Yeah, I know that most of us forgot today is Achebe’s sixth anniversary. Let’s start this by saying ‘Thank God Achebe lived. Thank God for the poetry of his words as well as the poetry of his life.’
DISCUSSION BUZZ: The Symbols Cuisine Gallery. 7pm.
We walked in, Maik Ortserga (Executive Editor with Aboki Publishers and Secretary of Benue Association of Nigerian Authors) and I. There was Anselm Ngutsav, Apine Kenneth and Stephen Aba. I was still wondering if I had made the right choice of forfeiting my Abuja trip for this session – and something else ;). Well, seeing the guys made me know that I was in the right place – home. Purple Silver, the growing voice of literary flow and camaraderie in Makurdi, Benue that I am proud to be part of… Okay, to the point.
The event started with the discussion aspect and after some debate, we agreed to discuss Wole Soyinka’s interview with the Daily Post that Achebe is not the father of Modern African Literature. A few of us had not heard about it so it was nice that it came. I moderated the session and we all had a swell time. There were two primary voices that took the debate, Stephen Aba who supported Soyinka’s stance citing history as his strong point to show Achebe wasn’t really the father of modern African literature and Maik on the other hand who said that Achebe truly was through the validation and reinvention of African literature that had come through Achebe. The argument for was that though there were other people afore, Achebe had deeper vision and caused a revolution in African writing. He made English to speak Igbo, brought new styles and invented a new course that a lot of people followed. Through him finally, a new African literature was born. People started paying proper attention to the literature due to Achebe’s intervention. The argument against still continued that one couldn’t really say the Wright brothers were the fathers of aviation. It would be more appropriate to say it was Da Vinci… At various points, we had to define what African literature was, where Achebe was given the title first e.t.c. Wow! It wasn’t some small argument to and fro. Fortunately, the two chief proponents were cool speaking people so there were no flairs in the air. Just lots of not letting go. Kenneth, Anselm and Ode Attah put in their contributions too but there was no agreement. Well, we put it to the vote – a casual vote, and several people present decided not to cast their ballot. Achebe won though 🙂 Someone asked why Soyinka hadn’t said so when Achebe was alive. The reply was simple: ‘Blame the journalists! Why didn’t they ask Soyinka when Achebe was alive?’ 🙂
We disagreed on some points but we agreed that Soyinka wasn’t being sentimental. Achebe had contributed a lot and changed the course of African literature forever. The debate of fatherhood is one that has too many factors involved that we need to properly work and debate to make a proper conclusion.
Next, we moved to discussing Northern Nigerian Literature in a broad sense. We made it clear that we weren’t politicizing the term or brand and were only using the name for convenience to cover the literature from this side of the country. With two of the shortlisted writers from this side, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim being shortlisted for the Caine Prize, what does that portend for the literature of these parts? Furthermore, why has the literature from these parts being silent for so long? What can we do to enhance our literatures here? All these with thoughts of how we can reinvent ourselves so that someday perhaps we might be called the mothers or fathers of Modern Northern Literature…
The consensus was there is a thriving Northern Nigerian literature that hasn’t been promoted enough or exploited. There is more tugging towards the established voices – voices established by other critics and/or media. The literatures of our part need to be given more attention. We have to learn to read far more of ourselves as of others to be more rounded. There’s a need to celebrate ourselves too through prizes, criticisms and the like. We need to believe in our own.
There was a performance session and we just had to cut the talk though there was far more to say…
Well, the performance continued…
- Calls for Chinua Achebe Nobel prize ‘obscene’, says Wole Soyinka (guardian.co.uk)
- SaharaReporters Interview Exclusive: Achebe A Celebrated Storyteller, But No Father Of African Literature, Says Soyinka (unilaglss.wordpress.com)
- Nigerians Pay Tribute to Achebe at Funeral (graciousgracegardens.wordpress.com)
- CHINUA ACHEBE: Something of thoughts (A Tribute) by Su’eddie Vershima Agema (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Nigeria: Thousands Mourn Novelist Chinua Achebe (eurasiareview.com)
- Purple Silver Hosts Poet Su’eddie Vershima Agema at Reading in Makurdi (anabenue.wordpress.com)
- Achebe Was No Father of African Literature – Wole Soyinka (dmhanmation.wordpress.com)
- Politics and Prose: A tribute to Chinua Achebe (modernghana.com)
- Achebe A Celebrated Storyteller, But No Father Of African Literature…Soyinka (johnnyimadode.wordpress.com)
- Soyinka on ‘Obscene’ Push for Achebe Nobel (theroot.com)
Chinua Achebe is one of those epically unique individuals whose lives have been so full, so purposive and so impactful that we begin to pray that they will never die. But who doesn’t know that that is mere wishful thinking? To be sure, the Eagle on Iroko didn’t die young, but he left when we still need him urgently and acutely. He has gone, but he left so much of, by, himself behind…
Achebe shook up the literary world with Things Fall Apart when he was barely in his late twenties. He told Africa‘s story and gave humanity a song. Since that day in 1958 when that epochal novel intruded upon the world to this very day, hardly any week has passed without the author’s name being mentioned somewhere in this world of books and ideas.
