Interview with Nigerian Writer, Noo Saro-Wiwa

August 25, 2014
Photo Credit: Noo-Saro

Photo Credit: Noo Saro-Wiwa

Brief Biography:

Noo Saro-Wiwa is the author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Granta, 2012). It was named The Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year 2012, and shortlisted for the Author’s Club Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award, 2013. Noo is the daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian environmental and human rights activist. She lives in the UK.

Geosi Gyasi: You lived most of your childhood in the United Kingdom. Do you consider Nigeria home?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: In a fundamental sense, yes. Nigeria is where I was born, it’s where I’m from, and it’s where my ancestors are from. But I’ve always lived in the UK, so in a practical sense that’s where my home is.

Geosi Gyasi: How would you describe your childhood? Did you have a privileged upbringing?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: Yes and no. My childhood was comfortable and modest by UK standards. I didn’t have lots of toys and clothes or pocket money. My parents sacrificed a lot to give us a good education. But good schooling puts you at a huge advantage, so in that respect I would say I’m very privileged.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you consider your family name a burden in public life?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: Generally no, but it can be a burden at times. People have expectations of you – some of them unrealistic – and you have to live with that. But you can choose to ignore it all and just be your own person. At the end of the day an expectation is not a command.

Geosi Gyasi: Your debut book, “Looking for Transwonderland” is non-fiction. What influenced this genre?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: I’ve always loved non-fiction books. I prefer them to novels because I get a buzz out of learning and debating ideas while reading. However, I also love storytelling prose, so travel writing is a perfect way of combining that creativity with my love of non-fiction.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get published? Is it difficult for women to get published?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: I first wrote a book about my travels around South Africa, back in 2005. I found an agent (after seven agents turned me down). She wanted me to write about Nigeria first. I had wanted Transwonderland to be my second book, but my agent persuaded me to postpone the South Africa one and work on Transwonderland instead. So I wrote a proposal for it, and the publishers Granta eventually made an offer for both books.

Getting published is not the easiest thing, but you stand a fair chance if you’re a good writer, you have an original idea, and you target agents and publishers who might be receptive to your type of writing. Thanks to novelists like Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila Western publishers are more open to African literature (and female writers) than ever before.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you decide you were going to be a writer?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: I was 24 years old, attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Within the first week of semester I knew I didn’t want to be a hard news reporter. Then, after reading Joan Didion’s Miami and Ryszard Kapuczinski’s In the Shadow of the Sun, I realized my passion lay in literary travel. It was a beautiful epiphany, bringing together the things I love: prose, travel, history, economics and culture, etc.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you obsessed with travelling?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: Yes. As a child I used to stare at maps all the time. I still do. The concept of air travel is incredible – that you can wake up in the morning in one country and go to bed that evening 5,000km away. When in foreign places I learn so much about myself and human nature. I’m also aware that we’re living in an extremely privileged time in history – the world is relatively peaceful, and if you earn a First World wage you can visit several countries without being a millionaire (I once flew to Austria for $40). I doubt humans will be able to travel so freely in the future, especially if oil becomes more expensive or the current capitalism model goes bust. So I want to make the most of the opportunity now.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your plans for the future? Would you consider venturing into other genres of literature?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: Yes, I have recently felt a desire to dabble in fiction. Writing about real-life events can be restrictive, so the thought of making things up is quite appealing (although so much freedom can also be daunting). I’ll have a go at penning a novel at some point. Non-fiction will always be my priority, however. I want to write more travel books.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special thing you admire about your own writing?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: Nothing sticks out for me personally, but quite a few readers have told me I have a sharp eye for detail.

Geosi Gyasi: Your father was a brave human rights activist who was painfully executed for speaking his mind. Could you comment on this statement?

Noo Saro-Wiwa: My father’s bravery never ceases to amaze me. He took on one of the biggest multinationals in the world and Nigeria’s most oppressive military dictator. He knew the risks, but it was important for him because the Niger Delta is an issue that goes right to the heart of everything that’s wrong with the world: exploitation, corruption and destruction of the environment.

END.


Interview with Nigerian Poet, Emmanuel Uweru Okoh

August 19, 2014
Photo Credit: Kaylee Ann Alexander

Photo Credit: Kaylee Ann Alexander

Brief Biography:

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh was born in Delta State, Nigeria. He is the author of Gardens and Caves, a poetry collection. His works have been published in NEXT, Saraba magazine and Sentinel Nigeria. A few others are ITCH Magazine of South Africa and Mad Hatters’ Review of Iceland. Emmanuel lives in Brandon, Canada.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember the circumstances that led you to write?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: In my early childhood, I listened, often to stories told by my Grandmother. She was a great storyteller, and I grew fond of her stories. This fondness also brought with it a passion to reproduce these stores. My infant mind, then, told me I would only achieve that through writing. Well, that came through for me. During my secondary school days, I became interested in English and Literature, which helped to put writing in my life scheme. So I’ve tried to nurture this interest over the years, although not without some falters as it is with a lot of other writers. Interestingly, while serving my country in the mandatory one year national service program as a new graduate, I developed my poetic voice. My service location in Osun State, Nigeria is one so close to nature; adorned with serenity and peace. There my romance with poetry heightened. So, I’ll say my writing was shaped when I started listening to my Grandma’s stories.

Geosi Gyasi: For how long have you been writing?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: I have always kept a journal since my primary school days. In there, I scribbled things I didn’t show anyone. Yes, I wrote a lot for myself only (I still do that sometimes). For me, it was like a personal training that needed some maturity before letting in the outside world. Or like not letting your little baby taken away from you too soon. Realistically, I will say I have been writing for 12 years, that I mean for magazines and other public platforms before being published in 2012 for my poetry collection “Gardens and Caves”.

Geosi Gyasi: Which of your poems would you say stand up best?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: This is a difficult one. I once asked my friends to choose which poems they would want me to read at a public reading I attended. The responses I got made me more confused. I found out, the poems they picked were different in themes and presentation. I had earlier made up my mind on some poems, and when I found them in their choice list, I felt good. But to answer this, one of my poems titled “Saro Wiwa’s Waiting War” is a strong one to me. It means a lot to me and everyone that cares about the world we live in. It has a voice that promotes environmental safety and sustainability. More interesting, is the central character of the poem; Ken Saro Wiwa, the late environmental crusader and writer. Unfortunately, his voice for a clean environment in the Oil producing Niger Delta of Nigeria was cut short as Saro Wiwa and eight others (The Ogoni Nine) were killed by hanging on November, 10, 1995 by military personnel.

