Easter Playlist

A boy’s ears should be busy during Easter.

Check out my previous lists—for 2017, for 2018, and a playlist & thoughts.

“Ratchet (Happy Birthday),” Drake

Friend played it at my birthday and it got me. First Drake solo song I love.

“Summertime Magic,” Donald Glover 

From the Guava Island film, which has Rihanna, which means this song is lovely—on its own merit too.

“Savage,” DJ Worldwide feat. Lil Kesh

Took me months to get this song, multiple Shazam failures. Makes me dance even if I don’t have moves for it yet.

“Nobody Knows 2moro,” Jeffiraino feat. Duncan Mighty

I just love the feel of it, as I do many songs with Duncan Mighty on them.

“Dawn, the Front,” Talos

Final song in that How to Get Away with Murder episode where agent Telesco kisses Tegan Price.

“Trobul,” Sarz & Wurld

Has a video in my head, full of men in suit.   

“Entertainer,” CDQ feat. Davido

Let’s just say I like Davido’s voice whenever he stretches it.

“Tipsy,” Odunsi the Engine feat. Raye

Sleek. First song of his that I liked.

“T-Shirt,” Migos (Y2K & AVIDD Remix)

Epically epic.

“Melanin,” Notrace

Like the beat.

“Awesome God,” Unknown Male Choir Acapella

Touching. After one tiring travel.

“I Got 5 on It,” Luniz

Knew it from childhood but Jordan Peele’s film Us, which has Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, refreshed it for me.

“Chlorine,” Twenty-One Pilots

Uber-danceable.

“Spiritual Riddim,” Sarz

Nice groove to it.

“Nobody Fine Pass You,” T-Classic

“Piercing Light,” Warsongs (Mako Remix)

Epic. Found in a Messi highlights video.

“Doc Shebeleza,” Cassper Nyovest

Never related to it at first, now in love with it. Kind of empowering for me.

“4U,” Ejiz

For night walks.

“Dreams Pt. II,” Nightcore

Found in a football highlights YouTube video.

“Boss Whine,” Krizbeatz feat. Skales

That middle beat.   

“Blessings on Me,” Rekaado Banks

“America,” Neil Diamond

From The Big Bang Theory, Howard and Amy singing it in the car.

“Toast,” Koffee

“Sweet Dreams,” Eurythmics

“No New Friends,” LSD

“Old Town Road,” Lil Nas

Country or hip hop? So good you might just think: who cares?

“Dancin’ Around the Truth,” The Stunners

“Bloodline,” Ariana Grande

This line: But you gon’ have to let this shit go.

“Akwa Ibom Ayaya,” Mish

That feel of home.

“Only Want You,” Rita Ora feat. 6lack

Anything Ora is on point. And 6lack’s solo material is just beautiful.

“Sally Walker,” Iggy Azalea

Good to have Iggy back.

“Grip,” Tessa Thompson

I love it, from the Creed film.

“Confirm,” Patoranking feat. Davido

“Last Hurray,” Bebe Rexha

“Is This Freedom,” Lucky Dube 

Heard at a launch event and….

“New Day,” Kate Havenik

Heard on Grey’s Anatomy, touching episode 9 of season 3.

“Crazy Love,” Flavour feat. Yemi Alade

Grew on me. Big fan of it.

“Alone,” Marshmello

“Your Love,” Haerts

“Wobble Up,” Chris Brown feat. Nicki Minaj & G-Eazy

“Kriminalz,” Rolay Bondo

“Breaking Free,” Night Riots  

“Holy Water,” Temmie Ovwasa

I feel the anointing in this song. Pure talent.   

 

The Feast of the Goat

 

I like the word “feast.” The sound of it, the upper teeth touching the lower lip. I like when it is used in titles of things. I want it when it comes like this.

Mario Vargas Llosa was one of the first writers I knew their names and work, back in 2011 when I was beginning to take interest in literature, Googling writers and books. Here’s a story about him that stuck with me: In 1976, five years after publishing his doctoral thesis titled Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Story of a Deicide, Llosa punched his friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Mexico City, and their friendship died. Another story: in 1990, he ran for president in Peru and lost. And the story most people know: he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.” Still one of my favourite citations.

So Saturday night, while reading Junot Diaz’ novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I stumbled upon this accusing clause, in one of that book’s many in-text notes:

Appeared as a sympathetic character in Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat.

The person in question, Joaquin Balaguer, was racist to Black people, an apologist of the Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo’s genocide against Haitians, and ruled the Dominican Republic thrice, unleashing “a wave of violence…death-squading hundreds.”