But if the sheer force and range of Achebe’s fiction gave Africa a voice, the fearless truth of his critical interventions challenged so many myths and deliberate falsehoods about the most misrepresented and recklessly abused continent in the world. Achebe knew, and he tried to get us to know, that Africans will remain mere objects of the stories told by others, until they, Africans, have started to tell their own story their own way – without shutting out the rest of the world. Achebe challenged the 20th century philosophy of fiction as a pretty object d’art, arriving with works which foregrounded the human condition and told the wondering world that the clotheless Emperor was, indeed, naked! He entered a plea for the urgent necessity of an entity called ‘applied art‘ and emboldened us to look triumphalist Formalism in the face and demand to see its passport. Yes, Achebe told a world sold to the art-for-art’s-sake mystique that it is, indeed, possible to be an accomplished novelist who is also a teacher.
Controversy hardly ever parts company with a writer and thinker of his brand. He took almost as much criticism as he gave; for he was a man who never ran from a fight.
The world celebrates the LIFE of this distinguished story-teller and thinker. (Yes, celebrate, for to mourn is to concede supremacy to Death – and Oblivion, its Mephistophelean factotum).
Rest well, Chinualomogu. Rest well, Obierika, the man who thought about things. Posterity will never let you die. We regret your passing. We celebrate your Life.
New Orleans, March 22, 2013.
Professor Niyi Osundare is one of Nigeria’s leading contemporary poets and social crusaders. He lives in New Orleans.
- Prof Chinua Achebe is dead (vanguardngr.com)
- Breaking News: CHINUA ACHEBE IS DEAD (vibez9ja.com)
- Nigerian author Chinua Achebe dies at 82 (todaynews.today.com)
- Chinua Achebe, 1930 – 2013 (theparisreview.org)
- Nigerian Writer Chinua Achebe Dies Ages 82 (contactmusic.com)
- Writer Chinua Achebe Dead at 82 (theroot.com)
- Nigerian Literary Giant Chinua Achebe Dead at 82 (atlantablackstar.com)
- Chinua Achebe Hands Over to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (anastasiaruth.wordpress.com)
- Remembering Chinua Achebe, Who Defended Africa To The World (npr.org)
- Chinua Achebe inspired generations of Nigerian writers (thegrio.com)
(for Chinua Achebe)
You Stubborn Soul
Saturate with thoughts they hated
You who littered stubborn words in our hard hearts
Words too stubborn to die
Too stubborn to be forgotten
You literary glitterati
The grief that strides
Like a bullet through Biafra forests during the war, you pierced
Too stubborn, you refused to die
Oh, you stubborn soul
In death you refuse to die
You this man who so encapsulated the African experience
In my heart you always stubbornly live
Until like you I stubbornly live
Achebe, oh, my Achebe
Now that your words live
I know you will never die!
Kator Hule is a poet and fiction writer. He lives in Makurdi, Benue State Nigeria where he works and also writes from.
