The first day, 8th April 2013 was more of fanfare, with media houses like NTA covering the kick start of the Creative Writing workshop organized by Exodus for art Group hosted in the Golden Gate Hotel, Zone 5 Abuja. No, I wasn’t there due logistics and all but I was present for the subsequent days. Oyindamola Affinih, TV script-writer and author of Two gone, still counting was the first instructor and she gave the participants short-story home work to be submitted the next day though.
Tunji Ajibade, President of the organization, animatedly began the next day of the workshop by orientating us on what the ‘Exodus for Art’ organization was about in the compact sized room of the hotel. He gave us a background of what the NGO hopes to achieve and it was nothing short of inspiring. Asides provision and facilitation of workshops, he mentioned Residencies, Literary Prizes and Book/Author promotions and publishing credits, things which appealed to us and persuaded us to take writing seriously.
Once the instructor, Miss Oyindamola Affinih started her lecture, we immediately found ourselves enthralled by her intellect and diction. Before her no-nonsense persona was projected, she had already earned our respect; this woman knew what she was talking about. After a critique session where she made the participants from the previous day read their short stories, a break was observed.
Once break was over, the instructor told us to listen to each student’s work and give criticism. She gave room for each participant to critique the other’s work because when they get published, their work will be critiqued. Her literary exercises were tough for some participants, though it brought out the best in them. She stressed the importance of a remarkable beginning for our works as if the first lines are not attractive enough, the reader and publisher will dismiss it.
Tunji Ajibade was the instructor the next day, starting off by asking participants what they learned from the first day up until that point. After receiving positive response, he asked participants what challenges they faced in writing. After offering helpful advice, participants read their work to for general criticism and the general faux pas was ‘flowery language’ or ‘cumbersome words’. He informed us that the beauty of a work didn’t lie in ‘big words’ but simplicity of language the writer successfully used to pass across his message. He also warned against ‘telling’ stories and encouraged the participants to ‘show’ stories instead, allowing the readers the joy of deciphering the writer’s intent. He gave the basic rules for writing short stories, the last being…know when to break the rules.
Estrella Gada, award-winning poet took the baton on the third day and broke segregation amidst us through innovative games for a better learning environment. She went on to give what one participant called ‘literary rehabilitation session’ dispelling all myths inexperienced writers had, myths like ‘writers are supposed to be lonely secluded people’. In persuading us to read as much as we could especially now that we were young, she made a statement ‘My Father said I would have time to read when I grow older and finished school…he lied.’
On the fifth and final day of the workshop, she stressed the importance of submitting write-ups to online magazines and the responsibility of a writer to influence his/her environment positively before giving us our final writing exercise. The reading session revealed that we really let the things we’d learned sink in.
Tunji Ajibade ended the training session with a vote of thanks to everyone for coming, and encouraged us to come for a Literary Event/Lecture at Merit House, Maitama.
While at Merit house…
I was rather surprised at the number of dignitaries that turned up for the event, the hall was literally full. It was conducted under the distinguished Chairmanship of Hakeem Belo-Osagie (Chairman Etisalat) and the guest lecturer was Eugenia Abu. The waiters were efficient though, flitting through the room like fairies. El-Rufai was the epitome of hospitality himself, standing up from the leather cushion to seat on a plastic chair when the high-table ran out of seats to everyone’s surprise and amusement.
Tuni Ajigbade was called to give a brief background of the workshop which he aptly did. Exodus for Art, he stated, believed that literature had brought the nation so much respect that it should exit one of the major constraints confronting it in the country, which is the dearth of adequate structures that drive the art of creative writing and consistently empower a new generation of writers. The Yasmin El-Rufai creative Writing workshops were one of such structures, created in the memory of late Yasmin El-Rufai, a budding writer before her death. He concluded by craving the indulgence of guests, that a minute of silence be observed in her memory.
After that, the Chairman of the occasion, Hakeem Belo-Osagie gave an opening remark. While he warned that he was never good at literature due to the complexity of poetic language, he regaled us with two lines of a poem he loved so much due to their simplicity;
It was on a winter morning, when I saw her
then it began to feel like summer.
He observed that literature was something was to be taken seriously as it dealt with the way people feel. Before the thunderous applause, he invited Eugenia Abu, the guest lecture to the podium.
Eugenia Abu was invited to deliver her lecture, a point in the program which I must say, was the most anticipated.
And she delivered.
She started gracefully on personal tales that drew the entire populace of the room in, tales of staying up late in the night just to get a word that will complete a body of written work and how confused her husband was when she first scribbled him a love poem. Her topic was ‘The Role of Literature for National Development’ so she defined literature and its various genres before proceeding. Every writer in the hall related with her when she said ‘Every writer that has a book in him will not rest until he or she has given birth to it.’
She went on to stress her point, by definition ‘History is elevated, creative non-fiction. It is the story of who we are, and if we don’t know who we are we are unlikely to become.’ Half way through the lecture, guests where already clapping. She talked about how literature could abate ethnic clashes. ‘Literature about a place sheds light about its people and lets you find respect for them. Cyprian Ekwensi wrote beautiful stories about the north, even though he wasn’t a northerner. Chinua Achebe showed us Igbo land. Reading their works will teach you to respect the culture of the people they wrote about. People only respect themselves when they know about themselves.’
She talked about the entertainment quality of literature, emphasizing on how reading Amos Tutuola’s the palmwine drunkard transported her into a new world. She said Literature, like football, was a source of Nigerian pride. When a Nigerian won a literary prize it made her feel proud of her country. If it happened while she was in another country and people there asked her if she knew the prize winner, she would smile and say yes!
She finished her lecture with a poem dedicated to Yasmine which garnered her 3 minutes standing ovation.
The maiden edition of the Abuja review, a literary newspaper was introduced to the guests, before certificates were presented to workshop participants. Yasmin’s loved ones came to the stage to say a few things about her, which touched the guests. Then some of us participants were chosen to share our experience at the workshop. The Chairman gave the closing remarks and the event was ended with the National Anthem.
I can’t remember singing the Anthem with such enthusiasm as I did that evening, knowing that my country had began to take steps towards encouraging African literature. The thing about this kind of gathering is that it encourages you as a literary young person that you are not alone. You are not the only one who knows how refreshing a steady stream of inspiration can be or how daunting, as Eugenia Abu said, it could be to search hours on end for just a word to make your work complete. You feel you have just taken a closer, deliberate step towards becoming the writer you had always hoped you would be.