close up view of an old typewriter

Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo’s Note on Craft

As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.

Here’s Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo’s pick: “The Writer and His Community” from the collection of essays, Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe.

There is something I like to call the writer’s darkness. It is that moment when a writer, hungry for literary prowess, shaken by utter humiliation at the artlessness of their work, descends, for days and weeks, into the darkness, looking for secrets. The precipitating event is different for everyone: a reader gives haunting feedback, or the writer stumbles on a perfectly executed short story of a colleague, which heightens the lack of skill in theirs, or the writer receives, in a space of four months, sixteen rejections from sixteen different literary magazines. The plunge into the darkness is similar: racing thoughts about failure, an inability to look people in the eye, want for too much or too little food, and long moments spent in a state of stillness thinking about the precipitating event, dissecting the minute details, what was said and how it was said, everything so thoroughly painful. And then come the moments of slight clarity, when the writer asks, what must I do to stop feeling this way, and the answer, for writers for whom writing is a calling, is simply to write better. 

At this point, the writing darkness becomes a personal song, pieced together by the writer’s own instincts and eccentricities. Some writers bathe in craft books, interviews of renowned writers, lectures and talks, anything which might hold the possibility of an elixir guaranteed to unlock the dormant literary genius in them. Some read fiction, copy out whole paragraphs and chapters from admired books, attempting to figure out tricks and patterns. Some go straight to the desk and implement trial and error until they emerge with peculiar writing rituals.

The writing darkness is necessary, but like many harrowing experiences, it wounds you. You come out brutalized and blistered. And what I fear the most is that sometimes you come out having lost your chaotic, glowingly weird self. 

Mine happened in my first year in an MFA program. I had been sick with imposter syndrome before then, certain that my work was subpar, and in my first workshop had submitted a story from my application packet because at least it had been blessed by an MFA acceptance. For my second workshop though, I had to turn in a new story, one anxiously strung together. The workshop was immensely kind, but I could feel the lack of enthusiasm as they spoke. The story did not stir or inspire. It was not a good story. I knew it.

After the agonizing and self-pity associated with the darkness, I began to read and write in a way that I’d never before, carefully, rigorously, and with aim. I began to read like a writer. I got better. I learnt the dos and don’ts. I learnt to write better sentences, to construct a cohesive short story, balancing scene and narration, quickening the pace when necessary, zooming into moments, wrenching from a scene every drop of emotion it can afford me. This was enough for a while until it wasn’t. I wanted more. But I did not know what more was. Then I read Chinua Achebe’s collection of essays titled Hopes and Impediments, specifically the essay titled “The Writer and His Community.”


workplace with laptop and opened diary

In the essay, Achebe makes an argument for writing as spiritual congruence with the other, and writers as being responsible to a community. He contrasts Western individualism with Igbo communality and smartly evades dichotomies by adding that none of these societies hold a monopoly on either. But the difference, he states, is in how individualism is balanced out in these societies. He argues that the Igbos have balanced “this extraordinary specialness, this unsurpassed individuality, by setting limits to its expression.” 

The argument solidifies into one about craft when Achebe inserts a quote from a letter he received from John Updike about Arrow of God.

Here is what Updike had to say: 

“The final developments of Arrow of God proved unexpected and, as I think about them, beautifully resonant, tragic and theological. That Ezeulu, whom we had seen stand so invincibly to both Nwaka and Clarke, should be so suddenly vanquished by his own god Ulu and by something harsh and vengeful within himself, and his defeat in a page or two be the fulcrum of a Christian lever upon his people, is an ending few Western novelists would have contrived; having created a hero they would not let him crumble, nor are they, by and large, as truthful as you in their witness to the cruel reality of process.”

Achebe responds, with delicious sarcasm: 

“Of course a Westerner would be most reluctant to destroy “in a page or two” the very angel and paragon of creation—the individual hero. If indeed he has to be destroyed, it must be done expansively with detailed explanations and justifications, not to talk of lamentations. And he must be given the final limelight in which to speak a grand valedictory soliloquy.”

After reading this, I began to wonder about the many other possibilities of craft creation. If societies influence craft decisions, and how much of what we think of craft, of the structure of fiction, is inherited from Western literature, and in turn, the arrangement of Western societies, what about my own society and its rules can make my fiction truer?

What I bathed in while in the darkness were craft books written by White people, and the novels I read were, you guessed right, novels written by White people, and the people I looked to for constructive criticism were writers fluent only in Western literature. I came out of the darkness, armed with these tools, anxious in my implementation of them, and I fear, a tad bit soulless, having lost my own way of seeing the world. 

And I did have my own way of seeing the world. I have always written. For as long as I can remember, I have strung words together in my imagination, on paper, and whether I knew it then or not, these stories were shaped by my immediate intimacies, what I was seeing around me, how that was absorbed and defined by the bewildering chemicals in my brain. It was, and I hope can still someday be, me, my soul, and what I was seeing, my world—nature and nurture. 

