for stage by Crown Troupe, Nigeria.

jumoke

 

Uche Peter Umez: Your debut collection I am Memory was hailed as “passionate, sensual” by the multi award-winning playwright Biyi Bandele. You’ve been on the literary scene for a very long time, why did it take you so long to publish a collection?

Jumoke Verissimo: Well, one never knows why these things decide the time they do. For, there were indeed plans to get the book published, but it just never became a reality for one reason or the other. It is good to recount how I had people who were genuinely interested in publishing my first collection. However, it found a home with DADA Books, because it shared the ideas I had for the book. At the time, I was thinking of some sort of collaboration—drawing and poetry, photography and poetry etc., and Ayo Arigbabu was thinking along the same line. We spoke about it when he came to The Guardian newspaper, where I worked as a freelancer at the time.

In the earlier days, it was called Songs of Reparation. By time it would get to Ayo Arigbabu, it had been rewritten too many times and the voluminous pages had slimmed down into a very different book from its earlier version. For this reason, I like to think the book came out when it was ready. It is a rather slim volume—and I am proud of the effort that entered into it. Now goes that cliché: “it is not how far…”

Uche Peter Umez: A friend who recently read I am Memory said it was “seamless, flowing non-stop.” I admire the way you use language in a very musical way; each poem is so lyrical it could be sung easily. How long did it take you to write “Memory Lane 1″? Was there a point when you thought the poems will have to be performed on stage?

Jumoke Verissimo: I appreciate that consistency in the response I have received from readers. I have always been fascinated by the tonal possibilities of my indigenous language—Yoruba. This is not possible with English, but with a careful choice of words one can create some sort of harmony.

As for the period it took to write, “Memory Lane I”, I can’t tell. Perhaps it is time to confess that the first few lines were written for someone I had a crush on as a teenager. This was in 1998, or so. It is therefore a poem given to a non-fulfilled desire and imagination. I developed some other lines in an exercise book; I wrote a long poem and handed it over to him. Some made it into the published version and some did not. The first five lines would later be ‘pasted’ on a press board in the university in 2001 and the response I received made me decide to explore the theme of love much further. I continued rewriting now and again. Soon, the poem became entirely different from what it started out as, different from the first five lines. Perhaps, it is what I called a ‘memorial deviant’ of love in an interview I had with Dr Nereus Tadi (published in Matatu (No. 40).  It is no longer a poem for someone I had a crush on. The persona in the poem: ‘Ajani’ has become a good resource objectifying romantic love not only as an emotion, but a participant in the course of mundane human lives. More so, it gave shape to the idea of ‘reparations’ which I was pursuing as a book.

Uche Peter Umez: Sappho, that’s who I was thinking of when I first read your collection, which is intense and replete with erotic impulses, even though the themes you handled are purely political. Audre Lorde stated that the erotic approximates the “assertion of the life force of women”. Still, why did you appropriate an erotic metaphor to frame your poetry? What attracted you to this approach? Don’t you think it will detract from the political urgency in your poetry? Is there a dichotomy between the erotic and the political?

the raped vulva pleads for menopause,
oversexed vulvas beg for a sex-change,
against violence, your thrust on their impotent will.

Jumoke Verissimo: Yes, too many good literatures are replete with the trope of eroticism and this is rather different from soft porn. I have to explain something however, before I delve into answering whether the metaphor in the poetry would detract. First, I’ll like to say, I would love to use the word ‘sensual’ rather than erotic to describe my poetry. My preference for the word is that indicates an experience being imagined—something anticipatory in a desired emotion. In this case, the narrated is experienced. Eroticism, most times, is the experienced being narrated. That said, the Niger-Delta experience has made an advocate of too many Nigerians. I think this is one poem that came in later to the collection. The situation of the place was brought to life through some photographs which Muhtar Bakare and Yemisi Ogbe (editor of Farafina at the time) commissioned a particular photographer to take. The images were haunting and I wanted to know more. This was alongside the lackadaisical response of government to the issue— considering that the environmental policies that should protect a place like that. I was angry and desirous of change at the same time, because I was experiencing also the first-hand suffering of people ‘shuffering and smiling’ each time I was on a bus. Bus-stops housed numerous zombies who appeared not to know what to do with themselves as their humanity has been stripped away. The masses living in a horrible condition—such a state of destitution was haunting. I must say, it is not that the situation has changed; lives are still impoverished and people are still angry, but we now have Zombies seem living on a shot of false hope: this time we assume our humanity has been restored again. The rape was in the Niger-Delta, but the dehumanization went across borders. The shame of the rape was for us all.

As for the dichotomy between the erotic and the political, I would only say that emotion runs under one umbrella, it is the ‘weather’ that changes. In this regard, I will conclude that though passion might be different in context. I have since found eroticism as a voice to exact a metaphor that repugned an environment that denied logicality. I did not set off to use eroticism as a trope in my writing; it only answered the messed-up emotions in me.

Uche Peter Umez: How do you approach the process of writing a poem? Do you have a concrete image in mind, or you start a poem by playing around with a few words, expecting them to cohere into something of meaning? For you, what often comes first – words or image?

Jumoke Verissimo: I am not sure. I am at times inspired by a word on a page uttered or read from a book. There are days, an image inspires me. I once worked with a photographer, because I was trying to experiment how pictures inspire words. For my books, I love to work on themes and to do this; I meditate for long periods—viewing the subject matter from different angles until I am sure I have an idea of what I want to write about. The writing process has to be planned these days.  In many instances, I have a line come to mind and I play with the words until I have a picture of something I could interpret into a body of meaning. In this regard, for me, anything is possible—it could be words or image.

Uche Peter Umez: The ancient Greeks personified memory as a female Titan by the name of Mnemosyne. And it is quite interesting to note that Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. From your experience in writing this collection how does poetry make history memorable – seeing as you evoked a lot of remembrances? Is poetry an act of remembering “of dry bones that failed to rise” or “yesteryear’s wound”?

Jumoke Verissimo: I love to think that memory exists so that we can ‘disremember’. I have used the word ‘disremember’ because it is only a medium to place out of mind, rather than delete from it. The multi-dimensional lifestyle in contemporary time has placed memory as a result of our collective living experiment. In borrowing Roger Moseley’s phrase, although he was referencing music adaptability and extemporaneousness. I will like to borrow that phrase for this purpose. Poetry is: the “improvisatory fluency in historical idioms”.  History as a past would at times need reinvention and rendering of which poetry becomes a variable medium for actualizing this as a possibility.

Uche Peter Umez: Afam Akeh says, “Memory is the master griot stubborn with tales”, and in your collection I find this statement quite true, even truer in your poem “Mnemonics”, in which Calabar and Badagry signpost our colonial legacy. In Nigeria, however, there is a deliberate striving not to remember, to forget the “festival of transgression,” to evade our history. As a nation, it seems to me that we keep struggling against dealing with our bloody past. How, then, can poetry help us as a people not to keep “voyaging into waters of amnesia”, given our penchant for misadventures? Politics-wise, is this nation doomed to becoming another “generation of fief’?

Jumoke Verissimo: One of my favourite poetry lines is from Derek Walcott’s poem, “Origin”: “Memory in cerecloth uncoils its odours of river…” The imagery captures the entirety of the question you’ve asked.

You see, I have grown rather significantly from the time I wrote this collection, from being a very angry younger person in need of answers to all the social maladjustment around me. Today, still the questions I seek are yet to be answered. The present we live in is as bloody as our past—for me. We’ve only reinvented the past in series. Too many atrocities happen across the country; shared calamities like the Boko Haram, Niger Delta, social unrest, ‘Official’ Corruption, or is it  plane crashes due to ineffectual government policies, and of course personal ones like Armed Robbery, assassins, drug counterfeits, and the never talked about depression, which many Nigerians are presently suffering from! Nigerians are daily conversing with disillusion. In this situation memory is a revision of needs.

Uche Peter Umez: The late Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai said, “Women’s issues are environmental issues are issues of social justice. No separation.” How do you react to this? As a female poet, excuse my catergorisation, what do think is expected of you by the female sex? Is it to give voice to their fears, dreams and hopes? Is it to bear witness against male privilege and domination?
Jumoke Verissimo: You could as well ask me why I write. (LAUGH). Understandably, women issues are a confounding representation of many years of how sexual category has become an identity. That is why I must first state that I think women issues is a collective responsibility, and whoever you are and whatever you do, it is important to stand against injustice, if you believe in humanity. Well, if you look at it, don’t you think it is interesting that there are just two divides—male and female; and one would expect that both parties respect themselves to make progress in the environment, but in many cases, those who even raise the issues of desiring “equality” for women as “male privilege and domination” as effrontery and trouble making. Even with widespread public relations on this, we still have some tradition that makes many women timid by imposing subservience on them. Indeed, this is why your quote on Maathai is rather significant for the cheated becomes the stripped that strips what is around it. Summary: a society that does not take care of its women loses its environment and its future.

As for what is expected from me as a ‘female poet’ I must confess I do not know. However, I would rephrase that to be, how do I intend to make my writing a tool that represents the cause of women? To this, I would write, I have and would always stand against injustice in whatever form it comes.
Uche Peter Umez: There is a lot of energetic writing by many aspiring poets and social media have made it much possible for anyone to access these writings. You would have heard some older Nigerian writers sneering at the writing of your own generation of writers. How would you respond to that?  And what differentiates your poetry from the immediate generation before you? Do you feel connected to them in a literary sense?

