“Sweat and Patience Always Constitute the Writer’s Best Weapons” – Interview with Brigitte Poirson

“Sweat and Patience Always Constitute the Writer’s Best Weapons” – Interview with Brigitte Poirson

TABLE TALK

“Sweat and Patience Always Constitute the Writer’s Best Weapons” – Interview with Brigitte Poirson

Brigitte Poirson is a multiple award-winning poet, a former teacher, university lecturer and editor that inspires the literary world out of France. She has authored seven books ranging from poetry to theatre and fiction, both in English and French languages. She has contributed to several magazines and anthologies. 
 
Poirson is popular in literary circles as a staunch promoter of African literature and offers her selfless support in grooming the next generation of writers and poets by creating spaces for them at the pinnacle of excellence. WordsRhymes&Rhythm, one of Nigeria’s largest poetry platforms organizes an eponymous monthly poetry contest in honour of Brigitte Poirson. She is an editor for Expound Magazine and the WRR – Caprecon Green Author Prize. 
 
In this inspiring conversation with Poirson, she sheds light on her writing process, her love for poetry and the sacred list of her literary mentors. 
 
Enjoy! 

 

KD: Tell us a bit about your early days. Did you encounter any challenges at the beginning of your career?
 
Poirson: Thank you for offering me the honour to answer your questions. A few days ago, when interviewed about his career, a film maker answered that your next film is always the first. In that sense indeed, each book you produce proves a new challenge too. Each book is always the start of a new beginning, just as every child you give birth to is singular and launches a new adventure. Every time, the process has to be reinitiated, especially with poetry. The challenges of testing a new, specific theme, treating it under a new angle and possibly reaching another kind of readership are constant. I believe writers must be prepared to stand up to the many tests of steering their books to creation, distribution and promotion for all their lives…
 
That is why we, in France, create various associations of writers – authors from the same publishing house or from others – and organise literary “salons” together. We contact mayors liable to be interested in arranging a meeting in their townhalls and inviting people to browse about and get hand-written dedications if they buy the books. I am a member of such a group called “Les Plumes Comtoises”. We have a president and a banner, but mostly we are birds of a quill and real friends. The Paris book “salon”, for instance, is a well-known and crowded event where you can meet new and famous authors. Meeting your readership proves a fruitful experience on both sides of the book.
In any case, sweat and patience always constitute the writer’s best weapons.

Brigitte Poirson

Multiple award-winning poet and writer.

KD: You seem to be very interested and involved in African (particularly Nigerian) poetry. Where does this interest stem from?

 
Poirson: Actually, I was born to Africa practically from birth. Customs, languages, landscapes, issues, tales and first-hand stories were waved at me from family living in Benin. There has always been an African me completing my European self. I later visited some African countries, in particular, South Africa. These were emotional encounters. In 2014, it so happened I came into contact with Samson Iruesiri Kukogho, a contributor to a poetry anthology, via Grapevine, that I compiled and published in Bloemfontein. Ensued a long-lasting friendship that enabled me to better discover the scope of the Nigerian poetic genius. That was when we decided to create an online college of Poetry, then a contest to encourage young poets and reward them.

KD: Are there any literary figures/poets that inspire you?

Poirson: Who has inspired and keeps inspiring me? Every ‘person of the word’, if you allow me that expression. All writers have a specific outlook on life and /or a whole universe to share. They do it more or less artistically and deftly, but what high-brow critics sometimes label pedestrian poetry, just as much as what some revere as crazily innovative lines, only manifest each creator’s vision of poetry. Despising people is not my trade. Promoting them is my concern.
 
Obviously, famous poets and novelists have steered me along my journey into literature. I have admired and studied mentors such as Victor Hugo, Louis Aragon, Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Auden, and so many more!  African literature has always attracted me for its imagination and wisdom. I read African stories from my early childhood, so later on Mandela, Achebe and a range of others have taught me to follow the difficult tracks of African challenges and the spirit behind its brilliance. Lots of novelists have inspired me, but of all of them, the one whose way to absorb human experiences and translate them into words has best spurred me into action remains Virginia Wolf. In this world more dedicated to science-fiction, suspense and violent actions, the stream of consciousness has lost some of its lustre, but not so to me.
 
Ultimately, the deep interest of meeting all these writers lies in the delectation of ingesting their creations, and by so doing, in learning to develop one’s own style under their protective eyes.

KD: What do you think about the state of poetry in Nigeria and Africa as a whole? Are there enough opportunities and recognition for aspiring poets in Nigeria/Africa?

