PERHAPS the most radical outcome of the NB/Farafina Trust’s Creative Writers Workshop that came to a close last Friday with a Farafina Literary Eevening 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, Binyavanga Wainaina (author of One day I Will Write about this Place), had with workshop coordinator, Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie had amplified it at the closing conversation with the three facilitators (the others being Rob Spillman and 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. Spillman said 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, Muktar Bakare 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.
Bakare paid glowing tributes to the four workshop facilitators, whose individual talents he said was gradually creating global recognition for it. He described Kenyan Wainaina as “a force of nature, a great bridge-builder; he picks talents across Africa and introduces them to the world”. He said Allen has continued to open doors for African writers all over the world while Spillman “was committed to the creation of literature from across cultures, especially his quest in always asking for new things and always looking for opportunities from the best we have”.
For the home girl, Adichie, Bakare didn’t say much as her dedication to the promotion of local talent has become legendary. He only charged the workshop participants to “Please, do read, and write, too!”
On his part, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde, 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”.
Vervelde also stated that the underlying vision for the workshop and other CSR activities of the Nigeria Breweries Plc was “to harness these talents. This country has amazing talents; it’s about the development of these energetic, rough diamonds that we want to do. Adichie is the spiritual leader of the workshop, and we cannot thank her enough”.
He expressed the hope that the workshop experience would help the participants to improve their talents and develop as writers, adding, “We hope that in a few years we will have the class of Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka and other great Nigerian writers”.
Adichie, too, expressed her appreciation for the sponsorship from Nigeria Breweries Plc, especially to its CEO, Vervelde, whom she described as “having a warm humility about him and a genuine interest in developing talents in Nigeria”. She also saluted his brother, Key Adichie, who manages the NB/Farafina Trust, organisers of the creative writing workshop, saying, “My brother with whom I grew up reading books” and her parents, for their faith in her early in life, when they allowed her to switch from medicine to literature.
On the workshop, Adichie said, “We had a wonderful group this year; I just love to teach writing”. While reading the citation of each of the 20 participants present, Adichie was full of warm words for them, spelling out their individual strengths as exposed in their workshop pieces and their respective qualities and traits while at the workshop.
On their experiences coming to Nigeria to teach creative writing, Spillman said, “When you’re in the U.S., you have an impression of Nigeria, but it has been impressive coming here. My home is really in stories in literature. From my parentage, I’m a normad. I couldn’t happier with the students because they did what was expected of them”.
Allen was pleased to be in Nigeria for the second time, adding, “It’s been an amazing experience. I enjoyed working with all the writers; very fantastic”. He read from a new book he is working on due out next year.
Three participant writers stood out from the crowd among the 21 writers. While two of them – Richard Alli (author of A City of Memories) and Yetunde Omotosho (South Africa-based author of Bom Boy and daughter of renowned writer, scholar and critic, Prof. Kole Omotosho) are published authors, the other is Kano-based journalist with Abdulaziz Ahmed Abdulaziz, with Blueprint newspaper.
To spice up the evening was songstress, Onyaka Onwenu, who was praised to the high heavens by the duo of Bakare and Adichie. She pelted the literary audience with melodies from her evergreen repertoire. And they danced and sang along with her inside the Grand Ballroom of Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos.