The ten-day Farafina Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by renowned Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ended yesterday with a public literary evening organized by Nigerian Breweries. In streams, people trooped into Oriental Hotel, Lagos; venue of the prestigious event, and amidst hugs and laughter, feasted on small chops and glasses of drinks backstage where old friendships were rekindled and new ones sprung. An usher, wearing a delectable orange ankara dress, high heel sandals and a smile, walked to where my friends and I stood, and reminded us that we’d had enough to eat and drink as the event was about to begin. She gestured us to the hall and we followed.
Nigerian poet, Efe Paul Azino, opened the event with a poem. He was followed by the Nigerian Breweries director who gave a speech about the company’s association with the arts and writing in Nigeria. Next was a terrific performance blending dance and art and violin; and producing, at the end, a pleasant painting of Adichie. The audience cheered at the magical sight, while the anchors proceeded to take over the stage. They did a fairly poor job at sustaining the excitement. We had just seen something spectacular, but with the anchors speaking, many chose the time to use the rest rooms. A lady sitting close to me grumbled to herself, ‘it’d be better if the woman stopped talking,’ referring to the female anchor. But Adichie saved the day. She came on stage in a high-low red dress, radiating power and poise. Her hair was packed in two sections and folding up to the side of her forehead, like a crown. She glowed with a certain pride: the same one a mother wears on her child’s graduation ceremony.
‘Thank you so much,’ she said, with a smile that captured the hall. She went on to talk about how easier it was organising the workshop, with the assistance of ‘friends’ like Binyavanga Wainaina and Eghosa Imasuen. A creative writing workshop may not teach you how to write, ‘what it can do is teach you how to edit your work and read as a writer,’ she said while enumerating the benefits of a writing workshop. There were over 2000 entries and one wonders how all of those were cut down to the 22 selected participants. ‘Eghosa read all entries this year and sent me the best 100 stories,’ she explained. People always say talent is not enough and Adichie agreed: ‘I am not only looking for talent, I am looking for heart, emotional truth.’ She admitted it was a difficult task selecting the participants from a pool of 100 good stories. ‘I learned very much from leading the workshop,’ she concluded.
A friend said to me, ‘Adichie is doing a great job with these workshops.’ I couldn’t agree less, watching as the participants, mostly young people, walked cheerfully to the stage to receive their certificates, with Adichie validating their art before everyone, saying, ‘hey, look at her, she’s not only a writer, but a brilliant one!’ Not in those exact words, of course, but nothing spurs the young writer like a few words of commendation and when they are coming from a literary authority as Adichie, the young writer suddenly grows wings and flies.
The not-so-loved anchors returned to the stage and the grumbling lady lost the smile on her face. Adichie and Eghosa Imasuen did a small talk on writing and entertained a few questions. After the vote of thanks, my friends and I retired to the backstage for pictures — and more drinks. On our way out, one of them said to me, ‘Jennifer, you’d do great as an anchor.’ I mulled over that for some seconds, flashes of the past minutes coming back to me. ‘I think so,’ I replied, nodding slowly, but what I really want is to be in the workshop next year.