Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Eghosa Imasuen, My Life, My Writing...

Mid 70's, Warri Nigeria.

In the oil rich city of Warri, as the dust and rubble of the civil war settled over a young nation, as a refinery reared its head, alongside a sea port and steel company, breathing new life on the city, a young lad, Eghosa Imasuen was growing up. He would later attend the University of Benin to become a medical doctor at a time when campus confraternities turned aggressively violent, at a time when the Military regime made a novel blunder in Nigeria's history - the cancellation of the June 12 elections - a blunder that threw the fledgling nation into unrest once again.

In his novel Fine boys which was published in 2012, Eghosa fulfills a solemn promise - to tell the story of the events that shaped that era, of the people that lived in it, and of how they emerged. His first novel To Saint Patrick, an alternate history novel of Nigeria was published by Farafina in 2008 to critical acclaim, and his articles and short stories have also appeared in several online magazines.
2013, Democratic Nigeria.

Enter Eghosa Imasuen, My Life, My writing....

let us start from your background, What are your earliest memories of  growing up?

Growing up? I took it as I met it. But now, looking back, with nostalgia
being the deceptive little imp that it can be, I would say beautiful. I
grew up in Warri. I remember the friendships, the parents of my friends,
where for the most part young technocrats attracted by the late seventies
boom that hit the town, the refinery, the steel company, the port, all
three were built or refurbished within a decade of each other. It was a
lovely time to grow up in.

It made the town small, this ability to know almost everyone in your social
class. We went to the same schools, or so it seemed, and when a new school
was opened, we’d all switch schools together. It was a beautiful time.
Sadly now lost because of internecine conflict that resurfaced in the
mid-nineties. The city hasn’t recovered.

How did this writing journey begin for you?

I took writing seriously with my first novel, To Saint Patrick. I started
writing it in 2005, after I was urged to do so by family. That’s when it
began. Of course, the details have been told in many interviews I have

Who were your earliest influences?

I think my parents were eclectic in their reading tastes. On our
bookshelves growing up, I’d pick up books on the American Civil War, books
on World War Two, books on the Nigerian Independence Movement; I read
fiction by Ngugi, Achebe, and Ekwensi before I found out they were required
reading in secondary school. But my own tastes were honed by science
fiction, I loved this British comic series, 2000AD, I read novels and short
stories by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke.

In your first book To Saint Patrick, an alternate history novel of
Nigeria, one is transported to a different kind of Nigeria where
things are working. The police collect finger prints, the rail system
is functional and even electricity is constant. If you were to write an 

alternate history of the Civil war of 1967-1970, what
would you make the leaders of both sides do to prevent the war?

You’re asking me to plot an entire new novel within an interview. The
alternate history trick of using a point of divergence to plot an entire
new timeline doesn’t so much as question decisions made as it does
acknowledge the inevitability of humanity to make bad decisions. So when
you read typical alternate history, it doesn’t preach by bludgeoning you
over the head with its opinions. It picks something simple, something left
to chance, not to someone’s decision making. What if on the way back from
Aburi, Ojukwu’s flight had need to stop at Lagos to repair faults caused by
a birdstrike? What if during that stop he had another meeting with Gowon,
this time alone, or with the permanent secretaries present? It is little
things like this that alternate history uses to ask its questions about
humanity, about history.

So if I wrote an alternate history
novel about a Nigeria that didn’t fight a civil war, it wouldn't be that
leaders of both sides tried to prevent a war, no. It would be that the war
didn’t happen, and this is what happened instead.

Then... Ironically, you started writing Fine Boys shortly after you signed the
contract  for To Saint Patrick, and Fine Boys is like the other side
of the coin, a complete opposite of To Saint Patrick. What informed
this new paradigm?

Fine Boys is more personal to me. My first love has always been the far-out
genre story, well-told, beautifully plotted. But I just had to write Fine
Boys, it was a story I promised I would tell. A story of my generation,
told by one who lived it.