 

SARO WIWA’S WAITING WAR

(for Ken Saro Wiwa)

By Emmanuel Uweru Okoh

 

My keen cry to Kenule: I, Fubara, of disjointed

Fishnet and gaping boat, from the land of kernel

Back feeling and staggering heritage.

Of gasping fish and de-flowered flowers,

Of frowning waters and stunted stalks.

I sit on a lonely log; One of the few remaining.

I write on a Dutchman’s Dollar paper.

It left the Howling Helicopter.

Black crude: my ink, my thin thighs: my table.

It’s a stolen converse Kenule, so, listen.

I know you still hear truth.

Your ink bullets still hover in mid-mission,

Taking stolen rests on shrunken leaves and

Greased waters. The cruel antics of the goggled

General regenerates in bloody resonance,

Feeding the rusty rulers of our land.

We await the revolution of fish and oysters

From long years of petrol-logged breath

And bone splinters from Shell’s shell.

Let the cry of prawns and Lobsters

Aid my call to you Kenule, while my throat

Is lubricated by this crude I drink.

Bright glow from Dutch giant metal

Candles steal our nights, blasting insects that dare

Hover. Caked soot sits on my nasal paths.

I breathe with my ears; ears saturated with news of

Inverted justice, of blood soaked loots I loathe.

Hear these words Kenule. And berth those

Ink bullets of fourth estate fame and stencil

Romance. That short romance of eternal frenzy

And gothic engravings of your letters that die,

Not from ‘feeble’ minds of Generals nor fumes

From the Dutch industrial farts.

 

“Saro Wiwa’s Waiting War” was a nominee entry in the 2010 memorial essay contest for the late activist and writer, Ken Saro Wiwa. The poem was recited at the commemorative vigil of Saro Wiwa in Huston Texas, USA.

 

Geosi Gyasi: How is the process of writing like for you? Do you do many drafts?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: It is usually a carefully thought out process for me. Yes, a lot of drafts go into my writing as a way of refining the work.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific subjects you write about?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: My writing is built by my mood and environment. Current issues also play a major role in my work. Social justice is something I am interested in as well as environmental safety. In all, I will say the tide and time determine my writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever have writer’s block?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: Of course. It happens a lot. It’s not an interesting phase of any writing project. Sometimes, you stare at a blank paper or computer screen for a very long time. Now this reminds me of a quote about writing. It says “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein and bleed” Well, sometimes, you have to wait for the continuity, the writing flow to come back home, your muse to take over you. Then you feel good once more.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever look to other writers for inspiration?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: Yes. Writing is majorly built by who and what you read. Then the rest is your creativity and your ability to arrest your readers. And give them what you have. So I take interest in some writers. A few of the many writers I am interested in are Chinua Achebe, Stephenie Meyer, Chuma Nwokolo,Teju Cole and Toni Kan.

Geosi Gyasi: How much success did you receive with the publication of Gardens and Caves?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: Even with the fact that a lot of people find poetry difficult to fall in love with, I have received a lot of positive feedback on Gardens and Caves. These tell of the success the book has achieved.

Geosi Gyasi: Is poetry hard to write?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: Like I said, my mood is a huge determinant of my writing. If not in the right frame of mind for creativity, a poem could linger for months. And if it goes so bad, it could end up in the recycle bin. In contrast, when you find your muse at the right time, you just set your hands on the keypad and there is this mysterious union developed with what you are writing at that moment. So I’ll say it is difficult in an easy way.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you read your reviews? What do you make of unfavourable reviews?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: Reviews are great to read. For me, it is always good to have them. It tells you what people feel about your work. I don’t know much about unfavourable reviews. I think a good review shouldn’t trash the art. Rather, a writer would do better after reading what you might term as unfavourable review. I have seen cases of wrangle between an editor and writer due to such reviews. In my opinion, when it gets that bad, just ignore the review and move on with your art. You have to love your art first. That way, it never goes bad. Some “ugly”paintings turn out to be the most costly. In all though, a good review provides room for improvement. No one person is perfect. And writing is far from a perfect art. That’s why they say we never finish writing any piece, we abandon it!

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written out of anger?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: For me it is more of sadness than anger. They are quite different feelings. I know this point towards melancholic feelings and how it fuels writing. Yes, I have some of my writings that are not happy in themes. And while writing about that, you wouldn’t expect a fair amount of happiness. I say this because, a poem could draw tears if you are passionate about it and if you poured out your heart to it. An elegy to a friend you lost is one of such writings. You can’t help it. Then you let your tears aid you to an artful landing.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever attempted a poem written solely out of a personal experience?

Emmanuel Uweru Okoh: I have a section in Gardens and Caves. This section is titled “Whispers of Nature”, and deals more with my experiences with learning the ropes of life, how we shouldn’t try too hard to have control over what we are not meant to control. These were written out of personal experiences and the will to share the value and happiness in letting nature remain.

END.


Interview with South African Writer, Louis Greenberg

August 12, 2014
Photo Credit: Gareth Smit / aerodrome

Photo Credit: Gareth Smit / aerodrome

Brief Biography: 

Louis Greenberg is a freelance editor and writer. He was born in Johannesburg. He has edited mostly fiction for publishers including Random House Struik, Penguin and NB Publishers and some academic work for journals and institutions, and was an online tutor at the South African Writers’ College.

His published work includes a handful of photos, poems and short stories. His first novel, The Beggars’ Signwriters (Umuzi, 2006), was shortlisted for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the 2007 University of Johannesburg Debut Prize. He compiled and edited Home Away(Zebra Press, 2010), a collaboration by 24 writers set in a single, global day. His second novel, Dark Windows, was published by Umuzi in 2014.

Under the name S.L. Grey, he co-writes horror-thrillers with Sarah Lotz, zombie queen of the south. Their first novel, The Mall, was published by Corvus in 2011. The Ward was released in 2012, and The New Girl in October 2013.

Geosi Gyasi: I want to apologize for asking a personal question. Are you white or coloured?