Poirson: With the development of social networks in recent years, we have all become aware that the possibilities of reading, writing, and publishing books have increased exponentially. In that sense, Zuckerworld offers authors new opportunities to leverage their chances to be acknowledged and get a sense of belonging. The dreadful problem of location and isolation thus seems solved. This accounts for the innumerable blogs and sites devoted to literature. The oral traditions of spinning tales and poetic stories in Africa have also found a channel to expand the realm of the word. Nigeria and Africa, in general, are blooming into creativity, to my experience. But in the new, connected world, many aspiring streams may get lost and suffer from drought along their rush to the sea. Traditional publishers, more than ever, remain reluctant to invest in new talents. It is imperative to offer more opportunities for the poets and prose writers to shine. That is why I offer my services to WordsRhymes&Rhythm Publishers today and sponsor my eponymous contest with them, and many others too, plus editing. Naturally, initiatives such as Kreative Diadem must be encouraged.  Talents do not necessarily need to be acknowledged in the UK or elsewhere. Recognition at home is worth any other award…                                                    

 

“In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write.” – Brigitte Poirson 

Brigitte Poirson (center) 

In a recent gathering of a literary salon, Les Plumes Comtoises, held in France

KD: What is your writing routine like? Do your poems have a unifying theme or do you write based on matters of the moment?

Poirson: I have no specific writing routine. I write…when I find the time for it. I used to sit and scribble pages all day long when I was able to because a lot of concentration and documentation is needed to create collections of poems and novels.
But I am more involved in counseling, editing, scoring and rewarding a younger generation these days.
 
When I do compose pieces, I try to unite originality and depth, freedom of inspiration and respect for the language. The spirit of a poem or a longer form of literature is what matters most to me, coupled with a clear style.

 

KD: You host or promote many different poetry contests for Nigerian/African poets regularly. What is the overall vision with that?

Poirson: Hundreds of budding authors have been chatting me in the wake of the contests (and originally from posting my poems). As I have already hinted at, there comes a time when legacy becomes an obvious priority. And lending a friendly shoulder to young talents falls into line with my commitment to the various teaching activities I have been involved in. Lots of deserving, but isolated people feel lost when confronted with the harsh realities a writer must face in his activities. And they need counseling and editing. And encouragements. And recognition. They also need to test their capacities in a welcoming environment. Hence the contests. Mostly the BPPC, aimed at lifting their spirits.

 

KD: Any forthcoming books at this time?

Poirson: I have a forthcoming novel in store. It has been longing to be published for ages. It just needs a bit of editing after all this time. I just hope to be able to find a few moments to do it! I have a publisher for it. So, I look forward to adding that nice gloss it is lacking today. It is a French novel, by the way. I also have a few English short stories waiting to be published.

KD: Any advice for aspiring poets in Nigeria?

Poirson: Aspiring poets know they must strive to find their own style. They know they are expected to stand out among the writing crowd, if they are to be noticed. But it is my belief that finding one’s style cannot be a forced process. It must come from reading others and sweating over one’s own work, and naturally from delving into one’s deepest experience. Aspiring authors, during this quest to the Graal, sometimes tend to align big, learned words. Fine. But accuracy in the choice of words and economy of words and simplicity also work very well when your point is forceful. They also tend to have recourse to tricks supposed to be inventive, like making endless sentences in which they and we may get lost, deleting punctuation, which may be very misleading for the reader, or creating jarring images, all in the name of poetic licence. Poetic licence cannot be invoked to justify [your work if] you don’t master the language. It is my conviction that authors must know where they lead their readers, even in poetry. Letting the readers find a meaning to your texts sounds to me like a justification for not really knowing what you mean. Forgetting to systematically self-edit texts is also a common weakness. But these are only beginners’ issues. Most of the poets I happen to read master the language with incredible creativity and pleasant inventiveness.

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Poirson: Online platforms like Kreative Diadem, that create communities of poets, are obviously initiatives to be admired, encouraged and celebrated. The aim consisting in providing an audience with opportunities to share their creations and be published…and read! must be lauded indeed. “To inform, educate, entertain and inspire” young minds through literature is what fights ignorance and violence best in this crazy world. Just never stop!!!!

 

KD: Any Final words?

Poirson: In consistence with what I mentioned before, allow me to state that we reinvent ourselves with every word we write. We keep experimenting literature and the world inside and outside ourselves, and the next word is always the first. So, I’ll let you mull over this line that concluded a French poem I wrote years ago as an epitaph and which could translate into this:
      “My very last word was: it is only my first.”                                                                               
Keep shining, and thanks for the opportunity!           

