“It’s Universal law that whatever you focus on expands” – Interview with Chiwenite Onyekwelu

“It’s Universal law that whatever you focus on expands” – Interview with Chiwenite Onyekwelu

Chiwenite Onyekwelu

TABLE TALK

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.

Chiwenite Onyekwelu

Chiwenite Onyekwelu

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 flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. What was your reaction like?

Chiwenite: I felt very excited. Being in the 2019 Kreative Diadem shortlist (poetry) taught me to believe in my self. 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.

Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

Do you love our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, and essays.

“You’ve got this. You’re good enough”— Interview with Daniel Ogba

“You’ve got this. You’re good enough”— Interview with Daniel Ogba

Daniel Ogba

TABLE TALK

“You’ve got this. You’re good enough”— Interview with Daniel Ogba

As we anticipate the fifth edition of Kreative Diadem’s Annual Creative Writing Contest, we recently chatted with last year’s flash fiction winner—Daniel Ogba. Enjoy!

Daniel Ogba wants to move and watch and not stop, that is why he writes. He has writings featured in Ile Alo, the African Writers (now defunct), and the Muse Journal, No. 47. He is currently studying Dentistry at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Kreative Diadem: Who is Daniel? Tell us briefly about yourself.

Daniel: I really don’t know how to answer this type of question. I haven’t figured out fully yet who I am or am not, I don’t think anyone ever fully figures, and I am still in that process of knowing. I can only tell you that I am a firm believer, and I dream a lot.

Daniel Ogba

Winner of the 2020 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest (Flash Fiction Category)

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

Daniel: It was my grief that first introduced me to writing. I lost my father when I was six, and so I searched for a way to keep his memory alive. A longing that his pictures alone weren’t sufficient to provide.

So I started writing about him, started building fictional characters around him- how he walked, what he smelt like, the kind of things he liked that I started growing up to like. Little acts that I didn’t ever want to forget about him, most of which are a blur now. I think that particular loss has reshaped every aspect of me, my writing inclusive.

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

Daniel: I think the challenges I face in my writing are all in my head. Well, except the ton of school work occupying my schedule, and even that, too, is something I can overcome if I work hard enough to. I’m a very lazy person mentally. I’ll be unstoppable if I can be able to overcome my own self.

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

Daniel: There’s a plethora of them. There’s Chimamanda Adichie, obviously. I really love Akwaeke Emezi for the genius structuring and plotting in her stories. I admire the unafraid-ness in Eloghosa Osunde’s works, something I’m aspiring towards. I’d give anything to live in Pemi Aguda’s head. Ope Adedeji is astonishing. TJ Benson is another remarkable writer, and I’m really looking forward to reading his novel. Chukwuebuka Ibeh is incredibly talented and sweet. The list can go on and on. I am generally inspired by work that leaves me in complete awe, or breathless.

 

I’ll be unstoppable if I can be able to overcome my own self.”

KD: In 2020, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. How did you feel about winning?

Daniel: I couldn’t contain my joy. The year had been terrible and so tough it had me already on my knees. When I saw the mail, I literally screamed and danced on the road, my friend thought I was losing my head. It was the news I needed that period after too many rejections.

KD: What was the inspiration and meaning behind Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst?

A Kendrick Lamar song. With Sing About Me I hoped to explore friendship, and the nature of families we create for ourselves outside of the family. Also, it had an underlying theme of depression; of the way people wrap themselves up in different layers and shades of fabric to mask the issues they’re inwardly dealing with, live up to society’s expectation that you appear fine, your struggles regardless.

KD: Do you have any other published works aside from Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst, as well as any other achievements you’d like to share?

Daniel: No.

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

Daniel: The goal is one thing: to become a really good writer.

KD: Any forthcoming works or publications?

Daniel: At the moment, none.

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

Daniel: I wouldn’t necessarily call it advice. It’s something I picked from one of Eloghosa Osunde’s interview on Brittle Paper sometime ago, and made mine. “Any voice that says my dreams are not translatable to reality is a lie. I’m good enough. The only thing separating me from where I want to be is consistent work and discipline, not incapability.” Basically, just write, put in work. You’ve got this. You’re good enough.