Jumoke Verissimo: Well, I think this is something that has always been in the arts is for preceding generations to be condescending of the one before it.  Personally, I think it is simply a way of validating and perhaps, understanding their art better in the context of a newly developed intellectual culture which appears to ‘ease’ things for the younger generation. The coming of the internet has communalised knowledge and this appears to make our lives ‘easy’. The hypertextuality of the arts even makes it all the more complex for many who are still steeped in the debate that certain things are to be done ‘traditionally’. Culture is dynamic, and what I referred to as intellectual culture is not exempted. In this regard, I see the older generation as a foundation—and even in certain cases where they are still writing, a newer lens to view social issues from a different dimension. You know there is a Yoruba proverb that says; Agba gbon, omo de gbon la fi da Ile Ife: (Translated: The wisdom of the young and the old built the city of Ile-Ife; this is with a background that ancient Ile-Ife was a vibrant city). Anyway, any young mind that wants to grow would not abandon the wisdom of the old, and would most importantly, not walk away from the reality of her time also. I guess one just have to understand the idiosyncrasies of both categories and reinvent it, perhaps one might find audience among them. I’ve always believed if your art is true to self, it is valid for all.

Uche Peter Umez: In using graphic sexual images, especially in the poem, “The Rape”, what did you hope to achieve? Is this some sort of feminist agenda to draw attention to male violence – or man’s tendency to disfigure what is held beautiful and sacred? Finally, what is the future of poetry in Nigeria, since there is so little public support for the arts?

Jumoke Verissimo: Many women would see rape as the highest form of debasement that can happen to their body. The words that came showed the contempt I felt, in that degree—speaking for a land which had in the past, enjoyed enormous fertility and hope. In that regards, I opt for your second assumption ‘man’s tendency to disfigure what is held beautiful and sacred.’
I think the best thing that can happen to the future of poetry in Nigeria is for poets to continue to write poetry. The issue of poetry advocacy is something topmost in my mind, especially as we have no records to how many poetry books are published annually, and by whom. How then would we generate interests from sponsors? Do they even know what we’re doing?

Although, the first step would be an aggressive poetry advocacy and I think it is coming—though slowly. Small groups across the nation organizing poetry events and sharing their talents, as for publishing, we have more of online magazines like Saraba, NigeriansTalk, etc., sustained by the individuals with their own funds, a few publishing houses are genuinely interested in publishing poetry.  The structures for publishing are tilted towards prose, and the energy for poetry is much of a virtual world these days, and I can’t tell whether this is a good sign for now.  Perhaps, the poetry ‘saviours’ are online. (LAUGHS)

One thing though, the more aggressive the advocacy the better, as it would come to a point where the audience is sensitized enough to desire to make an input. People would support what they are passionate about, and have an understanding of.

Let’s do our bit. Every poet should write in journals across the globe. Organise events if you have some skills with that. Do something. In the process, the form will adapt and reinvent itself into some form of importance—perhaps then, it would find widespread support. We are all just doing our bits. And no, I won’t bring government not giving artists grants into this; although there are bodies that should ensure that ideas are traded to encourage art grants and foundation for poetry, and other art forms.

***

Uche Peter Umez is a poet and short fiction writer. An Alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Uche has participated in residencies in Ghana, India, Switzerland and Italy. He has twice been shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2007 and 2011, and was one of the winners in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2006 and 2008 respectively. His latest children’s books The Boy who Throw Stones at Animals and Other Stories and Tim the Monkey and Other Stories have just been published by Melrose Books and Africana First Publishers (Nigeria) respectively.

Iduma finally on his way

Emmanuel-Iduma_Douala-1024x682

I first met Emmanuel Iduma in October of 2009 at an art criticism workshop in Lagos. We had different experiences – I as facilitator and he as participant.  Not a reflection on others in the group but Iduma was eager to learn and broaden his reading experience.    He was, and still is, a serious, engaging, endearing, calm, generous young man, obsessively committed to his writing and whatever else he sets his mind to pursuing. At the time we first met, Saraba, the literary journal started by him and his friend Damilola Ajayi in 2008, was in it’s infancy and Iduma was still a law student at Ife University. He’s now a lawyer, a fully fledged published writer – Farad his first novel is a complex and sometimes intense series of  stories that are both connected and fragmented. It is rumoured that the writing is part autobiographical  or at least draws on his own life and personal relationships and his exploration of the complexities of Nigeria’s ethno-religious tensions and of madness , real or imagined,   suggest an understanding way beyond his chronological years.

In 2011 and 2012 Iduma participated in the Invisible Borders: Trans Africa Photography Project traveling by road first to Sudan and then to the Congo and Saraba recently published its’ 14th issue – The Art Issue.   All of this and Emmanuel is still only 24. He’s now on his way to beginning a new phase in his life – I will leave the where, why and for what up to him to explain but I know great things lie in his path  and I will be following his journey closely.

Last but not least a huge thanks for all his contributions to Black Looks over the past 3 years.

In the last one week I have slept little, staying wide-awake even after I have slept barely four hours. A friend says this is anxiety. I don’t think I am anxious; it is like waiting to enter a room whose door is open.

I am making mental calculations about leaving. Repeatedly I have revised checklists, although I hardly visit the lists when making plans for the day after the list is made. I want to slow time, capture a year-full of memories. Ultimately I want to understand how the passage of time will be my ally. I want the texture of both worlds. I want to halve existence into ‘home’ and ‘diaspora.’ I want to fight nostalgia. I want to berate absence. I want to feel nothing has changed, or will change.

Affection is falling around me, like fresh wound being poked. But, why, I keep having the feeling that I am looking at affection and calling it the wrong thing. I have been prayed for, encouraged, advised, warned, and those words have formed a cordon in my head; so that I am encircled by affectionate words, all the while thinking that they will reach out to me later.

iduma_farad

What is it about self-deprecation that is attractive? Every time I think of the congratulatory messages I have been receiving – especially after I got my visa – I fight the tendency to think that, no, this is ordinary, I am not a special person, I don’t want to be different from the others, there are hundreds of thousands who have done this before me. And the temptation to belittle myself is even more endearing when I think of the kind of glances I get when I mention I am leaving my home country, to the ‘West.’ I get the feeling like I’m being welcomed into the afterlife, like this is where my life has led to, like irrelevance will never haunt me again.

And to remember that I have invested a substantial emotional sum into the need to remain at home: I am in love; I have collected photos of my family; I have founded a new enterprise. It is even more painful when I realize that the boundaries of involvement – what becomes immediately gratifying – will shift. I will have to reshuffle my priorities; I will have to decide which projects are urgent, important or are not.

Despite shifting boundaries, I keep thinking of what new quality I will discover about love. How can I outpace distance? How can I appear everywhere so that those that love me the most will feel I am still visible? How can I berate absence?

Then, again, the passage of time – I am drawn to think that leaving Nigeria will mark the beginning of a different phase of my life, and ultimately a new variable in understanding my place in the world.

Key Challenges of the Nigerian Book Sector

Part of my work this week has revolved around reading and researching the problems of the Nigerian book/publishing industry. Today I completed a list of questions/posers (included in a brief for an event my firm is working on) which I believe are central to the challenge. By ‘central’ I do not mean exhaustive, and I hope that this post will generate sufficient responses from people passionate about deploying strategies for sustainable change in the publishing industry. (Henry Chikava’s Book Marketing and Distribution: The Achilles Heel of African Publishing was very instructive.)

  1. Illiteracy: Close to 60% of Nigerians are said to be literate in the English language (National Literary Survey, 2010) and yet the usual argument is that ‘Nigerians don’t read.’ Does the problem transcend the number of Nigerians that are literate, and extends to the willingness/ability of content providers to deploy content for the tens of millions able to receive and access content?
  2. Marketing: What are the ways in which publishers can win the attention of the potential book market, get it to buy and read books, and sustain its interest in books which is, as highlighted, potentially huge in a country of over 150 million people?
  3. Marketing concepts: Have publishers in Nigeria sufficiently applied marketing concepts to the business of publishing in Nigeria?
  4. Infrastructure: Do book promoters possess the basic infrastructure for promotion of books? What are these infrastructures?
  5. Market research: How much information is available to the publisher who is interested in researching the market? Are there channels through which adequate information about the market can be obtained?
  6. Distribution: Will aiming to make books “widely available and inexpensive” as opposed to offering books with “the most qualitative and innovative features” drive the interest of a greater number of book buyers?
  7. Multi-sector approaches: What roles can other practitioners in other sectors of the creative industry play in driving a multifaceted approach to book distribution?
  8. Publishing as business or responsibility: Should publishing be considered primarily as a business or as a cultural responsibility? Or both? In a related context, should publishing be audience-driven or author-driven? What are the advantages or disadvantages of either option?
  9. Booksellers: How can publishers and booksellers enjoy a hitch-free relationship, ultimately putting the customer at the centre? Also, how can the void created by the absence of large department stores be filled?
  10. Future of the book: Is new technology the only direction to be considered in relation to the future of print books? Interestingly, Kyle Bean remarked that “books also have personality — they have textures and smells which the internet can’t offer.” Is the argument perhaps one of seeking alternatives to the book-form and not only arguing that the time for its demise has come? To what extent can the argument that paper books have visual appeal (as opposed to digital books that are intangible) keep it in the market for as long as possible?
  11.  Quality control: Is it possible to define and evolve a quality control regime for the country’s publishing industry? Are there adequate regulations, and how could they be implemented?
  12. Class structure: How does class structure affect interest in book sales? In Henry Chikava’s opinion: “General books, including fiction, do well where there is a developed middle class with more time for leisure and a disposable income.”
  13. Poverty and underdevelopment: A poser on profiteering in the book industry is found in Henry Chikava’s declaration: “…a vicious circle which is difficult to break out of without tackling the larger problems of poverty and underdevelopment.”
  14. Book development council: what are the prospects, advantages, challenges of such an initiative? How may it function? How can the industry avoid a saviour-mentality from international (donor) organizations?
  15. Dealing with government: To what extent is government assistance for the book industry necessary? To what extent is it useless? Can industry practitioners deal with the government in a manner that will not be considered slavish? Are there possible/genuine fears about censorship?
  16. Intellectual property: Will the ultimate assault against piracy be a book industry in which demand for books by consumers is equated with supply by publishers? Is piracy the only threat to intellectual property in Nigeria? Are there other malignant challenges?