 

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The right to think is the right to write

© 2015 - 2019 Kreative Diadem. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

“Writing is my calling” – Interview with Su’eddie Vershima

“Writing is my calling” – Interview with Su’eddie Vershima

TABLE TALK

“Writing is my calling” – Interview with Su’eddie Vershima

Su’eddie Vershima is an African poet, development worker, and president of African Writers at the University of Sussex, where he currently pursues an MA in International Education and Development as a Chevening Scholar. Vershima is the author of Home Equals Holes: Tale of an Exile, The Bottom of Another Tale, and Bring our Casket Home: Tales one shouldn’t tell.


He was Joint Winner—Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize for Poetry 2014, Winner, Mandela Day Short Story Prize 2016, listed on The Nigerian Writers Award 100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40 (2017 & 2018), among other notable achievements.
In this insightful conversation with Kreative Diadem, Vershima talked about his early days in writing, what inspires his writings and his forthcoming works amongst many other things. Enjoy.

 

KD: Let’s meet you, can you tell us about yourself?
 
Vershima: I am a husband and father, friend and writer. I am also a development worker, emerging education expert, and a believer in the human project. I am a Chevening scholar, currently studying for an MA in International Education and Development at the University of Sussex where I am also the President of African Writers.

Su’eddie Vershima

Chevening Scholar & President of African Writers at the University of Sussex

KD: When did you start writing professionally and can you tell us a bit about the early days?

 
Vershima: I am not sure I am a professional writer because the sense of professional writing, particularly as seen in the West is different from what we have in Nigeria. In our country, we are just passionate people who let the ink of our thoughts keep flowing in diverse ways. It is something we find ourselves doing, those of us who do it, and try to keep getting better each day. Having said that, I will just note that I was fortunate to be born into a creative family. I grew up with my elder brothers, Gabriel Agema, Taver, and Sever Ayede, doing magic with comics and making toy men. My sister, Theodora used to draw Captain Love too and tell her tales. These annoying siblings of mine would not end any comic so I eventually decided to do mine. So, in a way, I owe my writing foundations to these ones and to my mother, who bought me a lot of the Heinemann books. My dad told me stories he had read or heard.
So, I was creating consciously and writing various forms of stuff.  My younger siblings, Ngohide and Terhide inspired me to keep on, even as my other brother Ver was a motivation. In secondary school, I would draw comics with my friend, Tardoo Ayua, who drew far cooler stuff. There was also Obinna Okeke, who wouldn’t do as much. He was good too, but not as cool as us. (Laughs). I would write stories too and show my teacher, Mr. Emmanuel Mbatsavde. My creative process took a turn when I got into the university, and was tutored by writers like Dr. Andrew Aba, Dr. Maria Ajima and Professor Moses Tsenongu. I had great support in those early days from my friend, Sam Ogabidu, who encouraged my efforts. He was the ANA Chairman in Benue and I was the financial secretary, administrator and e-officer. I also got support from my colleagues in the university, Andrew Bula and Joshua Agbo, to mention two. But the biggest change to my writing came when I encountered the writings of Professor Hyginus Ekwuazi. He was a revolution to my writing and thinking. He is a remarkable man who remains one of my favourite persons till date. In a roundabout way, that is a summary of most of my writing history. It could be longer but let me not bore you.

KD: How would you describe your writing style?

Vershima: My writing style is evolving. I used to have a lot of my cultural roots in my work. Prof. Ekwuazi used to taunt me and say he understands that it is the typical way of everyone trying to ensure that their corner of the backyard was preserved. In essence, we are all fighting to preserve what we can in a globalising world eating away at all we once were. A world where our diversity is being swallowed as we become homogenous in a global village. My writing, these days, are becoming more conscious of my immediate surroundings. I am describing far more than I used to. I used to believe that my writing should be somewhat like some parts of the New Testament tales, particularly in its description of key characters where you are left to imagine what they looked like. All that is changing and I own it. It is life’s constant, change. Other than that, I can say my writing is deliberate. I think and think hard before I write. A simple poem or tale takes more months and months, some times, years. So, it is a deliberate and often, tiring process. But who knows, even that too might change at some point.

KD: Can you give a brief description of your writing process or routine? Do you have any helpful writing tips you’d like to share?

Vershima: My writing process is usually not healthy. I am usually the editor and creator at the same time. And this is not right or helpful many times. We had this workshop in Oxford early this year and Nick Makoha who facilitated kept mentioning that these are two different people. The creator comes into conflict with the editor as they are different. As such, we have to let the creator do his/her work, then let the editor work much later. I wrote on this and put it up on my blog. You can search for it online and share that link. Might be useful for someone somewhere, especially as Makoha says there is no such thing as writer’s block!