So while you go through your own darkness, if you haven’t already, I want you to fiercely hold on to your own nature and nurture, and when you come out to the other side, I want you to still be as chaotic, as fearless, as raw (this word gets a bad rap and I would never understand why) as you were when you were free, unencumbered by the rules of the craft. I want you to see that, too, as craft, those decisions that come to you naturally. Maybe you don’t want to use dialogue in your stories because it messes with the natural flow of the world you are trying to create. Maybe like Achebe, you want to say f**k you to the idea of an individual hero because it doesn’t read true to your sensibility, to the world as you know it. Maybe you want the middle of the story at the beginning and the beginning at the end. Do what feels true to you. Then come tell us about it. Show us other ways of seeing the world. 


Esther Ifesinachi Okonkwo is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in Isele Magazine, Ake Review, and Catapult. She currently teaches creative writing as an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa.



a pen in a black background

Aishat Abiri’s Note on Craft

As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.

Here’s Aishat Abiri’s pick: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

The first time I read White Teeth, I must admit, my admiration for Zadie’s writing was mixed with a degree of indignation. Because why should you as an author have so much fun writing a book? I went on to read On Beauty and The Autograph Man and soon became a huge fan of Zadie’s work.

As a writer, my biggest challenge initially was writing in the third person; whenever I wrote in the third person, it felt detached with zero emotional stakes. It felt empty. I had concluded that writing in the third person was not for me so I stuck to writing in the first person with an occasional piece in the second person. For White Teeth, I know that I learned to write in the third person from that book. For me, it’s a textbook of sortsa fun and extremely enjoyable one. I learned to also enjoy the story, even as the teller of it. 

When one reads White Teeth, the first thing that strikes the reader is the persiflage she wields so effortlessly in her narration; how comfortable she is with teasing her characters, finding amusement in their predicaments, like a mother who is all too familiar with her children’s nakedness to the point of see finish.

“Below him on the pavement stood Varin—a massively overweight Hindu boy on a misjudged traineeship program from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo’s question mark.”

“Maybe he should have left with her right then, run to the hills. But at the time it seemed impossible, too involved, what with a young wife with one in the oven (an hysterical, fictional pregnancy, as it turned out, a big bump full of hot air), what with his game leg, what with the lack of hills.”

I believe this ease of humour stems from a degree of confidence in 1) Her story and 2) Her audience that makes her relaxed. Of course, this degree of confidence comes from practice, from telling and retelling stories, from reading other people’s work and paying attention to detailwhat the author was trying to do, what worked or didn’t. 

Like me, I think other writers can learn to relax in the stories they tell, to find enjoyment in storytelling because if you enjoy telling a story, how much more would the reader enjoy reading?


Aishat Abiri is a writer with a passion for issues concerning gender, politics, sexuality, and mental health. Her short stories have been featured in Afreada, Saraba, and the Aké Review. She has written screenplays for Tinsel and ‘In Love and Ashes.’ She lives in Abuja and is a Farafina 2016 alumnus.




Notes on Craft: On Language and Clarity

by Olakunle Ologunro

Hey there,

If this is your first time reading this letter, you can flashback to the previous letters in the series here.

The letter for this week (or month, seeing how very irregular and inconsistent I am 🥴) is about language and clarity, and how these two things work to improve the quality of your writing.


In my final year of university, I had the privilege of reading the works of some students at other levels. Many of them were freshers trying their hands at prose writing so they could hone their skills. Some of the stories had potential, but there was a major barrier preventing this potential from shining through. That barrier was language.

Language, to me, is the vehicle a story travels in. It is the microphone that amplifies the story, the colour that animates everything. And this is why it is important for you to get it right. The use of language in the freshers’ stories came from a place to impress– at least that was what it read like to me. They used too many ‘big’ words, a lot of which took up space but added nothing to the story as a whole. They were clunky, mismatched, and useless, and instead of displaying their mastery of language, it revealed their tumultuous relationship with language.

Simplicity and clarity is a sign of mastery in language. It shows that you are able to communicate effectively, express yourself in the story and give your characters room to do the same. This is what I strive for in my stories, what I think you as a writer should strive for too. Each time I sit down to write, I wonder, “How best can I tell this story?” I make myself the reader because I believe that if I am able to understand and communicate my intentions in the story, I have solved a major problem.

“Anyone who wants to become a writer should be vigorous, direct, simple, and lucid.” That’s a quote from Henry Watson Fowler. But then, to do this, what are the basics?

First of all, don’t use ‘big words’ where a simple one will do. Buy instead of purchase. That is, in a situation where a simpler word or sentence can achieve the desired effect, choose it. Yes, the big word looks fancy, interesting, but will it add to the story’s flow or take away from it? That’s one thing to always consider.

Another thing to keep in mind is that clarity also matters in the story before anything. Language can be as clear as day, but if the story itself is unclear, only little can be done to salvage it.

Do not attempt to impress a perceived ‘judge’ because you assume that a certain type of writing is not fancy enough for them. Don’t assume to know what they will like or dislike. You cannot know, really. So, when you enter for a competition or simply write to submit it, do not choose intentionally complex vocabulary. Do not be deliberately unclear, unless that is what you are going for. Simply tell the story that feels like you. Let it be in a language you are familiar with.

