Thursday, December 10, 2009

Future Awards Nominee Speak Up

interviewed by Eromo Egbejule

He's 21. Barely three months after his first novel, The Abyssinian Boy, (a book that took three months to be completed and four years to publish), was released into the market, a Danish film-maker, Lasse Lau of KRAN Film Collective, Belgium, indicated interest to make a movie out of it. Rumour also has it that he received over N2.5 million from his publisher, DADA Books. Efforts have been made to clarify this, but no response has come from the author or publisher, either to deny or accept it.

Just few weeks ago, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) chose him as one of the two authors for the Nsukka Book Trek, an event that preceded the 11th Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF).

Now, the Future Awards nominees' list is out and he is in the Creative Artist of the Year Awards category, with fellow DADA Books author, Jumoke Verissimo, whose poetry book, I am Memory has been critically acclaimed and described as 'one of the finest collections of poetry' in Nigerian literature. And a quick check reveals that he's the youngest on the list.

Presently a student of Sociology & Anthropology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Onyeka Nwelue is the son of a politician-father and a school-teacher mother. "While I grew up, I didn't know what my father did", he said, when asked if his father's political status influenced him. "He was driving in and out of the house, having meeting with people. In the nights, big men came to our house in big cars, and chatting away secretly with him. I just knew that he knew people, but his knowing people has nothing to do with my writing at all." Apparently, this shows why his novel is filled with characters that we all can relate to, but created in a surrealist manner. At the same time, Nwelue's writing is such that haunts and amuses. His style is unique, critics have said, and Toyin Akinosho has gone on to compare his narrative technique to that of Salman Rushdie in the Booker of Bookers, Midnight's Children; a comparison that has shook the high priests of the Nigerian literary circle, when the age of the author comes to foci of discourse.

"When a critic like Toyin Akinosho, who can't hold his mouth, compares your work to those of the greatest storytellers in the world, I think you should carry your head high up", Nwelue responds. "He doesn't give a damn who you are. You could be his boy, but then, he tells you what he wants to tell you." Does he care about the negative criticism on his book? "Seriously, I'm yet to read any review that says, 'This book is crap! This book should not have been published'. I'm surprised. Of course, this is a country I'm so afraid of its hypocrisy, but the truth is that the Indians will write me and say, 'I like the Nigerian part so much', and the Nigerian reader gets hold of me on the street and says, 'Ah, I like the Indian part so much. The culture...' and quickly, I will say, 'Don't go there'." He bursts into boisterous laughter.

Six months spent in India birthed the idea for this much-publicized book. Three months were used to complete the first draft and he started sending out the manuscript to agents and publishers. All of them rejected him. For him, depression took over. Life was horrible and he felt he didn't know what else to do. "Persistence was my key", he says.

One day, while in his friend's hostel room on the campus at Nsukka, he received a call from Cape Town and that was the publisher of DADA Books, Ayodele Arigbabu (Incredibly, he's also nominated in the Business Owner of the Year category), asking for the West African rights to the book. "People thought this book that has been lying in my drawer for four years already had a publisher", he says.

However, Nwelue feels persistence is just the key. "Family members were so intent on me going to the university; some said, 'Get admission, get admission and stay where others are. You will do your writing there'. But where are those relatives now? They can't even send me a dollar bill to support me in school". Quickly, he becomes solemn. "Truth is someone wants to say something to you, even when what he is saying is useless. People were telling me bullshit about how I could write better in university. Why I should get a degree first and then write, so I would be taken serious. Nonsense! Come on, nothing happens when you are in a Nigerian university. You are buckled up with textbooks to cram from. And I'm so glad I was persistent enough to get out of the country to write a book and then come back to face the demented educational system." Doesn't he think his family was supportive enough? "Of course, they were supportive", he adds. "But they made life miserable for me. Everyone wanted you to be someone else. They made you lie terribly. You had to cook up a lie, for them to do what they didn't want to do for you."

