Jude Dibia has authored three novels. He wrote the well acclaimed and daring novel, Walking with Shadows in 2005. His second book, Unbridled (2007), was awarded the 2007 Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Prose and was also a finalist in the 2008 Nigeria Prize for Literature (sponsored by NLNG). His recent work, Blackbird (2011), is still receiving reviews from its readers and critics.
In this interview, Jude Dibia speaks enthusiastically about writing and Blackbird among other related issues.
True Talk: How well have you fared on the path of your writing career over the years?
Jude Dibia: I have managed to write three novels, a couple of short stories and bag a couple of writing awards, and critical acclaim while at it. My journey has not been too bad, but still, I feel I could do more if writing was all I did.
TT: In your opinion, how has the internet been shaping writing and book publishing in Nigeria and Africa?
JD: The internet has helped closed the huge gap that existed between writers and readers. Writers have become much more accessible in general. Publishing, too, has changed with the advent of the internet. There’s now desktop publishing and everyone can own a blog or website, thus making their work accessible to a wider audience. Also, aspiring writers can join online writing workshops, learn from more experienced writers and share their work.
TT: What bent should an African writing take to remain African? Can you say you have ever practiced one?
JD: This is an unusual question, and one I find rather prescriptive. Writers should simply write. We all have different interests. Africa today is different from the Africa of fifty years ago or one hundred years ago. Africa is ever evolving and her writers will too.
TT: What kind of agenda do you think African writers should set for the continent? Should writers keep portraying an unstable polity or continue piecing together a picture of future bliss?
JD: This whole idea of “agenda” worries me. It sounds like writers come together in secret forums and start charting the course of the continent. This is not the way it works. There are different genres in writing; most writers write within the genre they feel most comfortable in. There are some writers who are versatile and write in more than one genre.
TT: What is your expectation of a Fiction? Is there any constraint for you as a writer on how much of a reality should be shown when writing Fiction?
JD: I have a very simple expectation of fiction; it should be well written, it should tell a compelling story and it should be truthful to the characters, to the subject matter and to the era/time it is portraying. There is always a constraint for me or many other writers to show reality in our writing, especially if I am writing within a period that has historical significance. However, like I did with ‘Blackbird’, I can invent fictitious places within a real place and thus create a parallel reality that readers can still relate to.
TT: How linkable is the prologue in Blackbird to the entire story even when the rationale behind the assassination of Katherine was never known in the book? Did you do that intentionally?
JD: Blackbird was not written as a thriller. The core of the story rests on the shoulders of a quartet of characters i.e. Omoniyi, Maya, Edward and Nduesoh. I did not want to start the story focusing on one character, as it could make readers think one character was more important than the order or that one character was the sole protagonist. Katherine’s killing was simply the catalyst that propelled the story forward.
TT: Reading Unbridled and Blackbird, I quite observed the length at which you went in commenting on the socio-economic defectiveness of the country, would you want to be perceived as a political commentator with literature as his tool?
JD: I guess Nigeria has always been the ‘second’ character in most of my writings. I write as I see it, I don’t care so much about labels.
TT: Can literature be separated from political commentary or are they entwined?
JD: Must literature always be labeled as ‘political commentary’ when a writer tries to be true to his material? Literature, far and wide, deals with people and how they handle conflicts. These conflicts could be love, could be embarking on a difficult journey or even surviving in through a difficult period, and of course, there are more forms of conflicts.
TT: How long can a story be told before it becomes stereotypical about a particular people?
JD: When you think of it, there are no new stories. Writers have to find creative ways of retelling familiar stories, bringing out new insights on things that otherwise may be viewed as stereotypes.
TT: Jude, I love your books in the way they stir untold matters coupled with effortful researches into debate. Do you consider the success of a book on the subject it is written upon or on the creativity brought to play?
JD: The success of a book, for me, is on how well it is written. Subject matter and creativity play a huge role as well, but on their own they don’t do much.
TT: Why have you chosen to write on the Maroko incident in Blackbird? Do you think literature can effectively fight against an ill policy that displaced approximately 300,000 people over two decades ago? Do you seek closure with Blackbird?
JD: I was interested in the story. I remember how heated things were during that period, but I was also thinking about the ordinary people that were affected by the mass displacement. How did this affect people that have no choice? And then, there are the people that things like this don’t bother; people that wouldn’t notice if the price of bread went from ten naira to one hundred naira. People from these two divides must coexist.
TT: Was writing on Maroko a spur of the muse-flurry or a dedicated effort to tell a story that has over the years been delegated to dessert papers that are left to gather dusts at various institutions’ archives?
JD: Well, I found inspiration there.
TT: Do you think the Oniru’s family’s contribution to the 1990 Maroko eviction exercise was well intended?
JD: I cannot comment on this, but in time we will all know.
TT: You have been tagged a female apologist in the manner your last two books were effused with feministic affinity. Don’t you think if your next work features more Whites in the antagonism, you might be labeled a budding racist?
JD: I’m many things, but certainly not a racist. I have tried to show in my writing that you don’t have to be a certain race to be good or evil. Humans have a huge capacity to love each other or cause major harm toward each other; it has nothing to do with race or gender.
TT: Do you fear your works being misinterpreted?
JD: No. I understand that people will take away different things from a piece of writing and bring unique interpretations to it. Why should my works be any different? It is to be expected.
TT: You published your latest on a writers’ collective platform, Jalaa. Is a Writers’ Collective the answer to the publishing need of the country and a solution to her literature?
JD: There are a lot of issues with publishing in Nigeria, far too many. There is no single solution to our publishing needs, and writers’ collectives will play their role in getting books published and distributed.
TT: Your book was among a finalist of two books in the NLNG literature prize. What impact has the prize had on literature in Nigeria?
JD: The NLNG has made a lot of people aware of Nigerian writing. The prize money has continued to draw a lot of interest to writers and literary enthusiasts.
TT: In Walking with Shadow, you wrote about gay. However, Blackbird speaks about such in a subtle way. Does that mean readers’ past observations whittled down your confidence in giving it a full blown exposure in Blackbird?
JD: Blackbird in no way was like my first novel. Both books hardly share anything in common. I will revisit the themes I explored in Walking with Shadows in another novel. I still think there is more to be written on the subject of same gender coupling in our society.
TT: Why would you want to write another book on homosexuality? One primary thing Literature does is to speak about familiar matters identifiable with the very people it focuses on. Is homosexuality itself not foreign to the African culture?
JD: Why would you think my first novel was on homosexuality? The novel’s central character, Adrian, is gay, other than that, generalizing the entire novel as a book on homosexuality only goes to show how disturbing our views are on anything that centers remotely on sexuality. It is interesting you should state that ‘literature speaks about familiar matters identifiable with the very people it focuses on’, I will like to add to that as well; literature in many instances speaks for the voiceless in a society. This whole argument on what is or isn’t African culture coming especially from people who have no idea what African culture is, is not only lazy, but also exposes the deep state of denial that plagues us. I want to revisit the themes I explored in Walking with Shadows because I hardly scratched the surface. It is my understanding that people are prone to fearing and hating what they do not understand, so maybe in my own little way, I can help with my stories.
TT: Some words for the blog.
JD: I will like to thank you for this opportunity. It has been wonderful having this discussion. This is an interesting blog and I commend the work you all are doing to keep literature alive and thriving.
TT: Thank you, Jude.
JD: You are welcome.