Interview with British-Nigerian Writer, Adura Ojo

September 16, 2014
Photo Credit: Adura Ojo

Photo Credit: Adura Ojo

Brief Biography:

Adura Ojo is an author, poet, blogger and a mother of two. She is the author of Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs, her debut poetry collection. She loves observing the world around her and teasing the voices within. In previous lives she was a graduate of English, Law and Social Work – not all at the same time. She also enjoyed work – as a lecturer, trainer and mental health practitioner. Her work has been published in Sentinel Champions, Sentinel Nigeria, The Poetic Pinup Revue, and a number of websites. She lives in the UK where she is currently working on her debut novel and a second poetry collection.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve been blogging for some time now? What circumstance(s) led you to become a blogger?

Adura Ojo: I’ve been blogging for six years. I used to visit the Nigerian Village Square, a well- known Nigerian online forum. I read blogs and became fascinated with them.

Geosi Gyasi: How much of the blogging experience do you bring to your writing?

Adura Ojo: I blog spontaneously. Most of my poems are written the same way in less than thirty minutes. Though editing can take longer.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think blogging has a place in modern world? And what mostly fascinates you about blogging?

Adura Ojo: We can’t always say all we want to say in 140 characters and any video on that popular website loses viewers quickly if it’s more than five minutes long. Blogging has a place. It would become more commercialised. That’s already happening. Almost anyone can just start a blog. I like that.

Geosi Gyasi: You blog from two places – thus – Life is a Woman and Naijalines. Could you tell me a bit about the two blogs?

Adura Ojo: ‘Naijalines’ is my personal blog where I write about anything that takes my fancy. ‘Life is a Woman’ (taken from the title of my book) is my writing blog. I share poetry and prose pieces and take part in writing challenges.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind sharing about motherhood and writing?

Adura Ojo: Motherhood is a privilege as well as a challenge. I enjoy both aspects. As a writer you need lots of alone time…I do. As a mother you cannot have lots of alone time…my eight year old daughter says so. When my son was growing up, (he’s in his early twenties now) I was a full time practising mental health professional. It seemed more straightforward. I had more energy then.

Geosi Gyasi: You are a graduate of English, Law and Social work? I am wondering if you could share that bit on your study of Law?  Have you abandoned it totally?

Adura Ojo: I read Law in the UK and graduated with honours. Right from my first year, I knew there was a possibility I would not want to go to law school. There were a few reasons for my decision. I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned it; at least I haven’t abandoned the purpose for the law degree. I am an advocate of social causes rather than the law. That’s why I did a Masters in Social Work. My main interests are women and mental health. I get involved in selected projects that deal with these issues. These two issues also feature prominently in my poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in London and brought up in Nigeria? What memories do you have about your birth in London and your upbringing in Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I can’t recall much about my early years in London. I was three when we moved to Nigeria. I can recall smells though. I have almost an allergic reaction to celery and suspect it’s to do with a childhood incident in the UK, possibly outside of my home. I have a lot of memories growing up in Nigeria. The first poem: “Happy Lizards” in ‘Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs’ is a reflection on those childhood years in Nigeria.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Having lived in the United Kingdom since your early twenties, do you feel more British than Nigerian?

Adura Ojo: I am both British and Nigerian. A Nigerian would describe me as ‘Britico’ and a British person would describe me as Nigerian. ‘The immigrant experience’ which I allude to in my book further complicates matters. I was born British. Socio-politically in the UK, I’m still seen as an ‘immigrant’ on British soil. Being Nigerian is central to my identity as much as the UK is my home.

Geosi Gyasi: What flaws, in your opinion, does the British society have over the Nigerian or vice-versa?

Adura Ojo: No culture is perfect. Cultures are complex. One culture does not have an upper hand over the other as far as these two are concerned. They are just different.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you return to Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I was in Nigeria twice last year. I hope to be there later this year.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you been following the literary landscape in Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I have to a certain extent. It’s vibrant at the moment with many young writers coming up. We’ll see how it develops.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?

Adura Ojo: Jude Dibia. I wouldn’t describe him as ‘my contemporary.’ He has three novels to his credit. Dibia has that ability to get into the mind of his characters and do it in a subtle, yet effective way.  For poetry, I love Somali poet Warsan Shire’s work. Her work is hauntingly beautiful.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in life did you stumble on the art of poetry?