- Nigerian author Chinua Achebe dies at 82 (todaynews.today.com)
- BREAKING NEWS: Chinua Achebe Is Dead! (rewindonnet.wordpress.com)
- Breaking News: CHINUA ACHEBE IS DEAD (vibez9ja.com)
- Achebe: Writer in whose company the prison walls fell down – Mandela (vanguardngr.com)
- R.I.P. Nigerian Novelist Chinua Achebe, Grandfather of African Literature (goodblacknews.org)
- Chinua Achebe The Writer Lives On (africasacountry.com)
- #Breaking News : Foremost novelist Professor Chinua Achebe dies at 82 (freaknaija.wordpress.com)
- Publisher, Penguin confirms Achebe’s death (vanguardngr.com)
- Chinua Achebe’s death is a loss for Africa, and the world (telegraph.co.uk)
- Chinua Achebe obituary (guardian.co.uk)
First, you must look the part. It is important to look like an African writer. Find multi-coloured kampala fabric and use it to sew shirts which you’ll wear to all writers’ events. Or an old t-shirt. You shouldn’t look like a model or banker. Your precious time is spent thinking of plot and theme and words, not on dress and grooming. Your hair needs to be unkempt. However, nothing says authentic-tortured-African-writer like dreadlocks. Please, note that in Nigeria there is a difference between dreadlocks and ‘dada’. Dada is less refined, naturally matted coils of hair due to superstitious neglect. Dada is uncool. Dreadlocks are deliberate. They are cool. They make you look wildly creative. If someone asks; no, you are not a Rastafarian. You are an African writer.
As a writer, you must flaunt your vices. You need to show that you are a flawed character. If you drink, drink too much. If you smoke, do it at inappropriate times. Show up at an event reeking of booze. People will understand. Vices are a tool of the trade.
Now, you have the basic tools: a multi-coloured kampala shirt, cool dreadlocks, and vices. You must set about the business of writing.
You do not need to read a lot to be a Nigerian writer. In fact, as a Nigerian writer you can make shameless statements like “I don’t really read much”, in public. All you need is a burning desire to write. It is sufficient to have read Shakespeare and Achebe, and maybe a little of Chimamanda Adichie for contemporary reading. The only thing you need to really study is a dictionary or thesaurus.
Please, note that all Nigerian characters are Africans who act the same: children are respectful of elders; parents are always responsible, wise individuals teaching children valuable lessons of life. Characters do not use cuss words or talk about sex, even when in the company of peers. Nobody’s mother smokes and we have no homosexuals in Nigeria.
Use big words instead of small words; ‘Discombobulate’ instead of ‘confuse’. How can you write like a layman when you are an African writer? It doesn’t matter how many people read or understand you. What matters is that you impress those who do.
Use many words. It is always better to err on the side of verbosity than to err on the side of brevity.
Protect your work fiercely and always insist that people give you constructive criticism. Anyone who points out, rightly or otherwise, that your writing isn’t quite there yet, is evil and an enemy of your hustle. You must believe that there is nothing like bad writing. After all, you were inspired by the spirits before you began writing – what do critics know?
Do not waste your time or money on editors. Editors are failed writers whose life ambition is to frustrate the hustle of real writers like you. Show your friends your work. But only the ones who are not jealous of your hustle, and who remind you that your writing is the best thing since point-and-kill. Find some popular person from your village who will write you a foreword without actually reading your book. Then, go to press.
Go to Ibadan or Lagos. Find a cheap printer who can print 1,000 copies without ink smearing on the pages coming out lopsided. Arrange for a transporter to bring your book home.
A book is not complete without a book launch. In Nigeria, a book launch is a fund-raising ceremony. It is not important to have writers at this event. Well, maybe the book reviewer. You need your state governor (who may not come but will send a representative with a cheque or a pledge); your Local Government chairman; your Pastor or Imam to bless the event; and any minister, senator or rich person that you know. It is important to find a Chief Launcher who will encourage others to donate to your hustle. Do not leave it to chance or the discretion of the Chief Launcher, unless you are sure of his capabilities. In Nigeria, nobody is allowed to embarrass the Chief Launcher by giving more money. So, if you can, gently hint that you know he will set the bar high for others to follow. That is the job of the Chief Launcher – setting the bar as high as possible.
You do not need a marketer, publicist or publisher. These people eat into your profit margin. If you have a car, carry a few hundred copies in the trunk at all times. Be your own marketer. Steer conversation toward your book and tell them you have written this really cool book. Someone will ask for it and you will tell them to hold on for a minute while you get it from your car. If you don’t have a car, have a big bag that can carry at least 10 copies. Do not be ashamed to carry your books to public gatherings. Book by book, God blessing your hustle, you may end up selling off the 1,000 copies your printer produced, and maybe even go for a reprint.
Get an award. It doesn’t matter what. It may be from your church bulletin which you have been writing for since you were in secondary school or your old boy’s association newsletter. You can even have friends get together to organise and award you the ‘Roforofo Prize for African Fiction’. Then, you can have on your book, ‘Award Winning Author’. No need to state what award it is. An award-winning writer is a good writer.
It is my hope that you make it as a writer and have many successful books in the market. And with well organised book launchings, you can be sure that God will bless your hustle.
