We began with an oral conversation, recorded with my phone, in her sitting room, since we happened to be in Ile-Ife together at the moment. A conversation that cannot be made public, at least for now, for the simple fact that we were so self-aware, so within the cocoon of our ‘literary ties.’ When I used those words—literary ties—Ayobami had a good laugh; earlier I had mentioned that I couldn’t extricate our friendship from our creative comradeship. This friendship, which has now spanned close to five years, began simply, when I asked her if she writes.
Emmanuel Iduma was born and raised in Nigeria. Emmanuel is the author of The Sound of Things to Come. He received an MFA in art criticism and writing from the School of Visual Arts, New York. He is a co-founder of Saraba Magazine and co-editor of Gambit: Newer African Writing. Follow him on Twitter @emmaiduma.
I wrote to Dango: “This, my friend, is a feat of spontaneous introspection, and that has been my aim for this project from the start. I always imagine that I am with you in a live event, speculating on the creative process.” I had, minutes earlier, received responses to the second batch of questions. And in my mind there is nothing more to be said. Except to add that in the hours following this conversation, I have looked upon my creative duty with a newer, fresher, outlook.
I owe you, Dango, a lot.
Perhaps it’s her career in advertising that makes Suzanne a professional. I mean the practiced ease with which she responded to my questions, which although we corresponded via email, I could feel. And I am humbled by how someone with so much talent can be undemanding, moderately ambitious, as though the estimate of the literary world counts less than her estimate of her craft. There are a handful of Suzanne’s stories out there, but each story differs in range of vision, in outlook. Easily, we find a writer in search of something other than fame, something deeper, more human.
I hope it will be clear, upon completion of this project, that Gambit is interested in a multifaceted rendering of artistic indulgence. That said, Donald Molosi is an example of an artist I hope to become – standing readily at the point where art out-ranges technique or form. I am equally learning that artists can be good friends, irrespective of virtual distances. I am keen to call Donald my friend, especially because he is the quickest, so far in these series, to respond to questions.
I was infected by Abubakar’s simplicity as we exchanged emails and spoke on phone. I recall my uncle speaking about simplicity being the hallmark of vast knowledge, and the depth of intellection. If that’s true, then Abubakar’s responses are measured anecdotes that display an understanding of his role as a Nigerian writer. What I perceived was that his convictions were deep-seated, irrevocable, even irrefutable. I have followed his work since 2007 when he won the BBC Play Writing Competition. An open secret is that we are being published by the same publisher this year – Parresia.
The following conversation took place via email. Between Novuyo and myself, we exchanged about 35 emails, in which I was greatly moved by her dedication (as you would see) to her writing, her understanding of her craft, and her willingness to engage. I have never met Novuyo in person, but it feels as though I have known her for a long time. Indeed, there are few of the writers scheduled in this series that I can recognize from a distance.
I am making a list of small wonders, and it is five months long. In my work as Publisher and Managing Editor of an electronic literary magazine based in Nigeria, I have learned to listen closely for the sound of things to come. It is evident and without doubt that the emergent writer is as talented as any established writer. The difference is not merely skill – opportunity plays an equally important role.
It is hard, as I am sure most writers know, to efface the person, render it impotent in the face of the writing life. Who I am always haunts my writing; and this is why and how I argue that I have earned the right to speak about anything – and you might want to consider this word ‘right’ as encompassing as it is in the legal regime. To make this process easier (this essay is a process, every word builds into revelation), I have charted two layers: Identity and Ethnicity.
To start with, I do not disagree that there is so much writing coming out of Africa. But I make the claim that we only see this abundance in terms of creative expression, because there has never been a time, like now, where we have had this amount of visibility. Of course, visibility is an important consideration – just as it is important to have an ear if the radio is to become useful, it is important to have the capability to be seen if African literature is to be considered meaningful.