 

Writing is a calling for me. Something that is a part of me which I cannot discard. We will do what we can to move on.

Su’eddie Vershima

Chevening Scholar & President of African Writers at the University of Sussex

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer and poet? What steps do you take to overcome them?

Vershima: Life conflicts with writing. You have to earn and you have to be all the other things you are. At the moment, I am also a scholar so I have to face work, studies, life, and family while also trying to do my writing bit. I am also almost always working towards the promotion of writing and writers, which can be distracting itself. We are currently working towards a literary festival in Benue in June 2019. A few months away. That is work and distracting, as you cannot near imagine. The death of Pius Adesanmi on Sunday (March 10, 2019) also reminded me of the part of the writer as a social crusader. Especially in our clime. Having to do that too, is something that will challenge my creative process. But in the end, it is what it is. Writing is a calling for me. Something that is a part of me which I cannot discard. We will do what we can to move on.

KD: What was it like completing and publishing your first book?

Vershima: It was awesome. I published my first collection in 2012. I would have published earlier as I had – or thought I had – the right material. My foster father, Mr. Charles Ayede, told me to hold on a bit. He wanted me to get my work through a few critics and things like that. He would also tell me that Literature would not put food on my table. By some strange coincidence, his death gave birth to new poems in his honour. They are what came to be the chunk of Bring our casket home: Tales one shouldn’t tell, my first collection. Hyginus Ekwuazi, who wrote the Foreword to the book, helped me with part of the title and also inspired the poem, ‘Tales one shouldn’t tell.’ The book also helped birth SEVHAGE Publishers. The second book we did was my cousin, Faeren Adzege’s book, A Teen for God. So, in a way, completing and publishing that first book set in motion several things that keep unraveling themselves each day.

KD: In 2016, you won the Mandela Day Short Story Prize. What was the inspiration behind your winning entry?

Vershima: The winning entry was ‘Washing the Earth.’ It was inspired by a sunny afternoon in Makurdi. I can’t remember the details but I know that my head kept spinning. It is one of those stories that tasked my imagination.

KD: Who are some literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Vershima: There are a lot of them, if I would be honest. The two top people on that list would my wife, Agatha and Hyginus Ekwuazi. Closely following is my near twin, Servio Gbadamosi. I am inspired by my friends and I am fortunate to have them around me and with me. I am inspired not just by their writings but also the work they are doing in the literary world and other spheres. I can easily mention the writers Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Sam Ogabidu, Debbie Iorliam, Aondosoo Labe, Innocence Silas, Otene Ogwuche, Daisy Odey, Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, Dike Chukwumerije, Romeo Oriogun, and Dike Chukwumerije.

It might be weird or ironical but there are also some people who keep me on my toes and inspire me greatly. The names that would easily pop up here include my sister, Jennifer Aduro, Oko Owi Ocho (Afrika), Deborah Oluniran, and Torkwase Igbana. These people are lights that really help me on many dark days. Following would be Justin Ebuka Muodebelu and Nana Hauwa Sule, who I believe in so much. There are other names I can call but let’s keep it short for now.

KD: Do your poems and short stories have a unifying theme or you simply write on matters of the moment or what inspires you?

Vershima: I am inspired by several things. Life. Events. Some times, even dreams. Other times, the inspiration just comes from within. I guess I should say, Aondo – God – does His magic, right?

 

KD: What are some of your long term goals as a writer?
Vershima: Well, it is to give myself out as much as possible. I don’t want to go back to Aondo with anything inside. To be able to be relevant to my country and to my generation in every ramification. To rise above ordinary creative fiction and verse to be a voice where words are meant to be spoken. I also hope to create platforms where more voices can be heard, collaborating with as many people as possible to make our land better even as we help those we can to be better.

KD: Are you currently working on any book(s) at the moment?

Vershima: Yes, a children’s book which had a limited publication last year but which would be out by June 2019. The title is Once Upon a Village Tale. I am also working on a short story collection and another poetry collection.

 

KD: Do you think there are enough opportunities for aspiring writers/poets in Nigeria?

Vershima: For aspiring writers and poets, a lot needs to be done. For writers, a lot has been done, a lot is being done and will be done. More opportunities are opening and the landscape is getting more beautiful. Things can only get better.

 

KD: What advice would you give to aspiring writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Vershima: I am not an aspiring writer. I am a writer. To all those who are aspiring, leave your aspirations and get into the business of writing.

