Ikhide Ikheloa (or Pa Ikhide as he is popularly known) is a reader who writes. A big name in the Nigerian online literary scene, his views on African writings have caused so many controversies. Other than the critic he is often called, Ikhide sees himself as a father, a fighter and a lover. He was a guest at the just concluded 2015 Writivism Literary Festival and in this interview, he speaks of Writivism, writing and the evolution of the sobriquet, Pa Ikhide.
Can you tell us how you began your journey in African literature? What books have made you?
Since childhood, I have loved reading and writing, I have always been enthralled by stories. Stories are powerful; they define people and societies in positive and crippling ways. My generation of children feasted on books, we were raised literally by the African writers of Chinua Achebe’s generation. I don’t know of any single book that made me, I am the sum of all my experiences. I can honestly say though that Chinua Achebe is the single most important thinker that has influenced my life besides my father. You would not be talking to me today if I had not been exposed to his ideas. And let me share one open secret about me: Wherever I am, there is always a copy of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart nearby. It is like my bible.
Nigeria’s online literary space is hardly discussed without your name being mentioned. How did you become this known?
It is a great question; please ask African writers why I live rent-free in their heads. I was just at Writivism in Kampala and every writer under the Ugandan skies seemed to know me; total strangers would walk up to me and exclaim, “Pa! Why are you like this?” I am not that old, SMH. I think that my allegedly strong views are deemed controversial and have earned me a measure of undeserved notoriety. *shrugs*
I do not shy away from having conversations about literature. I have always paid close attention to the politics and trajectory of literature as it affects the African continent. This I have done through literary reviews and essays on my blog. These views, I suspect, outside of my great looks, have earned me attention. Let’s just say I am happy to be here.
You were one of the guests at the just concluded 2015 Writivism Literary Festival held in Kampala. We would love to know what the Kampala experience was like for you.
Writivism 2015 was an amazing experience for me. I cannot thank the organizers enough, especially Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire for inviting me to the conference. This was truly a conference of young writers by young writers, taking charge of their literary destiny. I met so many people, learnt a lot and came to appreciate even more the contributions of this generation of writers to the sum total of our stories. It wasn’t a perfect conference, but it all added to the charm of the conference, things felt authentic and I was sorry to go back home to the United States. I am concerned that there is a tendency to write off the conference because of its challenges. It was an incredibly important conference. I was pleased to see the journal Transitions represented at the conference. It is impossible to talk about African literature without mentioning the role of Transitions in supporting Achebe’s generation of writers. I loved the broad array of subject matter discussed at the conference. To watch Donald Molosi enact his off Broadway play based on the Ugandan musician Philly Lutaaya who died of complications from AIDS was powerful beyond the telling of it. I would love to see more partnerships and collaboration that brings the past into the present and helps move us into the future. Our young writers are doing their thing. I don’t call them the Fuck You! Generation for nothing!
During the Writivism Literary Festival, you moderated a panel on the topic, “What is the science in Afro sci-fi” Please tell us more on this and how prominent is this genre in African writings?
Afro sci-fi is an emerging genre championed by an army of incredible thinkers and writers. It is here to stay, regardless of what it is called now. It was an interesting discussion that broke the boundaries of the topic; it veered deliciously all over the place. We had feisty debates on definitions, genres, categories, etc. Some in the audience questioned the very notion of “Afro-Sci.” In the end, we all agreed that many of these writers are doing amazing work, departing from the notions of the single story and poverty porn, for which they should be applauded. In the end, the reader just wants to read a good story.
What is your view concerning the new writings emerging from Africa?
I am a champion of the new writing, especially what I see on the Internet and social media. There is so much out there; it is awesome. I like how this generation of writers has taken charge of their literary destiny, using innovative approaches with the Internet and social media to tell us beautiful stories without the cloying oversight of Western editors. The world is finally taking notice. I am happy.
We would love to know your opinion on the “African writer” debate.
What do you think of the Writivism shortlist and the winning story?