Could you tell us about the book? Fine Boys seems like a coming of age
novel, and one cannot ignore the
shared attributes between you and the protagonist Ewaen. How has
looking back and writing the novel affected your understanding of that
era, having lived in it?

Fine Boys is a novel, sort of a Warri-bildungsroman, not only of the main
character, but of the year, of the generation itself. It follows a group of
sixteen-eighteen year-olds as they manoeuvre life. Its told by a young
medical student in a Nigerian university. It uses the university gangs, the
confras, the politics of June 12 and the resultant protests, it uses these
to show the teenagers growing up. It is a snapshot of their lives, and by
its incompleteness—covering them for only three years in their late
teens—it asks that we look at where that generation is now.

What do you like most about Ewaen as a character?

That he is so blind to his and his friends’  own failings. That this is a
sanctimonious young man who can rail against corrupt government on this
page, and flip the next, you read that he is cheating at exams. This utter
lack of self-awareness, and the single-mindedness that it breeds, might be
what we need to save this country. It isn’t hypocrisy. It is just being
young, and demanding more of others despite one’s own failings.

Amidst several recognizable issues in Nigeria that you portray in the
book, there's a thematic focus on Campus cultism and the pro-democracy
movement of the early 90's. Everything else is happening against this
background. Is there any perceived relationship between the
Anarchist-military government and the proliferation of cults in
Nigerian universities at the time?

Not really. I have never subscribed to the notion of only the military
taking the bulk of the blame for the violent gangs that took over the
universities. I blame them for being the leadership of the time, for not
understanding the problem, for not taking drastic actions. I blame the sort
of society that called gangs cults, and still does so, ascribing a nonsense
metaphysics to the inane mutterings of idle teenagers. I blame the kind of
society that eschews personal responsibility, instead punishing a group.
There were many factors that lead to the tragedy of the university
confraternities becoming violent gangs. The military regimes were the most
tangential of them all.

Did the events of that time contribute to the decline of youth and
students participation in socio-political thought over the years,
considering that the pro-democracy movement of those days thrived
greatly on an active students/youth movement?

Big question. The lazy, and simpler answer, would be to rant at the new
generation of SUG leaders, to blame money, to blame the new democracy. But
the world is changing. The kinds of situations we found ourselves in no
longer exist. The politics of the eighties, the two major ideologies,
capitalist and socialists, have had their borders blurred. The sustenance
that activism gave is now being supplied by the new American
Pentecostalism. The closeness, the sibling-hood, afforded the earlier
activists has been supplanted by the false familiarity of social media and
mobile phones. It is inevitable. Just like the way the confraternities
seemed to wane in influence post-nineties, the flipside is what happened to
student activism.

Then of course you had the shameless opportunists who still run the
students’ organisations. They now visit governors and collect money for
end-of-year party. The relevance is gone.

In Fine boys you employ the use of everyday Nigerian English and an
uncensored directness that makes the book fun and easy to read, was
this deliberate? When did you develop this style?

I did not think of it as being a style. I was creating a character, the
character of the narrator, and to make it real, I had to make Ewaen sound
the way a certain kind of student at the University of Benin sounded in the
nineties. So what you read in Fine Boys is a character telling his story.
The nuances, the accent, the words used, the things not said, all are
important. In that way it was deliberate. But it was easy for me since I
modelled the voice on those of people I grew up with.

What is your definition of a good novel?

One that comments on the human condition, one that has something to say,
and that says its things within the ambits of an interesting story.

What would you say is the greatest challenge faced by Nigerian writers

What has always faced them, money. Both its lack, and its ability to be
used as a weapon to silence.

Are there any prevalent themes that you've noticed in contemporary African

Not any different from what I have noticed in contemporary literature
elsewhere. All writing is preoccupied with telling truth. So all writers
examine the same themes. Now their plots, and the associated details, must
vary according to where they live, but all writers want to tell their

Do you have any issues that you would like to address in your coming works?

