NIGERIAN WRITING – the ghost that thinks he is alive
At the rate we are going in this ‘gi-ANT of Africa’ country, we will soon be left with nothing but the ghost of our once flourishing and glorious publishing industry. It is terrible.
As a matter of fact, if we try to make a list of successful Nigerian writers, in all three genres, we find mainly two types of names – those in the days long gone like Soyinka, Clark and Achebe or those ‘adopted’ by the West like Chimamanda and co. The local ones like Abubakar Adam and Tade Ipadeola got there on ‘Famished roads’ and have not made fortunes from their success as have the Achebes and Chimamandas. The rest of us are hopefuls, struggling with money for publishing and market for selling.
So what we have now is a situation of ‘take the bull by the horns’ of face the consequential music. What is the way out?
As a writer, poetry promoter and publisher rolled into one, I think I may have a little knowledge about the problem, maybe enough knowledge to say that:
- Saving Nigerian literature (especially poetry) is not a thing of rhetoric or politicized associations.
- Saving writing and building a thriving literature industry is not a thing to be left for publishers. Individual writers and governments have a major role to play.
- Saving our culture can be achieved by saving literature, but it is not a million dollar project – it is a giant task than can be achieved through baby steps.
There are five main problems that we need to deal with as quickly as possible:
- The cost of publishing materials, paper especially, is too high! The government can help here by giving tax cuts/holidays to paper importers (or specifically to those importing for the literary industry). If Nollywood can get a subsidy, why not publishers?
- The existing distribution and marketing set-up is next to useless. We need a new distribution arrangement that boycotts, as much as possible, the moribund bookshops, or the bookshops have to rethink their strategies. Informal arrangements can be contrived too.
- The media give no damn about the publishing industry, especially homegrown writers who are yet to catch the eye of the West. Only a few have pages and airtime for such ‘nonsense’ and even then it’s limited to one day of the week or as short fillers. Metro FM Lagos is doing a good job, same with Punch and Daily Trust, I think.
- The foreign prizes have taken over the rewarding and classing of our writers. I feel the over dependency and respect for international awards has taken the shine off local initiatives that have the potential to be more impactful on the local peoples. Each year we wait for the Caines and give less attention to little programs like the War of Words or Eriata Oribhabor poetry prize. Yes, the prize money may be little compared to the Western awards. But the local impact is undeniable. I think one needs to be flogged by the ‘cane prize’ to be cured of ‘literary-obscurity-mania.’
- The writers we have are too complacent and LAZY. We have a crop of upcoming writers that are to an extent lazy in the sense that they are looking for the easy way out. First they want to be published and marketed free, then they want to win awards, especially the ones with big money, by force. They want to be like the big writers who have a quiver full of awards but will not put up the hard work on all fronts, especially with respect to the quality of their writing and their engagement with the people who will be their eventual markets. Look at Elnathan John as an example. He has been named on the big prizes a number of times and everyone knows he is damn good, because of his fantastic writings. On social media, he is a king too…without the ‘Cane’.
In conclusion, we all, Nigerian writers especially, must realize that we are in a changing society, that the MacMillans and Penguins, Pacesetters and co have gone and what we have left are a few little companies like Parresia, WRR and co, who are limited in resources and struggling to make do with the ragged remains of the industry. If your aim is to be a good writer, you must pick up your cross and first work on the quality of your output and be ready to be involved in the marketing of same. Nigerian based writers can learn from people like Tolu Akinyemi who used Instagram to create a market for his book ‘Your Father Walks Like A Crab’.
We all need to put in little efforts to move the mountain. It is not a thing of faith. It is a thing of work!