Interview With Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Ikhide Ikheloa claims to be a fighter, but I see him as a passionate observer of the swinging pendulum of African literature. Ikhide who lives in the United States is a regular contributor to literary magazines and newspapers. He has reviewed several books written by African writers from Femi Osofisan to Helon Habila and of recent the popularly acclaimed Caine Prize 2011/2012 shortlisted entries.
In this interview with Folarin Olaniyi of Book Republic, Ikhide sheds more light into his childhood days filled with cupboard of books.
BookRep – How did this interest in reading books start?
Ikhide -I have always been a voracious reader. I remember a childhood filled with reading material; books and magazines. My favorite places were my father’s cupboard of books and my school library. I attended a boarding school run by Catholic priests who loved reading. Our school library was a haven for bookworms like me. Of course, in those days, if you wanted to be entertained, the primary source was the printed material. Television was a new and expensive experience.
BookRep – Most of us started following you during your days at Next234. How did Next234 get to know about your skill as an avid observer of literature?
Ikhide – You flatter me. I have actually been writing on the Internet for as long as I can remember. In those days I was part of Internet mailing lists or listservs run by African writers. These watering holes were incredibly useful if you wanted peer reviews of your works. A side benefit was the networking. I made friends fast. One of my friends was Molara Wood who invited me to join the team of writers in Next. She became my editor for three years. And as the cliché goes, the rest is history.
BookRep – Some writers can be very protective of their works. Were there instances where you were verbally or physically attacked for reviewing a writer’s work?
Ikhide – Well, I wouldn’t say I have been verbally or physically attacked for my views. I think there have been intense reactions to them and I understand. I have children and I don’t take kindly to criticism of my adorable kids. A work of art is like your child, there is an emotional bond there. I have been harshly criticized by many for my views by some who have been beneficiaries of my reviews. I do not look forward to meeting these people in person; some of them may have anger management issues. On the whole though, I have been treated very well by our writers, they have been very gracious and understanding. Some have even offered me drinks and food. I have declined those offers not because I fear being poisoned, but because each time, my stomach has been full. I mused about all of this in my blog post here in Ikhide the terrible (book critic).
BookRep – You have brought so many books of African descent to limelight through your published reviews. When should we be expecting a book from Ikhide?
Ikhide – The day will not come when I write a book. I fully expect to die without ever writing a book. They do say never say never. I have no need to be called an author.
BookRep – In Nigeria, we have very few critics of literature and arts. What do you have to say to those interested in delving into this area?
Ikhide – I don’t know what it means to be a “critic”; I bristle when that term is used to describe me. I think people should read a lot, and then share their thoughts about what they have read. What I do is different from what many would call academic discourse or engagement. I am primarily interested in engaging with the reading public. At best, what I do is offer reviews of books that I have read.
BookRep – Even though the reading culture is still very poor in Nigeria, with the advent of Nigerian book clubs like Pulp Faction book club and Rainbow Book club, do you think reading as a way of life is bent on returning to our dear country?
Ikhide – People are reading; they are simply not reading books. The book reading culture is dying everywhere in the world. Writers and publishers are slowly beginning to look at creative ways of meeting the audience digitally, which is where they are. Many people read their cellphones, iPads, laptops, etc. They just don’t read books as much. However writers insist on producing books that no one will read.
BookRep – Nowadays, some Nigerian writers are strongly bent on rushing to the press for the fame of it; do you have a word for them?
Ikhide – It is a problem. The Internet has democratized the publishing culture and now it just seems a lot easier to be a writer. Many people should not be writing; they should be reading. My simple advice: Read, read and read. And then read some more.
BookRep – It has been nice chatting with you, Ikhide.
Ikhide – Same here. Be well.