PERHAPS the most radical outcome of the NB/Farafina Trust’s Creative Writers Workshop that came to a close last Friday was Kenyan writer’s proposition of a literary community and friendship as a means of broadening the literary space. It had arisen from a conversation one of the facilitators,BinyavangaWainaina (author of One day I Will Write about this Place), had with workshop coordinator, ChimamandaAdichie. Adichie had amplified it at the closing conversation with the three facilitators (the others being Rob Spillmanand Jeff Allen from U.S).
Wainaina had affirmed that it was important that writers formed communities of two or more people to support each other in the creative process. He noted that the importance of literary friendship was to make writing breathe in any given country. He charged the workshop participants to use the opportunity wisely, saying that the current generation had unbelievable opportunities, which he said did not reside in oil and gas but the need to be committed to writing fully.
Spillman also agreed, saying writing transcended boundaries and impregnable borders and that only through writing communities could writing and the messages embedded in writing spread to a wider audience. Allen recounted how contact with other writers like Adichie came about through such writing community when he previously traveled to Kenya for a workshop.
Also, the ever-persistent question of how to stimulate interest in reading also came up for the four accomplished writers. Wainaina put it down to failure of many educational systems, where emphasis was not on reading for the pleasure of fun of it but only for examination purposes. He also blamed poor politicking for the reading woe, saying, “Something has been stolen from us, something political and spiritual. Somebody has stolen something from us”, and stressed the need to regain whatever it was that has been stolen from the populace to correct the anomaly.
While agreeing with Wainaina on the educational front, Adichie would not be so persimistic about itbut said although some sort of reading was going on, she wasn’t sure the sort of things being read. “I’m not persimistic”, she said. “I think that people are reading more today than 10 years ago. Social media really good but time spent in them should be spent reading. Like Binyavanga said, the educational system has failed. People read but what are they reading? Literature is important; it’s about having fun, learning, and thinking deep. Do parents read themselves to encourage their children to read? It’s okay for all of us to bemoan lack of reading but we must start reading.”
On what constitute the African story,Adichie discounted such a thing as African story, saying a story should have sufficient human elements of the good and bad, including the dreams, hopes and aspirations of human beings fully expressed. She further noted that the story should be less about the subject as how it is done to realise that person as a full human being. Spillmansaid the story should be about the human person, and added, “I don’t read to have preconceptions reinforced. I ask for the stories behind the headlines”. Allen said writers were always obligated to the truth about the story. And, such truth, Adichie added, was “important as writing required emotional truth and honesty, ability to offend”, when necessary.
Allen expressed the view that Nigerians have abundant energy, drive and ambition, saying, “I really had a fantastic time” although he had to visit the Nigerian Embassy in New York five times to get a visa. Spillman commented on the energy he noticed, adding, “I love the energy and the creativity everywhere, although slightly dysfunctional. You wonder how these things work, but they do work”.
Wainaina, who has been part of the workshop since inception, said, “Every time I come renewed. There are a few places I’ve been where there is a battle between good and evil but the good is winning. There’s something extremely powerful about here (Nigeria)”.
EARLIER,Farafina CEO, Muktarbakare said the 20 participants for fourth edition of the workshop were drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroun, U.K. and the U.S. thus making it the most broad-based workshop so far. He said the workshop was giving opportunities for aspiring writers to find their own voices in their craft. He expressed his optimism about the future of creative writing in Africa with the quality of writers the workshop was training. He expressed gratitude to Nigeria Breweries Plc for the support, saying the company was acting in the true sense of culture patrons all over the world in supporting creativity.
On his part, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr.NicolaasVervelde, said, “It is always a great pleasure for me to be part of this gathering of distinguished men and women of letters… Four years ago, Nigerian Breweries began a partnership with Farafina Trust to sponsor the Creative Writers Workshop. It is a partnership founded on our desire to encourage the development of literary writing skills in Nigeria as part of our strategic corporate initiatives towards talent development and youth empowerment. Nigerian Breweries remains at the forefront of providing this kind of enduring platforms to nurture Nigeria’s abundant talents”.