At the end of his bachelor’s programme at the University of Ibadan, Akin emerged the best student in the Theatre Arts department. He also pocketed the Faculty of Arts prize as well as the National Council of Arts and Culture Prize. “They even said I was entitled to some money, but up till tomorrow they never gave me the money for any of the prizes”, he says with a mild chuckle.
In Nigeria, Adesokan started out as a journalist, writing for such newspapers as The Guardian, Post Express, This Day as well as The News magazine. And indeed, his first novel was written while working as a correspondent for The News magazine. You wonder if he was able to successfully perform both tasks without injecting some fiction into his news reporting.
“I think both are different,” says he. “In journalism, you are writing on specific events. Things that happened. Like when Tai Solarin died, and I went to cover the burial. That was an event that happened. I followed an event and wrote on it. Then when I got home in the night, I went and sat behind my desk and started writing my fiction. So there was a transition. So when you write fiction, you are following ideas. You are creating things. In journalism, you have materials in front of you. Writing is basically an attempt to wrestle with language. And there are writers who have employed the method of journalism to write fiction.”
There’s one big advantage which he’s been able to derive from his stint as a journalist. “In journalism, the reporter works under a deadline. For me, that has been very helpful. I can set a deadline for myself and finish up under that deadline. Even when I was doing my PH.D, I was able to write under a deadline. There was a time when we used to say that journalism would weaken our prose. But with my experience, the discipline has been very helpful.”
For him, an interest in writing developed right from his early age, propelled by a chance reading of D.O. Fagunwa’s Yoruba classic, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale. Hear Akin: “ My experience as a reader was unique. When I was in Primary two or three, at the age of seven, I picked up a copy of the book and started reading it. I started reading from when we went on break in school, at about 11 a.m., and I kept on reading it till I completed the book at about three in the morning. I couldn’t sleep till I had finished reading the entire book, and that took about 16 hours. From that moment, I started trying to write.”
Right from then, the young boy read voraciously whatever book he could lay his hands on, from the Bible to books on literature, biology and indeed on any subject. Later, he started betraying a passion for literature. The fact that he lived in Lagos (Ajegunle) and Ibadan also provided him an easy access to newspapers and books. From Wale Adenuga’s Ikebe Super magazine to books by Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan, Ola Rotimi, Chinua Achebe, Adesokan read all and determined he was going to be a writer someday. His knowledge of literature in those early days, he recalls, usually fetched him a number of presents from his impressed and often stunned teachers. “I started school very early, so all my mates were older. I had no close friends since my classmates were older than me. So I had to rely on books for company”.
In his days as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, there were no writing classes or programmes. You could study Theatre Arts, English, or Communication Arts. Akin settled for the first but took classes in journalism and English. He became exposed to writers within and outside Nigeria and was able to interact with some of those seemingly mythical authors whose works he had fallen in love with. Names like Osofisan, Osundare, Mabel Segun, Bode Sowande, Odia Ofeimun metamorphosed from distant names into intellectuals that he could relate to. “Writers like Osofisan and Osundare encouraged me to do the work”, he recalls. “My relationship with them was decisive. They lent me books, and I drew inspiration from their works.”
Which writer does he consider his idol, a role model? He hesitates a trifle. “I can’t say I have a model,” he states. “It’s not always easy to pick someone as a role model”.
He admits that there are writers whose works have fired in him the passion to write. One of such is Wole Soyinka whose shorter and less complex plays – like The Swamp Dwellers and Lion and the Jewel – Adesokan had been privileged to read as a teenager. He in fact confesses to having a deep, psychological love for Soyinka’s writing. “I pay homage to his works. They give me much aesthetic joy”, he says.
His adoration for Soyinka has more to do with the Nobel Laureate’s embrace of complexity in his works. Soyinka, notes Adesokan, doesn’t shy away from complexities but plunges into them and bravely confronts them. “I don’t call him my role model, but his works have had a great influence on my writing in ways I’ve not quite figured out. I have no idols, but I have favourite writers.”
In his days at the University of Ibadan, Akin’s poetry, alongside others’, adorned several notice boards on campus and glazed the pages of many student and departmental magazines. Since leaving that institution, however, his imaginations have tilted more towards fiction. And you wonder, has the bard lost his kindred muse?
“Right now, I gravitate more towards fiction,” he admits. “For most writers, poetry is a form of apprenticeship. It is the most easily written form. Indeed, I was writing a lot of poetry. I still do write very occasionally, like when I have an intense experience. But my prose has tremendous poetic undertones.”
Last year in an interview with the Sunday Sun, renowned novelist, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike had jeered at young Nigerian writers who tend more towards poetry as literary laggards. Would Akin support that tag? No way, he declares.
“I didn’t read that interview, but I know there are many people writing prose just as there are many writing poetry. Poetry is easier to get out. And there are so many organizations giving out prizes for poetry writing. Poems get published in journals, etc. Maybe more people are into poetry in order to win these awards. So I wouldn’t describe poets as lazy.”
The pervading atmosphere in Ike’s days was quite propitious for creative writing, he observes, unlike what obtains these days. “The professor was a WAEC director working between 9 and 5. As such, he had a lot of time to spare. And in his days, there was a market for African writing. So there was demand for the writing, however limited. That demand is no longer there. When you carry a manuscript that has won an award around for years looking for publishers, then you know the market is no longer there. So I don’t see poets as lazy or as less gifted than those writing fiction”.
Writers have varying sources of inspiration. Many claim they get inspired by nature – staring at the soft sway of leaves, watching a brook flow slowly by, listening to the songs of excited birds. Others have acknowledged that their creative genius usually gets fired after one or two shots of liquor. And a few writers have confessed to being in their best faculty moments after a passionate romp with an exotic lover. From what source does Adesokan’s inspiration flow?
don’t know,” he confesses. “Inspiration is not something I understand too well”. He pauses, while a clock ticks in the background. “What I know is that reading encourages writing. I think inspiration is not something that comes in a rush. It is something that you prepare your mind towards developing. You develop a certain attitude towards writing. Inspiration will come through the way you observe things, through looking at certain ways of putting ideas together. You develop a subject matter, open your mind to recall certain circumstances and make such amenable to your style. Develop a habit of developing such images and putting them down. I think inspiration will flow from that.”