Transcript – Online Real-Time Chat with Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Myne: hello Ikhide and Laura, good morning

Ikhide: Good morning, Myne!

Myne: Thanks for being on time

Ikhide: Sure

Tola Odejayi: Morning, Ikhide

Ikhide: Morning, Tola!

Tola Odejayi: So Ikhide, I found your ‘self-bio’ very interesting… what do political views have to do with the eating of red meat?

Ikhide: Oh, don’t mind Myne, it was tongue-in-cheek, and because she and I are engaged in a long-running feud, she posted it, fiam! But I am not angry, I shall get even!

Tola Odejayi: It does lead me on to another topic, which is whether you are bothered by the reaction to your criticism of people’s work…do you worry that one day, one irate writer will assault you in public?

Ikhide: Good question. I am not bothered, because I don’t really consider it personal. It is just that I always felt that if I nuanced my strong views, we would not have the desired conversation… I fully expect to be physically mauled one of these days

Tola Odejayi: So as you may have noticed on Naija Stories, there is are a lot of works that are posted, with different kinds of criticism…some people believe in a no-holds barred approach; others believe in being sensitive to the authors feelings…

Ikhide: Well, I do think that there should be a balance. Young and upcoming writers who show promise should be nurtured and encouraged to produce their own strong voices. We can do this without being patronizing.

Tola Odejayi: …bearing in mind that this is criticism that is supposed to build the (usually budding) writer up and make them better, where do you stand on this?

Ikhide: I take issue with established writers who are expressing personal opinions and wrapping them around “novels” blah blah blah. Africa whatever that means is being looked at from the specific viewpoint of established writers. It is a distorted view. I do think that every now and then, you read a work and you go, this person should be reading, NOT writing

Myne: Some suggest they should be free to write what they like and suggest the critic should write their own stories?

Myne: Hello Myles, and welcome.

Myne: Laura feel free to ask a question anytime.

Ikhide: Myne, that is a defensive reaction that is easily dismissed. When I go to a bukateria to buy eba and orisiri, I fully expect eba and orisirisi because that was what was advertised. Besides I paid for it. If I wanted to make my own, I would stay at home.

Myles: Thanks Myne…I am sorry for coming late… Sir Ikhide, one of your replies to Mr Odejayi’s question has got me asking this: Don’t you think some younger writers are prone to ‘giving up writing’ due to some sharp criticisms? I have met aspiring writers whu wouldn’t write for months just because someone pointed out lapses in their works…

Ikhide: Myles, if they give up, then maybe they shouldn’t be writing. Like I said, some people should not be writers. I have also said if you see promise in a writer, you have an obligation to plumb that. I have to say that what I have been reading on the Internet is infinitely more exciting than what I have been mostly enduring in books. Those that define our literature are looking in the wrong places…

Tola Odejayi: What is the main difference that you’ve observed?

Ikhide: Great question, Tola. The stories are more immediate, the issues are more contemporary and they tend to write a story first and let the issues sell themselves. Books take a long time to percolate and be published. By the time they come out, a slide rule has morphed into an iPad ;-)

Myne: lol

Ikhide: Yes O

Tola Odejayi: The sense I get from your posts is that you believe that Nigerian writers are more about pushing issues than telling stories? And I also sense that you think that this is not a good thing to do

Ikhide: African writers, yes, Tola. I also have railed against the Africa is poverty and disease mantra!

Myles: Sir, I would like you to mention some of ‘your examples’ of good fictions (books).

Ikhide: Myles, trick question, I don’t like to do that because it seems presumptious. I really am a consumer-reader and when I read, I highlight pieces of a work that I enjoy and I simply talk about them. I am currenly reading many writers at once, including Jude Dibia (Blackbird). I am now into blogs eg Ainehi Edoro’s Brittle Paper… I read a lot of Facebook postings…

Ikhide: My FB status yesterday:Books on my iPad Kindle: Blackbird, Jude Dibia, Blackbirds, Christie Watkins, Pride of the Spider Clan, Ujubuonu Odili; A Love Rekindled, Myne Whitman, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Binyavanga Wainaina, Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov, Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor, Roses and Bullets, Akachi Adimora-Eseigbo. Guess what I am going to be doing all summer…

Myne: I wanted to ask if you read only African books? Nabokov’s Pnin says no. My question though is, what draws you to African literature? is it just for your NEXT column?