Louis Greenberg: Of course this is a sensitive question, especially in South Africa, where racial classification was a formal way of denying human rights to most of the country’s population. As it happens, I was classified white by the apartheid government and it is an essential fact of my history that I benefitted from better educational, social and civil infrastructure and from relative peace and stability growing up. That stated, as I wrote in my introduction to Home Away, a collection of stories by writers living in South Africa and away from home, I like to complicate the gross racial categories we were forced into and try to honour the unique, individual paths of everyone who has landed up in this country. For example, three of my grandparents were born outside South Africa and came to South Africa following various opportunities and escaping atrocities in Europe.

Geosi Gyasi: For how long have you been writing?

Louis Greenberg: I was always keen on writing at school. It was one of my favourite activities as far back as primary school, but I wasn’t confident that I was any good or had anything interesting to say until many years into my university career. I published my first poems and short stories in my early twenties, and my first novel only when I was thirty-three.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you manage your work as an editor and writer?

Louis Greenberg: Editing as a freelancer is an ideal way to earn a living while I write. I’m able to schedule my own time without wasting hours on a commute and staff meetings. Even when I take on a lot of editorial work, I manage to put aside a few hours or days here and there to keep my novels going.

Geosi Gyasi: Who edits your stories? Do you edit them yourself?

Louis Greenberg: I do try to get my work as polished as possible before submitting it, but I always need another editor to work with me after that. An external editor will always note errors, confusion and inconsistencies that you can’t see, and be able to balance a piece in a way writers can’t do themselves.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you first fall in love with horror-thrillers?

Louis Greenberg: Although I was very afraid of the dark and suffered awful nightmares as a child and avoided horror movies, from the age of about ten I started reading Poe’s weird stories and then moved on to Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell crime novels. One of the first compositions I wrote at primary school was a half-page Poe-like horror story, and later my teachers even contacted my mother, concerned about my dark imagination. Writing and reading about fear, I realised later, was the beginning of a long process of trying to manage my own fear.

Geosi Gyasi: What prompted the use of the pseudonym S.L Grey? In other sense, what’s the difference between S.L Grey and Louis Greenberg?

Louis Greenberg: S.L. Grey is a collaboration between the fabulous writer Sarah Lotz and me. We have quite different and complementary skills and I think our collaboration is very rich for that. At first, Sarah was the plot and pace specialist, with an amazing ability to see the big picture of a plot and keep it gripping. I would come in with my deeply imagined character and mood and that way we’d work together. I think we’ve both become much more rounded writers by working together.

Geosi Gyasi: Your first novel, The Beggars’ Signwriters, was shortlisted for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the 2007 University of Johannesburg Debut Prize. A lot of work must have gone into your debut?

Louis Greenberg: Funnily enough, without any pressure, without any sense of the industry, with little expectation of myself and no super-achieving writing friends and peers, I remember writing The Beggars’ Signwriters as a painless process. I wrote in my spare time, on weekends and evenings, just because I felt like it. The Beggars’ Signwriters was the second novel I had written after another that wasn’t published, and knowing that I could finish a novel-length piece must have given me extra confidence. It didn’t take more than six months to finish.

Geosi Gyasi: How much of your birthplace, Johannesburg, features in your stories?

Louis Greenberg: Johannesburg is central to both my published novels and is the location for the first three S.L. Grey novels. I’ve enjoyed using the city as a location, because the people and the scenery are so familiar to me. Lately, though, I’m challenging myself with different locations, which are invigorating and inspiring to write about, a little bit like going on holiday.

Geosi Gyasi: Your most recent book, ‘Dark Windows’ was published by Umuzi in April this year. In real life, do you think crime in Johannesburg could ever be cured?

Louis Greenberg: I have fantasies of some benign and overwhelming shift in our – Johannesburg, South African, global – politics and relationships that would strip greed and self–interest away and leave people in a better position. If humans spent as much time and money treating social inequity as they do on weapons and dirty energy and accumulation of wealth, we could solve all our social diseases tomorrow. Are people hard-wired to be greedy and self-interested, or is it just the way we’re encouraged to be by all our dominant political and religious systems? I don’t know, but part of my creative drive at the moment is imagining alternatives.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you feel your stories have political underpinnings?

Louis Greenberg: Despite my diatribe in the last answer, I am always drawn back to personal politics – the politics of individuals, what makes us unique and what connects us. I think if we can avoid ever becoming numbers, statistics, categories (to come back to your first question), we can remember each other’s humanity. The problem with macropolitics is that it tends to generalise people and when we concern ourselves with macropolitics, we tend to generalise ourselves and our reactions to others. I think writing novels – telling our individual and intimate stories – is a perfect vehicle to remind people of each other’s individuality and connectedness. This is why we should read fiction. And we shouldn’t allow people who don’t value or read fiction to govern us!

Geosi Gyasi: In relation to reading fiction, do you think there are enough readers in South Africa?

Louis Greenberg: No. Books are too expensive and are inaccessible to most South Africans. If we are to foster a culture of reading for pleasure and enlightenment, we need to invest a lot of money, time, care and political will into stocking school libraries and public libraries and then reaching keen readers where they are. There are some innovative projects on the go, like YoZa, which spreads short stories through cellphone networks; Paperight, which allows students to print their textbooks at their local copy shop; and Book Dash, through which groups of professional writers, designers and artists get together for no cost to make books for children. These are some of the great ideas that are breaking traditional constraints to literacy and a reading culture and they deserve the full backing of government.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you share with us your writing etiquette?

Louis Greenberg: I have a little office in a separate back room of my house. I work best in the morning and try to switch off the internet from about 8 a.m. to 12:30, when I go and collect my children from school. I either edit the bulk of the job I’m working on or try to write 1000 words or more in that time. The afternoon, then, is for planning the next day’s work and dealing with administration.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever look to other writers for inspiration?

Louis Greenberg: I’m quite a fussy reader, so when a book really grabs my imagination, it’s usually because it’s doing something interesting and new or is simply extraordinarily gripping. I know I can’t and wouldn’t want to emulate exactly what those writers are doing, but the experience of reading a great book encourages me to push my own boundaries and always try something different.

END.


Interview with Malawian Writer & Poet, Chichichapatile Mangochi

August 5, 2014

photoBrief Biography: Chichichapatile Mangochi is a Malawian Writer and Poet whose work has been published in Munyori, Storymoja, Reporter and Aerodrome.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you fall in love with poetry?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: It was a spontaneous start. I believe I fell for poetry even before I knew how to write coherent words. I used to write unintelligible words on the ground as soon as I started learning to write. That to me was poetry only that it needed further explanation. My absolute resolve for poetry came whilst in high school. I published my first poem, Better the Same Old Song in our school’s newsletter. In it I satirically attacked the pedantic new headmaster, who came and enforced on us twenty-one school rules on top of God’s Ten Commandments. Since then I have never looked back.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you start a poem? How do you know you’ve arrived at the end of a poem?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: I follow no rules. A poem may start at any time. There is no announcement, no preparation. Its ending comes just as effortless as it started. It is not about lines but about impact. It ends when it has expressed what it must.

