A roll call of the lettered

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The famed writer and Creative Director, Farafina Trust, Chimamanda Adichie adorned herself in a red knee-length hollow-sleeved dress, wearing a confident smile born out of the optimism for better African literature at the night of glamour that capped the 10-day Farafina Creative Writing workshop in Lagos. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

X-treme Productions’ eclectic performance was the night’s grand appetizer. The cast, made up of three dance pairs, an artist and a violinist left many mouths agape at the literary evening that closed the curtain on this year’s edition of the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop. It was also a warm discovery for many who witnessed last year’s event where Efe Paul Azino was the headliner. This year, Azino made what could be called a cameo appearance on stage with his poetry, leaving us wishing he had performed something fresh.

Anyway, the centre-stage of this annual literary night belonged to Chimamanda Adichie, a leading post-colonial writer with many awards on her sleeves. But she shared it with others at the Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. The writer, who had become a mother recently, had been out of public glare for a while.

Although some believed that she is not one to be swarmed by paparazzi but anyone who had seen her at special events as this would agree that Adichie simply carries an enviable charisma beyond what had ever been written about her. She, unconsciously, grabbed the attention of her audience with her witty remarks about each participant at the 2016 Farafina Creative Workshop sponsored by the Nigerian Breweries. Her keen eyes and sharp sense of description did justice to the participants’ characters.

Every year, scores of creative writers are selected to participate in the workshop which is aimed at burnishing skills and reawakening the writer’s consciousness. At its 8th edition, the decorated writer took on the responsibility of grooming men and women of letters who will attract a new generation of readers to Africa. The list include Chisom Sunny-Eduputa, Akintunde Aiki, Pamela Naaki Tetteh, Ige Abimbola, Chinaza Attam, Miracle Adebayo, Lesley Agams, Ama Diaka, Munachim Amah, Osayuware Obaigbo, Grace Saleh, Fatima Mohammed, Olakunle Ologunro, Chioma Okolo, Tobore Ovuorie, Amy Woluchem, Aishat Abiri
Funmi Unuajefe, Ifeoluwa Nihinlola, Onwuasoanya Chika, Nnamdi Anyadu, Umar Turaki, Nneoma Ike-Njoku, Chinaza Ezeoke. They discussed, read and ate with Adichie between June 21 and July 1, which gave the writer the ample opportunity to glean the potential of each one.

The Caine Prize-winning Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina, Aslak Sira Myhre and others were also co-facilitators with Adichie. Typically, participants are assigned a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises to improve the craft of writers and encourage published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspective to the art of storytelling. Adichie believes that writing is not something that is taught but a special gift naturally endowed on person but then being a reader of books makes a difference.

“I had a vision years ago for this workshop. I thought I had a good fortune to have been published books that people actually pay money to buy and read. I felt that sense of responsibility that there is so much talent in this country and this continent. I thought of creating that space for writers to come together and that is what this workshop has been for me. But I also wanted to have the participants in the workshop not just learn from me but learn from other writers whose works I respect. Binvavanga, I want to thank you for your generosity. Even after the workshop, she keeps in touch with the participants on their works, thereby creating an entry into what is called the writing life,’’ she said.

During her first edition, there was a participant that others in the workshop would think of as “ITK’’, an acronym for “I Too Know’’. This expression is often used to describe persons who are well-informed about a variety of subjects and often show off with such knowledge. Most times, some people do not deliberately do so; it has only been a part of their being to contribute to discussions meaningfully.

But they end up getting branded as “ITK’’ by people who secretly wish they have their brains. Adichie knew this obviously because rather than being pissed off by this knowledgeable individual, she brought him on board this year to contribute to the workshop as one of the facilitators. Adichie has taught one lesson by that singular gesture which is to always look for the good in everyone.
Adichie was thankfully to the sponsors, Nigerian Breweries, as well as key facilitators who had joined her during the workshop.