 

Get Inside, Identify

 

My friend, a medical doctor, and namesake, Emmanuel Okeleji, has just launched Insidify, a “peerless job meta-search engine with deep social media integration.” Insidify aggregates thousands of job openings from hundreds of sources — jobsites, company career pages, newspapers etc into one place – A kind of ‘Google for jobs.’”

They hope to help users find the jobs that fit them exactly, to “alert you immediately these jobs are out and help you discover which of your friends on Facebook(primary connections) or the Friends of your Friends (Secondary connections) can help you get the job.”

Quite ambitious. Alan Kay has said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

All things being equal, Insidify would compete directly with Jobberman, which prides as the number one jobs website in Nigeria. The intelligence of Insidify, truth be told, is quite superior, and maybe this could be the tipping point.

Last April Opeyemi Awoyemi, co-founder of Jobberman, was one of the speakers that spoke at TEDxIfe, which I curated. Awoyemi is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, as is Okeleji. I think Ife is the future of social innovation – ask ‘Gbenga Sesan, he’d agree.

Okeleji has gone to the mountaintop, I believe, and seen the promised land. Maybe with Insidify, we could game the labour market, predict it.

Albert-lászló Barabási agrees. “Once you had data, you could build theories. Once you had theories, you have predictive power, you could test that and then the whole thing fitted itself.” And Barabási has a question for Okeleji, which I second. “The question really become not as much how you collect the data, but how do you make sense of it?”

How do you collect this huge data – “We have close to 70,000 CVs already for both Blue and White Collar jobs and that number is growing by the day!” – and use it for something transgenerational, sustainable, something that defies unemployment?

Okeleji would have to answer that – maybe there is no answer, maybe by opening Insidify to the public he has answered, already.

Civitella 2: Interview with Uche Umez

Uche is the author of two collections of poem: Dark through the Delta, and Aridity of Feelings; a short story collection Tears in Her Eyes, and two children’s fiction: Sam and the Wallet and The Runaway Hero.  The Boy Who Throws Stones at Animals, a collection of Children’s stories and The Outsider, a Young Adult novella, are due to be published in 2013 by Melrose Books, Nigeria, while another children’s book The Christmas Gift is due with Funtime TV Enterprise in 2014.

Uche has won awards in the Bath Spa University Creative Writing Competition, UK; Commonwealth Short Story Competition, UK (2006 & 2008); ANA/Funtime Prize for Children’s Fiction (2006 & 2008). Also, he has been shortlisted twice for the Nigeria LNG Prize for Literature in 2007 and 2011 respectively, and was a runner-up for the 2007 ANA/Lantern Prize for Children’s Literature.

Uche is an Alumnus of the International Writing Program (IWP), USA, a UNESCO-Aschberg Laureate, and a Fellow of the Chateau de Lavigny, Switzerland. He is currently a writer-in-residence at Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Italy.

Photo of Uche Peter Umez by Fabio Bracarda – Civitella, Italy.

Sokari: Yesterday I spoke with Diego Mercaroni, the programme coordinator for the Civitella Foundation fellowship. One of the questions I asked was “what does Civitella expect in return from the fellows?” His response was nothing – the foundation does not wish to place any burden on the shoulders of the fellows. For some reason the word ‘burden’ has stuck in my mind so I’m going to start with a couple of questions around the word. I also note you use the word repeatedly in your poem “I’m Set in a Burden to Sing**”.

How have you managed the past 5 weeks without any expectations and the freedom to really do as you please; no daily chores, no concerns and no burdens? Is this an artist’s paradise – a blank sheet of paper? Or has it been difficult not having any expectations placed upon you?

Uche: Civitella Ranieri is a residency for composers, writers and visual artists. They do not place any expectations on any of the fellows. I think the only expectations are the ones you place on yourself because you come to Civitella and you hope to get some artistic work done. I am struck by the two metaphors you use – one the ‘artists paradise’ and secondly ‘blank sheet’.

I’ll start with ‘artist’s paradise’. I wouldn’t want to put that utopian burden on Civitella Ranieri. Be that as it may, I believe Civitella is a haven for creativity and one of the things I find fascinating about Civitella is the serene backdrop of the castle: the rolling mountains, the winding roads, the expansive verdure, and the bewitching mist. Particularly during my stay, I have seen a lot of mist. Sometimes it makes me think of heaven’s breath. Of course I don’t know what heaven’s breath look s like but that’s the best description or to use your term, metaphor, I can think of any time I gaze out in the morning. I’ve composed two simple poems inspired by the mist at Civitella and I feel so thankful to be able to behold the beauty of the mist, its ephemeral quality. More beautiful than any postcard of the Swiss Alps you can ever receive. I think Civitella Ranieri is awesome, also because of its generosity; all the facilities are tremendous, its repository of books! For someone coming from a country where a lot of things are left to rot and fall into disrepair, in terms of government functionality and social amenities, this has been a powerful experience of what an artist’s paradise might seem like. I feel a little guilty though, because I have a wife and children and I think of my loving wife having to shoulder all the responsibilities in my absence; most of which I should have been handling if I were back home. So while I am in paradise my wife is on the other side.

Sokari: You mentioned your wife and family are on the other side of paradise, where exactly is that?

Uche: [Laughing] I was speaking with a friend yesterday who was wondering how many heavens there are. The Christians have their own vision of heaven. The Muslims have their own vision of heaven. And then other religions also have their own vision of heaven so is heaven going to be like a very big hotel, he asked. A penthouse, deluxe suite, different kinds of rooms and suites, I simply told him we would find it once we get there. So the other side of paradise is Nigeria. I believe you are aware of the latest bombing of a Catholic church in Kaduna? It has become so tragic that every Sunday you wake up and another bombing has just occurred. It’s so painfully sad; that whatever paradise that’s still left of Nigeria is being threatened.

Sokari: Speaking of Boko Haram, do you get the feeling that the bombings and attacks against people are becoming so regular and have become so much part of our every day experience that the way we respond to each successive bombing or killing becomes less of an outrage than the previous one? Are we now so used to the killings that unless the numbers suddenly treble or quadruple, no one is really taking any notice?

Uche: I may not be correct but I feel Nigerians are fast getting used to tragedy and in getting used to tragedy, we become empty of feelings. Once you get used to tragedy you take it as a way of life. The sad part is that these are things we can avoid but because we are getting used to it the outrage is going down. We pour so much ire on Facebook and Twitter, perhaps, and yet none of us have cared enough to scribble down such strong opinions in the dailies or online media. Sometimes, condemnation of such ghastly atrocities comes from certain quarters, while it is so shockingly silent in others; it is as if we have ethnicized tragedy. We know which region of the country to sympathize with and which region to laugh at. Nigeria is not a complex country, as we tend to think; it is just that we are complicit in so many ways which, in turn, complicate how we handle pressing national issues. Achebe has reminded us time and again that writers should be bold to ask hard questions than bury their heads between their palms. By the way, I think his memoir “There Was a Country”, is his own singular attempt to ask questions of himself and many key actors in the Nigerian tragedy; questions which everyone would rather not want brought to the fore. You see the complicity, I just mentioned?

Sokari: So do you feel that writers are in any way burdened by the responsibility of having to ask hard questions and why is it that most Nigerian writers, novelists and journalists tend not to do so?

Uche: In a way, my own generation of writers seems not to be burdened with any political vision as two or three generations before. There seems to be more exploration of the self, identity, personal longing and follies, the whole individual experience, in most current Nigerian literature I have come across. In those days, for instance, most of the poems you read had a very strong indicting political tone; they were not afraid of asking the questions that “brought about headaches” to the ruling elite. But these days, a good number of us shy away from protest writing, and instead some would rather comfort themselves writing a kind of lament poetry.

Sokari: You think that the new generation, let’s call it, the post military dictatorship generation of writers are not so focused on political or social commentary compared to pre and post independence writers?

Uche: Their focus is not as overtly political as the pioneer generation of writers. Look at Achebe’s books, Soyinka’s. Niyi Osundare’s, etc. In their work, you will see that they were direct and unequivocal in their political indictment. But it seems that our own generation is not much bothered about the political; we are more concerned about the personal. This is how I feel; someone else may refute much of what I have said. Maybe because these Achebe’s generation inherited the insidious burden of colonialism, nationalism and independence, whereas the only burden we have so far inherited was military rule and the overwhelming ineptitude of civil rule. But still that doesn’t explain the less political engagement. Well, we have all become global citizens, exploring new identities, subjectivities, sexual orientation and experiences at home and abroad — so, I think, all these largely define our vision.

Sokari: Don’t you think that one of the roles of writers is, to use a rather trite phrase, ‘to be the conscience of the people’. To use their pen or art form as critical thinkers and express that through their work.