Ikhide: These days I read exclusively (almost) African works for political/ideological reasons ;-) I only read Nabokov when I was researching Teju Cole’s Open City. In my short lifespan (I am only 35, na you sabi, laff now) I have read more Western works than I care to remember…

Tola Odejayi: So you’ve mentioned building up budding writers… as someone who criticises works on Naija Stories, how would you advise me to do this? So that they become better writers – is it as simple as saying what is good about their work, and what is bad?

Ikhide: I have been writing since I was a little boy. I have been writing pieces long before NEXT came on the scene. I think that it was a way of processing the angst, the alienation that I felt on being in exile. Exile doesn’t hurt as much anymore, thanks to technology…

Ikhide: Well, Tola, the first thing you don’t want to do is to be patronizing. I belong in several listservs where budding writers bring their wips before folks. Many times, I would simply be silent if the work is so bad. I think that one should always start with a genuine appreciation of the good in the piece, then follow up with the needs improvement piece…

Tola Odejayi: interesting, please go on

Ikhide: I actually take some time out to critique privately drafts. In private I can afford to be harsher… No need to grandstand on a young fella…

Tola Odejayi: Ah – so you accept that we authors have tender hearts that would not be able to take harsh public criticism

Ikhide: Regardless, just be honest. I get a lot of bad/angry/irate responses but na Naija now, they are simply forming. They are listening, ma worry ;-) Yes, tender hearts. It is so romantic. When we yell, you behave like abused puppies, na wa!

Myne: technology sure is good. Back to what you said earlier. Are you really on exile, or is this a self-inflicted feeling of alienation?

Myne: hi Emmanuella and Sarah, welcome and feel free to chip in your questions.

Idoko: I must admit I have praised some works even though the works were were bad.. They were works of younger writers that needed encouragements…

Ikhide: Myne, the notion of exile, of alienation is not one to be generalized, so I tell folks it is personal to the person that feels it. I know many people who are in exile in Nigeria. They want to come home to America, only that the embassy does not agree…

Ikhide: Idoko, do not encourage anyone to inflict unnecessary writing on us. If it is bad, either say so and why it is bad, or be quiet. Eventually they will go away jo.

Idoko: Funny…

Emmanuella: Thank you, Myne. Sir Ikhide, if you may, please have you come across Obi Nwakama’s column in the Sunday Vanguard newspaper of last week? I think it’s page 24, to be precise. The heading of this particular piece he wrote was called NEW NIGERIAN WRITERS ARE IN NEED OF SPIRIT. You can google this right now, if you want.

Ikhide: You guys are a fun bunch. I should hang around y’all more…

Ikhide: Emmanuella, what is the gist of what he is saying?

Emmanuella: Well, in summation, he particularly said that he felt that current Nigerian writers are still ‘in diapers’. Well, that’s not really the summation of it all sha. I wish I had the article with me here. I would have told you his exact words word for word.

Myne: I’m reading the article. He laments the despair in Naija writing and thinks we’re stck in the times of Achebe and co

Tola Odejayi: Do I hear an ‘amen’ from Ikhide?

Ikhide: Obi Nwakanma is a good friend of mine. I have the article right here. He belongs to a generation of writers who take themselves too seriously. Writing is more than romanticizing the past and much of that is a hagiography anyway… He makes some good points but on the whole I disagree with him.

Emmanuella: Yes, Myne, that’s it. Please, tell me some of the things you disagree with him on, Sir Ikhide. Because in a way, that article has really got me thinking.

Ikhide: Nwakanma is looking at literature from a traditional book-centric perspective. Even then, I think that our writers at home are working extemely hard against the odds. Take Jude Dibia’s Blackbird published by JALAA. JALAA is very impressive. I have a hard copy of Jude’s Blackbird. I was reading it this afternoon, and I decided to download the e-copy yesterday because I was at my son’s football practice and I wanted to continue reading it in the dark while Fearless Fang breaks bones ;-) It is only $4.99 on Amazon. Pretty book, I love the cover, high quality both in design and texture. It is perhaps the best designed book to come out of a Nigerian publishing house in recent times. It helps that it is highly readable. I will leave it on my coffee table so that oyinbo people will know that we know how to write and publish books too ;-)

Ikhide: I said as much yesterday on FB So I am not only all abt criticism

Ikhide: And, yes, if you read the books on my Kindle app and add the children’s story books, there is an emerging narrative of Nigeria that is different from the stereotypical that exists in the West. It is more nuanced and more robust. I think that a new generation is coming of age… I disagree with my good friend Nwakanma…

Ikhide: By the way, is this going to be transcribed, Myne? I am in my pajamas and I want to look good jo!