“Aslak is the National Librarian of Norway. Unfortunately, Aslak had to leave before the workshop ended and couldn’t be here today. Aslak talked a lot about writing non-fiction. Ehosa, until recently, was the publisher of Farafina House and had participated in the first writing workshop that I organised. I like to tell the story of how he is the ITK. And I hope the participants have benefited from his ITK,’’ she said, tongue-in-cheek.

This year, more than 2000 entries were received from different parts of the world including Libya, Saudi Arabia, United States of America and the United Kingdom making it even more competitive.

“The quality of the writing seems to be getting better each year which makes it more difficult to select. Selecting 23 people from 2000 entries is very difficult. Ehosa had to read all the entries. He would send a text message around 3 a.m. saying “I tire’’. He finally selected the first 100 entries. I had to do the final selection.

“Anybody on that list of 100 could have come to the workshop. But in selecting, I was looking not only for talent but for what I like to call art. I was looking for emotional truth. I wanted to see that not only did these people have something to say but what they have to say matters. I am not sure one can necessarily teach writing. But writing workshops can do is to teach you how to edit your work, read your works through the eyes of other people, teach you how to read,’’ she observed.

At the workshop, participants would talk with Adichie till late in the night on not just literature but on general topics such as politics, psychology and social issues. The result is that she learned from them. From Chika, she saw that words could be articulated by an engineer.

From Adebayo, a lawyer, she inferred that a writer can speak profoundly about the gender construction by talking about something as seemingly playful as a woman’s bust, football and chesting the ball.
Through Umar, a film maker who hails from Jos, she could watch reel images in form of cleverly written narratives. Fatimah, who brings humanity into her legal documentation as a writer and Editor-in-chief of a legal magazine, served as a pointer to the need to humanised many Nigerian laws.

Obaigbo, whom she referred to as the “resident elder’’ at the workshop, had an impressive profile as well. A photographer, producer and author of the wretched billionaire, this graduate of the University of Benin wrote a play titled, “Reincarnation’’ which made the BBC playwriting shortlist in 1992.

“He spent a lot of time taking pictures of people without their permission. He started many interesting conversations. He would promptly disagree on any subject. What that disagreement meant for us what that it opened up the space for conversations that we might not have had. His writing is reminiscent of Ben Okri’s he would often tell us ‘I am a grand-father,’’ recounted Adichie.

Oforie, an investigative journalist at Premium Times taught her colleagues through her works that part of a writer’s responsibility is to break down the walls of silence. Ama from Ghana received her certificate just like others but in a stylish piece to make a statement about being a designer. Through Kunle, Adichie learnt that being hyper-active is not necessarily a bad or hindering factor in become a compelling writer.
“Kunle has a fantastic reading eye and writes well. He is studying English at the University of Ilorin,’’ she remarked.

Munachi, who holds a first class degree in Economics, writes academic papers at the Lagos Business School. He wrote on very courageous subjects and poetically too. Funmilayo, a television producer working on a new show, “Raising Kids’’ as partly a radio show online writes about necessary things with unflinching honesty.

Adichie admired Chioma’s incredibly vivid sense of imagination, Chinaza Attam’s beauty of language and Chinaza Ezeoke’s ironical temperament towards her difficult subjects in her writing. She hoped Aisha would not restrict herself to being a screenwriter nor Akintunde to his project management job.

Agams, a lawyer and former wild life photographer, also impressed Adichie with her writing as much as Pamela’s sense of humour spoke to her. Ife and Ige were both cherished participants by the facilitators as they are seen as the soul and the example of close to perfection at the workshop, respectively. While Ike-Njoku’s astute and wonderfully strange pieces were such delight, Chisom, who studies at Adichie’s alma mater in Connecticut, offers insight into understanding children through her writing.

“Nnamdi wrote about non-humans dwellers of the oceans, in a speculative fiction. It helped us to see humans from the point of view of non-humans,’’ noted Adichie who spent the evening deliberating more on new frontiers for writers from Africa.