Anthony Okpunor

TABLE TALK

“Write. Live and write some more” – Interview with Bura-Bari Vincent Nwilo

Bura-Bari Vincent Nwilo is a Nigerian writer and photographer who hails from Rivers State, Nigeria. He resides in Nsukka, Enugu State, where he currently pursues a postgraduate degree in African Literature at the University of Nigeria.

Nwilo has deep connections to his Ogoni roots, evident in his use of Ogoni names to represent his characters as well as the incorporation of the language in his works.

In this interview, Nwilo offers a glimpse into his writing regimen and the blend of both literature and photography in his art.

Enjoy the read!

KD: Let’s meet you. Can you tell us about yourself?

Bura-Bari: My name is Bura-Bari Nwilo. I am an Ogoni man from Rivers State. I live in Nsukka in Enugu State where I am on a postgraduate program in African Literature at the University of Nigeria. A lot of people know me as Vincent, but I prefer Bura-Bari since it is connected to my Ogoni root. I love food and literature. And when I am not taking random photos, I am writing or editing something. I am a first child to 3 siblings and a lot of non-biological siblings. I love to laugh and when I can, I drink beer. I love calm and all things beautiful. 

Anthony Okpunor

Bura-Bari Vincent Nwilo

Author of “The Colour of a Thing Believed.”

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

Bura-Bari: Professionally would be when I started getting paid? I have been writing articles since secondary school. Well, I think payment first came from rendering such service as editing. Today, I ghostwrite and write screenplay to stay sane. Fiction has not sold quite well. And I write poetry only when prose cannot express what I feel and when I need to say less, especially in an esoteric manner.

The early days has not stopped for me since I am still trying to find that big story. Until the big story arrives, I am still within that formative stage.

KD: How would you describe your writing style?

Bura-Bari: I do not think I have a writing style currently. Maybe I did many years ago. I read Dambudzo and I wanted to sound like him. These days, I just write and the story with fewer words. I cannot tell you what my style is. Maybe if you curate my works and decide to pay attention, you may find similarities, but I cannot tell what makes it different. Maybe the names I use? I like to give my characters Ogoni names.

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?

Bura-Bari: Depending on what I am writing. Reading other works spur me. A situation could do that for me too. Sometimes a good photo does the magic. Anything that has a story, surface or not, has the ability to inspire me. It could be a phrase; it could be the smile or an action.

When I am spurred, I draw up an outline and try to see where the story leads. This could kill the creative juice but it sometimes helps me. Sometimes I write and when editing, I connect the dots.

Screenwriting is a bit more technical since everything or word has to be necessary. But for prose, I can decide to be fanciful with language and just write until I am tired and then edit. But a lot of people say I am a minimalist. Well, I like to say what is necessary and move on to something else. Maybe this is why I have not written a novel yet.

“Write. Live and write some more. Do not stay away from knowledge that sounds like taboo. Explore. Ask questions. Help people. Travel. Love and become kind. These are places where stories come from. That’s what any writer should do. And keep an open ear for opportunities.”

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer and photographer? What steps do you take to overcome them? Where do they both connect?

Bura-Bari: Aside platforms to publish these things, I do not think I have so much constraints. They are both great ways of documenting the world around me. And well, I just click at whatever inspires me. As for writing, I have to be sure it is worth it.

Sometimes I have a story in my head for a long time and I do not have the will to pursue it. The story that would make my novel has been in my head for a long time. I keep editing it in my head and I hope I get to tell it someday. I have shared it with a couple of friends and they are fascinated by it. 

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

Bura-Bari: My first book was self-published. Completing it was a task I gave myself and I am glad I took that step. I was freshly out of the university and I needed something that would make people refer to me as a storyteller. Some of the stories in the collection are still dear to me. Others were just works that I experimented with.

KD: Does the education system influence or bring out the best in writers?

Bura-Bari: To raise quality in writing, you have to depend less on the educational system. It will not do you any good. Educating yourself, studying and reading, and experiencing and keeping an open mind may do more than any institution would offer.

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

Bura-Bari: I love all of them. Writers have one or two things they spur in me. I could love Soyinka for his amazing knowledge of the English language and its usage. I could love an Achebe for his simplicity. I could love Adichie for her narrative pattern and carefulness with sharing her thoughts. Most times, you will catch me listening to Frost or W.H. Auden. Any of these people have something they quicken in me. I do not have any one figure I worship. I admire hard work and great art.

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

Bura-Bari: I write on variety of issues. The unifying thing would be their humanity and they are of common and everyday people.

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

Bura-Bari: I wish to survive. I wish to teach in and outside Nigeria. I wish to open a centre for writers and memories in Ogoniland and inspire young writers to create and become more than just humans who live and die. I have a model for the project but it is expensive. I wish to write some more stories and speak to people from across the world on whatever it is that I eventually think of as a topic. I wish to get married and raise some children, three or four. I wish to own a farm, a school, some real estate businesses and retire to a penthouse in Luubara.

KD: Are you currently working on any book(s) now?

Bura-Bari: I am working on a collection of verses in the Ogoni language called Khana. I think it is necessary to have creative works in our indigenous languages. It is a pioneer work that I hope would inspire a lot of other fine geniuses. Maybe I will write a novel after my postgraduate program.

KD: Do you think there are enough opportunities for emerging writers in Nigeria?

Bura-Bari: No. But we are hopeful and as we progress, we shall create and enable the environment for such.

KD: What advice would you give to emerging writers, especially in Nigeria?

Bura-Bari: Write. Live and write some more. Do not stay away from knowledge that sounds like taboo. Explore. Ask questions. Help people. Travel. Love and become kind. These are places where stories come from. That’s what any writer should do. And keep an open ear for opportunities.

KD: Any final words?

Bura-Bari: Stay out of trouble except it is actually necessary to engage trouble. While giving opinion about the society, think of solutions too. And do not watch from afar. Try and engage and share your knowledge and experiences with the system so there can be growth.

Isolation

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