Geosi Gyasi: What does it mean to you to be a poet?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: It means a lot to me because I am able to convey my sufferings, thoughts and experiences concisely with precision. Poetry is the only medium of communication whose beauty of language and use of words strives to convey its message with clarity and precision.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from your own personal experiences? How did your poem ‘A train to Work’ come about?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: I write from personal experiences as well as piecing together loose ends from what I see and hear wherever I go. A poem ‘A Train to Work’ came about out of my own experience. There was a time I used to take a train to Maitland at Southfield station. I stay in Grassy Park so I used to walk twenty-five or thirty minutes to and from the station sometimes through the rain. It was a great experience because on a train one meets people of all walks of life – old, young, poor, rich sitting and standing side by side heading to one destination.

Geosi Gyasi: I wonder if you would recite your poem, A Train to Work?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: Of course: Thirty minutes of walking in rain/ Takes me to Southfield/ To catch a train/ To work/ And not in a field/ In a house to clean and make beds/ Until the sun hits the western horizon/ The train is full/ Youngsters are dangling like monkeys outside/ A young pastor without a beard or crown bald/ Reminds us of our real destination.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary influences?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: My friend, brother, Auspicious Ndamuwa is a great influence, without him my literary career would have died a natural death. We used to hole up ourselves in a room reading, writing and reciting the poems we had written. I used to copy A.E Housman’s style but I couldn’t match with his ingenuity of choosing a right word. Another young scholar asked him how he managed always to select a right word. He said he didn’t bother trying to get a right word but getting rid of the wrong one.

My wife always pushes me to write something new every week. And I don’t forget the day my first short story appeared in the local newspaper whilst I was in high school. My illiterate mother, showing her appreciation ran her fingers across the story as if fingering every word, smiling ear to ear.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think of yourself as a poet as well as a writer?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: I am both. Poetry brings sanity unto my life whilst prose is the icing on the cake. I switch from poetry to prose in the same way that a motorist flashes lights to indicate where he/she is going. I think a good poet should also have a good knack in prose even though it is not the case for most writers.

Geosi Gyasi: Is writing a means of survival?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: Yes and no. Yes, because I believe reading and writing completes man’s well-being hence enhancing mental survival. Writing edifies, instructs and teaches.

No, because my bread and butter comes from other sources. Writing is that necessary hobby that I find time for even when I have strict deadlines to beat in tasks that support my daily financial needs.

Geosi Gyasi: What influenced the writing of the Poor man’s Fears?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: From my personal point of view, I was born into a poor family and with my father around as a child I didn’t know that we were that poor, until the time my father died when I was 21 years old doing my ‘A’ Levels. I dropped out of college and trekked to South Africa to look for work so that I could fend for my destitute family of five.

I consciously know what it is like to go to bed on an empty stomach and not knowing from where the next meal would come from. It is so disheartening that a poor person must worry about his next meal and the day he would die.

Geosi Gyasi: What kind of books do you often read?

Chichichapatile Mangoch: Mostly I read classics. I greatly admire works of W.H. Auden, George Herbert, Mathew Arnold, Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, Ted Hughes, Francis Bacon, David Rubadiri, Don Mattera, Jack Mapanje, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, et cetera.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you keen about style in poetry?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: Well, style is not everything in poetry and a poet must not be bound by it. A poet’s greatest strength is to communicate, not what he should but what he must. One needs to roam freely, unrestricted without the dictates of style. Style should come in naturally. I mean, it mustn’t be the poet’s major concentration. With style, a poet writes what he SHOULD and without style what he MUST.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you commit your poems to memory? What time of the day do you write?

Chichichapatile Mangochi: Mostly, I do. I find so much solace to write in the stillness of the night when the world goes to sleep. I get much inspiration when I make the pen talk at dawn…when the day is being born, when light begins its relentless assault on darkness. It is therapeutic fodder to the brain.

END.


Interview with American Poet & Musician Stephen Kampa

July 29, 2014
Photo Credit: Teresina Lyman

Photo Credit: Teresina Lyman

Brief Biography: Stephen Kampa was born in Missoula, MT in 1981 and grew up in Daytona Beach, FL. He received a BA in English Literature from Carleton College and an MFA in Poetry from the Johns Hopkins University. His first book, Cracks in the Invisible, won the 2010 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and the 2011 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Florida Book Awards. His poems have also been awarded the Theodore Roethke Prize, first place in the River Styx International Poetry Contest, and two Pushcart nominations. His second book, Bachelor Pad, appeared this spring from The Waywiser Press. He currently divides his time between teaching poetry at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and working as a musician.

Geosi Gyasi: For some fifteen years, you’ve been playing the harmonica. How did you start playing?

Stephen Kampa: When I was a teenager, I lived in Brazil for a year as an exchange student. A big part of the culture, or at least of my host family’s life, was music: I can remember us visiting the family farm in Perdões, Minas Gerais, and gathering on the porch to sing while my host uncle strummed an acoustic guitar. I also remember the time another host uncle took me aside and let me know that, judging by my porch singing, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Of course, I resolved to prove him wrong, and when I returned to the United States, I happened upon a little basket of harmonicas while wandering through the local bookstore. I’ve never looked back except to wish the bookstore had put out a basket of pianos.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you acquire your first harmonica?

Stephen Kampa: The first was that bookstore harmonica, and I was probably sixteen years old; however, I date the beginning of my serious harmonica playing to my seventeenth birthday, when I bought myself my first real harmonica, a Hohner Special 20. I chose that model because my hero, John Popper, played Special 20s.

Geosi Gyasi: Which of these types do you play – the diatonic, the chromatic, or the tremolo? Could you explain your choice?

Stephen Kampa: I play diatonic harmonicas. The diatonic is generally the harmonica a person thinks of when thinking of harmonicas at all, the pocket-sized ten-hole job most commonly used in blues, rock and roll, and folk music. When Sara Bareilles plays harmonica on “Basket Case,” it’s a diatonic she’s playing.