KD: Any final words for Kreative Diadem and her readers?

Daniel: The work your platform is doing is surely the Lord’s work. I pray it continues. And you guys should be really proud. You’ve offered a stepping-stone for several writers to go ahead and do amazing things, it’s lovely to see.

Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

Do you love our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, and essays.

Kreative Diadem

The right to think is the right to write

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“Read a lot and be patient with your art” – Interview with Anthony Okpunor

“Read a lot and be patient with your art” – Interview with Anthony Okpunor

Anthony Okpunor

TABLE TALK

“Read a lot and be patient” – Interview with Anthony Okpunor

As we anticipate the fourth edition of our Annual Creative Writing Contest, we recently interviewed the winner of the third edition in the poetry category, Anthony Okpunor.

Anthony hails from the Southern part of Nigeria. In this interview, he discusses his passion for writing; including his early days as a writer as well as some of the challenges and inspirations behind his art.

Ready? Let’s go!

Kreative Diadem: Who is Anthony Okpunor? Tell us briefly about yourself.

Anthony: Anthony is a mix of quiet and trouble. Fun, with a flair for solitude. Also a good listener & conversationalist. These provide the space for me to be an artist. I write poetry as an aesthetic. I love music a lot, a whole lot that I find myself singing almost all the time. There is then this attraction to people, not just my own space. I enjoy the company of (the right) people, gathered anywhere having long laughs at the silliest of things, toasting to friendship. This hybrid longing makes me omniverted. Before all these I’m a Nigerian male, dark skinned, from an Ibo speaking tribe in the South. I’m also a Christian. I love God.

Anthony Okpunor

Anthony Okpunor

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Poetry Category)

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

Anthony: I’ll have to take you back to my secondary school days to give you an answer.

There was this tradition at the time where English teachers gave students compulsory essays with a title to write on. The tradition was in the title: “A Day I Will Never Forget”. I do not know if they still do it.

I remember I wrote a fiction. At the time I did not know it was called that. I did not mind, so long as the ideas kept pouring out of my head, I was happy. I remember I wrote about a robbery, what made me think of something like that; I will never know.

At the dawn of the following term when our exam papers were handed back to us, I turned out to have scored highest in that section. I still see the smile on my teacher’s face sometimes. I remember she made the entire class know I wrote the best story.

I got home and showed it to my sister who read it and said she loved the story. Ever since, I’ve grown one or two writing limbs.

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

Anthony: I believe writers in Africa (Nigeria especially) have a challenge of getting access to good & contemporary books. In my country where there are not many libraries, & the ones available carry the weight of old thoughts, this is a huge challenge. There is hardly a place here where contemporary works are displayed for writers to have access to them. This is why literary festivals are such miracles.

Then there is the struggle to be “seen”. It is sad that writers are not really “writers” except they have been published in a foreign journal or have won a major awardwhich has to be foreign, else you were just lucky. Who made foreignness a test of true art? There’s no one to point a finger at anyway, because before now there was no platform to celebrate the younger generation of writers. But now there are literary bodies here and there, big and not-big. The Nigerian Students Poetry Prize at the moment is the highest platform for emerging writers that are undergraduates, and it is such a beauty because it gives every student a chance to express their art, & winners get recognition from home and abroad. Before now it wasn’t so.

I get my books online, some of which I have to pay for. Others I get from friends and colleagues. Being a writer anywhere is not easy, but I think here in Nigeria the volume is turned up a lot more. The good thing is, none of these hindrances have stopped us from telling the world we exist.

KD: What are some literary figures that inspire you and your work?

Anthony: I think Ilya Kaminsky inspires me a lot. I don’t know if it’s because I have read his jaw-dropping Deaf Republic countless times. I appreciate the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie too. I like her stories and the voice behind them. There is Chinua Achebe, who I believe to be the father of African literature. In that light, I still go back to the works of Wole Soyinka from time to time. Chris Abani. Kwame Dawes.