Read. This cannot be overemphasized. What stories do you like? What strikes you in their use of language? Study the people who have gone before you. It is one of the best ways to learn. 

As I write this, “Conference” by Naja Marie Aidt is the story that comes to my mind. The simplicity was what struck me on my first encounter with it. How the language worked to simplify the prose rather than complicate it. Such a level of simplicity is what I aspire to and what I hope to transcend. I think you should do the same. Language can comfort, enrage, arouse, disgust, and do many things to the reader. But only when it is applied simply.

I’ll end with this paragraph from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s conversation with Zadie Smith on writing, relationship, etc.

“Clarity’s important to me. I forget who said that ‘Prose should be as clear as a windowpane.’ I’m very much in that school, and it’s the kind of fiction I like to read. The kind of writing that I like to read is writing that is clear. I think it’s very easy to confuse something that’s badly written as something that’s somehow deep. If something is incomprehensible and the sentences are bad, we’re supposed to say, ‘Oh that’s really deep.’ It’s not the kind of fiction I like to read, so I guess maybe when I’m editing I’m thinking about that. I’m thinking that the sentences I really admire are sentences that are lucid.” 

Listen to the full podcast here.

What are you reading? More importantly, what are you writing? How is it coming along?

For me, I reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share each letter with you.

Don’t stop writing.

All my love.



Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Dancan Wachira from Pexels








Notes on Craft: The Thing About Flashbacks

by Olakunle Ologunro

Hey there,

If this is your first time reading this letter, you can flashback to the previous letters in the series here.

This week’s letter is for flashbacks.

When you think about flashbacks, what comes to mind? I’ll be honest, I think of two things. First, I think of the Nollywood typical treatment of flashbacks. Yoruba Nollywood, especially. You can watch a movie where everything is a flashback. Or a flashback that contains three more flashbacks. 

I kid you not.

The second thing that comes to my mind is a sprint in a former direction. A runner turning back to swiftly pick up something. And that’s how I often like to approach my definition of the word, as well as my relationship with the entire concept. A sprint in a former direction, usually to pick up a[n old] detail, or to draw the readers’ attention to something that is important to the story or the character’s personality.

The definition of a flashback is simple, easy to grasp. It is when you, the writer, take the reader out of the present story and go back into an earlier time in a character’s life, or an earlier event in the main course of the story. 

Here’s an example from one of my favourite short stories to read, “Someone Like Sue,” by Rebecca Curtis.

This is what I was thinking:

The fact that Sue didn’t have a job didn’t surprise me. The last I knew, after college, she’d been working at a large department store. But I always thought she’d lose the job, especially because she was so small—she only weighed ninety pounds and she was only five feet tall. Her smallness seemed to point to something about her everyone could see, that she was untrustworthy and could be easily beaten up. Not many people had trusted her in college, and a lot of people had beaten her up.

In this story, this character has just received a phone call from a woman who calls herself Amy but who the character believes to be Sue, her old friend from college. The character is sitting down after the call when her husband comes to her to find out who called. But our character is thinking, and in revealing her thoughts, the author flashes back to her college days to reveal her relationship with Sue, and the kind of people Sue and our character are.

By using flashback, the author achieves a number of things:

  1. She reveals details that help the reader understand Sue and the character, and thus gives the story more depth because the reader now understands the motives of each character.
  2. Interiority. The reader is able to see the character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the situation. 

But her friendship brought me a lot of benefits, like the way we held hands when we entered a party, and how all the guys thought that looked good, and when I thought about the money I’d loaned her that she never paid back, I knew that in a way she thought I owed her the money, because of all those times we’d held hands.

Reading the whole paragraph to the end, the reader is able to see how the character feels about Sue, what she thinks about their relationship and her reaction to Sue’s lie that she is now Amy.

  1. The flashback helps us understand the current conflict even further. We, the reader, now understand why Sue might pretend to be Amy, and why the character struggles between giving her the money or not.
  2. The author has also been able to tell the story in a way that is not 100% linear. She takes the reader to the past and back, and this time, the reader returns with even more details that make the story more interesting and gives a new dimension to the previously expected outcome.


Flashbacks can take a number of ways: an object can be used to start a flashback. A word, a gesture, a sound, all of these can bring about a flashback for the character. 

As a writer, the best approach is to use flashback as a tool to complement and strengthen your work. Make it richer, more interesting. But also be wary of too many flashbacks. This will do the complete opposite of what you have in mind. 

Ask yourself questions. How does this flashback change your story? What does it add or take away from it? How has it changed your character? What do they now know?

A very simple way to do this is to apply it to yourself. If, right now, you had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, what would that period be? Why? How will the flashback change your present circumstances, even if for a minute?

Let me answer that. If I had to flashback to a specific period in 2020, it would be the lockdown period. Why? It was the one time where I felt absolutely listless, I could barely read or write. I’ll emerge from this flashback with complete gratitude for where I am right now: able to read and write again, to enjoy the solace that stories bring. 

Now, will you also take the test?

Read: “Someone Like Sue” by Rebecca Curtis.


See you soon.



Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits:

Photo by Dancan Wachira from Pexels





“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


“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.

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