By Anote Ajeluorou
As NB/Farafina Trust Creative Writers Workshop increasingly looks pan-African, with two Kenyans at this year’s workshop, there’s hope that the continent’s writers will continue to enjoy support through needed training and direction. With Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brimming passion for mentoring young writers alongside her co-traveller and Kenya’s Binyivanga Wainana, indeed, many aspiring African writers need not look to Europe and America for the fillip necessary for honing their writing craft.
Evidence of this showed two Fridays ago in Lagos at NB/Farafina Literary Evening when the seventh edition of the yearly workshop was brought to a close at Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos. According to Adichie, “This is the highlight of my year. My dream is create a pan-African space to validate African writers”. She commended MD/CEO of Nigerian Breweries Plc Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde for being a reader of books, managing a company and being sensitive to the needs of writers. She also commended Wainana and described him as “a force of nature in African literature. I think he’s the best prose writer in Africa at the moment and his passion about African writing is unrivalled”.
She said up to 1000 entries were received for the workshop, but regretted that only 25 got selected. Adichie also gave assessment of this year’s workshop outcome and said, “Those selected have spectacular writing. In any case, writing workshops don’t teach you how to write, but they validate your writing. Other participants help to spur you to write; they make you believe you can write, whether you have good or bad reviews. I can tell you their writing has been absolutely fascinating. We need to own and tell African stories”.
Adichie urged parents to read as well so as to motivate their children. In fact, she said parents’ reading should go beyond religious tracts. She also asked students to read beyond their school textbooks. She lamented how little emphasis is given to literature, saying, “We diminish the importance of reading literature”.
Adichie spoke further about her impression of the talents at the workshop, noting, “I skipped the usual basic workshop notes because of the sense of confidence I saw in them. Their stories were valid. I loved to see female characters taking charge of their lives and dictating how they want to live their lives. This is a generation of African writers whose stories are valid”.
On whether she’d like her stories and books translated into Igbo, Adiche bemoaned how educational policies were skewed against African languages that tend to relegate them as against foreign ones. She charged, “Why are we not giving value to our African languages? How many people can read in Igbo? There’s political and emotional power that we give our local languages, but how many us speak those languages? Parents don’t teach their children their local languages any more”.
Wainana also gave his assessment of the workshop outcomes, and particularly praised the female writers at the workshop for their confidence in taking on otherwise taboo subjects. According to him, “We’ve been seeing very talented young writers. This is a generation of young women who are confident. Their political and feminist improvement and commitment was all-round. It’s a beautiful generation. The dominant issues at the workshop included gender, political change, sex and honesty. There has also been the difficulty of looking at ourselves and being able to say things the way they are. But it happened in this workshop. The diversity of experience in Africa is incredible!”
Adichie also corroborated Wainana on the issues that dominated, adding, “We talked about gender, sexuality and searing honesty; even the decision to write is a political power”.
On his part Vervelde promised longterm deal for the continent’s aspiring writers, as his company was ready to continue its role of interventions, discoveries and encouraging talented writers to be the best they could be, with the workshop facility. According to him, “As a socially responsible company, Nigerian Breweries remains committed to winning with Nigeria by championing causes that add value to the society. This has resulted in the execution of various projects and initiatives such as the building of classrooms and libraries in both primary and secondary schools across communities in Nigeria.
“We also executed the ‘Beyond the School Initiative’, a career counselling programme for senior secondary students in Lagos. In May 2015, we launched the ‘Maltina Teacher of the Year’ a new initiative aimed at recognizing and celebrating exceptional public secondary school teachers around the country.
“When Nigerian Breweries began this partnership with Farafina Trust to sponsor the Creative Writers Workshop seven years ago, this partnership was founded on our company’s desire to encourage the development of literary writing skills in Nigeria, as part of our strategic corporate initiative for talent development and youth empowerment in Nigeria. Since then, the Creative Writing Workshop has become a major item in our Corporate Social Responsibility calendar. Through this platform, driven by Chimamanda Adichie, Nigerian Breweries and Farafina Trust have helped to discover and nurture literary skills in Nigeria.
“I have no doubt that the Creative Writing Workshop has helped to fine-tune the skills of Nigerian writers as well as encourage potential writers to fulfill their desire for self-expression. I thank Chimamanda and her Farafina Trust team for their contributions to make many writers’ dreams come true”.