THE GUARDIAN ONLINE
I appreciate the fact that your writer, Uduma Kalu, considered me worthy of mention as a writer currently based in the USA in his The Guardian Online article of December 4, 2000 captioned “Season Of Migration To The West.” However, I am constrained by his sweeping generalizations and runaway conclusions to write this reaction.
The first time this writer featured in Kalu’s piece, it was as an example of writers “who have not been writing or have stopped writing since migrating to the West.” I relocated to the US with my wife in September of 1997. Anyone who knows anything about writing can confirm 39 months is nothing in the creation of a work of art. There are writers endowed with more talent and renown who take a decade to gestate a manuscript.
Still, that is secondary. The poke in the ribs was in Kalu’s conclusion that “life in exile is not really one of happiness,” naming Obi Nwakanma, Akin Adesokan and this writer in that bracket. He even referred to my recent visit to Nigeria, claiming I “complained” that my creative writing has been “hampered by the urge to make ends meet.”
Kalu obviously knows nothing about creative writers. A significant percentage of writers worldwide cannot live on what they earn from their writing. Hey, even the average Joe on the street still has to moonlight just to string together a presentable existence. To paraphrase a popular quote, can Kalu’s take home as a journalist take him home? I don’t remember complaining to him? Do I even know him? His name doesn’t strike any familiar chord. If Kalu overheard something not meant for his curious ears at the periphery of a friendly conversation, it couldn’t have been enough for him to conclude I am not happy.
What is happiness anyway? A car? A well furnished place to call home at the close of day? Food on a vast table? Excess resources to extend in the general direction of the extended family and friends? Eyes like the eagle’s on a future and dreams that never founder in the toughest typhoon? What makes Kalu think writing translates into “happiness” for all writers? The fact of one writer attaining the height of bliss while crafting a tale does not mean the process isn’t tortuous and brutal and time consuming for another.
Contrary to what the Kalus of this world think, the percentage of Nigerians living below the middle class level in Western countries is achingly miniscule. Nigerians remain the most educated ethnic group in America, much sought after and well-compensated by employers because of their focus and dedication to work. The occasional drop of discoloration that is given front-page focus by the world media is just what sticks in the world’s imagination. I speak with Akin Adesokan fairly often and he doesn’t sound unhappy to me. Adesokan is in contact with Obi Nwakanma and when he crops up in our conversations, I don’t get the impression that he’s miserable or incapable of putting pen to paper. We may miss the colour of the Nigerian Naira, the poetry of the Molue conductor, the hypnotic frenzy of people in desperate motion at Oshodi, the endless nights of creeping darkness, but we take solace in each other’s friendship. And instant messaging makes it so easy to listen to the many voices from home! If anyone of us is unhappy, it’s probably because we visit websites like The Guardian Online daily to monitor the next scene in the never-ending horror movie called Nigeria.
What’s all the hoopla about Nigerian writers going abroad anyhow? Migration is a fact of life. Doctors, engineers, scholars, businessfolks and drug barons all go West. We all follow the rainbow of our individual dreams wherever it leads us. Do inform Kalu that I live elsewhere, NOT in exile. It suits my current disposition to live here in the United States, and I strongly object to the Madding Crowd tendency of reporters of his ilk to hastily compartmentalize what they do not comprehend. I have not been banished, expelled nor ostracized, neither am I on the run for any crime against my country. The Kalus of this world ought to desist from stirring all writers who live abroad in the same convenient cauldron of controversy, after all, they don’t call the expatriates living in Nigeria “exiles.”
Professor Dafe Otobo will confirm receipt a few weeks ago of a manuscript from this writer to be considered for publication by his Malthouse Publications. There have been online articles, poems, screenplays… I’m just saying there are other avenues of unleashing the creative spirit. What has been the fate of the prolific in Nigeria? Manuscripts completed ages ago? Sanya Osha’s Serving Time co-won ANA Prose Award in ’92. Is it on the bookshop shelves almost a decade after? There are many others that I cannot immediately recall. If the Western world truly garrotes creativity, Nigeria nuclear bombs it. Nigeria slams a planet in its face.
There are problems with new Nigerian writers, just as there are issues with the fresh cache of doctors and engineers and bankers. Anything new is suspect. There will always be matters arising in the minds of gravedigger critics who are unwilling to let the egg hatch before the eagle wings. Sadly, they are incapable of seeing the need for new voices to season before they soar.
This is just to set the records straight, Kalu. Friends, huh?
December 4, 2000
New Jersey, USA.