They’re rather ingenious little instruments. At a basic level, they are designed to sound good because they’re tuned to play in one key, so any of the notes you play will more or less fit the music as long as said music is in the key stamped on the harmonica; thus, a total beginner might sound aimless, but he won’t sound out-and-out wrong. (Of course, that all goes right out the window if there are complex chord changes.) At a more advanced level, diatonic harmonicas are capable of great expressiveness and musical surprise, but you have to know what you’re doing, and it rarely involves playing in the key stamped on the harmonica at that point. The harmonica has its own bizarre logic, which is quite interesting, but something to save for the rainiest rainy day.

I don’t own any tremolo harmonicas—in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever even played one—and the same could be said for the other more orchestral harmonicas: the chord harmonica, bass harmonica, octave harmonica, and so on. I do play a bit of chromatic, and although I’m hardly a virtuoso on it, I’m pleased to say that this year should see the release of an album for which I contributed some session work, including my first recorded chromatic work.

Geosi Gyasi: I’ve watched you play the harmonica a couple of times. From where do you get the energy to play?

Stephen Kampa: Whiskey.

That’s not true, of course, or only a little. I think the answer might be joy. I believe artistic creation comes from a deep and abiding sense of joy in the possibilities of the medium and in the intelligence that discovers them. This runs counter to the culturally accepted stereotype of the artist as a tortured soul, a loner, an alcoholic manic-depressive who amidst the destruction and subsequent wreckage of his own life manages to create a few glittering monuments. (Kierkegaard: “What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. . . . And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ . . .” Notice the role of the people in that little parable.) I’d argue that even when artists are dealing with grief-riddled material—when they’re singing the blues—their creative response to it is part of what makes art redemptive, if art is.

That is perhaps an elaborate answer to a straightforward question. I should add that when it comes to playing music, many things contribute to the performance: the energy and responsiveness of the crowd, the friendship and mutual admiration I share with my bandmates, and that blessed moment when one stops regretting the past and worrying about the future and simply inhabits the present moment, which is where the music is.

Geosi Gyasi: You currently front your own band, Stephen Kampa and the Pickups. Could you tell us what this band is about?

Stephen Kampa: This band is about making money. Although I enjoy music and know that it is an art form, for me it has also been a way to make a living, and where I am, one has to seek out as many opportunities as possible for making that living. As much as I enjoy my band, and as much as I have learned about music, my voice, and the challenges of being a front man and bandleader, I put together Stephen Kampa & the Pickups because I needed more gigs than I could get as a sideman.

That said, I think there are some things that make the band pretty special. Obviously, at the top of the list are the first-rate musicians who have contributed their talents to the music-making. I also think that we tend to defy expectations. When people see the band is built around a harmonica player, they expect a blues band, but we actually do very little straight-ahead blues: more often, we’re drawing from the soul, funk, and R&B traditions. Harmonica tends to get pigeonholed when it comes to repertoire, but there’s no reason we can’t do songs by Marvin Gaye, Marshall Tucker, Herbie Hancock, or the Box Tops, and we do. I like to believe that when we’re playing, we’re helping people reimagine how the harmonica can sound. I suppose, then, in all honesty I should say that in addition to being about making money, the band is about getting to play the music I want to play.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any relationship between music and poetry?

Stephen Kampa: There are many, but I think the interesting analogies leave aside the question of song-writing and poetry—something Glyn Maxwell discusses concisely and persuasively in On Poetry—and focus instead on the relationship between an art form that has no semantic content and one that, despite the best efforts of the avant-garde, simply buzzes with semantic content. I’m particularly fascinated by the way vowel pitch affects the movement and feeling of individual lines, but that is only one example.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a poet?

Stephen Kampa: I’m still not sure I want to be a poet, given all the baggage that word carries: the foppish outfits, the little twiddles of cigarette smoke, the visionary gleam. I guess I think of myself as a writer who mostly ends up writing poems, possibly because I lack the attention span to write short stories or a novel, possibly because poems afford me the kind of concentration, flexibility, associative logic, and musicality that I need to do my kind of thinking.

Geosi Gyasi: If for some fifteen years you’ve been playing the harmonica, how long have you been writing?

Stephen Kampa: I’ve been writing since I was a child, but in high school I had a teacher who sentenced me to a life of poverty by introducing me to poetry. Truth be told, I’ve been in her debt ever since. So, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I’ve been writing poetry for about as long as I’ve been playing harmonica.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you split your time as a teacher, writer and musician?

Stephen Kampa: It can be difficult. I can say with certainty that when I’m teaching, my students are my priority; in fact, this summer I’ve been working on an essay about teaching, love, and Theodore Roethke. On the whole, though, I’m still trying to find a balance when it comes to the time each of those roles demands, as well as a way to harmonize those parts of myself into a single coherent identity.

Geosi Gyasi: Your first book, Cracks in the Invisible, won the 2010 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and the 2011 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Florida Book Awards. Your poems have also been awarded the Theodore Roethke Prize, first place in the River Styx International Poetry Contest, and two Pushcart nominations. Do you feel fulfilled as a writer?

Stephen Kampa: When I was a high school student, I won an award for a poem I’d written, and I got to go to Miami. There I had a bracing conversation with Mike Raymond, a writer who taught at Stetson University and whom I’d met only once. Professor Raymond looked at a small sheaf of poems I’d brought for him to read, then leaned back and said, “Stephen, when are you going to stop playing around and start writing poetry?” It was chastening; I felt taken aback, perhaps even a little humiliated, not least because I was there to accept an award for my poetry. Later, during the ceremony, I was called up to the front of a small room and given a certificate or some such, and when I got back to my seat, a woman came up to me—presumably because she’d read my poem—and said, “Thank you.” That was it. She left. Mike Raymond leaned over quickly and said, “That’s why you write.”

I tell this story for two reasons. First, that day was formative for me: although I may still argue with Professor Raymond about the place of play in poetry, I value that he took whatever talent I had seriously enough to challenge me to make more of it, and the moment when a woman I’d never met simply thanked me for a poem taught me something important. Second, I tell this story because it comes to the heart of your question: how do we as writers understand fulfillment? What is the measure of one’s success?

