The Farafina Trust Creative Writing workshop, facilitated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was held last month. Praxis spoke to some of the participants and they will be sharing their experiences with us beginning with Miracle Adebayo. Enjoy!
I arrive Lagos late, sweaty and not-so-fresh-looking. The rowdiness of Lagos is a total contrast to the city of Ilorin that wears serenity like a colourful coat.
Walking into my room at the hotel, I am tempted to collapse in bed and just absorb the freshness and beauty before me. I mean, it is not every day one comes home to a well-made bed with crisp white sheets.
I resist the urge and rush downstairs for my first class.
When I enter, I hold my head high, even though I am quivering inside. I hate being late to anything, especially a class.
I find a seat beside the Queen herself, much to my dismay.
Five minutes later, I have gathered my wits. I take stock.
There are twenty-two other people in the room, besides Chimamanda and Eghosa Imasuen. Twenty-two people, who — I did not know at the time — would become important to me in many ways.
I steal glances at the Queen.
She is beautiful. She is beautiful in a pure, unadulterated and simple way. She doesn’t have so much make-up on so you can tell that she has that kind of beauty where she’d look good in rags.
Chimamanda has a wry sense of humour. Translation: she loves sarcasm. This is the first connection I have with her. I am a fan of sarcasm and so hearing/seeing her dole out sarcasm in juicy bits, gives me a certain satisfaction.
The truth is, I came prepared to hate her guts. I had formed an opinion of her based on others’ opinions of her. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a prison. It is better to defer forming opinions about people we know nothing of until we have an idea what they have been through, their ideals and what informs their beliefs.
When you form an opinion of someone you have not encountered personally, you create a prison in your mind.
So yes, this is me admitting my myopia.
She is not a – how do I say this? – bitch. She is nothing like any of us expected. She is simply human.
Over the next couple of days, I learn more than a few things. Chimamanda is not the kind of teacher that forces things in your face. She helps us learn by asking us questions that get us thinking.
Her classes are full of laughter, drama and sarcasm: a very delicious combination.
We are given assignments every day. Sometimes, we round off classes by 8pm and still have assignments to deliver by 11am the next day.
Sometimes we stay up at night brainstorming, trying to come up with the best story.
We complain; sometimes we wail. More than enough times we say ‘I don’t know what to write!’ or ‘I’m too tired to think.’
Then the next day, we produce our non-stories and amaze the class and even ourselves because, as usual, self-doubt and creativity go hand-in-hand.
Always write from the standpoint of a flawed person. A story must have heart. Readers can sense when a character is not believable and when their emotions are being manipulated. She says.
She makes us laugh. She has a great laugh. I cannot forget the way one side of her mouth curls up and mischief glints in her eyes as she opens her mouth to speak. I cannot forget how, in little ways, she validates our art.
Aslak Sira-Myhre, our Norwegian teacher, introduced to us as a big boy in Norway, is very interesting. He has shoulder-length blond hair that glistens when wet. He is cute in the Jesus kind of way. His gold band glinting on his left hand doesn’t stop us having crushes on him. I find his blush when he confuses compromise for comprise very endearing. His honesty about his art is charming.
I used to write like I speak. My editor told me to rewrite my manuscript. It. Was. That. Bad. He says.
He talks about writing non-fiction using the tools of fiction.
Normal is good enough, he says. If you wait for a perfect first-line, you’d never get to write the whole story.
When he has to return to Norway, we mean it when we say we will miss him and the gentle spirit he brings with him.
When I think of Binya, I think of sizzling tomato stew and hot-blooded passion. He is a contrast to Aslak in many ways.
Where Aslak teaches with a sea-like tranquillity; Binya is like a fiery furnace – quick and powerful. His ability to notice a good story is one of the many reasons we like him.
One cannot help but beam in pleasure when Binya compliments a story. Just as one cannot help but worry when he says in all brutal honesty:
I don’t like it. It’s not believable.
He is the only facilitator who has us do rewrites of stories he feels could be better. It reminds me of secondary school, where we had to do corrections of our assignments.
I cannot speak of Eghosa without thinking of laughter, pidgin and oversabi. One would think he isn’t so deep, until he edits a story – with plausible points – right before your eyes. And then you stop wondering how he studied medicine, because he obviously is smart.
DEPARTURE AND LESSONS
Three days to the end of the workshop, sadness begins to hang in the atmosphere like a dirty rag. A part of me wants to withdraw, to lick the wounds of my hurting heart in private. But I cannot.
I cannot say no to the invitation to a game of charades or to a trip to the Karaoke bar.
I cannot say no to the laughter we share together, to our inside jokes, to the teasing over breakfast, lunch and a game of cards.
I cannot say no, because I have come to love these people as my own. So, even though I know that in a couple of days, I would no longer sit beside Umar and Bimbo and opposite Ife and Akin, even though I know I would not listen to the sound of Monye’s voice as she talks about going to the city, nor trade winks with Aisha in class; even though I know all these, I resolve to not think about it. I would rather make the most of the few days left.
I ignore the questions that try to sneak into my mind (the devil is a liar): What happens now? How do we go back to our lives before the workshop and not feel like something is missing?
Did the workshop teach me how to write? No.
Some of the profound lessons are not in the things taught but in the things you pick up along the way.
I have learned how to read like a writer.
I have learned that we all have stories. That we, who write, have demons we want to exorcise. That we all have one fear: what if we woke up one day and could write no more?
I have learned that there is no perfect writer; that there is no best way to write. That none of us is a better writer than the other, that we are just different in style and technique.
I have learned that there is such a thing as kindred spirit. That you can know someone for just a few days and feel like you’ve known them all your life.
Finally, I have learned that you can fall in love with your craft all over again.