Adura Ojo: I studied English at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. We read a lot of English and African poets: Keats, Donne, Okigbo, Clark, Soyinka, Okot p’Bitek, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Pope, Milton and Shelley among others. My first poem was to my then boyfriend around this time. I was actually 17 though we first met when I was 16.  The poem I wrote expressed thoughts I did not feel safe expressing anywhere else. Poetry seems a medium I’ve adopted for expressing thoughts I do not feel able to express elsewhere. I did not write another poem until 2009. Thinking of it now, that was when I was ready and it all started to come out.

Geosi Gyasi: Your debut poetry collection, “Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs?” was recently published. What struck me about the book was the cover. Who designed the book cover? Did you have a hand in influencing the cover design?

Adura Ojo: Writer, Kiru Taye designed the cover. She did a fantastic job. I was clear in my own mind as to what I wanted. Describing it to someone else was not easy. I suck at sketches. After Kiru did a couple of draft images, I summed up the image in my mind as ‘a woman in a flowing robe, with attitude.’ Barely 24 hours later, Kiru sent this cover. It was as if she took a picture of the image in my mind’s eye.

Geosi Gyasi: Beyond the book cover are a number of poems that celebrate feminism? Are you often biased towards women?

Adura Ojo: Geosi, I don’t know what you mean by ‘biased towards women.’ I am a woman who is proud of my womanhood. I love to celebrate that with women and men alike. There are three sections in the book. The first two sections look at the human condition as a general landscape. The last section is perhaps the one that best meets your description, ‘celebrating feminism’ and womanhood. Besides that, there are a host of poems that look at different spheres of the human experience: identity, race, the diasporan experience, poverty, terrorism and poor leadership. Poems such as: “The Museum”, “Say My Name”, “Eggs Crack Easy”, “Nagging Area”, “This Land”, “French” and “Zebra Crossing” deal with some of these issues.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a glimpse of what book you intend to write next? Would it be another poetry collection or fiction or non-fiction?

Adura Ojo: I have a novel that is 75% finished. It is about a young man and an older woman. I’m also working on my second poetry collection which promises to be of lighter subject matter than the first. I would like to think that the novel would be next one out. I could be wrong.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you comment on these lines from your poem, “A Woman Knows Her Place”: A woman knows her place/and how to get there.

Adura Ojo: I am surprised that you homed in on those lines. I was not sure that readers would get it. There were prevalent attitudes towards women and also emotional blackmail that one was exposed to, growing up within a patriarchal culture in Nigeria. It was not part of the experience in my own family but it was very much a part of the society I grew up in. The saying: “A woman must know her place”, we often think we’ve come a long way from that sort of thinking but it is still evident in people’s attitudes. My own approach is to twist that statement on its head. Yes, a woman knows her place. Not only does she know her place, she most certainly knows how to get there. It is empowering for women to define where that ‘place’ is.

END.

Follow Adura Ojo:

‘Like’ her author page: https://www.facebook.com/aduraojoauthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aduraojo

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AduraOjo

Blogger: http://adura-ojo.blogspot.co.uk/


Dancing Masks by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo

September 10, 2014
Dancing Masks

Dancing Masks

Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Dancing Masks begins with two important proverbs:

You do not stand in one place to watch a dancing mask – Igbo Proverb.

The world is like a mask dancing. If you want to see it, you do not stand in one place – Chinua Achebe.

Like Achebe, Adimora-Ezeigbo’s opening page with the Igbo proverb affirms her believe that cultures use folklore and poems and proverbs to pass on great cultural richness and values in the society. Hence, proverbs, which is often associated with wisdom finds befitting place(s) in the poetry of Adimora-Ezeigbo. The latter proverb, solicited from Achebe’s Arrow of God, recounts Ezeulu’s speech to Oduche in the wake of the new religion. ‘I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying had we known tomorrow.” – Arrow of God p45-46.

Dancing Masks is divided into five different sections: Signs of the Times, Fingers of Feeling, Haiku Connections, Ikpem: Pidgen Blues and Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins. Adimora-Ezeigbo raises enough concerns and issues that cripple the society in which we live. A myriad of themes from love to family to friendship to climatic changes runs through the book.

The opening poem however sends shivers down my spine and raises concerns of Global Warming and the “disaster” that “looms” in this weird world. As if human beings sitting on a time bomb, waiting to explode even when “time crosses the abyss of hope” and “poor nations await the guillotine”.