I am fascinated by book titles, movie titles, song and album titles, find them inspirational, and back then in 2011, The Feast of the Goat, triumphantly titled, was the only one by Llosa that I liked. Back then when I had no access to books of that kind.

So Saturday night, I asked Google and received a copy of The Feast of the Goat. And with it a Book Excitement I don’t always feel these days. It is told from three perspectives: a woman’s, the Dominican Republic dictator’s, and the Dominican Republic dictator’s assassins. The sentences strike me, his articulation of things I want to write but presume might be uninteresting, his flourishing of things I want to write but haven’t found the vocabulary for. Or haven’t bothered to. In a way, I feel a kinship with his words here.

By the way, I really like, maybe even love, all the covers of the book that I’ve seen.

 

 

Image from joydelire.wordpress.com.

TWC Prose Workshop in Nsukka

 

In December, I was at The Writers’ Community (TWC) in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for a prose workshop. It was where we started: Arinze Ifeakandu, Chisom Okafor, Ebenezer Agu, Osinachi, Michael Umoh, Uzoma Ihejirika, Festus Iyorah, Adaeze Nwadike, Pius Ifechukwu. Without TWC, there might be no me in the way that I am. I left in 2014 when I graduated, and four years on, it gives me unusual joy to find promise in the present members.

I might be doing more workshops this year.

A Pop Concert by Chance

 

Sunday nightfall, I’m bored—actually I feel like munching succulent bread and Vita Milk—so Friend and I go to Spar. We are surprised to see a crowd: a concert is on, a #DefendYourVote initiative, and on the poster are Phyno, Peruzzi, and Naeto C. I’ve never seen Phyno live, or anybody I really want to see live; in fact, I’ve never been to a concert. So we stay. On the stage is that MTV Base video jockey, the sanguine guy with dreadlocks who once mispronounced Phyno’s “Isi Ego” so that it meant “head money/capital” rather than “the smell of money.” He’s kinda sorta a fave. He is rousing the crowd, keeping it hot. The DJ spins them, each greeted by jubilation: Burna Boy’s “On the Low,” Tiwa Savage’s “Lova Lova,” Naira Marley’s ‘Issa Goal,” Olamide’s “Motigbana.” Out of nowhere, 2Baba’s “Implication” drops and we are legit mad. It still is the ultimate Nigerian banger. I’m thinking: Naijapop is so rich, a bit sad that pon-pon has come and homogenized things. I step aside to pick a call. I return thinking: Aren’t they the most blessed of us artists, musicians, to have the power to command crowds. When King Monada’s “Malwedhe” lands, VJ shouts, Nobody should fall here o! Still, the crowd of heads mock-bend at the chorus. All around us people—boys—are dancing, or will say they are dancing if asked, most of them doing the same leg thing to every song.

Generally, the songs are hot. Generally, the DJ is bad, doesn’t know when to switch, always chooses the wrongest moments: pre-chorus, mid-chorus. “He doesn’t have permission to play the full songs,” Friend says when I complain.

Then a talking break: Dreadlocked VJ is saying: How many of you have your PVCs? Raise your hand! Not everybody does and I’m worried. Really worried.

When Naeto C appears, my first thought is to try to remember his politician mother’s name. I can’t. We run through his songs: “5 & 6,” “Kini Big Deal,” “Tony Montana (Remix),” “10 Over 10.” I’m thinking: this guy really had huge hits. Not everybody in the crowd is flowing, singing, even moving, and it strikes me that there are people here who don’t feel Naeto C, or don’t know him well enough, or are trying to remember who he is, or maybe, even though they look like adults, just hadn’t been born in 2008 when Naeto was the Next Big Thing. Fine.

They want to give us a surprise, they say, Naeto C and Dreadlocked VJ, they say it again, but instead of a Surprise, we get this beat, really good, this beat, but nowhere around what I hoped for.

Then Peruzzi.

Enter Peruzzi. Jump in Peruzzi. Power in Peruzzi.

Peruzzi has energy, like he set out to conquer the stage, and what seems in videos like an over-featured man all over the place with his artificial swag suddenly comes alive, becomes charisma. Never thought I’d say this: I like Peruzzi. Or, more accurately, I’d like to attend his own concert, with his big voice. But the DJ starts from his least: songs the crowd sings back but isn’t moved by, just singing back, maybe humouring a star. Life returns when his DMW song comes on. “Aza.” You know, the one in which he delivers a killer verse with a sideways dance after Duncan Mighty has threatened to spoil it by screaming, for whatever reason: Ofe nsala! Peruzzi screams it now and it comes out a bit more dignified. I’m thinking: Only “Amaka” can restore the anointing here, his song with 2Baba. But when it comes, “Amaka” doesn’t kick up dust—it comes and is passing like any other song.

