Category Archives: Guest Interviews
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.
Richard Ali is the Editor-in-Chief of Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, and of recent the Author of City of Memories, published by Black Palms Publishers, Lagos. In this interview with Folarin Olaniyi of Book Republic, Nigeria, Richard ruminates on his experience at Ebedi Writer’s Residency and also dares to tread where the angels fear – The Ahmed Maiwada and Rotimi Babatunde saga.
BOOKREP – Sentinel Literary Quarterly is a brainchild of Nnorom Azuronye. How were you able to convince him to sell the Nigerian rights to you?
RICHARD – Thank you for that question, Folarin. Sentinel Nigeria Magazine is the brainchild of my publisher, Nnorom, and even more than that, it is the child of the Internet and social media. It’s set up and operation has not followed the traditional style of magazine publishing—you know, of bidding for territorial rights and all that. I first interacted with Nnorom in the late 90’s when I was a member of his vibrant Yahoo List serve, Sentinel Poetry, now defunct—I say “interacted” because I have still not met him physically, even after 11 issues of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine. I was then a young poet learning from the Sentinel Poetry Bar—it was an online hangout of the oft called 3rd Generation of Nigerian literature, that delightful crop of the late 80’s and early 90’s who for exile and various other reasons, found themselves in the Diaspora in the 90’s. The poet, Lola Shoneyin; NEXT Editor, Molara Wood, Nnorom, Amatoritsero Ede et al, Obiwu and Olu Oguibe if I remember correctly—these guys were all there. And younger people like I and Adebola Rayo were the poetasters on the sidelines learning and improving our writing.
Years later, when Nnorom decided to set up a Nigerian magazine, he tapped me out of the blues—I just got an email from him introducing the idea and I was as ecstatic as I was interested. And that’s how Sentinel Nigeria Magazine started. It is a Nigerian magazine of the Sentinel Poetry, Artists and Writers Network [SPAWN] which has been registered locally and internationally, and which owns several high quality magazines, including the Sentinel Literary Quarterly published in the UK. I am Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine and Administrator of the website www.sentinelnigeria.org
BOOKREP – How have you profited in any form from publishing Sentinel Nigeria?
RICHARD – I have profited immensely from publishing the magazine. I’ll give you an instance. A few months back, we were nearly a week late in coming online with the 9th Issue of the magazine and my publisher and I received over 30 emails from eager readers asking when “their issue” would be online. That was a humbling experience—that the labour of love of me and my editors has such an effect on Nigerian literature such that each issue is eagerly anticipated. I felt very good about that as did Nze Sylva Ifedigbo, Unoma Azuah—my long term Reviews and Poetry editors. These two wonderful people, together with others like Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe, Ivor Hartmann and Myne Whitman who have all contributed to building the reputation for quality of the magazine deserve special commendation.
The idea of Sentinel Nigeria is to create a platform for quality writing, with a mild bias towards fresh quality writing—each issue is a balance between established writers and new voices. I have felt hugely satisfied to see people published in our magazine go on to do major things in writing. A case to point is Ukamaka Evelyn Olisakwe whose very first short story ever was published in our magazine. On the basis of that, she secured a publishing deal with America-based Piraeus Press—birthing a fresh and exciting new female voice. Same thing with Ifesinachi Okoli Okpagu, a fine short story writer, who is being courted by local and international publishers even as we speak.
Personally, I have benefited in terms of my public profile—the magazine has afforded me a platform to interact with younger and older writers, as well as with my contemporaries, in a manner of mutual respect. I have come a long way since my early Sentinel Poetry Bar days and a fair amount of that traction has come from my editing the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine.
[Ra1] BOOKREP – A couple of weeks ago, you were domiciled at Ebedi, Iseyin in observance of the Ebedi Writers’ Residency. Has the residency contributed positively to your career as a writer?