 

Do you like our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, spoken word poetry, and interviews.

Kreative Diadem

The right to think is the right to write

© 2015 - 2019 Kreative Diadem. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

TABLE TALK

“Anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day” – Interview with Olakunle Ologunro

As the Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest enters its second year, we had an engaging chat with the winner of the maiden edition in the flash fiction category, Olakunle Ologunro. His short story ‘Pampers’ was published in the Queer Africa 2 anthology, and republished in Queer Africa: Selected Stories, his flash fiction ‘And They Were Laughing’ was published in LitroUK.
In this interview, Ologunro discussed his passion for writing and the struggles he has encountered on his journey to find his voice in the literary world. Enjoy.

 

KD: Who is Olakunle Ologunro? Let’s meet you!
 
Ologunro: Hello! I am Olakunle Ologunro, a final year student of English in the University of Ilorin, Nigeria.

Olakunle Ologunro

Winner of the 2017 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: When did you first discover your passion for writing, what inspired you?

Ologunro: I honestly don’t know. I read quite a number of books while I was growing up, and because reading and writing go hand in hand, it is possible that my writing must have picked up from there.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer? What steps do you take to overcome them?

Ologunro: Oh, the general ones: Self-doubt and acute self-criticism; moments of feeling like I’m not made for this writing thing; moments of ‘Why the heck is this story not surrendering itself to be written?’
How I overcome it: I sleep. Or I go visit a friend. Or I check my WhatsApp and Facebook. Or I count my blessings. Anything, I just don’t remain at the table mulling over my problems. I leave them to cool and them come back to attack them or be attacked (again) by them.

KD: Who are some of the literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Ologunro: I’m not specific/limited. I draw inspiration from a number of sources that would be too numerous to list. But to put it simply, anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day. I am not bothered if that person has never published a book, or if s/he is a multiple award-winning author.

 

But to put it simply, anyone who is able to weave a good story is my hero any day. I am not bothered if that person has never published a book, or if s/he is a multiple award-winning author.

KD: In 2017, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. How did you feel about winning?

Ologunro: Surprised. Then excited. And then panicky.

KD: Let us get down to your flash fiction. What was the inspiration behind Imole? Was there a specific message you intended to pass along to the reader?

Ologunro: Would you believe me if I said that the idea for ‘Imole‘ came to me from nowhere? I can’t remember what I was doing then, but the line, “Your mother, belle of the ball, wanter of things beyond her capacity,” came to me. I think I wrote it down so I would not forget, or maybe I did not. The rest of the story followed that line of thought. The writing happened speedily, but the editing was not as speedy.

And no, I wasn’t interested in passing a message. At least that was not my foremost intention. I understand that people who read it might take away a lesson or two, but while I was writing it, all that mattered was telling a story that seemed ripe enough to be told.

KD: Apart from winning first prize in the flash fiction contest last year, what are some of your other achievements? (Awards, nominations, published works, etc.)

Ologunro: I placed second in a writing contest by Naija Stories, was a finalist for the Awele Creative Trust Award, was shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak award anthology, longlisted for the inaugural AMAB-Home of Books Foundation Prize. My short story ‘Pampers’ was published in the Queer Africa 2 anthology, and republished in Queer Africa: Selected Stories, my flash fiction ‘And They Were Laughing’ was published in LitroUK, and my recent short story ‘A Nonrequired Guide to Writing Love Stories’ appears on Brittle Paper.

KD: Are you currently working on any books at the moment?

Ologunro: No, I am not. I wish I was, though.

KD: What advice would you give to aspiring writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Ologunro: “When it gets too tough to go on, remind yourself that if you can survive in Nigeria, a thing like writing is too small to break you.”
Just kidding. I cannot think of a good advice presently, but I’d suggest listening to Hall of Fame by will.i.am and The Script. The song found me years ago, and every line of it could easily be a watchword.

 

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Ologunro: I think that they are doing a good job. To find a space (online or physical) invested in the growth and support of young writers and talents, is a great means of encouragement, something that we all need in large doses.

KD: Any final words?

Ologunro: Thank you so much for this chat. Thank you for thinking I have something important to say, something worth reading, and for reaching out. I hope we get to do this again.

 

Do you like our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, spoken word poetry, and interviews.