“Amaka” is still on when I tell Friend we can go now. “I want to see Phyno,” he says, and I say, “Even me sef.” We move to the left and wait. Someone comes to us: he’s a Facebook Friend, I remember his name even though we’ve never chatted, he’s asking if I’m me, I am. After he leaves, people begin to leave. “Phyno kwanu?” I ask, to the bread-smelling air. “Maybe he was the first to perform,” Friend says. We are walking with the trail of people, out.

6 Things This Week

 

Literature

I have been touring the 2018 archives of African literary magazines for a Brittle Paper project. I resumed reading Miles Morland’s memoir Cobra in the Bath, which is full of humour. But Richard Tarnas’ study of Western intellectual history The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View has been open on the floor for months. I want to read a book that does for African knowledge systems what Tarnas has done here for the European. I am thinking of Molefi Kete Asante’s Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change, which seems to be such a book given what I’ve read about it.

Music

I looooove Sarz’ “Trobul,” featuring Wurld. It is a love song, one of those that make me create videos for them in my head. Little Mix’s “Think About Us” is the first song by the band that I completely like—lyrics, beats, those beats. Post Malone’s “Wow” is the confirmation that he just may become my favourite pop rapper (I really tried for it to be Drake). I like Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” although I’m not comfortable about its hip hop sound and flow and appropriation accusations. Other favourites: Jeff Akoh’s “I Do,” Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us,” Tems’ “Looku Looku,” Ellie Goulding’s “Close to Me,” featuring Diplo and Swae Lee. Meanwhile, The-Dream says Rihanna’s new album is almost done so I’ve been clearing my mental shelf.

Movies

How to Get Away with Murder is back! Good to see you again, Viola! I finished Genevieve Nnaji’s Lionheart convinced it is one of the two, three best Nollywood films I’ve seen. It is a solid feat of cultural awareness that I hope to write a review on. I am watching Hustle & Flow, a 2004 film about rap with both Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. I never watched Grey’s Anatomy when the rest of the world started, so last Christmas was my start. I’m currently on its season 2, with 13 more seasons to go. I am also watching Orange Is the New Black’s season 5 and it’s comedy stretches are a bit of a bore for me. And, finally, the Oscars. These are what I want: Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor for Green Book and Glenn Close for Best Actress for The Wife. Fortunately, they’re their categories’ frontrunners. I finally finished A Star Is Born because a friend said it made him cry. I suspect that the version of the film I watched has to be different from what every other person watched. I mean, it’s nice to see Lady Gaga playing a toned-down Lady Gaga, but Bradley Cooper simply crossed my annoyance threshold.

Football

On Sunday, in the Nigeria Premier League, Rangers beat Enyimba 1-0. It was a match I had prepared to go watch, but somehow I forgot about it until I went to Google. I am keen on Gonzalo Higuain fitting into the Chelsea team as smoothly as possible so I’ve been watching videos of him from his Real Madrid and Napoli days, trying for it to make up for this 4-0 thing at Bournemouth.

Fashion

I’ve been reading reviews of The September Issue, about the making of US Vogue’s September 2007 issue, and thought about watching The Devil Wears Prada again. I have been watching and re-watching Catriona Gray’s “lava walk.” The Miss Universe 2018 is also an articulate talker; I watched an interview with her and liked her bright, positive attitude. I have been checking out the videos on Naomi Campbell’s new YouTube channel.

Social Media

The chaos is continual. When writers are not lowkey campaigning for the current President they are arguing about why they should be allowed to embrace concepts rather than humanity.

 

 

Image from weheartit.com.

Monk. Astronomer. Artist

First written on 11 August, 2016, on Facebook.

 

Monk. Astronomer. Artist. Architect. Priest. Psychologist. Lawyer. Monk. Historian. Writer. Physicist. Painter. Actor. Activist. Academic. These, at different times in my life, are the things I have wanted to be, or have been pushed to be, or now am, or know that I would one day be, or one day want to be, or will never be.

In the beginning, it was Astronomer, because child years of Discovery Channel made Mars so cool, until I learned I needed to know Mathematics for that and so I let it go. Through childhood, it was also Artist, because I could draw, still can draw: a solid dream. Then it became Monk, because I’d stumbled upon St Gregory the Great’s biography of St Benedict, a life-changing booklet called Life of Saint Benedict, Benedict who remains my favourite saint. Then, without leaving Artist and Monk, I moved on to Architect, because an aunt studied it and I heard architects made cool money.