Selected as a delegate to attend the 2nd International Writers' Festival in India in 2006, Nwelue saw that as a great opportunity to do something different. At the conference, attended by over 39 foreign authors and local ones, he realised that writers all over the world don't have the same problem. "The Nigerian writer is far backward", he says. "He is always waiting for a certain government to come and do this bullshit for him. I mean, what stops you from forming a collective, starting up a residency and funding it yourselves? Who actually is the government? Will the government also come and start up writers' agencies? Will the government edit for the writer too? I mean, lame excuses and when they move abroad, they realise that the writers there are very independent and supported by individuals."

For him, Jude Dibia, author of Walking with Shadows and Unbridled is one writer every writer in Nigeria, both old and young, should look up to. "He started up an online writing workshop for students in my university who have never met him and all of a sudden, he was paying them to write stories he will never publish and make money from. These kids became encouraged. He takes up the work of a writer and does editing for free, even amidst his busy schedule. We need more of him to stop complaining".

One surprising thing again about him is his method when it comes to writing. He doesn't write directly to a computer, even though he has used all kinds of laptops; presently basking in the euphoria of an Apple MacBook, which he carries around with him. "I write on sheets of paper", he says, almost laughing. "Very 18th century, right? But that's when it flows for me. The handwritten manuscript of my novel is still in my house. I prefer the pen and paper. They are beautiful. When I'm done, I take my time to type." This he says even gives him much time to experiment with language on the paper, constructing sentences that are weird ("It was Naif who said that tomorrow was pronounced as Two-Moron") and also inventing words ("neverthemore"). His interest lies more in language and characterisation, than themes. For him, he approaches writing like cinema; the episodic style with which he wrote The Abyssinian Boy probably makes it read like a Mexican soap opera, and apparently, got the attention of a film maker, because it reads smoothly.

"I'm the one writing the film script of the book", he says, when asked about the progress made. "Lasse was in Nigeria in September and our discussion was on how the story would start. He said he wants me to write the script. I've not done any. I went out to search for books to help me. I got some and then, stumbled on this piece by Salman Rushdie on film adaptation, and pam, pam, I realised I can do it. Rushdie is the one scripting Midnight's Children, so I'm following his tips. That chap is brilliant!" And this obviously shows that he is obsessed with the British-Indian writer. "Yes, I think I'm obsessed. Who will not be when you enjoy what he does with language and history?" he asks, absent-mindedly. "Think of the joy you get listening to comedians tell jokes. Even though my publisher doesn't see anything special in my fascination with Rushdie, I'm convinced he will fall in love with him soon, after he tries finishing Midnight's Children."
With many believing he will clinch the Creative Artist of the Year Awards, what does he have to say? "Getting nominated is a good thing. Winning will be another good thing. Truth is that I'm fine with the nomination." What if a win comes? "Then we celebrate it", he responds, laughing. "Good thing is I have been nominated. Crazy people like me don't get awards. Funny thing is that my friends on Facebook are doing this campaign thing that makes me appear like a full-blown politician, but really, I have no manifesto." But that is part of his humility, as he has inspired a lot of young people in Nigeria. What advice does he have for them? "This thing you journalists always demand us to say as if we don't wear our pants putting in one leg after another like other people, really annoys me. I mean, if a young Nigerian wants to remain unknown till he's 40, that's his business. Truth be told, I've always wanted to be famous. Famous before turning 25."

And that's the Abyssinian spirit.

Go to and vote Onyeka Nwelue as Creative Artist of the Year or SMS 33120.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where You Can find DADA Books Paper Backs

Hi People,

DADA Books has a rapidly expanding pool of highly entertaining and deeply educative books what are enjoying generouse review by literary enthusiasts across the globe.