I don't think of stories in terms of issues. I find that it kills
creativity, it stunts the story before it begins. I think in terms of an
effect, a snapshot, a situation. As the story evolves, then the issues come
up and are examined. That said, I’m thinking of writing a proper
contemporary novel, set today. Will it utilize sci-fi tropes, I do not
know. But that is what I am thinking of.

Are you going to be writing "Medical fiction" any time soon?

Maybe, maybe.

What are your current projects?

No comment. *hint* That’s what writers say when they aren’t working on
anything at the moment.


How do you juggle medical practice and writing?

I’m not practicing medicine at the moment. I took a break to settle some
issues with the family.

How do you relax?

By reading. And having loud argumentative drinking sessions with friends.

Okay, lets do a little alternate history game on you!

Assuming you didn't go to the university to study medicine and you
weren't writing, what would you be doing?

I’d be in the family business.

Assuming all the books by Nigerian authors haven't been written, which
would you like to write and why?

It’d have to be Half of a Yellow Sun. My mother’s family has some personal history surrounding the start of the civil war. And I
grew up with stories I heard from her, and granddad. I would have loved to
have written that book.

Assuming Aliens finally come to earth, and time travel becomes
possible, what three items will you take with you as you escape to
Pre-colonial Africa?

I would take a pen, paper, and an AK47. A pen and paper to democratise
reading and writing. An AK to copy, mass produce, and to use on the first
European who would dare ask my kings to sign anything.


Thank you for coming Eghosa.

My pleasure.

Interview by Tchidi Jacobs

 We'd love to read your comments. Inquiries and stories for publication should be directed to the editor at or simply call +234 7033 436 212.
Thanks for stopping by

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Social Media Week Lagos!

Social Media Week will take place for the first time
in Africa from 18 to 22 February 2013. Social
Media Week will hold in Lagos bringing together
leaders, creative minds, entrepreneurs and
everyday citizens from Nigeria -as well as
throughout the continent and the diaspora – to
explore how people and organizations are
connecting to share new ideas and information.
Social Media Week Lagos is powered by Nokia and
produced by Dragon Africa and AFRIKA21.

A Call For New Books Coming Out Of Africa!

The African Writers Trust has dedicated a page to
creative works coming out of Africa 2012-2013. If
you know of any poetry, collection of short stories,
or novels published between 2012-2013, kindly
send an email to (
including a synopsis, book cover and publishing

Public Invitation To Participate In The Uganda International Writers Conference 2013!

Public invitation to participate in the Uganda
International Writers Conference 2013

Mark your calendars: African Writers Trust is
organising an International writers’ conference in
Kampala, Uganda, from 7th to 9th March 2013.
The theme of the conference is Dialogue Across
the Diaspora, Across the Continent. The
conference will offer two activities:

1. Training sessions for writers on Digital Writing
and how to use social media to promote their

2. Panel discussions: rich and stimulating
provocations on various literary subjects.
Participants will include writers, academics,
literary and cultural practitioners, critics,
journalists, translators and supporters of the arts.
The keynote speech will be delivered by Jack
Mapanje, award-winning Malawian poet, editor
and human rights activist. Jack Mapanje is a
visiting professor at York St John University, North
Yorkshire, UK, currently on sabbatical leave (but
working with) the Department of English,
University of Botswana. His most recent
publication is a memoir, And Crocodiles are
Hungry at Night.

Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Ghanaian performance poet,
novelist, editor and broadcaster currently living in
London will lead the training sessions on Digital
Writing and social media. We will also have
participating international writers from Malawi,
Liberia and DR Congo.
Other topics for discussion will include: “What
comprises African Literature,” “Afropolitanism:
What Defines the New Generation of African
Diasporan Writers” and “Supporting the Arts: the
case for Corporate Financing and Integration”.