What I tell my students is that you have to love the act of writing itself, the process, if you hope to be a writer. When it comes to publication, recognition, prizes, fame, fortune, and eventually owning your own little island empire where everyone acknowledges you are the greatest writer ever, the sad truth is that one day soon after arriving on your island, you’re going to start to think it’s just a little bit small. Anne Lamott has words of wisdom here:

“All that I know about the relationship between publication and mental health was summed up in one line of the movie Cool Runnings, which is about the first Jamaican bobsled team. . . . The men on his team are desperate to win an Olympic medal, just as half the people in my classes are desperate to get published. But the coach says, “If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”

W. S. Merwin has a beautiful poem about meeting Berryman that also speaks to the issue, but with a different emphasis:

 

I asked how can you ever be sure

that what you write is really

any good at all and he said you can’t

 

you can’t you can never be sure

you die without knowing

whether anything you wrote was any good

if you have to be sure don’t write

 

If, then, we can find no satisfaction in plaudits before the enormous maw of the ego, and we can’t trust our own sense of whether work is any good, all that remains is the doing of the work itself. In that sense, I feel very fulfilled: I’ve structured my whole life around writing, and for the most part, I am grateful, knowing how lucky I am to be able to do that.

Still, I’m waiting for my island. Even a small one would do. For a while.

Geosi Gyasi: This happened to be one of my favorite lines in the Bachelor Pad – “He worried that he lived his whole/Life in his notebook, and he wondered why/That didn’t seem so bad”. How and when was the whole idea of the Bachelor Pad conceived?

Stephen Kampa: I noticed at some point that I’d been writing a number of poems on the same themes—relationships, love, the life of the single man—and when you realize that about your own work, you’ve got two immediate choices: you can either work against the tendency and break through to something new, or you can acknowledge that you’ve got something on your mind and make a project out of it. I opted for the latter.

Geosi Gyasi: With all honesty, which of these two do you spend most of your time on: Playing the harmonica or writing poetry?

Stephen Kampa: At this point, writing. When I was a young man and learning my instrument, I practiced harmonica incessantly—hours every day—as is customary for anyone learning to play an instrument. The writing, however, has always been my priority: if I had to pick between the two, I would always choose writing. I always have, in fact. Happily, for now, I don’t need to choose.

END.


Interview with South African Writer, Ashley Quigley

July 22, 2014
Photo Credit: Ashley Quigley

Photo Credit: Ashley Quigley

Brief Biography:

Ashley Quigley was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. In high-school, she developed a love for writing and English and excelled in both aspects. She studied at Rhodes University and holds degrees in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. She lives in Umhlanga with her husband, son, and three dogs.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you step a foot into the world of writing?

Ashley Quigley: In high-school, I developed a love for writing and English and excelled in both aspects. For college, I headed to Rhodes University where I was to study English and Journalism, but as fate would have it I registered for a science degree and received my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Microbiology. After a five-year stint working in commercial laboratories I discovered that my love of English and writing was too great to ignore. So I came a full circle and reverted back to my first love, writing, which I have found more fulfilling than anything else I have done in my career.

Geosi Gyasi: Your most recent book, Breeders was recently published. Is there any special reason why you chose a female as the main central character?

Ashley Quigley: Yes. The story revolves around women who are selected for a breeding project where they have to produce offspring, so the character has to be female. The second book centers more on the male leads.

Geosi Reads: What inspired the story in the Breeders?

Ashley Quigley: Having studied the ethical issues and controversies surrounding genetic breeding and designer babies, I started to wonder what would happen if your genetic prowess was the new currency and determined your place in this world. Would our interference of natural selection by genetic breeding create super humans? This book inspired me to investigate further the human reaction to a situation which could threaten our entire existence.

Geosi Reads: Did your background in Biochemistry and Microbiology influence the story in any way?

Ashley Quigley: Although the book centre’s around science fiction, the scientific terms and genetic references are factual and make reference to studies performed worldwide, where researchers are trying to select for genetically favorable characteristics and disease free humans.

Geosi Reads: What writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?

Ashley Quigley: I really admire Suzanne Collins, not only for her success, but for her dedication and perseverance in getting her work out there and gaining readership.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever encounter challenges ending a story?

Ashley Quigley: Not really. I usually jot down ideas in a sketch book as they come to me. More often than not, I will draw a mind map of the plot. This may change some as I write the book and the characters develop, but helps me keep the story on track as far as possible, so the ending is always developed and worked towards.

Geosi Gyasi: In writing fiction, do you consider entertainment a priority?

Ashley Quigley: As far as the storyline is concerned, yes. A book needs to be gripping, to pull you into its world and engage you so that you will keep turning the pages. I find that long drawn out books with low entertainment value, often has reviews where readers have either not or battled to finish the book.

Geosi Gyasi: What about humor?

Ashley Quigley: For me, yes. A drama or thriller can always have one or two lines where the character or situation may be humorous. However, it always depends on the tone of the book.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?

Ashley Quigley: I’m such a neat freak and perfectionist, that my husband often teases me by saying “We don’t live in a lab.” This definitely flows into my writing and my critiquing of it.

Geosi Gyasi: How much are you conscious of the reader when you write?

Ashley Quigley: I always try to maintain a reader’s outlook when reviewing my book. I ask myself if this is something I would buy or recommend to a friend, so I try to be as reader conscientious as possible.

Geosi Gyasi: Does environment matter to you as a writer? Where do you write?

Ashley Quigley: I write in my study where I’m surrounded by my favorite books and is a brightly lit and happy place, its also private. You can often find me listening to music when I write. I like soft, soulful musicians, such as Jack Johnson and John Meyer and then Florence and the Machines.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think the public taste for Science fiction, thrillers and suspense have declined?

Ashley Quigley: Not at all. I think the recent success of novels transitioning into film such as The Twilight Saga, Hunger Games and the series by Stieg Larsson have highlighted that this genre is becoming increasingly popular.

Geosi Gyasi: Is your South African citizenship important to you and your writing?

Ashley Quigley: Yes. I am proudly South African and hope that I portray this aspect into my writing where relevant.

END.


Interview with Nigerian Writer, Ejiọfọr Ugwu

July 15, 2014
Photo Credit: Ejiofor Ugwu

Photo Credit: Ejiọfọr Ugwu

Brief Biography:

Ejiọfọr Ugwu is a street photographer. He lives in Nsukka, Nigeria. He has edited poetry for The Muse, a journal of creative and critical writings at the University of Nigeria. A graduate of the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop, Ejiofor has had his poetry and short fiction published in Drumtide, The New Black Magazine, The Muse, Sentinel Nigeria, and The Kalahari Review. His work is also forthcoming in African American Review.