Uche: Despite the argument between aesthetics and commitment, or between art for art’s sake and social realism, I believe that every artist should use their art to engage with society in asking the hard questions and then hoping he or she can provoke a dialogue which will bring better understanding, more empathy and make us more human. Sometimes I have this fear that we are losing our humanness, which is why I titled my last collection of poems “Aridity of Feelings”: we are becoming more arid, more barren of feelings. Nobody wants to sympathize with anyone anymore, and to think this wasn’t the case in the 80s.

I can still recall in 2006 Professor Charles Nnolim, a foremost literary critic, criticized the present generation of writers for indulging in ‘carnal literature’ that is, literature of the flesh, literature that prances between the kitchen and debauchery. That our own vision is just to entertain, there is no strong political content or statement. He went on to challenge the present generation to use their writing ability to provoke or engineer social change. For me, he is right to a large extent, even though as writers we are wary of prescriptive literature. But then, every form of writing depends on the writers’ personal vision. For instance, my first book of poetry “Through the Delta” was very political. A reviewer said it was so full of passion and anger. My second collection of poems was also political. You mentioned my poem “I’m Set in a Burden to Sing” – and you will recall I said in that poem that I wasn’t going to talk about maidens or romance, but would hold up a montage of familiar sights of despoliation in the Niger Delta — which, even as we speak, the government seems quite indifferent to. So I feel in my own little writing I should be able to “indict the political structures for not being responsible and responsive to the people”.

Sokari: How important is it to draw from history when creating new writing because although the world is constantly changing, in another sense it remains the same? Is making the connection between the past and the present something that only concerns the older generation and is otherwise burdensome?

Uche: History enriches our writing, enhances perspective. I was reading an article by Teju Cole, I think, a piece on photography which can be summed up as photography is not about capturing people’s faces but about capturing an age. So when you see a photograph you begin to think of the era, the memories it stirs up in you. But reading some of the poems by younger people, I feel they are not strongly rooted in history, by this, I mean culture — and I’m at fault in this area too. While my generation is ambitious — nothing worn with that, you know — and trying to be very globalised or post-modern we are losing affinity with our own idioms, rhythms, myths and symbols, which primarily enriched the poetry of previous generations. I find it puzzling that we can easily and delightfully appropriate idioms and symbols from other foreign cultures and suture our writing with it, and yet we can barely draw on imagery from Ijaw, Tiv, Efik, Nupe, Isoko, and so on in our poetry. The poems of Niyi Osundare, JP Clark, Tanure Ojaide, and even the late Ezenwa Ohaeto, etc, are rich storehouses of history and culture. If you look at our own poetry it lacks the cultural ferment which has always made reading the poetry of the poets I just mentioned a vintage experience. You cannot do without history which is the backstory of our writing, a signpost, a necessary foundation. What I am saying is that you cannot escape history entirely in your art. Even when you create a dystopian [or utopian?] literature the back drop is still going to be essentially history.

Sokari: I wonder, would someone like Ujubuonu writing historical novels, ever get selected for the Caine prize

Uche: The Caine prize is for short stories, though. If Odili’s strong cultural-driven stories would be recognized and appreciated by a western audience, if that’s what you mean, I can’t yet say for sure. I have met a handful of westerners who don’t even know anything about Nigeria as a country, how then can they really appreciate the context and cosmology of an ethnic literature? Now whether we like it or not western readership defines African literature for the most part. I recall a friend sending his manuscript to a publisher who claimed it was ‘too unpalatable’ for an American audience. Now some people would have reworked the book to suit an American audience. With this kind of tricky situation one finds himself in Nigeria, it becomes rather justifiable for people to strive to get accepted in the west. So unless we are able to take control of our own narrative which will also depend on how well and viable our publishing and distribution structure are — the west will decide whom to celebrate and whom it would rather pass over.

Sokari: This raises the question of who are you writing for when there is such a paucity of bookshops, book sellers and libraries leaving so many Nigerians without access to literature. Maybe in Abuja or Lagos but the country is well beyond these two cities.

Uche: It’s a question which keeps recurring and one is faced with its grim reality. Sadly, humanities have not been given so little support by the government or private sector. The only government that has been consistent in this area is the Governor of River State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. As it were, every scholarship or support goes to sciences and petroleum fields. How ironic can that get? We spend billions of naira sending and training Nigerians overseas, and yet we can’t manufacture a wheel spoke or produce good quality kerosene. Well, if we can successfully run Petroleum Trust Development Fund, why can’t we set up same for visual artists, composers, creative writers, curators and other art practitioners? Estonia, Finland, and other forward-looking countries keep sponsoring and it is a fact that some of the great contemporary composers are from those countries. Here in Nigeria, we keep lamenting that nobody is reading, how can people read when the spotlight on literary activities is so dim you can’t even feel your knees? Private companies as well would rather dole out millions in sponsorship to small-minded reality shows which nearly every youth has become hooked on, like crack, and now half of the youth aspire to become instant celebrity — how small-minded can we get? I don’t know but we are nurturing a demographic with tube-mentality, simply one-dimensional.

Take Civitella, for instance, it didn’t take heaven to start it. Over the years, it has encouraged humanities and can access funding from private individuals and the government. But should you start something like that in Nigeria no one will support you. It will look like a drainpipe. It is even laughable an idea, a government that barely pays its workers salaries, or pensions, promptly, how then can it support humanities or the arts? So in a society like ours where nothing functions properly the creative artist will attempt to explore other opportunities and find a way to seek acceptance from whoever may be interested in their work. Everyone who is an artist is then tempted, or even compelled, to pander to outside, foreign interests; so if you can get a good publisher you will have no qualms about writing the kind of book they want. The way things are going if we don’t try to revive a strong cultural foundation in Nigeria we may find it difficult to even tell a Nigerian story because the publishing industry is not there. There are small independent publishers but they are also challenged so it becomes like getting stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Sokari: We in Nigeria are always reminding ourselves of the richness of our oral literature. I think we all grew up hearing stories told by our parents and relatives. My point is that if we are not reading and we are not hearing these stories particularly those living in urban centers then what happens to these stories? In 10, 20 years they could be lost

Uche: I wouldn’t want to be that pessimistic, but it is not unlikely. It sure could come to that. How many youths of today speak their own languages fluently? Either we are speaking English or pidgin. Some people get ashamed of taking part in certain cultural activities or things since they feel it conflicts with their religious beliefs, say, Christianity, for instance. It will be a big challenge no doubt, but I hope someone will collect these oral stories and history. This is an art form that dates back to a time before Nigeria was formed. Even till this day, puppetry is still much a cherished tradition in Romania, Japan and China. In Nigeria, a good number of the functionaries in the Ministry of Culture barely give two kobo about culture except, at times, the culture that celebrates young girls in skimpy outfits parading themselves in a pageant. You’ll be stumped if I told you the number of pageant proposals I receive in my office. Now, I have nothing against pageant since no one forced the girls to objectify themselves for the male gaze, to begin with. Can’t we be more creative than laying out a number of attires and encouraging girls to slip them on, so we can admire their contours and curves? Oh, and now, a few states have become crazy about organizing carnivals every year, and sadly enough, the theme is largely alien in scope, more Brazilian than African. How we Nigerians not simply amazing? See, some of us are quick to celebrate Halloween in Nigeria than we would New Yam festival. The Truth is that, you can’t speak about culture without nurturing and supporting a virile foundation for humanities. As I said earlier, I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but the age-old culture of storytelling is fast dying out.

Sokari: You mentioned that you were writing a “comic tragedy” and we need laughter. Can you tell us about the place of comedy in Nigerian writing?

Uche: We need laughter a lot, it’s a crazy world, what with all the ghastly news that stare us in the face every minute. I do think people sometimes forget to laugh as you get so weighed down by the basic challenge of being a Nigerian. These days, I meet a lot of people, and they can’t even crack their lips open. They look so grave-faced that Medusa herself might have recoiled from view if she had bumped into them. I don’t blame them, especially if you have to be heckled by traffic, potholes, and then you come back home and where is the light? The taps not running, or at times it takes you about an hour to fill a bucket to bathe with. Anyhow, I try to laugh as much as I can. I have to commend Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani who wrote “I Do Not Come to You by Chance”. It’s one of the most hilarious books by an African writer, about a 419 scam. Then Chuma Nwokolo , his “Diaries of a Dead African” is a very funny book in the same vein as Amos Tutuola’s books. And there is Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele. As for my work-in-progress, I am hoping I can pull it off effortlessly, perk up the story with some humour.

Sokari: I didn’t know you had written children’s books?

Uche: I have written a couple of children’s books. But I had one terrible experience with a publisher though. Meanwhile, two of my manuscripts have been accepted for publication here in Nigeria. One is for 7 and 12 year olds, while the other is a young adult novella.

Sokari: The last question, James Baldwin, the writer cannot write out of his [her] time. What time are you in Uche and what time is Nigerian in? And are you in harmony with each other?

Uche: A tricky question.

Sokari : What I am asking you is what point are you in your career as a writer, are you just beginning or where are you? .

Uche: For me, these are early days. As a writer you keep on having to improve your craft. I never studied literature at school or university and I discovered literature in my twenties quite accidentally, and like most things I am a latecomer. But I have been working hard to improve my craft so I think I am in my teenage years and I think Nigeria is equally in her teenage years! [laughing] So we both are in harmony even though her life is much more dramatic and volatile than mine. I have some control over my life but I don’t know if Nigeria has any control over hers.

Civitella Ranieri Fellowship for Artists

The Civitella Ranieri Foundation provides annual fellowships to visual artists, musicians and writers from around the world who demonstrate exceptional talent and commitment to their disciplines. The fellowships were created by Ursula Corning in 1995 with the aim of encouraging the creative process and collaborative spirit by providing fellows with lodgings, a private workspace and uninterrupted time.

