A few days after I got into the varsity I met an enthusiastic young man whom I immediately struck up a conversation with. At some point, this is what our discussion looked like:
“So when did you start writing,” I asked
“Last year.” He said
I nodded and asked for his writings. He showed me a few amateur stuffs and, after going through it, I told him to continue writing, that great writing didn’t start off in a day.
At that point, my friend blew up.
“What do you mean? I am already making plans to publish all my poems and you are here talking nonsense. The only thing holding me is money. Who are you by the way?”
I laughed and, picking my things, walked away.
Many young writers in Nigeria has this mentality. Many would start writing today and tomorrow they are screaming publishing.
A few days after my encounter with the young man, I decided to chat him up again. I coaxed him down to the school’s Coca Cola spot. I ordered two bottles of coke and meat pie for both of us. The place was quiet: people were talking in low tones: two boys who thought they were smart talking to two love-eyed girls, four boys sitting around a table talking like conspirators in a terrorist plot and furtively glancing sideways from time to time, loners.
“So how is it going, your writing I mean?”
“Fine,” he said.
“How do you see the uhm . . .”
“Frank!” A girl who had just come in with a gallant hailed.
“How are you doing babe?” I said cheerily.
“I am fine oo.”
I left it there and turned back to my friend. His dark profile, against the brilliant light of the sun-scorched day, looked swarthy. He kept wiping the sweat that streaked his face like miniature rivulets.
“So as I was saying . . . as I was saying, how do you see English 131?”
“I love the course but I don’t like Arrow of God. It’s too big.”
He wiped some rivulets of sweat and finished his coke.
“The novel is bigger than our level,” he said, “I mean, it’s too complex.”
I wanted to tell him to shut up but I kept my calm. This is a novel I first read in my junior secondary school days. I would not have thought that a university student would say it was bigger than him. Let alone a ‘writer’.
I asked what novels he fancied and he said it wasn’t a must that everyone must read.
“Have you read Things Fall Apart?” I asked although, by now, I had guessed what the answer would be.
What was Things Fall Apart? He asked back. It dawned on me that this was really the guy’s composition: shallow reading, shallow writing, and incessant talk of publishing. And, as if to confirm my thoughts, he started talking animatedly of his publication plans; how he was going to raise 200k for a certain printer somewhere. I listened in silence. What was this thing that my generation had about publishing? It was apparent, from all indications, that this young man knew nothing about traditional publishing.
In a place where young people flaunt mediocrity and ignorance as if it is an achievement, I should have expected no less. Apparently, this young didn’t know that a young lady has just won the Booker for a huge tome; perhaps he doesn’t know Chibundu Onuzo, Onyeka Nwelue, and numerous other young people who had seen and done a lot before the age of thirty. Perhaps he doesn’t know the recent efforts of youngsters like Chimuanya Ijezie and Chimee Adioha with Kalimba Publishing.
Last friday, at our young book club, I was discussing Nabokov, Faulkner, Joyce, Coetzee, Ngugi and the rest. There were many young people around; many of them were eager to read, to know.
This is how it should be. For when and how can we begin to imagine a writer who doesn’t read? Or a good writer who didn’t pass through a period of apprenticeship–that period from which his experience and skill emanates.
But in Nigeria–maybe because of the erratic stability of things–young people are in a hurry. They are always joining the moving boat–the moving boat being what is in vogue. And it seems to me that in our universities and elsewhere, writing is vogue. Anyone who puts a lazy pen to paper is a writer. Anyone can suddenly wake up and tell you that writing is all about mentality.
A coursemate of mine once shook my hands and told me he is a writer.
“What books have you written?” I asked naturally.
“I have written motivational books and a book about how to pass exams and I am the president of . . .” Blah, blah, blah.
Imagine! I have come to believe the developing stereotype of the young Nigerian writer is someone who suddenly wakes up from sleep one stupid morning and decides he is a writer; he scribbles a couple of first-time stuffs on paper and gathers up some money and prints it. He goes about in the street and in meetings selling it. In the end he may sell twenty or thirty copies and then he dumps the rest in a Ghana-must-go-bag and leaves it to termites under some musty staircase. And of course he has written a book.
He is no doubt a writer.
Chimezie Chika studies English in Imo state University.
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