It was a great line-up, there was a broad range and depth to the stories, the stories put to shame this year’s Caine Prize shortlist. Pemi Aguda’s winning story, “Caterer, Caterer” brimmed with originality and a quiet confidence. Aguda is a writer to watch.
Since both deal with short stories, do you find any resemblance or connection between the 2015 Caine prize shortlist and the Writivism prize shortlist? Would you place one above the other?
I am a fan of the Caine Prize; the Writivism folks are still new at this. It would be unhelpful to pit one against the other. I see great opportunities for collaboration and partnerships among all the major players in the African literary scene.
You’ve been noted to downplay the impact of literary workshops on the development of the young creative mind, so is your participation at Writivism Literary Festival a sign that you’ve began to acknowledge that workshops do have an impact in writers’ development?
Why are you like this? I attended a festival, NOT a workshop, SMH. In general, I am agnostic about workshops; I don’t know that there is much that a workshop can teach a writer. However, many writers I respect swear by them. I will concede that there is value to meeting other writers and networking in workshops. I do applaud the work of established writers like Helon Habila and Chimamanda Adichie; they are doing a lot of work with young writers through their workshops. In my lucid moments, I think that every bit helps. It is too easy to criticize; many people wake up every day and go to work on our stories. I respect that.
Writers in Nigeria are seldom given the recognition they deserve. But when they move to the West, publishing deals, prizes, and recognition usually follow. These writers are then treated as literary icons, often to the detriment of their counterparts at home. What is your take on this?
Well, it is a problem that I have written about over and over again; these writers, most of whom live in the West are doing great work, but the West sees them as the sole voices of an entire continent. I have a huge problem with that. Everywhere I go, I make a point of reminding whoever will listen to me that an entire generation of writers lives and breathes on the Internet. I am afraid I am becoming a broken record. The other day in Kampala, Aaron Bady (@zunguzungu) playfully called me the Facebook evangelist. I am simply trying to avoid the distortion of our literary history.
Being a lover of the social media, what advice do you have for young and aspiring writers who spend time writing on these platforms?
I say, keep writing, keep doing what you are doing, we are reading you, and enjoying every bit of the experience. May you all profit from your lunacy in this lifetime.
Ha ha. Do you not think, that this has contributed, to some extent, in bastardizing the art of writing? It seems now that all one needs to be a writer is a Facebook account. Many, too, have been swept by the praises showered on their works here and as such, shut doors for growth. Do you not think that reliance on social media writing encourages complacency on the side of the writer? Should the social media really be considered a validating ground for writers?
How is that different from books? I like the fact that the Internet and social media have democratized the writing process.
So then anyone should be left to write what they like and how they want to? But you do agree there are too many wrong writings going on there and getting attentions not due to them?
Yes. But the reader is wise. The reader knows.
But the writer doesn’t. My point exactly. Facebook readers are not always honest. It’s a case of mutual appreciation most often.
LOL. Readers are not always honest. It is not about the medium.
Do you still predict the death of the book or is it time we had Ikhide R. Ikheloa on our shelves?
Yes, the book is dying a long slow death, it is competing poorly against the new media. People may not be reading books, but they are reading, LOL. I am a book, you read me daily. On social media and on the Internet. I have said that it is my great desire to die without ever having written a book. I may just change my mind. I need the money.
Now to the question that has kept many guessing for so long, who first called you “Pa Ikhide”?
Ah, you will have to wait for my memoir for that. No spoilers. Well, if you must know, about five years ago, this young lady had a crush on me (my charm and drop-dead gorgeous looks are a problem, everywhere I go, all these ladies and the occasional man offering to marry me, sigh!). I gently told her I am happily married and would simply love to be a friend to her. You know what they say about a lady spurned; she started a vicious hate campaign alleging that I am older than my 27 years (at the time!) and attached the obnoxious appellation (Pa) to my name. That is how Pa Ikhide was born. I have tried everything to delete the “Pa” from my name, whossai, it has stuck. That is the truth.
Thank you, Pa Ikhide! 😀