I watched with dismay, the facial expressions and comments my neighbour made when I commended what his daughter loved doing.
Impressed and excited after reading through two of the 12 year old girl’s works of fiction; each one neatly written and broken into chapters on 40 leaves exercise books, I walked up to her Dad commenting on how he had a bundle of talent at home.
His response was explosive. “No way! I have warned Ekene several times to concentrate on her studies. What is she writing? She is just stubborn and difficult. I can’t give her any room for that.” Obviously, I was left speechless. However, I was even more surprised when Ekene told me later on that she had given out most of her works as gifts to her friends. Young Ekene, just writes for the fun of it. Her father wants her to be a medical doctor.
Like Ekene, a lot of young people are lonely in their world of writing as a passion. Only a few people remember to ask me how far I have gone with what I was writing about even when I had mentioned I was busy doing so. They will never forget to ask; “When next are you travelling and where is it going to be?”
Not long ago a female friend was amused and bewildered when I told her that I spent the second day of the Eid-el-Kabir holidays indoors writing. She surely knew I had done my thesis long ago in my under graduate years. “So what the hell was he writing?” she would think.
Yet to some people, writing is what they breathe, eat and sleep. It is common to see press boards in many of our higher institutions with various colourful articles. Some of these writers try to draw attention to themselves with various nick names such as ‘Aristotle,’ ‘Great Mind,’ ‘Okadigbo,’ ‘Awo’ to name a few. Though they never get as popular as those involved in comedy, music or sports what is worrisome is that many of them write in order to achieve popularity before they venture into campus politics.
For those who genuinely write because of their love for writing and what they have to say, it gives great joy when writers like Achebe, Soyinka and Adichie are mentioned in various image laundering drives of the Federal Government like the Heart of Africa Project and the Good People, Great Nation (rebranding Nigeria) TV advertisements.
Today, the impact of writing and the Press in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. It is therefore pertinent to encourage budding young writers like Ekene and the gentlemen and ladies of various press groups in our secondary and post-secondary schools to continue in this art as their own day of glory may not be far away.
A great writer was once asked by an aspiring writer ”Sir, what is the secret to becoming a great writer?” The great man told the young man in reply ”Write, write and keep writing”. Thus in these days of unemployment, our youngsters can be encouraged to take up their passions as a profession or rather exploit their talents which may not even be related as such to their course of study. Writing is one of such passion, it can be developed.
In the present day of boom in the Nigerian media industry vis-a vis music, home videos (Nollywood), discourses, symposia, writing prizes and the press; opportunities to take up such a challenge in this democratic dispensation abounds. The cry that mediocrity has taken over our society is one of the fallouts of a poor reading culture. Reading and effective writing go hand-in-hand.
Notwithstanding the shortcomings bedevilled by mediocrity, piracy, the shift from reading to TV viewing, unappreciated talents and writer-publisher rifts; there is light at the end of the tunnel because there are still people that have kept the flag flying. This is because numerous Nigerian writers has been decorated. These great minds have written themselves to glory with their pens.
The world and Africa stood still as Wole Soyinka was honoured with the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. This was a remarkable feat as Wole joined the multiple-award winning Chinau Achebe who wrote the first novel in the African Writers Series ‘Things Fall Apart’, in taking Africa to the global pedestal. Achebe, described as the father of modern African literature, about two years ago was honoured with the 2007 Man Booker Prize for literature-an award worth $120,000. Achebe’s award came about the same time when young Chimamanda Adichie clinched the Orange Broadband prize for literature for her book ”Half of a yellow Sun”. Miss Adichie was once a medical student.
The feats of Helon Habila winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2001, Dele Olojede the first African born writer to win the Pulitzer prize (2005), Chris Abani whose story ”Graceland” won the 2005 PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) Hemingway prize for fiction and multiple award winning Ben Okri also comes to mind. Okri has won various awards in his career including Commonwealth writers’ prize, Booker prize, Crystal Prize of the World Economic Forum amongst others. Only recently, Nigeria’s E.C. Osondu won the 2009 Caine Prize for African writing while Uwem Akpan’s short story collection attracted global attention and witnessed remarkable upsurge in sales after Oprah Winfrey mentioned his book to be one of her favourites.
Many of these writers studied or once studied in other disciplines, they just developed their passion-writing.
I will use this means to salute the Late Cyprain Ekwensi a Pharmacist turned novelist who passed away not long ago. In the words of Shola Oshunkeye, a Chemist turned journalist and winner of the CNN Multichoice African journalist of the year 2006 ”Writers have an important role in the society”. This is indeed, an undeniable fact.
I commend young aspiring writers from Nigeria. I urge them that even though Nigeria may have a poor reading culture or writing does not attract the kind of fame of music and Nollywood; they should keep their dream alive. Our society needs to be entertained as well as enlightened and informed on various issues. Our society needs people that can serve as compasses that will lead us all to greater heights, our society needs seasoned writers. Your own day of glory may not just be far away!