Kreative Diadem

The right to think is the right to write

© 2015 - 2019 Kreative Diadem. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

“Believe in your dream; believe you have something to say to the world” – Interview with Chiamaka Nwangwu

“Believe in your dream; believe you have something to say to the world” – Interview with Chiamaka Nwangwu

TABLE TALK

Believe in your dream; believe you have something to say to the world” – Interview with Chiamaka Nwangwu

As the Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest enters its second year, we had an engrossing chat with the winner of the maiden edition in the poetry category, Chiamaka Nwangwu. She made the longlist for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize in 2016. Her essay, ‘My Book Affair’ was published on TheAfroReader, a literary blog in 2017.

In this interview, Nwangwu discussed her passion for writing and how she got the inspiration behind her winning poem, ‘Lights Out.’ Enjoy.

KD: Who is Chiamaka Nwangwu? Let us meet you!
 
Nwangwu: Hello. I am Chiamaka Doreen Nwangwu. I am from Nsukka in Enugu state. I live in Lagos. I am currently in my 4th year of undergraduate law at the University of Ibadan. I think I am a bit of a romantic. I love reading; I have a fondness for African literature. I also write a little.

Chiamaka Nwangwu

Winner of the 2017 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Poetry Category) 

KD: When did you first discover your passion for poetry, what inspired you?

Nwangwu: I did not exactly have a passion for poetry but literature in general. I consumed any book that piqued my interest, whether poetry, prose or drama. I think continuous reading motivates you to write. One of the first complete poems I wrote was in JSS1. Nothing special happened before that. I just picked up a pen.
I must mention however that I was deeply inspired by my elder sister. She kept a red book in which she wrote beautiful poetry. I remember the titles and I remember the words, I felt like if she could write so well at such a young age, then maybe I could someday.

 

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a poet? What steps do you take to overcome them?

Nwangwu: The dreaded writer’s block. The start that you are afraid you cannot finish. The words not fitting or sounding right. The gnawing fear that you might one day be unable to produce poetry. I face these ones.
I try to be patient with my poetry. I keep trying until it sounds right. I usually finish a poem I start. If I am blocked, however, I leave it. I read any kind of literature that usually motivates or spurs me and then I go back to it. I write for myself so I try not to put pressure on myself. If the words come today, I will put them on paper but if not then hopefully tomorrow.

KD: Who are some of the literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Nwangwu: I think I am blessed to have been born in a world in which Chimamanda Adichie and Chinua Achebe lived. Their books inspired me and showed me that my story too can be represented in literature. I adore the modern poetry of Warsan Shire, Rupi Kaur, and Ijeoma Umebinyuo.

 

“Believe in your dream; believe you have something to say to the world. Don’t put down the pen.”

KD: In 2017, you won first prize in the poetry category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. How did you feel about winning?

Nwangwu: I was surprised to be honest. I usually do not put my mind to these kinds of things. I try not to get my hopes up so that I do not suffer a huge disappointment if things do not work out the way I want. I was pleasantly surprised. It gave me confidence that my poetry was indeed good. My elder sister always praised my poems but she has to, I am her little sister. Winning an actual competition gave me a bit of external validation and I am eternally grateful.

KD: Let us get down to your poem. What was the inspiration behind Lights Out? Was there a specific message you intended to pass along to the reader?

Nwangwu: I remember there was a fuel scarcity at the time and I passed a fueling station around where I live. There were so many cars at different angles, filled with different people. Others were carrying jerry cans and they looked determined to get petrol that night no matter the cost. I think I just went home that night and started to write.
I tried to capture the plight of different classes of Nigerians and how we are collectively affected by the poor power sector. I want my reader to connect with the problems posed by the power sector in Nigeria and vow to do better if put in a position in power. I hope that anyone who reads the poem, in general, feels motivated to make a change for good in Nigeria.

KD: Apart from winning first prize in the poetry contest last year, what are some of your other achievements? (Awards, nominations, published works, etc.)

Nwangwu: I made the longlist for the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize in 2016. My essay My Book Affair was published on TheAfroReader, a literary blog in 2017. I am really hoping for more accolades.

KD: What are some of your long-term goals as a writer?

Nwangwu: Well, I honestly would like to write a lot more. I want to move into the prose genre fully and it would be amazing to be published by the New York Times for my work. I would like to publish my first novel at 25.

KD: Are you currently working on any poems/books at the moment?

Nwangwu: Yes, I am.

KD: What advice would you give to aspiring poets like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Nwangwu: Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep motivating yourself, because you will not always receive encouragement from your peers. Believe in your dream; believe you have something to say to the world. Don’t put down the pen.

 

KD: What do you think about Kreative Diadem?

Nwangwu: I applaud anybody, society or organization that celebrates the aspiring Nigerian writer. I love that Kreative Diadem does this by publishing poems and short stories, encouraging submissions and organizing competitions in an effort to award literary excellence. I hope that Kreative Diadem keeps up the good work.