Monday, 4 February 2013


By Emmanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu 

Professor Wole Soyinka, that larger-than-life phenomenon with a bloom of virgin cotton for hair, presents a palpable dilemma in the writing of a befitting tribute: one would have to either write an entire book or be prepared to abbreviate the glory of one of Africa's foremost writers. In fact to define him as just a writer, no matter how superlative the epithet,  is to short-change him. His persona defies definitive tagging.  With a rich profile spanning drama, writing, public speaking, political activism, international relations, music, culture, etc., he prides ownership of a life garlanded to the full, a life that reifies devotion to human essence and nation-building. At 78, Soyinka has lived much longer than his age and is still living, not by that usual respiratory function, but by an active participation in life: affecting lives, inspiring others, and driving socio-political change.

The Nobel Laureate – and he was indeed the first African to have won that prize – the Nobel Laureate has one of the most sterling African records in the whole gamut of the arts. With about fifty works in different genres, he has left little greatness for younger generations to attain, especially given the prevailing intellectual apathy in today’s youth. All over the world, his works, some of which are translated into some foreign languages, continue to elicit admiration, and even inspiration to those keen on exploring the Muse. Students of different levels study this man to pass exams in the arts, and continue to draw from his spirit of political and human rights activism to affect their own environments. In Nigeria for instance, where integrity is an elusive reality in the socio-political space, he has remained one of the most credible pillars of the nation’s conscience, an emulation reference for those who are interested in a paradigm shift.

But literature is not, for Soyinka, a mere vocation to flaunt the creative spark; it is a veritable tool to drive change, an expression mechanism to speak truth to power. From his youth, in the morning of his career, he has subsisted in rattling the undeserving peace of power sadists and government-garbed thieves. For so doing, he has suffered not only personal attacks but also imprisonment and exile. Not that he is deterred, no. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny....Justice is the first condition of humanity”, he always says. Even at the disadvantage of age, Soyinka does not bandy health concerns to refrain from joining populist protests in solidarity with the masses.

This solidarity with the masses is trans-national. His struggle is for the soul of Africa and  not just for that of Nigeria, a soul that is choking from the strangulation of colonialism – and now neo-colonialism – and internal exploitation by African power abusers. Idi Amin of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Arap Moi of Kenya, even the Apartheid regime – all have been objects of Soyinka’s confrontation. His Africanist empathy has succeeded in generating hope and affirmative action within the community of victims of oppression, not only within Africa but beyond, prodding American literary critic and social commentator, Henry Louis Gates jnr., to declare that “if the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka”.
His struggle, however, is not just for Africa’s political emancipation. He has been in the vanguard of the quest for the continent’s cultural renaissance, urging the revival of traditional African religions and cultural values. He has been spearheading the advocacy for the restitution of artworks and sculptures stolen by colonial hands. In fact most of his works are animated by the very spirit of Africanism, of the impetus to reinvent Africa by Africans, and then of the indictment of external conspiracy in the dismembering of the continent. Soyinka is a native of Black. “Africa has come to consider me a personal property”, he notes in one of his memoirs, a recognition that inheres from his massive global appeal, an appeal that helps brighten Nigeria’s image abroad.

For most youths in Nigeria, especially those enthusiastic about the arts, Wole Soyinka is the humanization of literary excellence, such that keeps inspiration living. Many benefit from his direct mentorship through various merit awards. He appears to have recognized the need to groom minds for succession, if only to sustain the lineage of his struggles and give permanence to his legacies. He is wise enough to accept that it is not enough to leave legacies in books without enlisting the human element of change. To be larger than life is to outlive it, to have one’s credo ingrained in the continuum of humanity – he has achieved that.

In the final analysis, the literary icon can be said to be the most decorated African writer, and deservedly so too. He holds three honorary doctorates from the University of Leeds, Harvard University and Princeton University respectively; a national honour – Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR; a chieftaincy title – the Akinlatun of Egbaland, alongside so many other prestigious awards. He has also lectured in Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Cornell, and Emory Universities, among others. The life that animates him will forever be grateful for the vessel of his being.