Our cache of books ranges from novels, poetry, Short story collections and Childrens illustrations. Among these are:

• “The Abyssinian Boy” A Novel by Onyeka Nwelue
• “I am Memory” A book of poetry by Jumoke Verrisimo
• “A Fistful of Tales” A collection of short stories by Ayo Arigbabu
• “The Land of Kalamandahoo” An illustrated Children Adventure story by 14 year old Ruby Igwe (coming soon)

I am pleased to inform you that you can now buy your favourite DADA Books publications in a wide range of Book stores in Lagos and across the Nation as well as online.

• Wuraola Akande Ventures, 77 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi
• Unilag Bookshop, University of Lagos, Akoka,Yaba
• Pharm Affairs, Ogudu Road, Ogudu
• Glendora bookshop, Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi
• Quintessence, Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi
• Bestseller, Falomo Shopping Complex, Ikoyi
• This Day Media Store, The Plams Shopping Center, Lekki
• The Hub, The Palms Shopping Center, Lekki
• CCD Superstore, Ogudu Road, Ogudu
• SilverBird Lifestyle Center, Silver Bird Galleria, Ahmadu Bello Way,
• Victoria Island, Lagos.
• Terra Kulture Tiamiyu Savage Str. Victoria Island, Lagos.

• Booksellers, Jericho, Ibadan
• University Bookshops Ltd, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
• Nnamdi Azikiwe University Bookshop, Awka
• University of Nigeria Bookshop, Nsukka
• Flomat Bookshop, Airport Road, Warri.
• Rainbow Bookshop, 20 Igbodo Street, Old G.R.A. Port Harcourt
.Our Sales rep in India:,

Our books will soon be available in Abuja other parts of the country.

You can also order for the Books online at

PLEASE NOTE: That Ayodele Arigbabu would be reading fromhis new book; Fistful of Tales at the British Council Lagos on Saturday the 28th
of November 2009 from 4pm - 6pm.

Other readings and presentations will be announced as scheduled.

Keep Reading....Buy DADA Books.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Chance to meet Ayo Arigbabu and His Fistful of Tales

I recently caught up with hyper busy writer and publisher Ayo Arigbabu, in one of those places he hides to chill-out, away from it all. Not being a planned meet, he was gracious enough to give me a chat.
He talked about himself, his outfit DADA Books and his soon to be released collection of short stories; A Fistful of Tales. Excerpts;

Let us meet Ayo Arigbabu. Perhaps we should begin by having a peep into your background. What was growing up like?

Growing up was pretty sedate. I was the only boy for a long time so I learnt how to create my own world. Outside of school, I didn’t get to interact much with other kids so I hunted lizards, tried to trap stray chickens, kept a snail farm, tried to make my own toys, rode a bicycle that had no tires, climbed trees and generally created my own adventures within the walls of our large compound in Ipaja, a suburb of Lagos. Of course I also had a lot of time to read copiously. My dad indulged me a bit with books but it was really my late aunt Mrs. Kufo who tipped the scale by sending in box loads of exciting children’s’ books from time to time. Spending six years later in her house in Isolo with my cousins and all those books while in secondary school sealed the deal eventually, my mind got unhinged and I’ve been trying to cope with that interesting turn of events ever since.

You had your Education here in Nigeria?

Yeah, certainly. I studied architecture at the University of Lagos. Before then, I attended International School, University of Lagos and University of Lagos Staff School Idi-Araba for secondary and primary education. So you can say I am a thoroughbred University of Lagos product, especially when you consider that my father- a professor of Neurosurgery who is about to retire- has taught at the university for over 30 years and two of my sisters currently work at the College of Medicine. Did I add that I’ve got a younger brother in medical school too?

So you are a real Akokaite through and through. Interesting! Now down to creative writing, what book are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently reading two books on the flux between tradition and modernity by Prof. Louis Munoz. Before that, the last work of fiction I read was Eghosa Imasuen’s alternate history novel- To Saint Patrick, and the one before that was Margaret Atwood’s science fiction novel- Oryx and Crake. I have a book on 21st Century Design by my bedside and another book on visual design for films which I read from time to time.

