Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Of trusty old-timer-writers, Celebrities reading Africa and the question of writers camaraderie
His abode was Spartan, though not overly so. The low, old styled chairs – some wood, others possibly wrought Iron – and the ancient shelves teeming with sheets of paper, made it needless for me to wait to see him scribble – something he did intermittently throughout the hour I spent with him – before identifying him to be scholar.
He was old, possibly way into his 60’s or early 70’s, but his voice still retained a solid timbre that I wondered at but fully understood when he smiled boldly at my proud “I am a writer” retort to his question about my vocation.
“Aha!” He had happily exclaimed, “A colleague of the pen, I should have known you from your inquiring eyes, not to mention that jotter you are grasping and the pen poking out of your shirt pocket.”
I smiled back at him, holding his still very sharp eyes that brimmed with not just intelligence but also a knowledge fountain that I would not mind drinking from. “You write sir?” I asked foolishly, for want of something better to say in the face of an enigma.
Understandably, he screwed up his face at my awe. “Yes I do, was with Daily Times in its hay day, still dabble as you can see.” He held up a sheet of paper on the table, turning both sides to show it was covered with scribbling, “Yes, I still dabble, you know how it is, once a writer always a writer.”
I nodded my head, agreeing while praying silently he does not ask me to demonstrate my meagre skill. He didn’t. He turned, still smiling, to the lady that accompanied us to see him. No problem, he said, a writer, I can trust.
Simple words, yet they touched me deeply, enough that I felt the beginning of a tear. Here was a man still holding fast to a camaraderie I am only beginning to understand. Just like an old soldier warming to a young serviceman, this old timer was willing to overlook every other aspect of my person because of a shared passion.
We had actually gone to view a vacant room in an ancient storey building somewhere in Surulere. The agent had informed us after we agreed to other terms – exploitative, as usual – that the only remaining hurdle was the owner, renowned for his selectiveness. We were given a 50-50 chance of getting the room, even with the help – paid– of a woman said to be his favourite tenant.
Now, there was I, to the surprise of every one, with barely a few words, receiving the old timers good will and declaration of trust.
Anyway, we left the old man to his Spartan home and lifestyle a few minutes later, but not after I had agreed to return often (the room was for a friend) and talk about the “art” with him. His handshake, when he bid me goodbye, was surprising firm and warm. I am sure you know we got the room, so no need to dwell on that.
My tale about the old timer is digressive. I was actually on my way to a HIV and AIDS themed edition of my recently found craving, the Celebrity Read Africa project and only branched to Sulurere at the behest of a house-seeking friend, who was counting on using my persuasive skills, as she calls it, to her advantage in the house negotiations.
As I once again resumed my journey to the Island, I pondered my encounter with the old journalist, I wondered if we, the writers of today, have not lost that sense of belonging readily seen in our fore runners.
It was not the first time I have had cause to ponder on the issue. I also had cause to do so while sitting as part of a panel discussing futuristic writing at the recently held Lagos Book Fair. I had looked down on the audience, made up mostly of writers in their twilight years, from the national theatre stage and wondered if we have not actually demarked ourselves into age grades. I mean, why is it that at certain literary events young writer abound, while in others, the old timers hold sway? Are we, young writers, not losing too much by this lack of interaction? Are they, the old timers, by not associating with the young writers, not leaving life changing stories untold?
It would be rascally of me not to excuse the elder writers here, because in our society the young seek out the old not the other way round. If we, young writers, do not seriously seek out and pay the necessary homage to our forerunners, learn from their experience and tell the stories they could not finish, we are doomed to get serious knocks from posterity.
Meanwhile, I arrived late to the event I was headed to, on account of my ‘branching’. I entered the Terra Kulture library just as Tosin Jegede was rounding off her reading. Looking around quickly, I could see that most of the headlined celebrities showed face, a great improvement from previous events. I think the organisers have finally found their mojo and are using it right.
It was about 4:30 pm and the event was already in top gear, no sign African timing, the usual suspect – aside from me sha, but I have already explained myself.
A brief look to the front of the room showed Essence, Modele – of the Makeba style headgear, Chude Jideonwo and Myne Witheman – who I was looking forward to meeting (doesn’t her colour become her?) – completing the headliners list. Missing in action were Tosyn Bucknor, Segun Odegami and Tosin Otitoju.
The sight of school kids in their colourful uniforms sitting prominently in the packed hall was heart warming. Finally, the core ideal of Celebrity Read Africa was being met, I thought as I sought for an elusive seat to rest my sweaty frame on.
After some serious looking, with help from a friendly usher, I spotted an empty seat and made my way towards it. I was just settling down when I noticed Nze Efedigbo, a fellow writer, seated two rows in front of me, finally, a known face in a sea of faces. A brief look around revealed several other known faces – people I had met at previous literary events and others, not so well known to me, but possessing faces I had come across online in writers' circles. Suddenly it dawned on me that by virtue of my inclination, if not talent, I have come to know those who are arguably the future of Nigerian literature, only not well enough to do more than smile when our paths cross. There and then, I made up my mind to fight against my shy nature which usually keeps me from going over to introduce myself to people I have had cause to exchange ideas with online. I will, I decided, greet as many people as I can today.
My decision played out well, as I easily shrugged away my habitual shyness around strangers and moved around the room like someone on a mission greeting those whose paths has crossed mine before and the odd stranger, but that was after the event closed.
Before then Chude read a Tolu Ogunlesi short story that was consistent with the day’s theme of HIV/AIDS. After him came Christine, winner of Nokia first chance reality show, who I have heard a lot about but yet to hear sing. The beautifully petit lady did more than sing, she spoke eloquently about the personal experience of her friend who was infected with HIV by her fiancé. It was so touching how she told of the fiancé committing suicide out of regret, while the lady in question later died, but not from HIV. She, for me, brought the message home, after which she went on to sing so sweetly. I for one will buy her album the very day it drops, even if she toes Tuface’s 1500 Naira per copy line.
However, Christine’s performance brings me to the question of Nigerians and acquired accents that have no regional base, but that will be talk for another day. For now, she can sing for me any day, no leles.
Chiedu Efeozu, whose reading I have not heard for a long time, delivered another of his usually well thought out poems right after Christine. Then another musician, Jodie, of the West African Idols fame gifted the gathering a soul stirring song “up above my head” that got most people nodding along.
Finally a young poet, Noble, wrapped up the days performance with a poem about the state of Nigeria and the way forward. Like I said before, I got to the event very late and as such missed most of the readings.
Unlike the last edition, I did not feel the pulse of the interactive session that followed, though a witty and sound minded Essence did much to liven it up, while inputs by Myne Whiteman, Modele, Chude, Tosin Jegede and members of the audience were quite interesting. Me I was already beat, and a little pissed at the young ladies serving energy drinks for missing my row.
High point for me was meeting Myne Whiteman and getting her to sign a copy of her book for me, was sad though as I didn’t get to ask her how it feels to be a published writer and getting the recognition she has obviously worked for. Still, I did what I promised myself to do, mix with fellow writers.
It was quite early, but my phone kept ringing, another busy bodied friend wanted me to grace another of our blue moon dates. I left the venue like always, on a boxer motorcycle, grateful for the old-timer that gave me further reasons to remain on this path. Yes, a writer I can trust.