Emmanuel James Ibe-Anyanwu is a young Nigerian intellectual who is very keen about the written word. His articles have appeared in several national dailies and blogs. His first literary work is due for publication soon. Emma lives in Lagos.

We'd love to read your comments. Also feel free to ask questions if you have any. Inquiries should be directed to the editor at or simply call +234 7033 436 212.
Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Letter To A Nigerian Writer Aspiring To Publish Abroad

By Tchidi Jacobs

Dear Nigerian writer,

I decided to write this letter to you after our meeting last night. You are wise my son. You heard me Lecture at that writer's workshop. You've also read my books, and you knew that those things I taught them wouldn't bring their dollar dreams to pass. You knew. That's why you came by night, like that ancient roman ruler, to inquire of me, as did he the Jewish Rabbi, what you must do to attain salvation in this world of writing. You have kept all the rules of grammar, you have written and re-written that manuscript, you have obeyed all the commandments. But you lack salvation.

Salvation is what you seek - that moment when a white document sits before you, offering a space to sign your signature and dispose that burden of a book for the long-dreamed-of precious dollars. That moment when you hear a knock on your door, and it’s the courier bearing five copies of your book in foreign print! That moment when all your friends stop seeing you as the perpetual geek who has nothing to show for his knowledge. That moment when the whole world learns that another Nigerian writer has been published abroad and our darling Nigerian media carries you shoulder-high, home, with trumpets and clanging cymbals, bragging about how you are one of our own, even though none of them would even look at your short story before now, talk less of publishing it in a space that would have been used for adverts or political entrepreneurship!

That is your salvation! You are wise to have come.

Before I continue with this letter, I want you to know that those things I taught them at that seminar are not wrong. In fact, the brilliant ones among them will find them useful in their writing journey. But as you know, I have become a public figure, my hands are tied like that of our beloved president and as such, there are things I cannot say in public lest I be stoned for blasphemy. So I have to say what they want to hear and leave it at that. I know you will think I am wicked, but before you judge me, listen to what I have to say.

It is more complicated than you think. We often say that corruption is endemic in Nigeria, but what you don't realise is just how deep it really is. Corruption has now become a lucrative trade. Corruption is a commodity, one that we exchange in gory details for dollars. Are you beginning to get the gist? You probably think that the Yahoo boys and corrupt politicians and Boko Haram are the only ones destroying the Image of Nigeria, but that is not true, dear Nigerian writer. For these lack the power, they lack the subtlety, to smear or deface the image of our dear nation as we writers have done. How then do you expect me to stand before a group of young aspiring Nigerian writers who look up to me and declare myself worse that Dimeji Bankole and that Police pension-funds thief? How do you expect me to stand before them, bones and flesh and tummy, to declare myself an accomplice of Boko haram? How can I even begin to live with myself when I share these things with them so that they all continue the business or trading corruption and poverty for salvation? Is it not better that there are only few of us in the trade, and only few are brought in occasionally for the sake of posterity? So you see, my dear Nigerian writer, that my hands are tied. However you have come and you are wise to have come!

To be published abroad, you have to first determine where exactly. You see, when I say abroad, I'm not talking about Ghana or Burkina Faso, although these too are "Abroad", but you know what I mean. When you have determined where, you have to research into their history. All western nations have their secret obsessions. Now I must warn you. Do not think that just because Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" and Obama is the American president, a magic wand has been waved over the country and they've all been purged of racial propensities. See you have to understand human nature. We like the feeling of power we get when we treat other people with disdain and make them feel sorry for themselves. 

Do not think that racism has gone extinct because there are apparently no "Whites only" signs on the buses and restaurants in America. The "Whites only" sign still exists in their minds and even though they hardly show it these days, they've found a way to keep blacks in poverty and servitude. That is where you come in, my dear Nigerian writer; you have to show them what they want to keep seeing. Do not think that this means betraying your own people, they'll celebrate you when you are finally published. For us, the saying "Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all" holds true. We do not care as long as one of our own is showing them that we can do it too. Its probably one of those aches you'd learn to live with as a Nigerian writer.