That sounds like a whole lot, (laughter)

Well I’m naming all these books to sound very intelligent since that is what interviews are meant for but in reality, I don’t read that much except when in the loo.

(General laughter). Ok, Tell us About Your Book; A Fistful of Tales

A Fistful of Tales is my second collection of short stories. It contains 10 stories, some of them are actually vignettes and one is more of a poem. I put them together in a collection because apart from being borne in the most part out of the Crossing Borders experience, they also represented a phase in my writing where I consciously identified the sort of flavour I wanted my writing to have- something I get out of Biyi Bandele’s writing and Diran Adebayo’s writing as well- a gritty suave handling of the language in expressing largely urban situations.

Now the title, What’s the catch? Why did you pick that title?
I wanted a title with a punch to it because I tried to write stories that had an attitude. From the title, A fistful of tales is meant to put you on edge, because you don’t really know where the next punch will come from.

And I suppose the inspiration to write the book came from a desire to throw punches?

(Laughter) Well, really, I didn’t set out to write a book, I was just in a phase where I was trying new things with my prose and two years on the British Council / Lancaster University organized Crossing Borders online creative writing mentorship programme gave me all the excuses I needed to write more short stories. My mentor on the programme, the accomplished novelist Liz Jensen was also an immense source of inspiration. Reading one of her novels was quite refreshing and seeing how her own career was unfolding was also inspiring. Besides, Liz was quite an exceptional mentor on the programme; what more encouragement could a young layabout need to sit down to do some work.

When is it due out?

In a few days.

Writers always have some figures that influence their writing, who would you say are your own literary influences?
My literary influences are diverse, Hemmingway, Margaret Atwood, Wilbur Smith, Arthur C. Clarke and many others. In the contemporary scene, Toni Kan’s work inspires me because he does to the urban tale what I like seeing being done to such tales. He grabs the story by the scruff of its neck and throttles the life out of it till the reader is left gasping for breathe. That is what stories should do to you, they should make you gasp.

Nigerian writers have been gathering laurels in recent time. Many of these writers interestingly either live abroad or were published abroad. Do you hold the view that African writers have to leave Africa in order to achieve success?
It depends on what you call success. If you are after financial success then quit wasting your time and go work in a bank or an oil and gas company. If you are talking about literary laurels, history has proven that you can win any award on the planet while still writing from out of Africa. If you are talking about moving large volumes and being on the best seller list, Wilbur Smith has always done that with African stories. But for me, the highest level of success is having someone wag a finger at you and say: ‘You, that your story, I really loved it o.’ I don’t need to leave Africa to enjoy that, I like to connect with my audience and my primary audience is within the environment that inspires my stories.

Perhaps as a sequel to the issue of success, many successful African books (Those that have won major prizes I mean) are those that portray Africa in a particular light….that which is perhaps more appealing to western judges and reading audience, what’s your take on that?
I think that ultimately, the greatest power for agenda setting lies with writers, only if they choose to use it. If we spend more time complaining about our small minded leaders, focusing on war and strife, romanticizing poverty and generally cultivating an audience like that which CNN has grown- one which is used to seeing Africa as a country (and not as a continent) where hunger, disease and strife rule over a pre-historic civilization, then we also groom a publishing industry that looks out for such stories and a society that keeps reliving those horrors. If on the other hand, we deliberately push stories that reveal the richness of our African heritage, talk about young Nigerian scientists pushing the frontiers in NASA, talk about a young Ghanian doctor synthesizing a cure for AIDs from ideas he took from ancient African philosophies, talk about African states rescuing the rest of the world from invading aliens because the rest of the world had grown too sure of themselves and gone on a binge, then the focus of the discourse will change. Publishers will switch agendas immediately because those old depressive models are worn out and oversubscribed. That is why I thoroughly enjoyed Eghosa Imasuen’s To Saint Patrick, Eghosa is smart and brave, through his take on alternate history, he’s risen above the stereotypical small mindedness that ties us down. It will be a pleasure to see more science fiction from him. Africa is the next frontier, the publishers and writers that realize that early are the ones that will take the future.

