a few months ago, I had a WhatsApp chat with the brilliant Michael Akuchie, a new poet, where we talked about how our works are basically influenced by the West, even without us being conscious of it at all, because the literary scene in this country is as wrong as this country itself. wrong.
we don’t have an Arts Council or anything close to it, all we have is a “poverty-ridden” (according to its chairman, Denja Abdullahi) association that hosts a yearly literary competition in many categories and that won’t give the cash prize to the winners. Imagine? the so-called ANA (Association of Nigerian Authors) hosted the same literary competition last year, which I won in the Teen Category for my manuscript of short stories, and up till now (seven months after the prize) I am yet to smell the money.
I remember that night, surfing the internet, when I found the competition. I quickly called my teacher, Mr. Adeeko (the same man, teacher, who has been speaking with the chairman), to tell him about it. he told me it would be great if I won: “You might get publishers, and the money will help you get a new laptop.” about the laptop, until just recently, I was using a laptop I got from Mr. Adeeko. I remember many afternoons I sat alone, thinking of how to compile the collection, nights I spent writing and rewriting it. I remember how none of my teachers read the manuscript, but for Mr. Adeeko who read some of the stories. I remember what my dad and I went through before we finally decided to go print copies of the manuscript in church. add to that the one-day I spent, away from school, trying to send the manuscript to Abuja—and, don’t forget, the FedEx money.
it is, however, very okay that I am called ‘impatient’ (according to Denjah’s Facebook comment to Kukogho Samson’s post) for calling to ask for the prize money, after close to eight months of winning the prize! I have called the association many times to ask for my cash prize and the response I’ve gotten is: “We don’t have the money!” and, at some point, “You are a rude boy. Get off my phone.”
I do not take that as wahala, but the simple fact that ANA has called for submission for the 2019 prize when they haven’t paid the 2018 cash prizes is funny. and I must ask: “When will they pay those who win this year’s, if they will pay those who won in 2018 when the trumpet sounds?”
so one thing is that our literary prizes, the few we have in Nigeria, are close to, if not totally, worthless.
after my thread on Twitter, Adedayo Agarau and Kukogho Iruesiri, and others, have come out to share similar experiences: Dayo in 2014 and Kukogho twice, in 2012 and 2014. and the writer-researcher, Temitayo Olofinlua, asked: “Na wa o! So this thing isn’t new? The question should be: which of the Nigerian literary prizes actually pay asides the big NLNG?” what this means is: today, to make people take the competition you are hosting serious (as a Nigerian magazine/publisher/or anything), you must partner with an international organization (like Goethe or Caine or something), and the cash prize, you must say, will be paid in dollars. write: 100 dollars instead of 35/40 thousand naira. because we, I mean Nigerian writers, are no longer ready to waste our time writing and honoring your competitions and magazines.
at the literary prize-given ceremony last year, which was held at one Presken hotel somewhere around Allen, after I waited for over eight hours (because I got there in the morning, not knowing that it was going to start at night, around 8, though it later started around 9pm!), they announced the winners, including me, and gave each one of us plaques and nothing else. I must add that they served rice, fried and jollof, and meat, and that at the table where I was, together with the other shortlisted writer for the Teen category, Chibundom Kosisochukwu (author of “If You Looked Inside a Girl”)—it was fun. Her mother was so interesting.
but I was surprised that: not even an agent approached me, not even a publisher asked if I was considering publishing the manuscript that won, there was not even a single discussion around the shortlisted books/manuscripts, something that would make a good blurb on the back cover of the books—but there were journalists (you know Nigerian journalists are quick to listen and also quick to write in their papers).
so, yeah, my name was in the papers a lot at that time last year: even without me having the money, half of which I was going to use to buy a new laptop to start work on my novel.
and, before the end, something around past eleven, I told the chairman of the association, Denja Abdullahi, that I was leaving already, because it was late. he would reach me, he said, “We will send your money.” and he asked his driver to give me a bag that contained the ANA Review 2018 and some magazines and programs, as some form of make-the-boy-get-away. (I must tell you that Denja and some of the judges where surprised that an eighteen-year-old boy had written something-that-good, and he had called my teachers to ask if it was true that it was I who wrote it. and when the man saw me, his words were: “You are the boy who writes like an adult?)
I, eighteen-year-old boy, walked down Allen road at eleven, with a plaque and a bag, and my malfunctioning phone in my pocket and joy that the money would be sent soon. but I also left with disappointment: that I did not get an agent[s] to approach me; that there was no publisher; and when I got close to my aunt’s place where I was staying, and I opened the ANA journal and saw my poem in it. though I submitted, they did not reply that any of my work has been accepted and yet they published it—without my knowing, my permission. I left that place feeling that the literary space in this country is a big mess.
and they confirmed what I began to believe that day.
earlier this year, in the company of the big-things, some very awesome writers whose names would fill your ears soon, I learned: the publishing firms in Nigeria that I was praying would publish me do not pay.
but then, a short story publication in a UK magazine has got me someone discussing representing me (something winning a prize didn’t do), makes me want to wake every morning and JUST WRITE. that is why we all want to win Caine/Miles Morland/Gerald Kraak/Commonwealth Short Story Prize—because our literary space in this country is so dead that if you throw your seed in its soil, you will spend your whole life waiting for a small miracle.
I just wrote my final exams and I’m done with secondary school. the next few months I have before leaving for the university (if I’ll be admitted this year?!), all I want to do is: WRITE, write my novel’s first, and, possibly, second drafts. it’s better to do the work when one is young, right? but, then, I can’t just write, I’ll buy data to read, I’ll visit a few places, I’ll spend some time ‘living’ (what Lola Shoneyin told me a few months ago) to be a better writer. while the prize money is not the only way to take care of those, I think it’ll make things easier. it might sound, well, funny, but, as young as I am, a writer emerging, I need support—and my dad (my mom’s late) can only do his bit. writers, especially emerging, need support.
we need support.
recently, I got selected for the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program: a writing mentorship program for high school writers, where a student is paired with an established writer to be mentored by that writer (my mentor is Sebastian Paramo). of 650+ applicants, 56 of us were selected, and I am the only Nigerian in Nigeria on the list; the other Nigerian, Fiyinfoluwa Oladipo, lives in UK presently. the program will last close to two months, and, yes, I’ll need to have data to participate—does that sound funny? yeah it does, but it’s our reality here.
a few weeks ago Wale Ayinla, a new poet, founding editor of Dwarts Magazine, was selected for the Winter Tangerine Online Workshop, and he was given a partial scholarship, but he still needed to raise about a hundred and twenty dollars to pay up what his scholarship didn’t cover. few months back, Logan February, author of Mannequin in the Nude, just out this year from Pank, also set up a Go Fund Me account, because he needed support.
young Nigerian writers/creatives need support, and yet: when we work hard to earn money that we did not beg for, we are not paid, and we are called rude when we ask—because we are young (T.J. Benson said on Twitter).
if the action of Denjah Abdullahi, who I respect very much (though to respect is to be respected), and ANA has taught me anything, it is this: don’t throw your seed in the Nigerian literary soil, it’s dead almost everywhere.