Hello, and welcome back to writing Wednesday. Where I have another interview from Chima Ugokwe, who comes from Nigeria. I know these are tough times right now, but I feel we can all use the distraction right now. So, please join me in learning about this Author life and works to come. Link to his Amazon page is below.
- Please introduce yourself before we begin: I am more a novelist than a poet, language ambassador, essayist, translator, linguistic, cultural entrepreneur, and actor. I have been into these over the years. I was also a teacher. A literary magazine here in Africa described me as one of the most awarded authors in Africa below 40. I am a Nigerian with a couple of writing experiences and over 36 awards to my credit, a Commonwealth and Ebedi Fellow.
- Every writer has an origin story to tell, what’s yours? I was raised in a village in East Nigeria. Learning was a habit to me. Self-development was the key. I started young. There was in me the desire to write something, to tell a story and I know how to tell my stories. Mom was very helpful. She was a good listener. She called me a writer before I became one because I remembered writing that she is a beauty and hard work parked in a frame and gifted to my father. It was her happiness. No one had told her that. I wrote on other things as well. A lot of refuse, as I called these stories could not make it to the real world. They appear best whenever I start putting them up. In time they fade in my very eyes. Many died and was buried in refuse bins as I was my own judge. I told myself, you can never be a writer. This is the situation: Chima conceived and all of a sudden hate his story and aborts them. I knew no one who can give me a little push, encourage me in action and back this inborn desire to write. Few years after high school, I got rejections as well. They were the worst notes that hit me like a tsunami. But because I must write, I wrote and became the reader of my works. Over the years, I attended writing classes, residencies, and workshops in and outside Nigeria. I met with other writers and taught writing classes. My greatest achievements are my awards. I have lost count. In the last few years, I stopped submitting work for competitions. I now judge works. There is time for everything. I can’t continue to struggle for a place with writers anymore. At a point, I will make myself look greedy and more unpopular. I have had enough. 36 awards are just much. But am happy and fulfilled. Despite all these, I am unpopular and that is because I’ve played awkward. I don’t like to be seen and be pointed at as a writer. In one of my outing in Johannesburg, a group of University students after hearing me introduced wanted me to sign on their laps, I was embarrassed. How could I? ‘Awkward’ I felt. Raised in a pure Jehovah’s Witness home and our values questions that, how could I? Well, those are part of it. You have to sell your self to be well priced. Awkward. I felt. But age is changing so many things about me. At other times, some, especially off the shores of this country, would ask, why are you so unpopular after writing this long and well. I sometimes do not have answers.
- What was the first story, poem or novel you ever worked on? I was fortunate to have a work ‘Folded into Silence’ won an award. It was the first work from me that captured national and global attention. The first line of the note from Mr. Cally was ‘Congratulations’. I could read it over and over. That was the first time I cried to myself and I knew why. Finally, someone read my work and praised me for it and gave me an award. The story was a drama which was later drafted into prose and poem. It was on Female Genital Mutilation. (FGM).
- What’s the hardest thing about writing? Finishing a story with the thought and zeal you started. Sometimes you strongly feel about your readers. How would they feel? What happens when I write again and want them to read? Will this work paint me fine or not? When you don’t have good answers to these questions, you can just squeeze the papers and throw them away.
- What Genres do you write in and do you have a favorite? I have written in all genres. But I am not a poet. I am not a dramatist as well. That is no humility. I accept my limitations. Though I have won a couple of international awards on them, but I flow when I write prose. Every human knows where he excels. Any day, any time, I am in love with prose. It is the only genre that tells me the truth about myself. Poetry is short and when I write one, I don’t see myself as a writer. As for drama, it has so much of it that I don’t like. Yet, curiosity made me write and got awarded on them all.
- Why do you write? Everything around me is a story, especially being a West African, a Nigerian and a South Easterner. I am an Igbo by tribe. We have a rich cultural heritage, values, interests – anyone, any day will like to have and read our stories. One of my works ‘Drumbeats of the Gods’ shocked me with so many questions about the Igbo’s. I received over 500 questions from readers, who marveled at our rich heritage as a tribe. I was afraid somehow, that I sold my background too raw. At a point, I was impressed. That makes a writer. Let people question motivations. Our story prides in Africa and no one reads our story without asking for more. As an Igbo, I write because I want people to know who we are and I achieved that through writing. Translators beg to have my works translated and read in their languages. Presently, I have my works in Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Pidgin West Africa, Igbo, English language and one other.
- Favorite author and/or book series? I love Cyprian Ekwensi. He was a man I loved the moment I met him, though late, he was almost forgotten by my tribe, but he was the voice you would like to read and hear any day. I have been asked why the love for a man almost forgotten by his tribe, and I said because I live low and I love anyone who lives as such.
- Okay, the tough question here. It’s no secret that Mental health is important for writers. Seeing that I want to be more of an advocate for it, is there any advice you like to give to people to keep fighting, whether you’re dealing with it personally or know someone that is? I have no problem commenting on this. Like any other practicing artist, we have our way. When we exaggerate our call to lend our voices, and your dimension lacks merit, it calls for questioning. Artists are normal people, but they can choose to be abnormal. It is a choice, but mental health and stability are not optional. It is what every artist can consistently and constantly work on. If by chance though one struggles with this, the situation calls for isolation. I make no mistake in the presentation. Treat the situation first and let it be called by its name. One should not stay in the writers’ umbrella and associate his state of mind with it. After all, a lot of mentally unstable people are out there who are not writers.
- Before we leave is there anything you’re working on now or anything you have released? Yes, I presently live in Northern Nigeria. I have had questions about lives, values, cultures, and education here that calls for change. Street begging, early marriage, child right, child soldier, etc. I am working on a novel titled: ‘Where the Darkness Meets Us’. I have a few other works; I have been on it the last few years. I trust it will make a public appeal when am done with it.
- Finally, anything you want to say to new writers/artists? I saw my nephew struggle with her pen wanting to write. I can understand her effort. Others joined her. They want to claim a family of writers. But I love that. I started young and I know how it feels to manage habits, desire, and urge. It is their time. The only surviving writers we have living are born and not made. If they are born writers, time will tell. To every young writer, write because writers never die. Your voice as a writer lives on at physical death. And everyone today is a writer. If you don’t have anything to write, write about yourself, your mistakes, your kindness, and reciprocity. Write about things that impress you. I understand many young ones are doing that. I tell them, don’t only write about others, write the little you know about yourself, write. Write. Write. But I also add, don’t rush at it. Get training. Get experience. Get more involve.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen. Right now, I don’t have much to say in these tough times, but to tell you all to be safe. If Chima Ugokwe caught your attention you go to his amazon link here, and you can learn more about his life here. Thank you for joining us and remember. Write, read, or do whatever it is your doing, and enjoy doing it.
“How the city attracts all types and how the unwary must suffer from ignorance of it’s ways.”