Let’s talk about DADA as a company now(I hope I can call it that?). I understand that Dada Books is a subsidiary of a larger DADA outfit. What is DADA all about?
What are the other subsidiaries?

DADA is the acronym for the Dream Arts & Design Agency, a hybrid consultancy I founded when I realized that to find the sort of employment that would engage all my creative interests and wild dreams, I would have to create the organization myself from scratch. The fact that Dada is also the Yoruba name given to a child with dreadlocks also goes to show how special we consider our work to be at DADA and how resilient we are at trying to achieve our goals. Currently we have interests in design and architectural consultancy through our professional division called Dream Arts & Design Associates, publishing through our imprint- DADA books and we have plans to kick in a film and animation division in a couple of years. The agency also consults for Children And The Environment (CATE), Crown Troupe of Africa and the African Artists’ Foundation. We hope to harness our creative abilities in the near future to contribute to the actualization of Africa’s potentials. If our leaders keep failing at laying the basic foundations for an African renaissance, we’ll simply create a parallel universe and actualize our dreams there. That is the power of imagination.

Publishing is a rather sensitive business. What inspired your venturing into it?
I grew up having a very good relationship with books. I found comics particularly exciting because they formed a bridge between books and television. I remember creating my own Mickey Mouse stories with my older sister who is now a Radiologist. I’m not sure Disney would have been proud of our efforts then, but that was what sowed the seeds that later saw me working with Sewedo Nupowaku to create comics for Revolution Media way before DADA books came on stream. Through Revolution Media (then Evolution Media) we also published my first short story collection in an anthology called The Three Kobo Book in 2004 which also featured Deji Toye’s play and Dapo Ogundipe’s poems. However, The Three Kobo Book was only an extension of the dream the three of us shared while working together for the writers’ collective called Pen Circle in the university. That is where the thirst to work with other writers to create platforms for reaching an audience grew and that is where I started trying my hands at publishing by creating a small title called Whispers which had themed contributions from different members.

DADA Books has published two successful outings with I am Memory and Abyssinian Boy. There is a raised expectation about what will come next. That raised expectation, concerning what you would do next. Did you feel this pressure while you were working on A Fistful of Tales?

Interestingly, A fistful of Tales was finished in 2006 and was ready for the press by 2007. the collection was meant to launch the DADA books imprint, Jumoke Verissimo even interviewed me in October 2007 for her column in the Guardian to herald the book, however, by an interesting turn of events, DADA books was launched with Jumoke’s own poetry collection in November 2008 followed by Onyeka Nwelue’s The Abyssinian Boy in January 2009. So there is no question of being under pressure to meet expectations for DADA books while writing the short stories. My writing career is quite distinct from my existence as a publisher. If DADA books bids for any of my books and a stronger publisher comes to bid for the same book with a better offer, I’d consider it. But right now, I’m happy to be with DADA books, judging from what the young imprint has been able to do with its first two books. Onyeka Nwelue for example just had a very successful outing in India, and Jumoke Verissimo had a similar outing in Macedonia. When the writers on your imprint take on the International scene and hold their own beautifully, you feel even more motivated to achieve more with their work.

Your role of Publisher and writer, how do you manage both? Any conflict?

The only conflict I combat in being a writer and publisher is in having to give up time that I could have spent writing, trying to shape up another author’s book. However, when that author’s career starts to blossom and my input as publisher contributes to that unfolding, I feel a sense of worth quite different from that felt from being published myself. It’s a totally different kind of spiritual fulfillment and at that level, there is no conflict.

Budding writers would really love to hear it from the horses mouth, How can they get their work out of the closet? How can they published?