Coming down to a younger generation, there are a lot of them that have really dressed the Nigerian literary bed. They are poets like Saddiq Dzukogi, Romeo Oriogun, David Ishaya Osu, Okwudili Nebeolisa, Kechi Nomu, Chisom Okafor, JK Anowe, Theresa Lola, Logan February, Kolade Olanrewanju Freedom, Kukogho Iruesiri  Samson, Jide Badmus, Gbenga Adesina, Rasaq Malik, Gbenga Adeoba. They are beautiful poets like Michael Akuchie, Adedayo Agarau, O-Jeremiah Agbaakin, Ogwiji Ehi, Hussain Ahmed, Nome Patrick, Ernest Ogunyemi, Chukwuemeka Akachi (RIP),  Wale Ayinla, Hauwa Shafii Nuhu, Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Taiye Ojo, Ugochukwu Damian, Pamilerin Jacob. Some poet like Anthony Okpunor.

I also enjoy reading Safia Elhillo. I love how she uses language and metaphor to navigate identity. Also Aja Monet, Warsan Shire, Ladan Osman. There are many not mentioned here I would have loved to talk about. In general good art inspires me, not just poetry; songs too. Movies. Paintings. Drawings. Anything that has rhythm to it. And oh, I enjoy reading Shakespeare big time!

“It is sad that writers are not really “writers” except they have been published in a foreign journal or won a major award— which has to be foreign, else you were just lucky. Who made foreignness a test of true art?”

Anthony Okpunor

Anthony Okpunor

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Poetry Category)

KD: Last year, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. What was your reaction like?

Anthony: The funny thing is I didn’t get to see it till an hour or two after the winners were announced. When I got the email, at first I wasn’t all jumpy. I wanted to be certain I knew what I was reading. It wasn’t until I began receiving accolades from friends that it started to dawn on me that I had won. It was a joy.

There is a kind of noise that comes with winning, that day that noise was all I could hear. And it’s great because before then I was seriously getting kicked by rejections. (I still get slapped around with rejections a whole lot). So there was no way of assuring success, but I won regardless. It came with both grace and light.

KD: What was the inspiration and meaning behind your winning poem: ODE TO OUR BODY ON FIRE?

Anthony: The poem on its own has no origin. It is a sequel to another poem I wrote in 2017, “When We Started Taking Notes”. I had told a friend that if she would take out time to write something, even if it wasn’t a poem, that I would write her a poem. A love poem somewhat about survival, for at the time I was reading Romeo Oriogun a lot. So my poems started to look like his. I believed I was scammed because she didn’t write anything that day, but I wrote mine. It’s sounding funny in my head. Anyway I posted the poem on Facebook before sending it out to African Writers.

That was where it all started from. So when I was to write for the competition, I went back to my old poems to find inspiration. As fate would have it, that poem was the first poem I read. I thought of creating another like it, and I did.

The winning poem carries the same thoughts with its antecedent; survival. The struggle to be anything at all. Not only the struggle to love, although it looks as if the poem takes just that one shape.

Now I write about love. But not the juvenility that parades the internet, I aim to heal. I believe there are many things that make up this ocean so I write about them too: things like grief, acceptance, peace, death, laughter, silence, thirst, lust, kindness, sacrifice, long-suffering, betrayal. There is no love without loss, so I write both black and white.

KD: Do you have any other published works aside from ODE TO OUR BODY ON FIRE, as well as any other achievements you’d like to share?

Anthony: I have works published on African Writers mostly. I’d be glad if readers took out time to read them. I have also had works on Rattle, the McNeese Review, Praxis Magazine. As for the achievements, I’m still working on those.

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

Anthony: My long-term goals are really long. I prefer not to say for now.

KD: Any forthcoming works or publications?

Anthony: Yes. I have works forthcoming on Palette Poetry, and Frontier.

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

Anthony: Read a lot, and be patient with your art. In time it will be kind to you. Rejection is a crucial part of the journey so do not take any comment on your work personal. Every comment is an opinion. Have yours (an informed opinion), and grow.

Then write. Tell your story. Tell your truth the way only you can. The prize is not what is gained when you win, remember. When you don’t win tell yourself nothing was promised.

Any final words for Kreative Diadem and its readers?

Yes: thank you.

Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

Do you love our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, and essays.

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