The Pen and The Sword is a Praxis series of conversations where Nigerian writers reflect on what it really means to be a writer and explore how writing and indeed, writers, can influence change in the country, especially in the midst of the many killings and abductions going on.
Ayodele Olofintuade begins by saying ‘The greatest influence any human being (writer or not) can wield, is the influence of living your truth. Someone once said and I repeat, “your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear your words.” No matter how many attempts you make to change these things, if you’re not living your words, your influence will wane, sooner or later. When your words don’t match your actions, it shows, even in your writing. A writer that creates art addressing tribal intolerance for example, who is in herself intolerant, will slip up in her narrative. Sexism shows through, there’s no hiding who you truly are when you’re writing.’ ‘How can writers influence change?’ she retorts, ‘By writing from a place of truth and working with their circle of influence to change notions, educate, entertain, but most importantly, write bloody good stories.’
Should the writer’s craft then be a complete reflection of the happenings in her environment? Ayodele Olofintuade explains that ‘The creative process in itself should be a reflection of who the writer is, her influences, her interaction with the environment in which she finds herself.’ ‘I must say this is not a hard and fast rule because creativity, by its nature is disruption, breaking of rules, innovation,’ she continues, ‘Creativity is making something out of nothing, something that goes against the grain, new, exciting. But it is also deliberate and political process, there’s just no escaping the politics of it all.’ She goes on to say she is unable to speak for all writers, ‘The honest truth is that I can’t really answer this question for writers as a body, or prescribe how a writer’s art should be crafted or presented. But looking at the works that have shaped my own writing, I’d say a strong yes, art should reflect the environment.’
She cites an important example with Yemisi Aribisala’s cookbook Longthroat Memoirs, ‘the book is also about events surrounding sourcing of the ingredients, the process of cooking and in a lot of cases, the eating of the prepared meal. By reading the book, one will also have a sense of her politics and get a sense of the kind of space the author was in while writing each essay contained in book. And by space, I mean both the mind and location.’ ‘Another example of a book that I consider a reflection of the author’s environment,’ she adds, ‘is Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus, the time and space, the politics of a family run along patriarchal lines. I’ve never been shy about making my politics clear in my writings, it’s the events in my environment that shaped me, not writing true to myself will either result into a half-hearted attempt or the aping of people I admire. The adequacy of my attempts can only be determined by my reading public. The best a writer can do is write her truth the best way she knows how to.’
Whether or not writers have to do much more than write, Ayodele Olofintuade says, ‘I really can’t address people’s expectations because I try not to burden others with mine. This is because there are times people expect too much of others, things they themselves are not willing to risk involving themselves in. An example that comes easily to mind concerning expectations is the feminist movement in Nigeria, which I’m heavily invested in. I’ve noticed that whenever feminists are advocating for a particular issue, particularly online, there are people who will come with suggestions of what they think feminists should be doing instead of the focus of their advocacy.’ She however agrees that, ‘Beyond just writing, there is a lot of room to do other things, particularly when you have a reading public,’ but not without cautioning that ‘writers should not, of a necessity, do anything they are not comfortable doing because of societal expectations.’
To throw light on what she does to bring out change in her immediate environment, Ayodele Olofintuade takes us back to her days as an early writer, ‘One of the problems I encountered in my early career as a writer is the fact that a lot of Nigerian children weren’t reading. Not because they didn’t want to, but they do not have access to books beyond textbooks, so I started Laipo Mobile Library, a project aimed at providing reading materials for children in both primary and secondary schools in Ibadan, with a focus on public schools and low-income private schools. We don’t only provide the books, we also interact with the children, we teach critical thinking and engage them on the Child Right’s Act as enshrined in the constitution. We also provide mentorship for girls in order to ensure they at least graduate from secondary school.’
Ayodele Olofintuade believes that education would go a long way in transforming the state of things in Nigeria, ‘The problems we are encountering as a nation presently, intolerance, terrorism and insecurity can be tackled through education, and I’m not talking about how the educational system is presently set up, education that comes from a place of self-knowledge and the kind of things that we as Nigerians want on the curriculum. Discarding a system of education left behind by the colonials, tailored towards grooming clerical officers and office assistants, and developing a system that will teach children to innovate, think outside of the box. Something that is totally and completely home-grown.’
Ayodele Olofintuade is an adventurer, writer and journalist. Her first, full length novel, Lakiriboto Chronicles: A brief History of Badly Behaved Women was published in October by Bookkbuilders Editions Africa. She’s written several short speculative fiction published by spec fic magazines. She has also published creative non-fiction, and investigative essays. She has published several children’s books (one of which was shortlisted for the NLNG prize for literature) and one Young Adult fiction. Ayodele is Queer and feminist. She lives in Ibadan with her sons and cats.