“It’s Universal law that whatever you focus on expands” – Interview with Chiwenite Onyekwelu
In anticipation of the fifth edition of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest, we share this interview with Chiwenite Onyekwelu, last year’s poetry winner.
Chiwenite Onyekwelu is a poet. His works have appeared on Rough Cut Press, America Magazine, Cultural Weekly, Isele, etc. He was a finalist of the 2021 New York Encounter Poetry Contest, winner of the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize, runner up of the Foley Poetry Prize 2020, as well as the winner of both the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Writing Contest (Poetry Category) and the Christopher Okigbo Poetry Prize 2019. He studies Pharmacy at Nnamdi Azikiwe University where he also serves as Assistant Editor-in-Chief (Agulu Campus).
Kreative Diadem: Who is Chiwenite? Tell us briefly about yourself.
Chiwenite: I’m a poet, essayist, editor, poetry co-teacher at the Threposs Learn, and undergraduate of Pharmacy at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
Winner of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Poetry Category)
KD: When did you first discover your passion for writing and what inspired you?
Chiwenite: Discovering my passion for writing can be traced back to when I was small. I remember writing several clumsy stories when I was in primary five. But it was not until my last few months in secondary school, that I began to think that maybe I should actually be more deliberate and take writing a little seriously.
When I wrote my earliest stories as a kid, it wasn’t because I felt I could do it. At that time, I was suffering from anxiety because of my first pedophilia experience. And because I was so scared to verbally narrate what had happened to anyone, writing offered an escape route, however temporary. I began with keeping small notes that I never let anyone else find. Now, when I think about your question, I want to say that it might have been that first pedophilia experience that inspired my writing.
KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer and what steps do you take to overcome them?
Chiwenite: My greatest challenge at the moment is the inadequacy of time. To think that I have a lot I want to write about, yet half the time, I have my head flattened under the weight of Pharmacy and all that comes with studying it. This is not to say that I don’t love what I’m doing here in Pharmacy School. But I’m just boxed up at a spot where one thing I love is struggling so hard to swallow up another thing I also love. To overcome this, however, I have given up most part of my leisure time. When I’m not busy with schoolwork, I’m almost always writing.
Another challenge, I must say, is in the area of improving my writing skill. As an emerging writer, there is still so much to learn. But then, the problem is ‘who’s willing to teach?’ The few available writing classes here cost quite a bulk, and we all know what that means. So the majority of us emerging writers have resorted to self-teaching, which is such an exerting, trial-and-error method of learning to write.
I know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is doing great with the Purple Hibiscus Writing Workshop. The Tampered Writing Workshop and also the SprinNg Writing Fellowship have all been helpful to writers at the grassroots. But I feel this challenge exists especially because here we do not have more already-established writers doing stuffs like these.
KD: What are some literary figures that inspire you and your work?
Chiwenite: The term “literary figures” seems to elude me of its exact meaning. But if you meant the writers who have inspired my writing the most, then it would be arduous to name them all, particularly because at every point in time, I have a “new” writer whose work I feel drawn to. Recently, I have found inspiration in the works of Momtaza Mehri, Cathy Linh Che, Theresa Lola, I.S. Jones, Danez Smith, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Romeo Origun, Hala Alyan, Akwaeke Emezi, Bryan Byrdlong, Nneka Arimah and so many others.
“It’s Universal law that whatever you focus on expands…Write, even if nothing seems to be improving or the rejections keep coming.”
KD: Last year, you won first prize in the poetry category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. What was your reaction like?
Chiwenite: I felt very excited. Being on the 2019 Kreative Diadem shortlist (poetry) taught me to believe in myself. So, when I was announced first prize winner for 2020, I was like “oh-boy, we’re really really getting somewhere!”.
KD: What was the inspiration and meaning behind your winning poem: Hydrology?
Chiwenite: Hydrology was inspired by a personal experience. Before now, I lived as though I was underwater. Like I was drowning under the heft of my childhood, and however I tried to step unto the shores, there were always some memories that wouldn’t let me.
So for me, the poem was a kind of catharsis. It was my first big leap towards healing. The poem tells the story of a boy who was once fragile and untouched until something happened. I do not know how to go further from here, but that is all the meaning behind Hydrology.
KD: Do you have any other published works aside from Hydrology, as well as any other achievements you’d like to share?
Chiwenite: Some of my most recent poems can be found on Rough Cut Press, Cultural Weekly, and on America Magazine. And my most recent recognitions include emerging as a finalist in the 2021 New York Encounter Poetry Prize, winning first prize in the 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize, and emerging as a runner-up for the Foley Poetry Prize 2020.
KD: What are some of your long-term goals as a writer?
Chiwenite: I have to start working on a poetry chapbook any time from now, then maybe on a Collection afterwards. It is also my dream to get an MFA in Poetry much later in the future, and more than anything, to give back as much as I have received.
KD: Any forthcoming works or publications?
Chiwenite: No, not yet. Still waiting for editors’ responses.
KD: What advice would you give to young writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?
Chiwenite: I too need that advice. But let me say this quickly: there is no magic recipe for writing. However, some of the two most effective strategies in becoming better are reading and consistency in writing. It’s Universal law that whatever you focus on expands. So read widely, especially contemporary works, then try out new styles and avoid limiting yourself to a particular theme. Write, even if nothing seems to be improving or the rejections keep coming.
Any final words for Kreative Diadem and its readers?
Chiwenite: Thanks to Kreative Diadem for everything it’s doing to help writers. Her readers, no doubt, are in very good hands.