Teachers i had heard were very special creatures. I once had a teacher that changed my life. Her name is Amanda King. She would eventually teach me to embrace my insecurities and become friends with the voices in my head. “It's all artistic license Wana” she would say to me. “It’s about how well and cleverly you use it”, She was right but most importantly she taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin because life in itself was a work in progress.
This would repeat itself again in an artistic medium i was still getting conversant with and so was on shaky ground. I was never one of those writers who had been publishing stories since i was a child. Or one of those involved in teenage writing competitions. Frankly my mother doesn’t actually know that i write.
I never really read as much as i would have liked to because somehow, it took me longer than the average person to finish reading a book. I even found out after a visit to the learning resource centre during my first year at University that i was dyslexic. Writing for me developed by sheer chance, it was more cathartic than anything else. I recently got the opportunity to be a part of the twenty people selected for the Farafina Trust Creative Writers Workshop, and there i met a new set of teachers that would again cause another shift in my creative paradigm.
It's very rare that i write on demand except it has been commissioned or is being paid for. At the workshop we read and analysed short stories from Juno Diaz, Julian Barnes, Cheever to even John Updike. We did short writing exercises from love scenes to abortion stories and personal essays. It was all about imploring the tools of fiction. Being able to carry your reader along with you, giving them a sense of place, creating a hunger to understand more, letting them travel with you and giving them the opportunity to figure things out without spoon feeding or undermining the their intelligence. Chimamanda Adichie was generous. It’s not very often that you see that.With her time,with her experience, with her emotions,with her insecurities, with her truths, with her knowledge,her humour,and even with her spirit
Chika Unigwe was the same but she also was interested in learning from us too. Taking permission to borrow some of our thoughts and writing it in her little note pad. She observed our write ups intricately annotating lightly with her pencil. With her we learnt about the believability of the story and the importance of research in being able to tell our tales skilfully and honestly even though it isn’t a world we are so acquainted with.
Niq Mhlongo was all about the Plot in story telling. Where the story was going and identifying the emotions in those crucial moments which he termed “what is at stake”. Then there was Binyavanga Wainaina AKA “The Binj”. Anarchic, Revolutionary, Brutal , Sarcastic, Acerbic and most of all truthful. Faith Aneadi was almost like a character in a book brought to life. From sharing her year long experience as a Buddhist Nun living in the Thai jungle to tracing her African-Nordic heritage and becoming the subject of a PBS documentary.
Then there were my other teachers, who were like me, a bit green to the world of writing, insecure, searching for their voice, roaming for validation, fine tuning their technique and most of all hoping for an authentication of their gift. The exchange of stories from styles, to voices and technique became an artistic voyage in its own strange way. Kesiena told tales like an old man with a very interesting kind of wisdom. Biodun Adebiyi, always exuding melancholy and nostalgia with her words, evoking the resounding mushy noises from the members of the workshop as though they had watched an infant do something overly cute and intelligent. Ifesinachi Okoli, a personal envy of mine due to her immaculate skill to conjure images for the reader with detail in her work. From textures, sounds and tones in rhythmic parallels to the complex emotions and moods to her stories. There were Umaisha and Ajanah with their grand themes to the new romantics like Bem Iordahh and Ifeanyi Dibia. Then, of course our foreign resident Novuyo Tshuma. Now she was indeed a writer, rhythmic, punchy, dexterous and exciting. The workshop was like its own universe with diverse energies. This artistic voyage was imitating something close to a spiritual odyssey and just like when Faith talked about attaining the ultimate high during meditation i definitely reached my climax. I discovered that my whole being was a well of untold stories waiting to be immortalised on paper. I learned that sometimes the joys in fiction, lay in the little moments, the tender inflections, the idiosyncrasies of the characters and where the most banal things become that little bit extra-ordinary. And for the first time, i cherished every single experience that life had thrown at me. Teachers like these are special creatures and the only way i can show my gratitude is to keep writing.
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