Geosi Reads: Between photography and poetry, you honestly have a first love?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Poetry. I’m not sure I have a very beautiful story of childhood and writing. I wrote the first thing that looked like poetry inform three in High School. It was after I encountered a poem by an English poet which I don’t remember the poet’s name. I have gone online to search for the name but I did not succeed: “There Is No Sanctuary for Brave Men.” I think the Collection is Oladele Taiwo’s. The poem made me think that I should begin to look for words because I already had stories. I come from a Community of stories: beautiful and gory. Alor-Agu has a rich oral lore, which I’m yet to fully explore. I encountered it quite early. My mother is a storyteller. She married early and had turbulences early too but that’s not the source of her stories. They come from deep, deep within. She was her grandmother’s pet and that was usually an opportunity for many a child to get spoilt. She picked a different thing. She gave us the image of her grandmother as one all season beautiful old woman with hawkish fingernails. At least we were able to learn that she used the fingernails to ‘chuck’ sense into anyone around who acted silly. I refuse to think that there’s more to the fingernails. But as a child the fingernails conjured the image of a merciless witch to me but I did tell my mother that. So my mother has a photographic memory almost comparable to her own mother. I got stories quite early from them but I didn’t have the words that early. Immediately after High School I wrote a story of the size of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It was my first outing. And I will get it burnt very soon. I burnt my first poem that way and was purified. That is one thing fire can do to your life. Photography is a newer art form for me. I know I have always wanted to do a particular photography but I didn’t know the name until I met Teju Cole. It was not the commercial photo that I was thinking of. It was photography for me and me alone. You know, as selfish as that. Then with Teju Cole, everything took shape.

Geosi Gyasi: I am curious to know what entails in the work of Street Photography?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: The kind of photography I am talking about is the achievement of a thing similar to what Teju Cole and everybody in that group does. I recommend Teju Cole’s “Who’s Got the Address” in Guernica Magazine. Go, see and watch. You will get a big feel of what is involved in street photography. Hear Teju Cole, “The element of surprise is the key. You head out of your house not knowing what you’re going to encounter. After a while, you see lyricism inherent in the world. To capture this takes tremendous amounts of luck”. This is the kernel of the art. And there is something with image and my poetry. Much of it happen first as images before becoming words. Street photography has poetry in its soul – the poetry of instance. But the art is risky too considering the security situation of the world today. People can think that you are a terrorist taking pictures of places to bomb and you may get lynched before your true identity is revealed. So you have to be careful. Possibly, steal your art. Let me also make this confession once and for all. There was something functional in that description. I did not want to be described immediately as a writer or poet because I was not sure. I was not sure whether I was getting it. I felt safe with being described as a street photographer even though I am yet to develop the art form to my wish.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there a Nigerian writer who is particularly important to you?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Afam Akeh is an important poet to me. There is this indescribable depth in his poetry. Just have a feel of it:

American Trauma

There is a hole in the ground the dead cannot fill.

Only memory can feed it. And silence,

that populous sound. What the world calls power

is suddenly rubble, concrete piled on grief.

The ruins of everything everywhere

evidence of dreams not traveled.

Assorted body parts in disposable bags,

dust coated, almost earth.

People look like rubbish

when they are no longer people.

Memory is the cruel companion –

familiar voices in old phone calls,

remembered faces, traveled spaces,

the loves that time locks in a heart.

They lift boulders, gather bones,

looking in the rubble for somebody’s father.

Some sift the tale, filling the gaps in spaces

where things once were.

As if the sky crashed, taking the top to the bottom,

breaking faith. And there is no longer certainty,

no sunlight, only craters and mystery, gravity,

absence, the violence of not knowing.

There you are. Afam terrifies me like Rilke, Camus and Kafka. If you can’t have access to his books of poetry such as Stolen Moments; Letter Home and Other Poems immediately you can get considerable e-copies of his poems or you watch what he and his team are doing for African Poetry at the Centre for African Poetry (CAP).

Geosi Gyasi: What relationship do you have with short poems?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I don’t particularly set out to write short or long poems. My work as a poet is similar to that of a midwife. I think I’m echoing someone here: dead or alive but I don’t remember who now. I help them to be born. I don’t determine their growth. ‘Blood Rain’ was a terror and I just had to flow with it.

Geosi Gyasi: From your poem, “Sunrise”, is there any relationship between the sun’s reluctance to rise and the rope that almost loops in the feast of beheading?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I am not the best reader of my work; especially because I don’t know where this thing (poetry) comes from or what it is in its nature. But it seems to me that there is a connection. And you just made me to begin to see. I suspect this case of monstrous hope. Maybe the persona shouldn’t have taken the pain to beseech the sun-god because everything is innately damned.