The location of the 15 century Civitella Castle is in central Italy near the town of Umbertide in the province of Perugia. The castle grounds are stupendous with huge lawns, trees including olive trees and beautiful gardens.

At present there are three fellows from Africa, writers Uche Umez, Nigeria, Ugandan,  Monica Arac de Nyeko the 2007 Caine Prize winner for Jambula Tree  and Zanele Muholi visual activists from South Africa. I interviewed the programme coordinator Diego Mencaroni on the fellowship programme and the foundations involvement with African artists and writers.

Civitella Castle

 

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SE: I understand Ms Corning first opened up the Civitella castle in 1968 to personal invitees and friends but it wasn’t until much later that a formal fellowship was created.

DM: The first year of the fellowship programme was 1995. It was Ursula’s wish to establish this programme along with the suggestion from the Board of Directors to begin the foundation here at the castle. Civitella was very much part of Ursula’s life as she spent her summers here from 1968 until 2002 when she passed away at the age of 99.

SE: Has the programme changed in anyway since the beginnings in 1995?

DM: Of course the programme has changed. I have only had this position since 2006 but it has changed a lot in terms of structure of the programme, number of fellows and the period of the residency. We have learned over time what is best for the fellows. Now the residency runs for six weeks and this is based on our past experience. The number of fellows increased because we were able to use spaces that in the past were difficult to use especially at the castle. Just imagine how difficult it was to have the internet here in this semi-isolated place before the introduction of WiFi!

SE: How many times a year does the residency run and how many fellows do you invite?

DM: The programme runs four times a year for six weeks and we have 15 fellows for each residency divided into three categories, writers, artists and composers. Altogether we have about 60 fellows every year starting in May through November which is the good season here in Italy.

SE: I notice also you have Director Guests, can you explain who these are?

DM: Yes some of the 60 could be Directors Guests. These are people invited by the director of Civitella and they could be art historians, architects, designers and so on. They are people who we believe could give an added value to the residency.

SE: So the Director Guests are people who could come and give support to the fellows?

DM: In a way yes. But they have to pay their own travel whilst for our fellows we provide board lodging and travels. Also the Director Guests only stay between 1 and 4 weeks.

SE: How does the selection process work?

DM: We have a group of nominators and a jury.

We invite writers, composers and artists who are nominated to apply for the fellowship and this goes to the jurors…

The Director plays the most important part as she selects the nominators. But it is important that the nominators and the jury know about Civitella, how it works and the fellowship. The jurors will of course choose people who are going to benefit from the residency here at Civitella.

The jurors gathers once every other year to make the selection. We have people coming from all over the world. For example we have a map of the world in our office and we want to fill the whole map so there are no empty parts left.

SE: So each year when you make your selection you try to throw the net wider to bring in people from more countries?

DM: Yes.

SE: I read through your fellows list and it is highly impressive. I particularly noted the names from African countries. However, I wondered if the fellows have to be people who have already achieved a certain success?

DM: It’s not always like this. Generally speaking we have people mid-career and we have at this moment people who are well known and have achieved a lot. But we sometimes have younger and innocent people through our UNESCO [Aschberg Bursaries for Artists Programme] which allows us to invite fellows from areas where we do not have contacts [India, Asia and Africa]. Sometimes if the jurors like the work of someone, they don’t have to have achieved great results in their career. This is not so important.

SE: And what does the foundation expect of its fellows?

DM: Really nothing. Nothing is compulsory here. We know we achieved our goal when at the end of the residency our fellows tell us they were able to do work that would have taken them three or six months. The fellowship is essentially generosity.

People who come to Civitella are aware of the great opportunity to work in a wonderful environment which they can enjoy without feeling a burden on their shoulders. And also you know, the fact of being amongst talented people is important. We do not expect anything. We are happy when our fellows dedicate their work to us. Or they acknowledge us with their compositions or art or even they give us some of their work as a present.

I have to tell you that our fellows have donated books and their works to the library and now we have a significant library of about 5000 books created over the years from the donations of our fellows.

Sometimes it could be we have people who come to Civitella after a season of intense work and here they can rest and recharge their batteries.

SE: So it could also be called a retreat? I like the idea of you not wanting to place burdens on people.

DM: It’s more than that because it takes place in a beautiful space. Also basic things like for instance you don’t have to worry about day to day life like doing shopping. We also offer initiatives for instance every week we have field trips in the area. And not to cities like Rome or Florence but to the to those small jewels of Italy, the parts of the country that you would not normally visit if you had ten days in Italy. We realise that these are recreational but also didactical activities which in a way enhance the residency itself.

SE: At the moment you have three African fellows, Uche Umez and Monica Arac de Nyeko writers from Nigeria and Uganda respectively and Zanele Muholi, photographer visual activist from South Africa  - can you tell us a little about each and why they were selected if thats not too personal?

DM: The reason why they were selected is essentially because they convinced the jury to select them. This is the only explanation I can give you because there is no other. Of course it is quite interesting because they are young and also Africa is a young continent which is now coming out. I realise that over the years we have more and more African fellows. This is the result of a higher level of education on the continent I presume.

This year we had many African writers for instance, Brian Chikwava [Zimbabwe] two Nigerians, Obi Nwakanma and Toni Kan. They are writers but in the past we have had Nigerian visual artists and South African writers and artists. This year we also had an amazing Kenyan visual artist, Peterson Waweru, all young people under 40. This is something that is important for us. Talking about Zanele, Uche and Monica they do the standard fellowship apart from Zanele who is now in a great moment of her career and she travels a lot because her work is exhibited worldwide. She received several invitations and for us this is great. It was not easy for her to find a moment in her career to spend time at Civitella. She was supposed to arrive last year but she couldn’t so she came this year.

It is very important to say that sometimes it is not easy to have African fellows because of the international laws. For instance with Uche, who is a very nice and sweet guy, we had to do a big procedure at the Italian embassy in Nigeria to allow him to get a visa. Uche because he had to present a discussion on his PhD he arrived one week after than the rest of the group. Monica is also a very nice and sweet person she is also very funny both great wonderful writers and talents as are all of our fellows.

SE: You mention that all the African fellows were young, do you have an age limit to attend Civitella?

DM: No age limit, not at all. We have had fellows from 22 years, a young Pakistani woman, a visual artist and the oldest have been in their 80s. We try to have a perfect mix of everybody – age, nationality, gender, domain, so that heterogeneity gives lots of impulse and conversation to the group.

SE: One question is how do you keep in touch with fellows after they return to their regular life especially after 18 years it must be hard to maintain contact?

DM: We are always in touch with them from their activities as any time there is an exhibition or new book as soon as we receive the information, it will be on our blog or website and social networks where we publish information about fellows. And sometimes we organise some parties in Italy or New York. Of course many fellows in their career may pass through New York where we have an office and there is always an opportunity to meet with staff. Here in Italy it is more difficult as you have to find your way to Civitella. We have also organised in the past exhibitions of fellows work which we have in our collection or if a fellow comes to us we can organise a reading.

SE: So basically fellows can always get in touch with you and say I have just published a book or completed a piece of work and I would love to have a reading or share with you?

DM: The acknowledgment is important. It is not always easy to return to Civitella but what is important is it’s great to receive for instance books of fellows from 10 years ago.

SE: Thank you Diego, just one final question or rather a comment which is the grounds of Civitella look beautiful and I notice you have some olive trees so I assume you have olive oil. I assume you also grow your own vegetables?

DM: This will be the first year of picking our olives. We have just 8 olive trees and though the mills are not open yet we would like to take our olives to a local mill and give a bottle of Civitella oil to our fellows as a present. We grow our own vegetables. It was not difficult for us as in Italy in general but especially in Umbria we have always eaten organic food and we only serve seasonal products. We buy locally directly from the producers, wine, meat and flowers and we have a wonderful staff especially the chef and the people who take care of all the grounds, the trees and the vegetable garden. They are all part of our programme at Civitella and we realise our fellows really adore this.

Obodo 9ja

Guest post by Adebiyi Olusolape*

I read Achebe’s piece in the Grauniad. The piece says nothing about his latest book, but it says a lot about Nigeria. What follows are some of my prejudices and misconceptions, stated in response to statements culled from Achebe’s piece:

I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours.

Spinoza’s exhortation immediately comes to mind, “Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere”– “Not to laugh, not to weep, not to hate, but to understand.” I say let the man laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I, too, cherish understanding, but let Achebe laugh, weep and hate, it humanizes. I for my part will cherish understanding, deplore hatred, weep with them that weep and laugh with those who rejoice.

Achebe’s polemic is a study in Hate as fine art, but do we admit it? Because it is Achebe; because he’s an old man; because he is Igbo; because it’s about Biafra; because he knocks Nigeria, which is our national pastime and we are enamored with those who can knock Nigeria with panache and righteously; because the hate is so sublimely expressed– I think he has surpassed Conrad.

Achebe projects the image of Nigeria as “the other world,” the antithesis of Biafra and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.

Did the federal government of Nigeria engage in the genocide of its Igbo citizens…

Charles Dadi Onyeama was at the ICJ throughout the war. Was it not the Roaring Lion of Eke himself who once (in)famously observed that the Igbo domination of Nigeria was only a matter of time?

Some of Nigeria’s finest jurists were on the Biafran side: Louis Mbanefo, Chike Idigbe, Moses Balonwu, G.C.M. Onyuike, Chukwudifu Oputa, Anthony Aniagolu; Biafra was recognized by Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Haiti– why wasn’t a case of genocide brought before the ICJ?