ElNathan John blogs at http://elnathanjohn.blogspot.com/ … Follow his tweets at @elnathan
He is the creator of the Nigerian ‘How to series…’ Google it! You might also want to check:
- HOW TO BE A NIGERIAN MECHANIC BY ElNathan John (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Chika Unigwe talks to ElNathan (1pageweekly.wordpress.com)
- iRead December: Nigerian Literature: What do Children Want? (ireaddadabooks.wordpress.com)
- iRead: Nigerian Literature, what’s sex got to do with it? (ireaddadabooks.wordpress.com)
- When Abuja Literati came out for DADA author Sylva Ifedigbo (ireaddadabooks.wordpress.com)
- Writer’s Life Day 7-Pick One (chillersandthrillers.com)
- How I Made My Billions – Mrs Folorunsho Alakija, World’s Richest Black Woman (rewindonnet.wordpress.com)
- Rules of Writing # 51 : Take a Walk Around the Block (stepintothecruz.wordpress.com)
- 3, 2, 1 Interviews: Congratulations Chika! (fairygodsister.wordpress.com)
Ada AGADA: A famous European critic once correctly argued that both Achebe and Hardy are particular. While Achebe is a literary denizen of his Igbo environment, Hardy is domiciled in his Wessex (or Dorset) environment. Both wrote about village life. Both missed (if you like) out on the Nobel prize although eminently qualified for it. While Achebe studied English and is simple and eloquent, Hardy studied Architecture and wrote awkwardly. Both have attained literary immortality. I think Hardy is more universal than Achebe because he thought more deeply and expansively than Achebe. Hardy dissected, without being boring, such profound issues as pessimism, fatalism and the question of evil in relation to God’s existence. Achebe’s little philosophical striving remains bound to mythology. Hence I encountered him in African Philosophy as a mytho-philosopher. The Eagle on the highest Iroko himself acknowledged in an interview with Ezenwa Ohaeto that he wished he had done more in his works by way of philosophizing. Wole Soyinka thought more deeply than Achebe. I have not read most of the great contemporary authors yet due to lack of a library, but from what I read in papers Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, and others paid their debts to thought. Why is Goethe so sublime? It is on account of the quality of his mind and his ability to make intellect serve art. So Mr Agema, in my opinion all writers reflect universal concerns but only those intelligent enough to produce sublime thoughts and feelings are called universal regardless of their deficiency in craft. Tolstoy was regarded by some as technically deficient. Hardy wrote awkwardly. Yet one is the world’s greatest and the other England’s greatest (arguably). They were not the best craftsmen but they had great visions, made possible by their great minds.
Maik Ortserga: With due respect to the literary giant of Africa, I agree with Agada that Achebe is not deeply universal in his thought. I strongly believed it is what has kept the Noble Price inching away from him over the years. Although his ‘Things fall Apart‘ and other works have contributed in changing the perception one race had of another entire race, that is not enough to project a universal vision of life. His latest work ‘There was a Country: A personal History of Biafra’ shows how personal Achebe could be in his feelings and thoughts.
Ada Agada: You spoke my mind Maik.
Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA: I have been in talks with friends. Ada over here via this means, Joshua Agbo in the university and Maik all through our journey, the stay and return from Uyo. Now, I am not raising comments about the writer, Achebe -many times, I try to leave them in some cases- but the work in question. Ada,you have raised some concerns in ur query, mainly that philosophy is d stomach of universalism. From what I infer,you mean that a story on its own cannot be that of the world unless shrouded in deep philosophy
My stand on the issue is that more than just the deep thinking &all, there is the story told. I view universality from asking – is this applicable everywhere? Is this story human, realisable and near attainable in its setting &actualisation in any given place? Yes. No. Judge from that parametre and you have my views.
Saying this I realise that various critics have their viewpoints to judging universality such that some would even mention a ‘standard ruling scale.’ My view is that which I just mentioned.
I make it clear here that my argument is not of Achebe as a universalist or being more universal than Hardy (a comparison I fault by the way..You’re universal or you are not) but to point that stories can be universal in themselves devoid of the parametres we put them.
Friends, think of our folklore of old quickly dying. Remember our forebears telling these tales of what was & what came to be. Of the legends &myths. I remember talking with my big sister, Unoma Azuah & her reminiscence of tales told by her grandma. I remember those told me by our relations from the village, by my father… I have come across these stories severally in various literature across the world in different formats with little change or none. What is so mythological or local about these all?