The advice is very simple; Write, and write well. Not because you want to get published but because you have a great story to tell which you just can’t hold within you anymore. That is the only way to get published. Every other thing is extraneous.

And for aspiring publishers?

Aspiring publishers should not be flippant about their intentions; they should be in for a long hard ride and should be ready to think on their feet. Publishing is a trade whose future is not very certain, there are insinuations that print might fade away soon and for me, that uncertainty makes it all the more interesting, it means that you have a chance to be at the fore front of innovation. I do not think print will fade away, not in our lifetime. I just think the way it is being tackled will have to change. But beyond the physical medium, I find marketing and distribution to be the most exciting phases of publishing, despite being seriously handicapped in the Nigerian situation, every publisher will need to take those phases even more seriously. These are the things I tell myself all the time because I still consider myself an aspiring publisher. Unless I push a book to sell over a million copies in this environment, till then, I’m still trying to make things work.

There is currently no definite literary season in Nigeria unlike in some other countries despite the abundance of talents. What could be done about that?

Well, as the cliché goes, talent is not enough. Groaning about government not doing enough is also not enough. For those with vested interests in the book trade it is about making up your mind whether the island you’ve stumbled upon where people wear no shoes signifies a potential market for your shoe factory or a waste of time for your lovely products. For writers, it is about deciding if your mission in life is to write what foreign judges like to read and hopefully win a prize and jet out of the country or if you want a book that millions of Nigerians can identify with and crave to read again and again. It’s not just publishers that need to work harder; writers have a whole lot of work to do as well.

You are an active part of CORA, what briefly is the group all about?

The Committee For Relevant Art (CORA) is a collective of enthusiasts, activists, practitioners, critics and producers in different fields of the arts who converge out of a common sense of responsibility towards the sustenance and nurturing of the Nigerian arts scene and to initiate and run key programmes aimed at intervening in the arts at different levels. I walked into the CORA fold in 2002 when as President of the Pen Circle- a writers’ association I participated in actively while at the University of Lagos- I approached the collective to collaborate with CORA on an annual Pen Circle event. We were given the platform of CORA’s annual Lagos Book & Art Festival to do our thing and I simply loved the air of possibility that surrounded the collective. That plus the fact that I love the banter, the gossip and the osmotic ease with which knowledge is exchanged between members. CORA has been a fantastic platform for affecting the creative space around me positively, creating other platforms for other people to actualize themselves and for incubating some of my own creative endeavours.

So like they say, what Next? After A FistFul of Tales, what should we expect?

There is a novella that was borne out of the same crossing borders experience that gave birth to A fistful of Tales, it actually grew out of one of the short stories in the book. The main character is the kind of character I like. He’s a renegade military intelligence agent who does not suffer fools. I nearly finished it in 2006 but then got distracted by other endeavours, and long prose we all know needs dedicated time. I’ll finish that one very soon. There is also a novel I was working on with Jumoke Verissimo a long time ago, I hope to put that gig back on the road as well. In the time being, my second play- 150 Barz which I wrote on another British Council capacity building project with the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2007 is being published this year. I don’t know where this literary vocation will lead me, but I do know that I’m enjoying the ride all the way because first and foremost, I write because I immensely enjoy reading the product of my own imagination. Call it narcissism if you please, but if you enjoy my writing, it’s because I enjoyed it first.

Well, I am confident that you have a huge fan base out there who enjoy your writing and can not wait to A fistful of Tales in their hands.

(Smiles) That’s gratifying. Thank you.

Are you married?

I’m single, but nobody should bother applying (laughs). My asking price is pretty steep. However for a young, good looking and intelligent, cool, calm and collected upwardly mobile young lady who wants a piece of the pie, we could start negotiating from 25 billion Naira, which is the minimum her father would need to have if he owned a bank. I also don’t have any children out of wedlock just yet….in case you were wondering (Laughter).

