Nnedinma Jane Kalu is one of the three Nigerian shortlisted writers for the 2015 Writivism Short Story prize. She shares with Praxis Magazine her life as a writer, beautiful moments at the Writivism festival and the tale behind her boy cut.
You were a participant in the 2014 Writivism Workshop Programme and an Alumni of the 2014 Farafina Creative Writing workshop. In what ways have you benefited from these?
I went to Writivism a novice prose writer. In fact, even though I had ‘scribbled’ stories before then, I think my entry for the Writivism workshop was the first well-articulated piece of prose I had ever written. The 2014 workshop was held in just one day, but in that short time I learned some of the mechanics of writing that gave me a head start. The two-month mentorship programme after the workshop was also wonderful, I had a very patient and smart teacher in Barbara Mhangami. She has been awesome.
The Farafina Creative Writing Workshop for me was an emotional experience. It was brutal having your work critiqued right in your presence and not being able to defend it because you had to remain quiet. In the end it was good brutal, the experience gave me the push I needed to come out of hiding and be bold about my work.
What does writing mean to you?
Writing is everything to me. It is my voice.
In Nigeria where literature and arts in general suffer so many setbacks, how do you manage to keep up with writing and what do you find most challenging?
The most challenging is introducing yourself as a writer and having people look at you with ‘sorry eyes’. I see some of the people who knew me from before peer at me as though they’re searching for “what went wrong”. It’s disheartening.
Another challenge for me is our electricity situation in Nigeria. Sometimes I wake up in the night with a burning story only to find out there’s no light and I can’t work.
What other kind of writing do you do?
I’m also a scriptwriter.
Since the adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, there has been the discussion about the need to adapt more African novels into films. As a scriptwriter, how do you think this contributes to the growth of African literature?
Since Half of a Yellow Sun, the movie was released, I’ve given out my Half of a Yellow Sun novel to about ten friends who would not touch a book that wasn’t motivational or life-building, et c. They had watched the movie but heard that the book was more detailed and got interested in reading it. For me, this is a huge step to getting people back to reading. Adaptation of African novels into movies would perhaps get non-readers to appreciate us as storytellers not just the movie makers. It might just improve the readership of African novels.
You were among the shortlisted writers for 2015 Writivism Short Story prize. Would you say your participation in the Writivism Workshop Program last year made this more plausible?
Plausible in the sense that it taught me the things that contributed to my becoming a better writer? Definitely.
Your short story, Social Studies, tells the story of a family torn apart by the sudden disappearance of a father who was meant to be the head. What inspired this story?
I never met my biological father. He died when I was a baby. Some of the emotions I felt as a child were brought into the story.
How does it feel to have it in the Writivism prize shortlist, and what does this win mean to you?
I was shocked when I got the mail that I had been longlisted, I didn’t even think I’d be shortlisted. But then I was, and I almost passed out (laughs). To have been shortlisted is encouraging. It gives value to all the time I’ve spent in front of my computer convinced I was fooling myself.
Do you have any regrets over not winning the Writivism Short Story prize?
If I had to do it all over again and still not win, I would. The experience has thrown light on my path.
Can you briefly recount to us your most enjoyable moment at the just concluded Writivism Literary Festival?
Wow, that’s hard because almost every moment was enjoyable; the classes, panel discussions, hanging out with the writers. But if I have to pick, it would be watching Donald Molosi’s one-man play – Today It’s Me. It was emotionally intense and educating. I choose it because I had never seen a one-man play, in fact I didn’t know it was possible. As a scriptwriter, I did learn a lot from that experience.
One thing you have learnt from the Writivism experience.
That anything is possible.
So what is next after Writivism? Are you embarking on any project? A book?
For now, to write more stories.
I like your boy cut. Is that your own way of ascertaining the notion of the more natural the hair, the better recognized the writer? Ha ha.
It had absolutely nothing to do with writers and natural hair and all of that. In fact, It was people’s comments later that even made me realize that the new look might be linked to my being a writer.
At first, I cut my hair because I had front-line hair loss and wanted to grow my hair all over. Unfortunately, when the barber finished, I hated it and wanted my hair back (laughs). You have to understand, before then, I had never put a scissors in my hair. I love my hair, I love hair, I am that lady that spent a lot on weaves. That day my father (adoptive father) asked a million times if I was sure I wanted to do it before he took me to his barber because he was afraid of the after. Ha ha! Anyway, I got home from the barber’s, poured water on what was left of my hair and couldn’t believe how pleasurable it felt. God! I came out of the bathroom, looked in the mirror and decided I didn’t look bad at all. I’ve kept the look since then, I mean I get to pour water on my hair every day!
Thank you, Nnedinma! 🙂