The key, like I said is to identify a secret obsession, one that still breathes in the consciousness of the country where you want to be published and exploit it. Let me give you a tip. Germany is to Communism as America is to racism. Iraq is to Terrorism as Britain is to neo-colonialism. Your task is to look around you and trust me; you don't need to look hard in Nigeria to find events that you can match to these ideas. Build stories around them, exaggerate a lot and make it real sad. These things do not happen there anymore. Haven't you ever wondered why they make those movies about cannibals? Do you like watching your fore fathers eat human flesh? You see why I don't teach these at seminars.

The task of the Nigerian writer is to feed the western imagination with pictures of human suffering and bestiality. Its a pity we have to be the characters but never mind. Its not your fault. Just remember your mother in the village. The west has a picture of Africa, that is both disgusting and untrue but you do not have a choice. The principles of marketing apply in writing too. You have to find out what your customers want and give it to them. Please do not blame our brother Rick Ross for making that video that portrays our poverty-stricken people and refuse-embellished streets, he was being innovative!

This business of writing is tough business and the foreign publishers are going to publish you only when they are convinced that you have enough gory stories of Nigeria in your book to feed the western fantasy of Africa. Fortunately, you don't have to look far for the raw materials you need to write your book.

You must paint Nigeria not in green white green, but in black alone. Black. Do you understand? You must highlight all the issues of corruption you can recall. Remember, that is the commodity that sells to foreign audiences. No one will tell you this in a writing workshop, but I am telling you now.

 Now to the title of your book, look for something catchy; a statement that conveys at a glance, the content of your book. Remember, you are selling corruption. Do not title your book "Green is beautiful". No foreign agent or publisher will talk to you. Look for titles like "The Broken Green" or "Fire in the North”. I know they sound depressing. Do not worry. You will forget all about it when your first cheque comes in.

Foreign publishers don't like dealing directly with writers, so you have to find an agent. If you were living abroad, it would have been easier for you. Unfortunately your father isn't a corrupt senator, so he didn't make enough money to send you abroad. But you are lucky, you have the internet. Look for them online. Wait. Before you rush off, there are a few more things you need to know.

You will need to write a query letter to accompany your manuscript before you send it out to any agent. The query letter is just a simple letter that tells the agent what your book is about, and why you are qualified to write about the subject. I advice that you begin your query letter with phrases like "over 3 trillion Naira has been looted and carted away by corrupt Nigerian politicians in the past three years", that is,  if your theme revolves around the poli-thiefry going on in our government. Consolidate on this by showing how your story explores and reveals all the details of this trend. Don't worry about convincing the agent that you are qualified to write about the issue. They already know that 98% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line as a result of the activities of corrupt politicians. You are one of them, how can you not be qualified!

Lastly, you need a photograph to go with your manuscript. Do not shave your beard or comb your hair. I only started combing mine recently. You have to look really sad and reflective. Fast for one week so that you'll look very thin in the photograph. Wear a shirt that reveals your jutting neck bone. This will give you an air of genuineness. You are a Nigerian writer, the voice of the people. You are weighed down by the burden of your nation on your shoulders. You have to look it. Ask the photographer to print it in Sepia. There are no color films in Nigeria!
Before you send out the package, take it to your pastor. Let him pray for you. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. You never can tell who is sending the traffic that will delay your manuscript. Let your pastor pray real hard. Send out your manuscript after that and be patient. It won't be long before you get a call or an email. Do not forget the one who helped you find salvation when the dollars finally arrive. Come and pay your tithe!
Yours in the struggle.

 We'd love to read your comments. Also feel free to ask questions if you have any. Inquiries should be directed to the editor at or simply call +234 7033 436 212.
Thanks for stopping by!