Well sincerely, I wasn’t wondering anything (general laughter). Thank you so much Ayo for giving me some of your time and letting us in on your activities. I hope your books sells that million copies you talked about. Do have a great day.

I just did! Thank you.

A fistful of Tales will be released from the stables of DADA Books in September 2009.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I AM MEMORY; more than just lines.

Jumoke Verissimo remakes language beyond mere lyricism to uncover the roots of pain and the passion that will heal it…”

When renowned poet Odia Ofeimun describes anyone in such generous glowing terms, then that person sure has something of great worth to offer.

To be a witness to Odia Ofeimun’s testimony, I went all the way to the Pen and Pages Bookshop, Wuse II Abuja where she was reading. It was Saturday 28th February, 2009. The occasion was the Abuja Writers’ Forum monthly Guest Writer Forum.

Anybody who has had the privilege of hearing Jumoke read from her beautiful collection I am Memory would attest that hers is a performance not to be missed and her collection, a precious collector’s item.

I am Memory as the title of the fifty-five paged collection suggests is a poetic reminiscence of past experiences, of love, of pain and sadness, some personal and others about a country she loves. The metaphor in the lines are deep and depressing. Yet they connect to the reader in a special way, telling tales…painting images…revealing dreams.

I have always held the opinion that poetry is near worthless if it cannot be performed. Jumoke’s poems sound like songs even when read. Listening to a poem like ‘Ajani’ being performed is a privilege that gives meaning to art itself. It gives that same feeling you had while reciting Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as a toddler. This time however, it’s a lot deeper. It is consuming. It’s refreshing. It is life.

I was shocked to find Jumoke to be one extremely shy, skinny girl with a low cut. She was too shy to agree with her audience that she was a poet. It wasn’t just I alone who noticed her dressing. Someone actually asked her about it. It was ultra simple; a jean trouser and a butterfly-like top. She exuded so much warmth and one could easily put a hand to the pride in her smile as she signed copies of her collection.

Of course, she doesn’t fail to communicate to us through her poems, those things that matter very much to us; like love and politics. And if you think you’ve read the best rhymes in poetry wait until you read these lines of my favourite poem of the collection; Ajani
The beads of waiting
The beads of wanting
The beads are weighty

And for reposing such huge confidence in this budding talent, DADA Books deserves more than a pat on the back. In an industry where only established names get the honour of having their manuscripts looked at, DADA Books has offered a breath of fresh air. Lightening up veiled dreams…offering our hearts a new balm…a new song.

For a maiden collection, I am Memory sure does make a bold statement. The many years of having her work trashed at reading sessions paid off real big. Her tears of rejection have now turned to smiles of fulfillment. The seventeen year old wannabe poet of yesterday is now the celebrity of today.

I leave you with this line from ‘The Rape.’

…conscience pricking vulvas into piles of mangrove guilt

You need to go grab your own copy.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Abyssinian Boy Goes On Screen