 

KD: Any final words?

Nwangwu: Step out of the ordinary.

 

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“Poetry is imperfect and it’s that imperfection that makes poetry beautiful” – Interview with Okwudili Nebeolisa

“Poetry is imperfect and it’s that imperfection that makes poetry beautiful” – Interview with Okwudili Nebeolisa

TABLE TALK

“Poetry is imperfect and it’s that imperfection that makes poetry beautiful” – Interview with Okwudili Nebeolisa

We recently met up with Okwudili Nebeolisa, a heavily-decorated Nigerian writer.  His manuscript, “Country” was one of the final shortlisted entries for the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets in 2016.

That same year, Nebeolisa was shortlisted for the Writivism Prize for Poetry-in-Translation and earned a coveted selection for the Ebedi Writers Residency. We discussed his beginnings, influences, abandoned projects, creative process and momentary feelings of despair. Enjoy.

KD: Can you please tell us about yourself? What was your childhood like?
 
Okwudili: My childhood was quite funny and very normal like anybody’s. I was very inquisitive and, according to my mom, I wrote on any blank sheet I could find, even the back of doctors’ prescriptions. My father loved reading; he was a fan of Achebe and he even had two books by Wole Soyinka. He read a lot of newspapers, sometimes several newspapers in a day, though he didn’t have a tertiary education. He just loved the idea of investing in someone’s thoughts. I got that reading streak from him. I don’t think I read as much as he does, though.
 
KD: At what age did you know you would follow a literary profession?
 
Okwudili: I think I started writing when I was sixteen. I was in SSS 2 at that time. But I started writing seriously two years later in my first year in the university.

Okwudili Nebeolisa

Photo accessed via Facebook

KD: You were one of four Nigerian writers selected for the Ebedi International Writers Residency in 2016. Could you describe your experience and the impact on your writing?
 
Okwudili: It was memorable. At least I got to write a complete poetry collection that got lost when I was kidnapped – but that is story for another day. I was also able to meet Rasaq Gbolahan, a wonderful poet in his own way. I was able to write some poems about Iseyin where the residency is located. I was able to have cherishable conversations with my very good friend David Ishaya Osu.
 
KD: Accept my sympathy. But what effects would you say that ordeal had on your writing? Did you at any point feel like quitting after losing such a body of work?
 
Okwudili: Of course, I felt like giving up in the beginning; but then that feeling of despair dissipates, and then you find yourself writing. I mostly wrote poems about the experience after that event, and then I began to make outlines for stories.
 
KD: How far gone is work on your first novel The Spirit House?
 
Okwudili: It was just halfway gone. That, too, went with the kidnappers. Sometimes I think that was a good sign for me to maybe discard the project.
 
KD: When you said you discarded the project, do you mean you are not going to write this particular book the same way you conceived it before it was lost, or that you don’t intend pursuing it any further?
 
Okwudili: I haven’t totally abandoned that project, but I do hope I will come back to it someday. Writers hardly totally abandon projects. I think I need some sort of luxury like the one at the Residency to return to that project.

But then, I found out that much about poetry is imperfect and it’s that imperfection that makes poetry beautiful.”

KD: You write poetry, fiction and nonfiction. When you have an idea do you immediately know the medium it will take? Of these three, do you have a favorite? Why?
Okwudili: I think, for now, my favorite is fiction, if we go by which genre I read the most, though that may change in the future. But I read across genres. It matters what I want to get across to my audience. For example, if I want it totally fictional, I write it as fiction. If I want it autobiographical or totally true, I write it as nonfiction, if I want it to be both, I normally use poetry.
 
KD: Is ‘The Pages’ in August autobiographical? To what extent do you allow memory in your writings?
 
Okwudili: Partly autobiographical, if by that you mean true. I was writing a batch of poems based on familial and personal themes. Currently, I am still working on very personal poems, trying to assess what I think of things that have happened to my parents (my mum especially), though fictionalizing some part to effect.
 
KD: Who are your favorite writers and what do you value in their works?
Okwudili: It matters across genres. In fiction, I adore Chimamanda Adichie, Marilynne Robinson, Edward P Jones, Anne Enright, Colm Tobin, Chinelo Okparanta; basically because of how they treat their novels on the character level and the relative ease with which they seem to make writing look. In nonfiction, I like Teju Cole, I like the essays of Atul Gawande and Samantha Powers. In poetry, it’s basically a thing of generation: the older generation has Louise Gluck as my favorite. I also like Wole Soyinka (though I haven’t read anything by him lately); I wish Chinua Achebe had written a lot more poetry. I like Sharon Olds, Spencer Reece, Charles Wright, Alice Oswald; in the younger generation, I love poems by Gbenga Adesina, Anthony Carelli, Mathew Dickman, Gbenga Adeoba (he has a way of saying the usual in the unusual way), Kechi Nomu, and Katharine Larson.    
 