Tola Odejayi: But I feel that many authors who want to get their books published by Western publishers are still bound to write what the feel that those publishers will publish…what is the incentive to write about contemporary affairs when your story will likely end up being rejected?

Ikhide: Tola, I have (in)famously called that odious habit, writing to the test of dollars and euros…

Emmanuella: Basically, what I could understand from that article is this: I need to live, experience and participate, as well as become very good listeners, so that when we write what we write, it is very much alive and true.

Myne: even a writer must eat, and yes, this will be transcribed.

Ikhide: Tola, I always tell people to dream and then think of the constraints later. Write your story and worry about the audience later…

Idoko: Your comments on Blackbird are positive. Sir, I have not being following up your posts on fb, but I do know you had ‘Bitter Leaf’ by Chioma Okererke in your hands… I want to hear your analysis about the book in three lines…

Ikhide: Emmanuela, that is a good lesson to take from the piece by Nwakanma.

Ikhide: Bitter Leaf. Great, great, rollicking beginning. Died half way and nothing would resurrect it.

Ikhide: Three lines ;-)

Idoko: My lips are sealed…

Tola Odejayi: And that brings me to another question. How do you manage to make your criticism almost as entertaining as the books you are criticising? Or in some cases, MORE entertaining?

Emmanuella: Sir Idoko, I am so so sure that Sir Ikhide can NEVER give an analysis of Chioma’s BITTER LEAF in three lines. It’s not really enough, in my opinion.

Ikhide: LOL, Tola, a spirit after my big heart. I have lived a very interesting life, got in trouble a lot and learnt to charm my way out of trouble… So there…

Ikhide: @Emmanuella, I just did…

Idoko: Emmanuella… I got enough in that three lines…

Ikhide: LOL @ “I got enough in that three lines…”

Idoko: those three lines,,, God help… !!!

Emmanuella: Oh. Sir Ikhide, are you sure that is enough, just three lines, or are you just warming up to Sir Idoko here? You know he is MYLES away…

Myne: Ok, 10 more mins.
4 minutes ago

Ikhide: Chioma Okereke is a writer to watch sha. She is going places. She sure can write, she just needs to learn how to close the deal…

Emmanuella: Of course, I believe so. Besides, I have a namesake called Chioma in my house, also ‘going places’, so sure, yea.

Myne: On Okereke, it is her debut, and a writer can only improve.

Idoko: Mr Ikhide, what do you think of our local awards for writers? (in Nigeria)

Tola Odejayi: There don’t seem to be that many prominent book critics in the Nigerian space; what criticism I see of books is almost like a description of the book. What do you think can be done to improve literary appreciation in a way that people can actually describe what they feel other than just saying “I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t enjoy it?”

Emmanuella: In my opinion, Tola, the traditional method of criticism still works for me.

Myne: So are you writing a novel, Ikhide?

Emmanuella: I see Sir Ikhide more of a critic than a writer. He’s great at it..

Idoko: @Emmanuella, you think he wouldn’t write a novel?

Emmanuella: He may be good at that, yes, but I think he’s at his best in the area of literary criticism.

Emmanuella: With a little bit of a debate…

Ikhide: I would probably never write a book because the book is dying a long slow death… When I die however, there will be a bidding war for the contents of my email inbox.

Tola Odejayi: Can a critic really be a good writer, anyway?

Emmanuella: Shebi I talk am, small, hm?

Ikhide: Tola, I actually am not happy that I have been pegged as a critic. I am first and foremost a writer of creative works…Some of my pieces have appeared in books and in Eclectica, Fogged Clarity, African-writing, Mapletree, blah blah blah. I write my lover poetry also and I get favorable reviews from her ;-)

Myne: What do you think of Nigerian Lit prizes like the ANA, the NNLG, the Wole Soyinka, etc

Ikhide: Watch out for my piece on Sunday’s Next re prizes and the culture of entitlement of African writers ;-) I think the NLNG $100K prize is absurd. They should use some of the money to build a sustainable structure. The NLNG doesn’t even have a dedicated website…

Emmanuella: Ok. I just seem to enjoy your critic streak more than ever, Sir Ihkide. I believe the controversy surrounding that NLNG prize hasn’t ended. There’s more to look forward to…

Idoko: I think we need more of the $100 k prizes if not writers will never never..