Onyeka Nwelue
Born: 31 January, 1988

The Abyssinian Boy by Onyeka Nwelue has been hailed by critics and readers alike. Everyone has something good to say about the book - the marriage of two cultures, India and Nigeria has been largely eulogised. But that's not where it ends. Just recently, Danish film-maker, Lasse Lau of KRAN Film Collectives indicated interest to make a movie out of the book, which means that readers will get to connect with most of Nwelue's multiple characters that people this book.
Did you ever think The Abyssinian Boy can attract the attention of any film-maker?
Why do you think Lasse Lau wants to make this movie? Does it have anything to do with the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars, that people will pay attention to yet another Indian story?
Well, when Lasse was in Lagos in March, we had a little discussion on the movie thing. He liked the opening chapters of the book. He felt they are flowing, more like a travelogue for him and he's a great traveller. He didn't tell me why he wants to make the movie. I feel he wants to make it, because he loves the storytelling aspect of the book.
I do not think it has anything to do with Slumdog Millionaire. He feels he really wants to do this movie; same time he knows it's going to be hectic.
In a situation where you are asked to cast some 'real' actors to play the roles of Rajaswamy Rajagopalan and Eunice Onwubiko, who would you choose?
To be honest with you, while I wrote The Abyssinian Boy I had this filmic'image of Shah Rukh Khan for the character of Rajaswamy and Sophie Okonedo's 'mild' character popping out from Hotel Rwanda. So, both can do the trick, I think.
You said somewhere that you set out to write The Abyssinian Boy in episodic format. What's your interest in cinema?
My growing up in a house with a wooden TV box fired up my interest in cinema. I approach writing from different angles; like classical music, like cinema, like architecture. But I don't know the rules of these things I just mentioned. I don't even know anything about classical music. I don't know anything about architecture. But thank god, I got to the point where I realised that you don't have to know a thing to do it well. You just have to keep trying. Before I digress: the interest in cinema came out of the need to express what I didn't have the opportunity to see while I was a kid. I grew up seeing only a TV box that showed really nothing but black and white images of people. But then, I realised I could breathe colour in those characters and make them come alive.
A lot of people have compared your book to Helen Oyeyemi's The Icarus. Even a reviewer in NEXT newspaper cited similarities, both in titles and storylines. But no suggestion of 'plagiarism' as in the case of Kaavya Viswanathan and most writers!
That's not a question. (Laughs) Comparison is good. I can't deny the fact that I read The Icarus Girl before I wrote The Abyssinian Boy. I can't. But what I wanted to do, was to 'remix' what Helen did in a very different language, that is humourous. I also looked at the fact that she was 19 when she wrote it, and thought I could play around with politics, sexuality and religion to show that a kid in Africa can actually talk about these things, without fear of being buckled down. Now, the NEXT reviewer has done a fine job, by suggesting that the storylines are same, but no one has done a good job by pointing out these 'similarities', which is where the issue of plagiarism doesn't come in. I'm a very conscious writer, although I won't budge if someone comes out and says there are strikingly exact sentences from The God of Small Things! I'm asking you to dare! (Laughs)
Do you believe in God?
It doesn't have anything to do with The Abyssinian Boy movie, does it? (Laughs) Well, the idea of a God is a good one. But the truth is that it doesn't bother me again. So, I think we should let the sleeping God lie!
Which religion would you prefer in a situation where you are forced to choose?
Well, I was a seminarian for six good years and lived a very good and exasperating life. Praying hours long. Burning candles in the night so I would wake up and not miss the mourning devotion. Gently, I was out of the seminary and travelled around for a while, going to native doctors in Oguta, asking questions. Later, I moved to India, where I slept in a Sikh temple the first night I arrived in the north of India. After the Sikh temple, I was in Bangladesh where I had things to do with Moslems and I have a lot of Kashmiri Moslem friends. Now, I've been doing Yoga and I've been told in Hinduism that you can still be a Hindu while an atheist. So, I think I will prefer Hinduism!
But anyone reading The Abyssinian Boy wouldn't know what stand you are taking as when it comes to religion - you bash all of them and also embrace them!
I'm a fiction writer. I don't force my opinions on people. I can be very aggressive and defensive about my idealogies when I'm not writing fiction. But as long as I'm out to tell stories, I gently talk about the small things in big ways, without forcing things down people's throats.
Professor Kanchana Ugbabe, an Indian woman and Head of Department, English Language, University of Jos has predicted somewhere that there's a Booker Prize winner in you? Does it mean your next novel will fulfil her 'prophecies?'
Trust me, I respect Professor Kanchana a lot and she has said this like three times. Honestly, I've been under pressure. I wish no one raises this issue again! But still, if the telepathic instincts (as I always joke with my editor) prove it right, then so be it! No be people dey win Booker?
So, what's next?
I'm still writing. I'm still travelling and growing fat. And I'm still waiting for Godot!