Geosi Gyasi: What activities do you engage in before the start of a poem?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I can’t really pick out particular pre-writing rituals; because I write anywhere. I respond to a story anytime and where it comes from. It could just be a line that can even take months to gather and take life. Others can come fully made in a day. Some two poems came around recently. One is ‘I Bought My Banana From Ayetoro’. The other is ‘A Game of Magun’. The former took three months to gather. The latter almost completed her life cycle in a day. So it depends on the individual poems. What may look like a ritual is that I tend to write after reading. I also do not force myself to write. There is this thing they often say that you should try to form the habit of writing something or some number of words daily or weekly but I’ve not been able to. Maybe I’ve not been regular or I have just been lazy. I would really like it if it is possible but not yet. I just take it that I would restart anytime favourable to my system and writing would begin. And I don’t fall short of what to write with. My phone is always there. Unless the battery is down. I have something like a Microsoft Word app called Kingsoft Word on my phone so that I can type and format anywhere. Technology is a beautiful thing. And I belong to the Facebook generation.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about your education at the University of Nigeria? What happened to your writing there?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I trained as a graduate of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria. But if you looked closely you would notice that I do not emphasize it. In all the brief bios you can find about me on the internet and in print you won’t see a thing like this; because people would always like to give one excuse or the other for their inability to try. ‘Oh! He is a graduate of English. That’s why. That is why he can write’. That’s a huge lie. I was already writing before I joined the Department. I am really trying to say that whether you studied astral Physics or the Mechanics of Dam you can still be a writer. In fact I dearly wanted to study Economics or Law but with some twists of events (Life has a cause often known to it alone) I joined language studies. I don’t write off its importance (which I will return to later) but that is not why I write. When I joined the Department in 2008 it was really an event. I met a literary environment. The spirit of Achebe was hovering over there and ever. He started The Muse journal in the University in 1963. I would always pass his office in order to walk up to my class on the second floor of the Faculty of Arts, Block B – a name tag on his door – “Emeritus Professor Chinua Achebe”. We had this big spirit ‘Achebe was here’. I am part of the people that inherited The Muse, ‘the spiritchild that took life and dwelled among us” in words of the poet James Nnaji. The names of other inheritors cannot be exhausted here: Dubem Okafor (of blessed memory. He is an ancestor now, just like Achebe). Chimalum Nwankwo. Emeka Nwabueze. Osita Okagbue. Fidelis Okoro. Chika Unigwe. Obari Gomba. Unoma Azuah. So many. I edited Poetry for its 40th edition, 2012. There was also a young literary group in the school called The Writers Community. I was a member. They published my poetry and short fiction on their board and I got tremendous validation. We also organized Workshops. We had such venues as the University zoo where we read our works, critiqued and drank Sprite amidst the chirpings of birds and crickets and the chatters of monkeys. I had such interesting individuals as Ruth Atuh; Kelly Enoche; James Nnaji (Aronsi); Adaeze Amaka; Ifeanyi Edeh; John Attah; Jane Ejibe; Gerald Olisemeka; and some I can’t remember now. Writing was not easy with coursework and personal demons. Then in 2011, I entered for the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop and was shortlisted. We were taught Writing by Sudanese writer Jamal Mahjoub, British Diana Evans and Nigerian Helon Habila. I’m always grateful to these Big Guys and the Fidelity Bank PLC. This is where I met the poet, Iquo Eke, shortlisted for the 2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature. I can also remember Obinna Udenwe and Jessy Mallums. I will not forget the gods I met in the Department. These three stood tallest: Albert Camus. Rainer Maria Rilke. Franz Kafka. Rilke’s poetry, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Camus’ The Stranger and Notes From Underground almost drove me crazy with numinous illuminations. The magic is that they all translations. Rilke and Kafka: German. Camus: French. I was a lover of Star beer and occasional spirit and Guilder in School just like James Nnaji. Timo Alabi drank Harp. And Alex drank Stout. At the beginning, evenings were spent in the female hostels and we were usually richly blessed. And sometimes, cursed. My favourite female hostels were Balewa, Akintola, Akpabio and Zik’s Flat.

Gyasi: Is poetry a difficult genre to indulge in?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I don’t think it is for me. But for others it can be. People see writing and even reading Poetry as a difficult work. And I think they are not completely wrong. The fact that Poetry tends to gather so many within a terribly small space and in a language often similar to that of madness makes it quite an engagement to many. But I think people should see its beauty first of all in its ability to do that magic within that short space. If you still care about the complications of the human condition in general, Poetry should not be an enemy. As for Poetry as a form it is up to you the writer. If you have a story and you think the form can carry it try it. If it can’t try other forms such as Prose-fiction (the Short Story and the full length), Creative Nonfiction or Dramatic Literature. It mustn’t be Poetry. I can say now that Poetry comes naturally to me. But I’m working very hard to fine-tune my two other interests, which are Prose-fiction and Creative Nonfiction. I’m hoping strongly.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best time to write?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Anytime. Anytime you feel like writing or find something writable. Spontaneity can really be a genius. Because something can walk past and get lost forever. Have some listening ears. And watchful eyes. Get lost in the world. Take risk. Feel pain. Be ready to kill, at least your characters. Have sex in abundance. Be careful though. Visit the brothels and cool off. The mortuaries and the cemeteries can give you beautiful treats on a Christmas Day. Have a God. Jilt and get jilted. Fall in and out of love. Fuck and forsake. Listen to your daemons. Read your Bible regularly. The writer is no spirit or saint. He is a normal human being you see on the street, who can do all that (if not for his or her enduring fascination with words, with stories, with life and with death and dying) That saying ‘go ye into the world and multiply’ is yours alone! If your guardian is disturbed by all that tell him you are training your imagination. But be polite enough. Then write anytime. Anywhere. Even in the toilet.

Geosi Gyasi: Blood Rain falls into the category of long poems. How long did it take to write?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I kept on returning to the draft for more than three weeks. I can’t remember exactly but it was not written in a day. Something makes me think that it’s not even complete yet. Or maybe no work of that nature is.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you want readers to like your work?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: Yes and No. Yes because writing is like giving birth. You would be happy that your children do well. You are happy that your solitude pays off. Writing is really a solitary path. Sometimes you are just there alone with spirits of dead writers. You are fighting your own daemons too. That’s why it brings you joy that people appreciate what you do. But to say that you now write to please them is a risk. The ugly has a natural place in your writing too. The Other (otherness) can even be the spirit of your writing. And people can then place your neck on a slaughter slab. You may have read about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. So I am more comfortable being free. That is how political I am. If you like what I write good for us. But if not, and not that it is bereft considerable craft but because one ingredient of the work shocks your belief, I can say I am not obliged to. My primary duty is to my craft.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you reading now?

Ejiọfọr Ugwu: I am reading some ten short stories by Alice Munro, which include “Boys and Girls”, “Face”, “Deep-Holes”, “Runaway”, “Train”, “Wenlock Edge”, “Amundsen”, “Passion”, “Gravel” and “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”. I am also reading the 2014 Cain Prize shortlisted stories. And that of the Commonwealth Prizes. The only book length is Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I follow these magazines and e-zines always: Granta; The Atlantic; n+1; Foreign Policy; The Virginia Quarterly; Transition; The Paris Review; The Kenyon Review; Boston Review; Words Without Borders; The Kalahari Review; Harvard Business Review; The Financial Times; The New York Times; Gulf Coast; Eclectica; The Oxonian Review; The Coffin Review; The New Inquiry; Per Contra; The New York Review of Books; The Millions; The Stinging Fly; The Post-colonial; The Wasafiri; and The New Yorker. I am facebooking too. Any upcoming writer who doesn’t take Facebook seriously may just have been posturing. And it is not good for his health. All he needs to do is to get connected to the right persons and his skill will be richly blessed daily. I am a facebook child. And we in the facebook generation of writers are really lucky. We no longer find it too difficult to emerge. All it takes is to produce something good and people are ready to watch you. They are even ready to pay you before you get to the publishers. That is if, for instance, money is considered as a push. So, no excuse again. Get to work.

END.


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