RICHARD – The Residency had an immensely positive influence on my writing, fulfilling my expectations—it gave me the space to think and write. Iseyin is a very conducive environment to write in and the residency was just at the foot of Ebedi hill itself—everything from constant electricity to food, we had a good cook named Toyin, was provided. And there was the interaction with my co-residents, Dr. Niyi Fasanmi, a retired university don and committed Leftist, and of course, Auwalu Sakiwa, a visual artist from Minna—their comments and criticism of the ideas I thought out in the course of the residency saw to the beginning of my next major project, a novel. It will be a historic novel set in the early part of the last century, winding across the country from Brazilian Quarters to Ibadan to Surame to Kano. I am most grateful to Dr. Wale Okediran and the Board of the Ebedi Writers Residency for giving me the opportunity to stay at Iseyin for six very productive weeks.
BOOKREP – The last Association of Nigerian Authors’ convention witnessed your emergence as ANA’s publicity secretary. How has the road been since then?
RICHARD – The road has been smooth really, for if you recall, the 2011 elections brought in a brand new EXCO. We all had a shared vision for service when we contested for office at the convention and beyond this was the person of Prof. Remi Raji, the current president, who embodied Change. We all felt ANA needed a turnaround. In the barely one year since we were elected, we have set up the ANA website at www.ana-nigeria.com . We also secured and disbursed funds to sixteen state chapters of the Association for the ANA/Yusuf Ali Reading Campaign—with each chapter getting a cheque for #150,000. Even as we speak, as we prepare for the 2012 Convention, the ANA National Teen Authorship Scheme, funded by the First Lady of Niger State, has been announced with five chapters receiving #150,000 each as well. ANA has not had it so good in recent years, if I say so myself. But these developments came as a result of concerted hard work by Mr. President and General Secretary B. M. Dzukogi in tandem with the rest of the EXCO.
BOOKREP – Parressia publishers was established by you in partnership with Afi Omoluabi Ogosi. Do you think Parresia has enough expertise and funding to stand in quality and quantity with the African Writers Series of Chinua Achebe?
RICHARD – I believe we do, especially in terms of quality. As for quantity, I am not sure how you mean this—and I doubt Chinua Achebe would take kindly to relating AWS with “quantity” publishing. As for Parresia, we have done our homework and we hope, with the support of book lovers such as you and everyone who has gone out to buy our books, to keep our vision for putting out fresh new writing on track side by side our commitment to quality writing and superior aesthetics.
BOOKREP – It has also come to our notice that most writers presently signed under the Parresia imprint are from the Northern part of Nigeria, why is this so?
That would be an erroneous notice. There are presently three authors on the Parrésia Imprint, the first two are Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Emmanuel Iduma—we published “The Whispering Trees” and “Farad” respectively. Victor Ehikhamenor, the visual artist and present Editor of Daily Times, has also just been signed on. Of these three, only Abubakar can be by any stretch considered as being from “the Northern part of Nigeria.”
But the question is—why is it significant to note what part of the country a writer comes from? I find this very disturbing. And I think this is unhealthy for Nigerian literature. Words in themselves are neutral, like the air on which they ride—there is no northern air which a southern nostril can refuse to breath in protest or prejudice, or is there? So, why should there be a Northern literature or a Southern literature and an Ibadan literature and a Kano literature? Especially when these definers relate not merely to geography but to the very content of the writing itself? Like the inability to be discriminatory about the air one inhales and exhales, factionalising writing and creating exclusivists and cliques is as problematic as it is silly—to my mind. Perhaps I should go further and challenge those who speak of “northern Nigerian writing” to refuse to breath any air that has passed through the north before reaching them? Then I will take them seriously, only then. I was censored from reading my debut novel, City of Memories, at Ibadan months back, by one of these cliquey-minded collectives on account of a statement my friend Ahmed Maiwada made on Facebook. That Richard Ali is not Maiwada; that Maiwada is an intelligent, rational and competent human being and writer—this didn’t matter to these guys, they censored me, I mean. In Ibadan o, in the very city where Soyinka and Clark and Achebe and Okigbo loved and haunted and wrote, these heritor of a sterling legacy made these named Great Men their fathers turn away sadly in shame.