I recognize Achebe’s question as part of a global process of working out what genocide means. I know there were pogroms before the war in which “Easterners” were sought out and attacked. I believe Federal soldiers have questions to answer over massacres in Asaba, Onitsha, Ihiala and Biafran soldiers over Urhonigbe.

To go off on a tangent, there is a concession in Achebe’s query although it may require some teasing out. It is that all through the war, the Igbos who pledged allegiance to Biafra, that allegiance notwithstanding, continued to be citizens of Nigeria. I have continued to wonder about the ramifications of the expulsion of non-easterners from the Eastern region even before the Federal “police action” began against the “rebellion.”

The world continues to work out what Genocide means. Witness the recent events in France and Turkey over the Armenian question, the recent Bosnian genocide trials. There is renewed interest in the Herero Genocide. I, only recently, made the acquaintance of a scholar who has written on the connections between everyday work and the Rwandan genocide. I can only hope those who have the courage of their convictions will go beyond the kinds of actions that created wartime propaganda to something concrete.

…punitive policies, the most notorious being “starvation as a legitimate weapon of war.”

Is there a weapon of war that is legitimate? Is war itself legitimate? Bear with me, I am still trying to learn Grotius properly: ius ad bellum, ius in bello. Pacifism? Didn’t both sides use starvation as a weapon of war? What does the evidence from when Bonny Island was held by the Federals say? What does the experience of Ogonis, in Biafran concentration and refugee camps, tell us?

Obi Iwuagwu’s ‘Food Shortages, Survival Strategies and the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria during the Nigeria Civil War’ identifies about ten factors that contributed to starvation during the Nigeria Civil War, the economic blockade being a significant factor.

Chima Korieh’s ‘Agricultural Transformation, State Policy and Agricultural Decline in Eastern Nigeria, 1960-1970 had already pointed me to two other factors. The refusal of relief supplies by the Biafran administration then becomes a thirteenth.

A reading of the various accounts of the civil war has made me wonder about a fourteenth: profiteers and corrupt administrators. Do I pursue understanding to the point of splitting hairs, into proximate and ultimate causes? What is the point? If we neglect other factors and focus on punitive policies alone, what does that help us understand? Are victim-hood and innocence the only grounds for insight?

Why has the war not been discussed, or taught to the young, more than 40 years after its end?

My mother used to tell me about the bombing of Yaba during the Civil War, and how civilians died, others were maimed. She told me direct hits were scored by a Biafran bomber on the area around Casino Cinema, and how after that the once vibrant commerce in that area ebbed away.

She grew up on Ondo Street, Ebute Meta, and is an alumna of Queen’s College and Yabatech. I, myself, am writing this on Raymond Street. Nowadays, the area around “Casino” bus stop, on Herbert Macaulay Way is one of the quieter spots on that long stretch of road. That has always had an extra significance for me.

What dread and pain that bombing brought, some of which my mother was able to communicate to me– what my mother communicated to me was enough to begin understanding the terror and harm that came to others who experienced indescribably worse under Federal aerial bombardment.

As to teaching the war, I was never one to confuse schooling with education. If this is about schooling, shouldn’t the crusaders be directing their practical-critical activity towards the various Ministries of Education in the federation?

I have been searching for a copy of that controversial History of the Nigerian Army (1863-1992) which the Nigerian Army Education Corps and School (NAECS) prepared and which I learnt dedicates over 10% of its content to the period 1966—1970.
I wonder, to cite just one example, whether the petition brought by none other than Prof. Ben Nwabueze, with the Ohaneze Ndigbo, before the Oputa panel and all the responses that petition provoked, especially that of the Ogbakor Ikwerre, can be considered a formal discussion.

I wonder, then, whether the publication of Matthew Kukah’s book, last year and all the related publicity, in which Kukah called upon government to deal with the findings of the Oputa panel, can be held to be another attempt to put these issues on the front burner.

I am struggling not to interpret Achebe’s statement as erasure, not to number him on the side of the successive administrations of the country, similar in their dismissal of the Oputa panel.

This calculation, the Biafrans insisted, was predicated on a holy jihad proclaimed by mainly Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army…

In 1992, a letter was written to the Sultan of Sokoto by the extremist Izalatu Islamic Group, seeking his assistance in waging a jihad in Zangon Katab. On the strength of that letter alone, should the Kataf crises be characterized as jihad?

In any case, the motif of jihad is one that recurs in Nigeria’s history, from the jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio to Boko Haram. I would like to know who the ‘Islamic extremists in the Nigerian army’ were.  I would like to learn about their proclamation of a holy jihad.

Why were there more small arms used on Biafran soil than during the entire second world war?

This is fantastic. I want to look at Achebe’s sources. In any case, ascertaining the sources and quantities of arms supplies to both sides should help us along in answering this loaded question.

Why were there 100,000 casualties on the much larger Nigerian side compared with more than 2 million — mainly children — Biafrans killed?

Tears come out of the skies every time somebody dies. Does one not ask for different skies as from the distance of another life? One trusts to Time to heal all those who were touched directly and in other ways by the staggering loss.

The unfortunate loss of our people is one other reason this country hasn’t made all the progress it should have. Nevertheless, I know the numbers are contested. I would love to know the basis of Achebe’s accounting.

‘The wartime cabinet of General Gowon, the military ruler, it should also be remembered, was full of intellectuals like Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others who came up with a boatload of infamous and regrettable policies.’

How then does Achebe justify his post-war relationship with the Commissioner for Health in that cabinet? What is Achebe’s position on the role of that Health Commissioner in the pogroms that preceded the war? I mean, does Achebe have a response to Ileogbunam’s allegations in Ironside, allegations which I have been told are corroborated by clues in Tanko Yakassai’s autobiography and the biography written by Alan Feinstein?

However, Awolowo saw the dominant Igbos at the time as the obstacles to that goal, and when the opportunity arose — the Nigeria-Biafra war — his ambition drove him into a frenzy to go to every length to achieve his dreams.

Awolowo’s roles in the conduct of the Civil War are a matter of fact but are his motivations and intentions? I am always wary of diviners of intention.

After that outrageous charade, Nigeria’s leaders sought to devastate the resilient and emerging eastern commercial sector even further by banning the import of secondhand clothing and stockfish — two trade items that they knew the burgeoning market towns of Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi needed to re-emerge.

What was the role of the government of the Mid-West State in the restoration of electricity supply to Onitsha, Enugu, Nsukka, and Nkalagu, enabling the rehabilitation of industries in the former East Central State?

Did Ogbemudia donate furniture and other resources to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to enable that institution resume the training of Nigerians? Did people all over the country, in various ways, lend a helping hand to friends, family, acquaintances and even perfect strangers?

Did Awolowo save, during the period of the war, the revenue due to the East Central State and release those funds as monthly subventions at the rate of £990,000 after the war?

Did Ikoku, the Commissioner for Economic Development in East Central State, aver that the Federal Government made available a £21,505,000 grant and £10, 620,000 in loans for his state?

Did Mbakwe’s administration draw any funds from the federal purse?

In the 90s, I would stay with the Uwezus, in Oke-Ayo, Ibadan, whenever my mother traveled to Aba. In those days, she used to buy Bangkok Linen, Garbadine and other cloth. She also brought back secondhand clothing, which she sourced from Ngwa road.
My grandmother had introduced her daughter to Aba, Ariaria, in the 80s, a few years before I was born. Does it matter that the Uwezus are from Mbaise? Does it matter that my grandmother had her primary education in Umuahia, or that she went on to Uli Girls although she had to complete her secondary education in Enugu?

My interest in Nigerian markets as drivers of economic growth may well be related to certain elements in my personal history. But, what exactly was the significance of secondhand clothing and stockfish to the ‘eastern commercial sector’?

Well, I have news for them: The Igbos were not and continue not to be reintegrated into Nigeria, one of the main reasons for the country’s continued backwardness.

Have the Dukawas ever been integrated into Nigeria? Have the Katafs been reintegrated? The Tivs? An Ijaw man is President of Nigeria today and many Ijaw ex-militants have been placed in the lap of luxury, can we then say the Ijaws have been reintegrated into Nigeria since Adaka Boro’s Twelve-Day Revolution?

What exactly is meant by reintegration? What exactly are the privations peculiar to Igbos in Nigeria? For Achebe’s unqualified claim, Iweala adduced this, “A trip to the Igbo-dominated southeast reveals abysmal roads, bridges threatening to collapse, and a power grid that is all but entirely useless, all what many Igbos believe is a deliberate policy of neglect as punishment for the sin of secession.”

If Iweala is right, then I guess the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the town of Ibafo are to be found in the ‘Igbo-dominated southeast.’ My goodness! Only last week, Dr Ajayi and I went to my house in Elebu, Ibadan. We had to park his car kilometers away from the house and continue on foot because the red strip of laterite that used to pass for a road has been terribly eroded as to become “unmotorable.”

We also waded through a stream because the bridge had long been washed away. I guess that’s because we were being punished for the sin of secession. In any case, we are all from Ado-Na-Idu, as B.O.N. Eluwa argues, in his posthumously published book on Igbo origins.

Is Philip Asiodu Igbo? Was Ukpabi Asika Igbo? Are Kalu Idika Kalu and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Igbo? Clearly, the things Achebe identifies correlate not to “Igbo” but to something deeper, something “Human.” Alas! Some men cling rather to the raft of old hatreds and prejudices than drown in humanity.

As for me, if I am to identify one of the main reasons for continued backwardness in Nigeria, it would be this unfortunate arrangement by which funds for development in, say, Oyo State are expected to come from, say, Bayelsa State.