Emmanuella: Ok, I understand, dear Myles. Na money u want abi? ;)

Ikhide: Yeah, I think they should share the prize among the top three…

Tola Odejayi: One last question from me, Ikhide. There don’t seem to be that many prominent book critics in the Nigerian space; what criticism I see of books is almost like a description of the book. What do you think can be done to improve literary appreciation in a way that people can actually describe what they feel other than just saying “I enjoyed it” or “I didn’t enjoy it?”

Tola Odejayi: And sorry if it’s another ‘critic’ focused question

Ikhide: I like am is good enough for me as a review ;-)

Ikhide: Tola, I shall be blunt; many writers are hypocritical about the fact that they yearn for a mass market approval. When someone says they don’t like their book, they start to go to their ivory tower. The consumer should not have to endure the dense prose of abiola Irele to decide to buy a book.

Myne: and thats the last question, we’ll be wrapping up after that

Idoko: Hmmm One last question from me.. What do you have to say about the absence of a Nigerian name in the last Caine prize shortlist.. Pls Myne, he should answer that…

Ikhide: I had no problem with that. Nigerian writers are over-exposed in the African literary scene. Nigeria is not Africa ;-) Yep, I said it, sue me

Idoko: lol

Myne: Thank you so much Ikhide

Emmanuella: You can send the rest of the answer I need to Ederi, please.

Idoko: Many thanks, Mr Ikhide…

Tola Odejayi: Thanks for coming on to NS, Ikhide.

Myne: we’ve enjoyed your bluntness, and you were very gracious in answering all the questions too

Ikhide: No problem. I shall send you my baby-sitting bill. Fearless Fang is a handful and the teenagers would not babysit him. $300

Myne: :)

Ikhide: No problem, see y’all later on FB

Myne: Of course, see you later

Emmanuella: Sure thing, Sir Ihkide.


Date – Saturday, Jul 30 2011
Time – 3 – 4pm Nigerian Time (Please we start on the dot)
Venue – NaijaStories Chatroom (Click on bottom bar)

At the end of the chat with Ikhide, a lucky member who has taken part in the chat will receive a review of any ONE of their stories or poems that has been published on Naija Stories.

About Ikhide

Ikhide R. Ikheloa is a well-known critic and reviewer of Nigerian literature. He is a regular contributor to the Next newspaper, for whom he writes a weekly column “Email from America”. His writings, including reviews, fiction and non-fiction, can be seen on many well-known online journals and magazines, such as the Nigerian Village Square, Nigerians in America, AfricanWriter and Eclectica.

Ikhide describes himself as “a royal pain in the ass, a jerk, who delights in skewering those whose misfortune it is to be better than him, the jerk. He never has anything good to say about African writers. He hates Nigerian music, and he has been known to thank the white man for funding the lavish lifestyles of supercilious condescending African intellectuals. There are deep suspicions that his politics is to the right of the left… because he loves red meat and red wine.”

Isn’t he interesting? :)

Our discussion with Ikhide will center on his belief in and  championing of Nigerian writing talent on the internet. In his article, ‘Reading and Writing in the Age of Facebook’, he argues that Nigerians read, and that they also write a lot – “The best of our writing now exists on the web; our Nigerian writers are writing feverishly, mostly in blogs, online journals and Facebook.” We’ll also be talking about what he thinks makes a good story.


Do you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask some of our published authors? Now is your chance. NaijaStories will be bringing you online, real-time opportunities to chat with various Nigerian authors right here on the website. If you look at the bottom of this page, you will see a green bar, and at the right end, there’s a chat button which you can click on to enter the chatroom.

We started the Naija Stories chat sessions in May with Jude Dibia as our first guest, and we followed later with Chika Unigwe and Binyerem Ukonu. You have an hour to grill them so start getting your questions ready. And please spread the word to your friends and family. You do not need to register on the site to take part in the chat, but can participate through Facebook, Twitter, Myspace or Yahoo sign in.

One thought on “Transcript – Online Real-Time Chat with Ikhide R. Ikheloa” by Admin (@ogaoga)

  1. Very interesting chat. Pa Ikhide is someone to love; he is intelligent, witty and refuses to be part of the elitist intellectuals who many times string pompous words devoid of depth.

    @TolaO I see you! You never fail to impress me with your articulation.

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