We must talk about this; I thank you for that question. I say, away with cliques and the protectionist irrationality—they are the cancer cells in this fresh and budding tree of Nigerian writing, this new lease of writing inaugurated by Helon Habila, who blends both northern and southern Nigerian sensibilities, won the Caine in 2001. Let there simply be “Nigerian writing from northern Nigeria”, “Nigerian writing from Ibadan” if one wishes; why not even “Nigerian writing” simpliciter? And, further, why not just Writing—which can be assessed objectively as can be by as many critics and critical readers that care to engage with the text itself?
For me, the Text is what is Holy—beyond this, all else are but concentric rings of increasing critical secularity, rings to be treated with the appropriate wariness by the discerning critic.
BOOKREP – Your new novel ‘City of Memories’ dances around the city of Jos. Jos must have influenced your writing of the book, City of Memories?
RICHARD -The city of Jos is, for me, terra firma—it is also my personal city of memory. We all have them, cities of memory, places and spaces, childhood for example, when everything was perfect—when everything was as it should be. These places are cities of memory, sometimes merely of the mind, sometimes a lost geography. My family moved from Kano where I was born to Jos in 1988 and I have lived there ever since. Whenever the trials of living in Nigeria suddenly gain on one, on me, it is to the Jos of my childhood I return—to how it used to be when we lived and laughed and loved together without strife.
Perhaps we can say the last two millennia of Judeo-Islamo-Christian history has been the story of attempts to find, found or re-enact the original Eden? What else, if not this, would be all our philosophies and systems of governance and books and theologies—what else if not a desire, a harking back desire, to something basic and perfect? And, so often, we have failed—but the trying, I believe, is what acquits us, makes us worthy of humanity and being human—to try and fail yet keep trying. Jos, Jos as it was when I was growing up, is my Eden and it is the Eden-in-principle of the rest of my life.
BOOKREP – What is your take on the advent of book clubs like Rainbow Book Club, Emotion Book Club and Pulpfaction Book club in the Nigerian literary industry?
RICHARD – An absolutely delightful development! We must consider these clubs as functional local councils in a federal structure of Nigerian Literature, like your local government areas—or development areas. The major publishing houses, Farafina Kachifo, Cassava Republic, Parresia, would be the States? These Book Clubs are the ones most in touch with the readers who are the “end users” of what we, as publishers, do. They are small enough, often comprising between 40 to 150 members, to interact with the Text personally and intelligently. And in my experience, some of the most discerning criticism has come from such small intimate groups.
An example is the #AfricaReadsWriteTheVision which Ukamaka Olisakwe coordinates on Facebook—I’ve read amazing insights into books they’ve discussed in the last months. Recently, I was a guest of the Pulp Faction Club at Smooth FM, Lagos, where I read from my novel on radio and had very invigorating engagement with the Pulp Faction panel—for one hour on primetime radio. It was a delight!
The Rainbow Book Club is responsible for the successful Port Harcourt, Nigeria 2014 UNESCO World Book Capital bid. These groups are more than pulling their own weight in Nigeria’s literary development and deserve all the support and commendation.
BOOKREP – Thanks for speaking with Book Republic, Richard.
RICHARD – My pleasure, Folarin. My pleasure entirely.
BOOKREP: Tell us about yourself:
My name is Sheriff Olanrewaju. I’m from Ilorin-South, Kwara State, Nigeria. I graduated from College of the Humanities, Al-Hikmah University in 2011. Apart from my voluntary flair for teaching, I find joy in disseminating motivational messages and without feigning fictional connoisseur, short story writing has been a part of me since 1997 when my work was first published in my school magazine. Today, to the glory of God, my labour of love for literature has yielded some fictional masterpieces like ‘The Gamut of Gospel Gimmicks’ and ‘The Porcupine and the Pompous Professor’. In the month of March, 2012, I also authored a collection of poems titled: ‘Agonies of a Bereaved Poet’ in honour of my deceased father.