I am opposed to the principle which is manifest in Decree 5 of 1969 and other revenue allocation measures since then, the recommendations of both the Ojetunji Aboyade Revenue Sharing scheme and the Pius Okigbo Commission on Revenue Allocation etc., etc.

M.I. Ahamba, in Twin Pillars of Unity, wrote, “[T]hose who believe in speaking their mind must develop patient ears.” The case for Nigeria’s unity will only be put beyond debate when this nation sacrifices certain majority interests in order to listen patiently to the voice of her minorities.

Nigeria has substantive ethnic issues to address; why is it that Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba loudmouths are always trying to corner the national discourse? Why does a dog lick its balls? I guess it’s because it can. Just because it can.


Adebiyi Olusolape is a journeyman collagist. He is poetry editor of Saraba Magazine.

Teju Cole’s 20+ Rules On Writing

Eight Letters to a Young Writer evolved as a fictional exercise addressed by Teju Cole to an imaginary young Nigerian writer. With the encouragement of Molara Wood, the editor of the series, Cole tried to move from discussions of simple writing precepts to more complex things like voice and calling. Those pieces, first published on the now defunct NEXT Newspaper, were made available by Cole as a single downloadable PDF file. From that PDF I have gleaned 20+ tips/lessons on writing. I consider the letters one of the most important resource on the art of writing fiction that has come out of Nigeria in the last five years. And I share in Teju Cole’s aspiration that young writers in Nigeria and elsewhere find the tips useful.

Here, then.

  1. There are few things more resistant to tutoring than the creative arts. All artists are after that thing that resists expression.
  2. Keep it simple. There are many who use big words to mask the poverty of their ideas. A straightforward vocabulary, using mostly ordinary words, spiced every now and again with an unusual one, persuades the reader that you’re in control of your language.
  3. Remove all clichés from your writing. Spare not a single one. The cliché is an element of herd thinking, and writers should be solitary animals. We do our work always in the shadow of herd thinking. Be expansive in your descriptions. Dare to bore.
  4. Avoid adverbs. Let the nouns, adjectives and verbs carry the action of the story.
  5. When reporting speech, it is enough to say “she said” or “he said.” You must leave “he chortled,” “she muttered,” “I shouted,” and other such phrases to writers of genre fiction.
  6. Aim for a transparent style so that the story you’re telling is that much more forceful.
  7. Read more than you write. In expressing the ambition to be a writer, you are committing yourself to the community of other writers.
  8. Your originality will mean nothing unless you can understand the originality of others. What we call originality is little more than the fine blending of influences.
  9. Be ruthless in your use of what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced. Add your imagination, so that where invention ends and reality begins is undetectable.
  10. Be courageous. Nothing human should be far from you.
  11. Avoid writing narratives that have only a single meaning
  12. Characters do shocking things, not because the author wishes to shock, but because it is in the character of humans to misbehave.
  13. If you are withholding information, there should be a reason for it. The trick of it will be to give information, when you give it, in a way that feels organic.
  14. Continue to fail better–failure of a kind that might even be better than certain forms of success.
  15. One of the things that matters most is voice. Great writers know all about it, and ordinary writers ignore it.
  16. What all great works have in common is that the voicing is secure. There is evidence, throughout, that how the tale is being told is precisely how the author wishes it to be told.
  17. Try to better bind the reader to life. Place at the heart of a story a voice that is neither so vague that it applies to everyone, nor so eccentric that none can relate to it.
  18. What I try to do in my work is to find out how the gestures of various arts can be smuggled beyond their native borders, music that exceeds music, painting that exceeds painting.
  19. Look at your environment as though you were a child, or a foreigner, or an alien from another planet. But to see what is happening, you need to reform your eyes. Your writing talent should consist of making the ordinary interesting.
  20. In a field of unexceptional events, zoom in on the pungent detail. Your sensibilities have to be retrained so that they catch what others miss.
  21. Luxuriate in the formalized chat that is called an interview. At times, you can read something in one of those conversations that feels like it is a secret code passed from the author directly to you, in the guise of a public utterance
  22. Keep an inner fire; keep it on your own behalf and on behalf of so many people who are suffering because of the system.

 

NB: I have begun a sideproject called AfroPicking on my site, which aims to collect wisdom shared by African writers and thinkers in the fields of literature, visual art, digital art and webtechnology. The pieces I anthologize would be featured on BlackLooks as well, this being the first in the series.

A short post on Nigeria

Today Nigeria celebrate 52 years of independence.  My home town is in the Niger Delta where we are still waiting for electricity so that at night we will be able to see the stains and lumps of petroleum waste on the shores and mangroves of the rivers, ponds and creeks. This is just one result of oil exploration – the list is comprehensive and the guilty ones come from within and without.

I believe Nigeria’s greatest achievement is that after 52 years, it is still the same one Nigeria.

Happy Nigeria Day!

It was a long time ago and I cannot remember the details but reading Sefi Atta’s novel, “Everything Good Will Come”, brought memories of my own growing up – I experienced a mix of Enitan and Sheri. A father whose fierceness was hidden behind a veneer of charm who wanted me to study law. A mother who was a free spirit and who jumped into Nigeria feet first. Nothing fazed her. I need to re read the book and refresh my memory but suffice to say Atta is one of the many contemporary Nigerian feminist writers bringing women from the margins to the center and I look forward to reading her latest book “A Bit of Difference” published by Interlinked Books.

 

At thirty-nine, Deola Bello, a Nigerian expatriate in London, is dissatisfied with being single and working overseas. Deola works as a financial reviewer for an international charity, and when her job takes her back to Nigeria in time for her father’s five-year memorial service, she finds herself turning her scrutiny inward. In Nigeria, Deola encounters changes in her family and in the urban landscape of her home, and new acquaintances who offer unexpected possibilities. Deola’s journey is as much about evading others’ expectations to get to the heart of her frustration as it is about exposing the differences between foreign images of Africa and the realities of contemporary Nigerian life. Deola’s urgent, incisive voice captivates and guides us through the intricate layers and vivid scenes of a life lived across continents. With Sefi Atta’s characteristic boldness and vision, A Bit of Difference limns the complexities of our contemporary world. This is a novel not to be missed.

Farad is a first novel by Emmanuel Iduma, co-founder / editor of Saraba Magazine.  I met Emmanuel on a workshop in Lagos in October 2009 and was immediately taken by his intensity and measured reflection along with excellent writing skills.  I remember he borrowed a book from me and I had to harangue him on the last day to return it.  On reflection I should have just given it to him.  Ever since then I have followed his work and progress.  I notice an increased confidence and self-awareness of himself and the contemporary literary and technology space he occupies.  I try not to be too influenced by  book and film reviews because so many times I end up being disappointed. Even what purports to being a ‘good’ review can be off putting. Take for example this one on Farad

This book is an experimental fulfilment of the uncommonly common. It is broken into eight different stories with unrelated plots. This is surprising. This style will definitely make you angry. The stories are disjointed but united in denouement. After everything, you will also grieve over your taste for normalcy. Everything about this book is resplendently different. Iduma is a daring writer; and this debut does not portray otherwise. Faradis a collage; a delicate calligraphy; a head with multiple faces. Though its resolution is single, the divergent parts are necessary.

What is “uncommonly common” ? “disjointed but united in denouement”?  Everything about this paragraph is pretentious and wordy and really tells us nothing.  So my anticipation for reading Farad is not based on reviews but on  Emmanuel’s writings to date and knowing his interest in ‘experimental’ writing and writing against the grain.  Farad is published by Parresia Publishers.

Finally in the trio of new literature from Nigeria, our dear father [grandfather] Chinua Achebe has  published his memoir on Biafra – “There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra” .  My hope is that along with the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel, “Half of a Yellow Sun“, Nigeria’s lost consciousness on Biafra will be awakened.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Nigerian Literary Order

I will argue for a new Nigerian literary order.

Suppose we call this ‘neo-literariness’, for want of a better word, and because in hyphenation a word acquires two identities. So, neo-literariness is the word to use for a generation of writers and enthusiasts who function despite institutional lapses, and whose artistic engagement thrives of new ways of being, especially web-technology.

I will explain with a few examples.

In 2009, Dami Ajayi and I began publishing Saraba Magazine, which to date has published 12 issues of PDF magazines, 5 poetry chapbooks and 2 sub-issues. We have, so far, received no grant, or made no profit, but we have published up to 120 writers from 5 continents. How do we manage to do this? When I am working on any new issue of Saraba, I wonder how these far-flung writers get to hear about our work. And this is more surprising because we have clearly defined our Nigerian and African sensibility. The answer is not far-fetched; something about how literature is exchanged is changing.

I think that the change that is happening is happening for two reasons — ease of accessibility and ambitiousness. The first is easy to explain. I pay about one thousand five hundred naira for weekly internet subscription. My subscription is 20 hours with a validity period of one week. I live in Lagos, which means I get 3G easily. If I lived in Umuahia, where I recently visited, I will barely struggle with EDGE. So although I know that there are exceptions, and not everyone is asprivileged as I am, I understand that there increasing numbers of Nigerians on theInternet explains ease of accessibility, that at least, people find ways to do what they have to do online. And wasn’t it Gbenga Sesan (@gbengasesan) who retweeted that Nigeria had the fourth largest Internet users on earth?

But ambitiousness as an indicator of neo-literariness is a different matter. It means that our literature is changing because writers and literary enthusiasts are finding their voice on the Internet, as literal as that sounds. It means that writingaside the Internet, in this generation, is a failed endeavour. Even my most secluded of friends, Ayobami, has a blog. There has to be, I repeat, something happening for you online. There’s a plethora of Facebook groups, blogs, websites, that attest to a multifarious ambitiousness.