In Casualty, both young and old share their sentiments towards one another. For young casualty, her worry: “Why do you have to travel and leave me at home?” For Old Casualty, the desire to succeed in this profession of “publish or perish” roused her ambition for good prospects from elsewhere. The “mad competition to excel” in “this land that kills initiative” could better be the divine excuse for a year sojourn elsewhere? Nonetheless, the niggling trepidation for Old Casualty hangs in the balance; the fear of young casualty metamorphosing into “drug addict, rapist, thief or terrorist?” Could it then be argued that the insurgence of terrorism in recent times stems from the absence of proper parental care of young casualties?

Albeit, there are several Ways of Dying, this poem inspired by plane crashes in Nigeria between the years 2005 and 2007. Starting on the ephemeral make of mankind and ending on a rather hopeful note and like the biblical quote presents better: I will not die but live to declare the works of the Lord.

The second section of the book is all about love and friendships and relationships. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s description of love is thoroughly unpretentious. We meet phrases like “Woman of liquid midnight skin” in Celebrating Agbonma the beauty, “mind gestates in acrobatics” in Small talk, “love’s surplus banquet” in Joys of friendship, “frolic of a smile” in In brotherhood, “throttle our love” in Soul mate call, “air sodden with perfume” in Moon song to the beloved, “love-drenched eyes” in Sweet Havila.

Other sections captured in the book are Haiku Connections with poems touching on our heritage living abroad as portrayed in “Benin bronze in London”, illegible hieroglyphics analogous to ancient Egypt in “Grim faces thought-creased” and feasting on worm infested mangoes in “We sit at table”.

The last section, Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins is a proverbial title that pays tribute to a number of important people. For instance “A hero for all seasons” pays tribute to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, “Farewell, great compatriot” written in memory of Chief Emeka Obiabaka, “Tribute to Atakata Agbuo” written in memory of Col. Chinyere Ike Nwosu, “Homecoming of a Christian Soldier” written in memory of Elder Justin Ezeokwura and “A Matriarch Departs” written in memory of Madam Gladys Adimora.

In Dancing Masks, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo presents many problematic societal issues to the reader in a most discernible language. The poems oftentimes sing melodious tunes, breathe and die like human beings, cautions the reader in times of looming dangers, cares for the family, worries about casualties, praises artists and pays tribute to some important personalities. Dancing Masks is no doubt a remarkable feat.


Interview with Zimbabwean Writer, Pearl Matibe

September 4, 2014
Photo Credit: From Pearl Matibe Family Archives

Photo Credit: From Pearl Matibe Family Archives

Brief Biography: Pearl Matibe is an award-winning dynamic speaker with brilliant speeches that share her amazing story of courage, culture, grace, identity, resilience and triumph that molded her life and inspire an audience. She belongs in a group of influential speakers that have their own distinctive flair.

Today, author of ‘Defining Pearl’ is fiercely loyal to the advancement of a 21st century global cultural intelligence. With over 18 years’ experience in the hospitality industry she is certified in Operational Analysis by Cornell University’s Hotel School. She is a member of Toastmasters International and focuses her time on advisory work to varied Boards of Directors around the world. Her willingness to speak fair and square on causes she cares about makes her a respected advocate.

She is passionate about travel and remains a firm proponent of ‘Live your ideals!’

Geosi Gyasi: Let me begin this way; were you a privileged child growing up?

Pearl Matibe: I didn’t choose my class status. I grew up with a colonial white upper-class lifestyle. I’m of the opinion that you are aware of privilege when you see what you lack. I’m privileged from the point of view that I grew up with parents who both had higher than average incomes, my mom was a nurse and my father was a business owner and made more than just a decent living. I went to what one of my Biology teachers, Mrs. Jenkins, referred to as La crème de la crème of Zimbabwe’s schools with a ‘debutante-like’ education where a significant portion of my peers were from socially connected families that had a significant amount of wealth and family history – Martindale, Bishopslea & Arundel Schools. I wasn’t given extras as a child, although I do know I was not expected to do chores. I’ve worked very hard in my life to get where I’m at; it was not handed to me. I like to use my privilege positively: to inspire others when I can and, more importantly, listen when I need to. After all, we’re all privileged in one way and less privileged in others. I’m glad to say that I’m privileged to know how to be hospitable and making sure everyone has a place at the table.

Geosi Gyasi: Some political critics claim Zimbabwe as Mugabe’s. In other sense, can you separate Mugabe from Zimbabwe?