KD: Ishion Hutchinson has said that a poem is the vehicle of reciprocal tension between what came before and what is present, not as perfect synthesis but from, and towards, memory. Would you agree with that?
 
Okwudili: That reminds me of a saying Jameson Fitzpatrick told me, ‘that prose proceeds and verse reverses’. I found out that when I am writing poetry, I am often going back to make sure there aren’t redundant statements, and in that sense I think I am trying to make sense of an event. I don’t know whether it’s reciprocal, it may be, I don’t know. But then, I found out that much about poetry is imperfect and it’s that imperfection that makes poetry beautiful.
 
KD: Thanks for your time.
 

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“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible” – Interview with Arinze Ifeakandu

“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible” – Interview with Arinze Ifeakandu

TABLE TALK

“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible” – Interview with Arinze Ifeakandu

Ifeakandu is one of the five writers shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African writing, arguably the biggest competitive literary award on the continent. With his story, “God’s Children Are Little Broken Things”, he became the second-youngest person ever to achieve such a feat at age 22.

He is an alumnus of the 2013 Farafina Creative Trust Workshop. Prolific in his diversity, he was also a 2015 BN Poetry Award finalist. In this talk, he speaks to us about his background, literary style and influences.

KD: Who is Arinze Ifeakandu?
 
Arinze: He is a guy who over-thinks things, so much that his best friend calls him Mr Sensitive, just to shut him up.
KD: Why do you write, and what audience do you put in mind?
 
Arinze: I write because I really enjoy doing it. It gives me great pleasure to write. I do not have an audience in mind when I write.

Arinze Ifeakandu

Photo accessed via Facebook

KD: What impact has being on the CainePrize Award shortlist brought to you (and your writing)?
 
Arinze: It has exposed my story to a new audience, a ‘home’ audience. The story was published by the US-based A Public Space magazine, and so it pleases me that Africans, Nigerians, are getting to read it now.
KD: When did you start writing and how?
 
Arinze: My entanglement with writing began very early in my life. My siblings and childhood friends used to enjoy the stories I told when we were all young. When I learnt how to read I became such an obsessed  reader, infringing on people’s privacy by reading letters and texts that were not meant for me, and so it seemed only natural that I soon began writing the stories I used to tell.
KD: What informed your choice of the story you submitted?
 
Arinze: When I was writing the story—I wrote it in 2014 and it won me an Emerging Writer fellowship in 2015—I did not have the Caine Prize in mind. I did not have any prize in mind, for that matter. So it was not written to be ‘submitted’. I cannot say so much that I chose the story as much as that the story followed me wherever I went, and I had no choice but to write it.

You can follow this link to view the full list of the nominees and also get an access to the published story that got Arinze shortlisted for the prestigious Caine Prize Award.

“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible, although the matter of what is ‘real’ remains a question.”

KD: Mentors/influences/writers you admire
 
Arinze: I adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is everything that I believe a writer should be; the clarity with which she delivers deep and often complex thought, that is phenomenal. Buchi Emecheta, I love, because of The Joys of Motherhood, the first book that awakened something in me that has yet to go to sleep.
KD: How would you describe your writing style?
 
Arinze: I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible, although the matter of what is ‘real’ remains a question.

Arinze Ifekandu, one of the five writers shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African writing.

Photograph accessed via Facebook

KD: Reclaiming one’s own body is a recurrent motif in the short story God’s Children are Little Broken Things. Could you briefly comment on this?
 
Arinze: Ah! I’m not sure I want to become a chief critic of my own story. There are certain bodies in this world, in my country Nigeria, that have been designated unholy, unacceptable. But was it not God himself who reprimanded Peter: How can you call what I created unclean? LGBT people in this country are faced with so much violence in this country, and even though the story does not deal directly with violence, we sense the struggle the major characters go through in situating themselves properly, in loving without shame or fear, in a space that is hostile towards them.
KD: What is the most attractive thing about fiction that makes you keep writing?
 
Arinze: The fact that I can be lost for hours and hours and forget about the morbid exercise of living.

 

KD: Thanks for your time. Best wishes.
 
Arinze: Thank you.

 

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