Because the first place a writer gets published, at least in my generation, at least most writers, is on a website. There are indications that more and more lit-websites will be hosted in the coming years, as we lack the structure in Africa for print journals. Saraba, although named as one of top African lit-mags, is yet to publish a print edition, if we ever will. I dare to mention the importance of this although we have equally seen how dangerous this could be — with the ease of accessibility people tend to pose as ‘critics’ without knowing the meaning of the word, or the art, the speculative erudition required. For the danger of our neo-literariness is the spontaneousness with which we can write — a tweet, a post, a comment, even before we have thought out our stance. …. Continue to The Mantle 

Saraba 8: Call for submissions

To interrogate fashion and what is fashionable, we are publishing #8 of Saraba. As usual, our concerns are beyond the superficial details of everyday life. We are asking previously unasked questions, contemplating questions about art and life that may remain unasked were we silent.

There is so much to write about ‘Fashion’ that it is impossible to make a list. So we ask you to draw the line yourself.

Send us work that interrogates fashion in ways that we wouldn’t have contemplated – let this be as much about dress as it is about life. See an example in Suzanne Ushie’s “The Serious Guide to Becoming a Seriously Unfashionable Writer.” (http://www.facebook.com/l/b8bb9KukvMlD-F-h85bB-YbgWZQ/sarabamag.com/read/non-fiction/the-serious-guide-to-becoming-a-seriously-unfashionable-writer/)
Continue reading

Nigeria: A publisher and a writer

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, who along with Jeremy Weate founded Cassava Republic Press, is interviewed on Nigerian and African literature. She is critical of the “degradation” of Nigeria’s education system and what she sees as the unwillingness of “wannabe” writers to engage with their peers so as to learn the craft of writing. Another problem is the general lack of interest in Nigerian and other African writers so whilst reading maybe on the increase, people are reading western popular fiction, religious and business books. In response to a question on the “way art programmes, especially theatre organisation are being run in the country?” I had to laugh – Bibi replied

I didn’t realise that there was such a thing as art programming in this essentially philistine society, where artists, creative and knowledge producers are so devalued. So if you say that there’s such a thing called art programming in his country than I’d like to know more about it. I can therefore not give you my perception since I don’t know of the existence of that which I am yet to perceive.

Continue reading

Birdsong – a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The New Yorker published a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “BirdSong”.  The story centers on the so hypocritical fixation with morality and the habitual disdain for others. The young woman who spends her nights wondering from church to church in search of a husband.   The “Madam” who is arrogant and full of disdain for those she perceives as lesser beings ” A woman for whom things are done”.  And the husband who is happy to take his pleasures where he can but ultimately for him to marriage is the purpose of the journey.  The story is familiar so that we can hear the conversations, recognise the looks, sounds and smells but thats what makes it such a wonderful short story.  And I love the way Chimamanda is increasingly engaging with feminism and challenging homophobia in her work – fiction, essays and interviews.   She has a large following amongst young Nigerians so this is very important and heartening. 

As an aside the comic image which accompanies the story reminds me of a documentary with Adichie in which she encounters a passing trader whilst sitting in a Lagos jam – I wonder if there is a connection.  Was this the beginning of the story?  It also reminds me of those incredible intimate but distant moments when you pass someone whilst driving.  

Literary Nigeria: Saraba Magazine

Saraba is an online literary magazine created and published by Emmanuel Iduma and Damilola Ajayi, two Nigerian students of the University of Ife. Saraba has just published its 6th edition in just 18 months and has gone from strength to strength. There are a number of Nigerian run literary blogs such as Bookaholic, and Wordsbody by Molara Wood as well as websites like Sentinel Nigeria,and Nigeria Fiction. But Saraba for my mind remains the most comprehensive and progressive literary journal with the potential to move well beyond Nigeria. It is a work of the heart with very little funding and my hope is this short interview will encourage readers to support Emmanuel and Damilola in their work.

SE: Lets start with some background on how you came about the idea of Saraba. When and why did you imagine you could put together a literary magazine? Did you decide alone or did you have a series of conversations with friends and how long was it from the idea to publishing the first issue. How did you cover the costs.

EI: The idea of Saraba was borne after a Colloquium of New Writing I organized alongside two friends, in late 2008 in Obafemi Awolowo University where we school and reside. So, basically, in late 2008, dissatisfied and disenchanted with the loads of rejection mails we were receiving, Damilola Ajayi and myself felt we could start an electronic magazine with little or no sensibility and with support for emerging writers. Of course, we had to immediately define ‘emerging writers;’ and we took the phrase to mean young (or old!) writers who have been published little or not at all, but whose writing showed promise and talent. This definition was necessarily from the viewpoint of ourselves and our writing, since we easily sufficed to be described as such writers.

The time between the decision to begin and our first issue was about three months – November 2008 — February 2009. We started by assembling a team of enthusiasts like ourselves — Ayobami Omobolanle, Itunu Akande and Dolapo Amusan. Dolapo was the technical guy, who helped design the first website – we got this at no cost. The cost of hosting the site was borne by myself and Damilola from savings.
What was most important was the drive; we were inexperienced with literary publishing. In fact, we felt so bad about our first issue that we had to re-issue it in September 2009.
Continue reading

Iduma’s “The Various Life Checklist”

“The Various Life Checklist” is the 7th in Emmanuel Iduma’s  “Facebook Musings” series.  Emmanuel is the co-editor of  the Nigerian literary magazine “Saraba” [issues 1-5 can be downloaded here].  


1. Define the status quo
2. Challenge the norms
3. Reinvent the norms
4. Destroy such reinvention
5. Allow for more reinventions
6. Open up the dialogue
7. Leave blank spaces
8. Do not be ambitious
9. Be honest with yourself
10. Despise the existing franchise
11. The market is not your house
12. Your heart is your home
13. Converse with/within yourself
14. Frustration is impossible
15. Do not think about motivation
16. Everyday is The Gift
17. Find a war
18. Do not stop fighting
19. Failure is non-existent
20. You do not know what success is
21. There are less enemies and less friends
22. Remember the works
23. You are the man
© Emmanuel Iduma 2010
See here to submit to Saraba Mag including digital, photographs, illustrations, paintings and so forth. Please send in high resolution jpeg files (not larger than 4 MB).

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Cleansing 3: Resident at Heart by Chinwe Azubuike

We humans on earth are all faced with different issues and problems in our lives. At some point we have the urge to hide away from the world to nurse our wounds or heal them. When this happens, there’s some sort of transformation where by our ‘inner self’ is transported to another realm…a private space, of peace and quiet to face our demons properly, and come to terms with them.

The Installation (the tree tea house) to me depicts a haven.., a hideout where we seek refuge in our minds, to meditate… to confront and find comfort in our inner self. However way we deal with our challenges varies from person to person.

Poetry is all about creativity. To be able to fashion words out of nothing… and surprisingly come to terms with the fact that ‘nothing’ isn’t actually nothing, but that ‘nothing’, can be something.
This is what this Installation means to me… and it is how I have been able to read it.

Resident at Heart

There’s a place called …Solace
In this place, live you and I.
It resides in our subconscious
away from the prying eyes of flamboyance
from all things coloured red…
Our escape.

There, screened from the dream of true connection,
the angel of aversion dines
seeking peace for the soul…
a dance with the reaper- on gravity’s pole
in pipes of smoke and lace
mirror and face.
The blackness is familiar.

Tucked up here, bent by the weight of my cross
it’s merely a spineless repression.
Though blazing is the crimson that fills my head
I have learned by extension, the craze I feel
sure would crack the lock on exile grin’s door

I pledge allegiance to this place
that strolls across a distant land,
heart in hand.
Silence encircling,
like a graveyard of the mind.
The echo, echoes through the white washed walls
then soothes the cuts
from the loneliness’ claws

My feelings hurt today…
I’m not sure if they should,
as I watch the melee of the crowned uncomplicated…
the unconfused in firm alternation.
They move, north- south, east and west
always with endless lists to take away
the gnawing idea of idle life,
idle options unattended.

Yet the night-sky sends a torrent of tears, then clears
sparing us a lone star
all better by far,
than nothingness.

My smile may crack,
but hearing the beat of the world as it lives,
is all one should need.
We go from one vacant space to the next
from one experience to the next- thinking,
we must find a meaning for it all.

©Chinwe Azubuike is a Nigerian feminist poet and activist

The danger of the single story

Interview with Chimamanda

nigerian-author-chimamand-002

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks to William Skidelsky in the Observer about her new book of short stories on life in America.

Her editor’s advice was sound, because the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck are superb. With minimal fuss or apparent effort they present snapshots of Nigerian life. Some take place in her homeland but most are set in America – a departure for Adichie, since both her earlier books are set wholly in Nigeria. But, as she points out, she has spent much of the past decade in the US, so it’s not surprising that the country should have found its way into her fiction.

Via Farafinist

Time out

Farafina Magazine is a Nigerian literary magazine that just gets better with each publication. They have recently revamped their website to include an online version of the printed magazine which has three viewing options, magazine, paper and presentation. Like all great websites, there is a blog – The Farafinist and there is some pretty good content as well. The latest issue “Remapping Africaness” is an attempt to begin the process of reclaiming North Africa for Africa and by doing so assert Africa as geographical space connected by literature, politics, culture, art and histories.

This wonderful promo video is backed up by Igbo musician, Mike Ejeagha. I love this guys music – no 2 minutes tracks these go on for 8-10 minutes and am about to go buy a bunch of tracks from Sterns online

More Mike on You Tube