Black Boy Review

What it Means to Attend Chimamanda Adichie’s Creative Writing Class – Short Talk with Ugochukwu Okpara


Ugochukwu Damian Okpara, Nigerian writer & Poet, is the 1st Runner Up in the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2019. He was one of the 21 mentees in the second cohort of the SprinNG Fellowship, and an alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop. His works have appeared/forthcoming in African writer, Kreative Diadem, Barren Magazine, The Penn Review, Rising Phoneix Press and elsewhere. He is currently interning as the Contributing Interviewer for Poetry at Africa in Dialogue.
What was it like having to be taught by the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Was it your first time of applying?
When asked such question, I always struggle to describe how I felt. I don’t think there’s any word that could capture the feeling in its entirety. For me, Chimamanda is my literary god, and I can trace my love for reading and writing back to those moments in school when I hunched over my desk reading Purple Hibiscus, later, I’d scribble stories which I never bothered to finish. I wasn’t exposed to good books so I wrote stories similar to that in Purple Hibiscus. Having been taught by Chimamanda was literally the best thing that happened to me in 2019. I remember on one of the workshop days, we were given a task, and when it got to my turn to read mine out, I recoiled because I felt nothing that I’d ever write would please the queen. Of course, she insisted that I read it out loud to her hearing, and then I remember her saying in that little charming moment, ‘Ugochukwu, you are an amazing writer and you need to own your story.’ This validation has stayed with me, and each time I’m stuck, I sort of still hear that same voice, willing me to move forward.
Was it my first time applying? No! I had applied in 2018 and I knew that I wouldn’t get in because that was the year I took writing fiction serious. So, I was never sad when I got the rejection letter. I often joke that if I had made the cut, she’d probably just kick me out of the workshop, and moreover what would the experience be for someone who just returned to writing fiction after four years?
What were the highlights of your classes? What major things did you go home with? Do you want to repeat a class like that again?

There were writing exercises, tasking assignments that kept us awake, we critiqued each other’s stories, amidst all these, there was fun in between the tension (I like to see it as that), like when Lola Shoneyin made us translate a poem from English to Pidgin and we did a chain reading of it.  For me, the major thing I went home with is the beautiful family I met in the workshop. I’m sure we’d all want to come back, if not for the classes, but for the bond we built within few days.
Tell us about other extra activities asides the class and your best moments with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?

We visited a waterfall and this magnificent cave that held lots of amazing stories, videos were made and I still look back to them and fight the urge to tear up. My best moment with the queen is actually my most embarrassing moment with her. It was at the dinner night and we sat in an imperfect circle, talking, laughing, and bonding. Well, it got to a point where we had to bid farewell to the queen, and because I have this social anxiety, I had written a highlight of things I wanted to say to her but then I ended up not saying anything after I thanked her for creating a safe space in the workshop, reason being that I was tearing up, and I just could not handle the emotions. The workshop felt like another world, a perfect world that I’ve always imagined—family, books, conversations, writing, and most importantly devoid of bigots. That was heaven for me and it was the first time in my life that I got to live as I wanted, there was absolutely no need performing in the ugly standards of the society.
I still have this mental image of us, when we hugged, a little longer because I was tearing in her godly arms and she just couldn’t let me go.
What has changed since after the class? Are you working on new projects?

A lot has changed, there’s a new approach to my work now, and I can still reach out to my family to get honest feedbacks. On working on new projects, well, not really, I’ve just been writing short stories and poems lately.

Let us know what can propel more young people to apply the next time.

Does it ever get past the cliché of ‘keep writing and applying’?
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