Pearl Matibe: Mugabe has said “…let me keep my Zimbabwe…” He concedes that death will separate him from Zimbabwe when he said “Only God who appointed me will remove me.” It’s his country – that’s about it. It’s my country too! Zimbabweans love their country more than they love Robert Mugabe. For a stable and prosperous Zimbabwe it will be essential to have a re-energized and more engaged civil society.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think Zimbabwe’s independence did any good to the people of Zimbabwe?

Pearl Matibe: It would be re-miss of me to make a blanket assessment of Independence. Zimbabwe’s Independence Day should not be de-valued: it’s a patriotic thing to celebrate our sentiments for the country of our birth. However, it is clear that millions of Zimbabweans have still to enjoy the bounteous benefits of Independence. An even bigger gap exists today between the haves and the have-nots than did in white-rule. In a country where there is no freedom of expression, where you cannot be critical of your government without fear of persecution, where its notorious human rights record is in the spotlight globally, where you ruthlessly suppress your people, in light of this, how can we say independence did good to our people? A key ideal of the liberation war was to remove suppressive laws, yet POSA (Public Order and Security Act) is extremely repressive in today’s Zimbabwe. Some might call Independence from the pan to the fire.

Geosi Gyasi: Is the current situation in Zimbabwe that bad?

Pearl Matibe: Yes, it’s progressively worse than at any other time in the country’s history. Besides the human rights abuses, a desperate leadership is selling Zimbabwe’s future to China in exchange for short-term help which will have an enduring negative impact on the country’s future resources.   Hope lies in establishing new relationships to safe-guard the country’s future with an engaged civil society. The country has an unprecedented opportunity to jump on some incredible solutions for its challenges.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you or would you return to Zimbabwe?

Pearl Matibe: Regrettably, it is not yet time for me to return to Zimbabwe. Going back to Zimbabwe to be arrested? No. I have an obligation to write about what I see; if I did this in Zimbabwe the repercussions are clear to me. Everyone has a human right to live a life free of fear.   I’m a reasonable person I feel that where I reside, where I wish to visit, or work or where I might choose to go on my own is simply a personal preference and no-one should infringe on my personal freedom.  I would not enjoy freedom, yet, in Zimbabwe.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it appropriate to state that you fled Zimbabwe?

Pearl Matibe: Faced with risking death or fleeing? I made a quiet exit.

Geosi Gyasi: Your most recent book, ‘Defining Pearl…a precious difference’, was self-published through FriesenPress. Why did you decide to self-publish?

Pearl Matibe: Traditional publishing has a tendency of controlling all aspects of book design, pricing, title and content. You could say I needed the freedom to speak. I did my research on the different options open to me to achieve my goals for this book. I was committed to the investment of my time and what it takes. FriesenPress has Friesens Corporation as their parent company that has printed everything from the Harry Potter series to the Oxford Dictionary so I was confident that I was in good hands with sufficient “tradition” in their over 100 years of experience.

Geosi Gyasi: Why a memoir at this point in your life?

Pearl Matibe: It was at a point in my life when I’d completed the journey into the heart of who I am. A memoir is very different to an autobiography which is a story that covers an entire trajectory of a person’s life. My memoir is simply one period of my life. I’ve had a unique vantage point, a unique voice, a unique story for that aspect of my life.

Geosi Gyasi: Will you continue to write non-fiction or memoirs?

Pearl Matibe: Both, although I have a preference for memoir writing. People might think it’s easy. After all, it’s your life and you know the story, yes? It’s not a simple thing and it certainly is not easy. I’ve already begun etching out my next book. I feel that no matter what I write about, if I write well, it should have universal resonance because my experiences have been priceless.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write Defining Pearl?

Pearl Matibe: More than 10-years. Reason being that the first few years I was making contemporaneous entries in my personal journal not knowing if I’d be alive the next day. I did not intend it for publication back then. It also took a whole lot more than simply digging into family photos and diary entries to write my story.

Geosi Gyasi: Considering the ordeal and humiliation you went through under the government of Mugabe, were there times you wept writing your memoir?

Pearl Matibe: I felt a profound sense of loss. A certain strength got me to America. State-sponsored violence is known to induce PSTD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) the effects of which can be devastating. It pulled at my heart-strings to remember those that had few or no options to freedom: a life without fear.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you want readers to take from your memoir?

Pearl Matibe: The point of my memoir isn’t to get back at people; it’s another way to exploring my past and reflecting on my life, to shine light on a greater truth, to help others who may be in similar situations; to inspire. Ultimately, I hope readers will have enjoyed a good story; worth telling.

END.


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.


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