BOOKREP: Are writers a boring set of people?
Without an iota of insensitivity, the misconception is that people think when a writer confines himself to the four walls of his library, he losses social contacts. Take for instance, when a pianist makes painstaking effort to practice the instructions in the pianissimo, will people be perturbed to proclaim that the pianist is full of poignancy? But when a writer entertains no partner in a bid to write religiously and give a picturesque detail about various settings and characters in his work, why the mudslinging and irrelivant ruberic? Like a sudden premenstrual syndrome, spontaneous inspiration comes to authors especially poets unexpectedly. However, to avoid mood swings and headaches that distractions may cause, an author isolates himself. To people with such obnoxious thought about shrewd writers being boring, I recommend the movie ‘Finding Forrester’.
Creative writers are never boring because you will find a mammoth of mates in the mace of their imaginations whenever you read their works. Thus, I appeal to critics with pugilistic peculiarities to soft-pedal before landing pathetic punches on writers’ paunches. Let them be informed that creative writers are like passionflowers. Whereas, whatsoever stands on the pathway of the passionflower may, like a protagonist, play a major part in the profuse of patterns that the plant seeks to produce as it progresses. In conclusion, it is nothing short of derogation to refer to authors as a boring set of people.
BOOKREP: Tell us about your new book:
The book contains poems written within three days of seclusion to mourn my father. It tells the story of the deceased. It is a celebration of the enviable character of the devout Muslim who positively imparted in his children through love and counselling. The book, ‘Agonies of a Bereaved Poet’ is published in Montreal, Canada, by Blue Olive Productions. The book is neither canticle-like nor Qur’anically didactic. Candidly, it encapsulates the depth of enduring love for my beloved father.
BOOKREP: What do you have to say about the rising of publishing outlets, like Cassava Republic Press and Emotion Press, in the country:
I felt particularly happy to announce at the recently launched Yusuf Ali Campaign for Literacy in Nigeria that a Canada based publishing company has planned to set up a branch of the publishing house in Nigeria. This however has become a reality. The Blue Olive Productions, BOP, now has a residential office at 52, Olanrewaju Street, Agbo-Oba, Ilorin Kwara State, Nigeria. For evil to triumph, they say, it’s enough that good men do nothing. While Macmillan, Longman and even Heinneman have all been in the country for several years, Nancy Biddle, the director of the BOP considers 2012 for the establishment of Blue Olive Productions in Nigeria. The sprouting of publishing outlets in the country will in no time spur aspiring writers to put pen to paper in order to get published. I remain optimistic that as the publishing outlets increase, book sales will also increase. Even the dying reading culture will become revived.
A popular Yoruba adage goes thus: ‘omi lopo ju okalo’ which means ‘the water is more than the flour’. The challenges facing the Nigerian government has completely beffudled people from acknowledging the contributions of the government towards nation building via the promotion of literacy. However, I think they have more to do than building schools and donating books.
BOOKREP: Where can your new book be accessed?
BOOKREP: Are book clubs and literary organizations on the right path?
Book clubs and literary organizations are very vital to revive the dying reading culture in the country. This is because, if a creative connoisseur is kidnapped and kept in a cowshed, he will not only mimic how to moo but also imitate how to milk and make a living. I once met a brilliant writer who drew inspiration from BMDzukogi in Niger state simply because he participated in a reading circle where the author’s work was being criticized.
Some writers club are maverick in the sense that they always maintain balance and remain incurious in their selection of works for group discussions. Some take cursory consideration of the creative compositions which often offend faith. I’m of the view that children centred book clubs and literary organizations should be subjected to censorship without any air of preposterous affectation. Books published by uncouthed publishers should in order words, not be appreciated. This will go a long way to help curb the proliferation of immoralities and fashion-crazy nakedness civilization.
BOOKREP: Anything to say to readers out there?
Read voraciously without failing to follow the virtues in the various works that you devour. However, do not refuse to refrain from the footsteps of villains as you flip through the pages of fictional works. Share love and avoid evils. Thank you.