If I derive a tale from my life & infuse all these with people from various world parts recognising them & even embracing them, would that be a pointer to universality or locality? What is the line between myths & history? What forms the difference between our ‘myths’ & those taken as fact (i.e. the Bible, Quran e.t.c)? How is the story of the Igbo different from that of the Red Indians &other such people? Of course, give a few minus and additions but you would get to the heart of what I mean.
GET to the thrust of this all &you would understand the universal picture painted in my thoughts.
Ada AGADA S’, you belong to the group that denies universality to art. For them art is simply culture-bound.
Su’eddie Vershima AGEMA: Hmm, do I sound that way? I think differently in my mind though. Note what I have said thus far… that there is a universality but it is found in the particular that can be expressed and accepted everywhere…. Does that find a string to culture?
Ada AGADA Maybe! Particularists also have a strong case.
Samuel OKOPI I think that the particular is in many ways connected to the universal. It’s what makes one read a book from another time and place and connect with it on so deep a level. Because in the end, whatever we may think, believe or live; it can all be broken down into constituent parts shared by every human in some way: eating, dressing, singing, being happy, experiencing sadness, loving mystery, needing someone etc. And yes, deep thinking that succeeds in reaching pages in a way that is accessible to it’s intended audience on a deep level, yet reaching many more outside this sphere, on some level, is to me the stuff of masterpieces.
I should also say, beautiful piece here.
Ada AGADA: @Samuel. Great comment. Well done.
I don’t see our culture withstanding the onslaught of Western liberalism on its own. We are going to lose a lot that makes us Africans and become increasingly like black Americans. The signs are there. Western liberalism is decadent and therefore alluring. To me only intellectual pride can stop the tide by masterminding a rebellion against Western excesses.
Samuel OKOPI Exactly Ada. Exactly. I keep telling people that our culture will not rise from seeming obscurity to the limelight if we treat it as it is; in its romantic and frozen form (yes frozen because the ‘onslaught of Western liberalism’ and popular culture has prevented any coordinated growth of our own cultural aesthetics; what we see instead is a ‘presentation of culture.’). I strongly believe that we must think deeper, investigate more to find the basic sauce of our culture that can be drawn out and transformed to a magical beauty that provides a strong identity for us and a strong allure for other peoples.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema: When it comes to our concepts of universality again, I think of it in this way: you being a philosopher look more towards it in terms of elevated thoughts. I being just a lay man look at it from the view of expression – an expression that can be felt and owned by people everywhere. Our very stands are created based on our personas, learnings, and thinking. Would we ever agree? I wonder. We would argue based on our various thoughts and leanings… We have read much to support our stance and would easily argue to that effect. Would we reach a compromise? Can we agree to disagree?
Ada AGADA: @S’. I think we have already reached a compromise although our core beliefs stand. The agreement is that there can be no universal without the particular. We only disagree about the dimensions of universality. In fact I suspect you are a particularist, one who believes the universality thing is superflous.
Su’eddie Vershima Agema: The talk continues man. We would discuss more. For now, let’s write.
[i] Ada Agada is the author of the novel, The Anxious Life (Aboki Publishers, 2011). He is also a poet. He holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Nsukka, Nigeria.
[ii] Su’eddie Vershima Agema is the Vice Chairman of the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors and author of the poetry collection, Bring our Casket Home (Karu: SEVHAGE imprint, 2012)
[iii] Maik Ortserga is the Secretary of the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors. He is currently working on an M. A in Literature from the Benue State University. He is an Executive Editor at Aboki Publishers, Makurdi.
[iv] Samuel Okopi is an Editor on Naija Stories (a leading site on contemporary Nigerian literature) and a computer whiz.
- Arts and Its Universality: a Conversation  (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Gowon hits Achebe on civil war, says: He wrote out of ignorance (vanguardngr.com)
- The trouble with Achebe (vanguardngr.com)
- Things Still Fall Apart (thedailybeast.com)
- Attack on Awo: Has Achebe gone too far? (vanguardngr.com)
- As Chinua Achebe Publishes Memoir, Biafra War’s Legacy Lingers In Nigeria (ibtimes.com)
- THERE WAS A COUNTRY (Chinua Achebe’s Memoir of the Biafran conflict) (85degrees.wordpress.com)
- Chinua Achebe reflects on Biafra, but for whom? (africasacountry.com)
- Achebe publishes Biafran memoir (bbc.co.uk)