All through this time, people were pushing hard: you go to church everyday, Block Rosary every night, you’re so quiet, you need to be a Priest. But Psychologist walked in instead, because another aunt had studied it and moved to London and I felt I just had to go to London to know what London People were thinking, because that was what psychology was in my world: a people-reading manual. Then teachers and classmates put Lawyer in my head because students who are good in arts subjects have to study Law. Then Monk returned: but one evening in 2012, after a conversation with my mother, it fled forever. And Historian took over fully: “Professor of International Relations” would look cool on my resume.

Then in June of 2012, while reading Half of a Yellow Sun, Writer, an inchoate want that had always been there since childhood, became serious. Still is serious. But Physicist remains a dream I will never fulfill, never helped by that film The Theory of Everything. And Painter is a world I would be fully alive in. And Actor, because Cate Blanchett and Daniel Day-Lewis blow my small mind. And Activist, because this world sucks so fucking bad. Months after I first wrote all of the above on Facebook, Academic strolled by and, boy, I grabbed it.

Months on, nearly two years on, I still want.

A Night with Aaliyah

Written on 25 August, 2016, on Facebook.

 

Strange. In the past few days, I’ve taken to replaying Aaliyah—“Try Again,” “More Than a Woman,” “We Need a Resolution”—only to make an unexpected discovery today: that today, August 25, is the 15th anniversary of her death. She died in a plane crash, in 2001. Even though I must have seen her with Jet Li in Romeo Must Die, I remember Aaliyah more as a singer, as I imagine most people would, than as an actress. I remember that her songs were my introduction to pop music, that were it not for her I may never have had an ear for pop music. Aaliyah affected me. Aaliyah contributed to the beauty of my childhood and was, until her death, my favourite musician.

2001. And then, in 2003, Beyonce, already turning my head with Destiny’s Child, landed with “Crazy in Love” and replaced her. And then, in 2007, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” happened and every other love folded into some aging archive. But without Aaliyah, nothing would have happened, nothing of the magnitude of pleasure I derive from music.

This is to the slender woman in black whose dance moves I once imitated in front of the TV. Even if her face is fading from my memory.

 

 

Image from Flickr.

A Bit of John Berger

I am with friends, those ones who have become family, when I realize that the book on the marble table is John Berger’s and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. A small white book whose particular existence, out in the world and in this room, I have been unaware of. It lies there, beside the glass plate of oiled, peppered roast plantain sprinkled with utazi, in danger of being stained by oil as we eat and talk. Minutes ago, the book is open in my hands, the sentences filling my eyes:

Paintings are static. The uniqueness of the experience of looking at a painting repeatedly—over a period of days or years—is that, in the midst of flux, the image remains changeless.

But to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.

I have known his name for years, mostly as the author of G. who donated half of that novel’s Booker Prize winning money to the Black Panther Party in the U.K., but it was when Teju Cole, if I recall rightly, mentioned him last year, following his passing, that I became interested in his work. I still haven’t read him, not one full book, but it would be impossible to not acknowledge Berger’s meditative mastery of time and space after just a handful of sentences—in my case, just one:

The sexual thrust to reproduce and to fill the future is a thrust against the current of time which is flowing ceaselessly towards the past.

In the book before me, my friend has underlined many lines, a poet-friend whose philosophical awareness I trust, so I simply read the lines:

And the naming of the intolerable is itself hope.

A waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall.

But what these lines bring back to me is an urge I first felt a week ago, a prod to perform language in my own work, to be able to locate meaning and musicality and untie it to progression:

How then can poetry so perform language that, instead of simply communicating information, it listens and promises and fulfils the role of a god?

 

 

Image from NearSt. 

On Billboard’s “100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century: Critics’ Picks”

I should begin by confirming that I’m neither a music critic nor a video expert.

Billboard has been my go-to, as it is millions of music lovers’, for not only charts and stats but also for how to engage with the work of certain artists who I’m unsure of, how to think about sounds and trends in the grander business of music history. But lately, I find myself disagreeing with their pieces on the legacies of some artists. It started with that piece arguing Beyonce’s comparison to Michael Jackson in terms of performance ingenuity, and continues with their “The 100 Greatest Music Videos of the 21st Century: Critics’ Picks,” published on 24 July.

I can’t help but disagree with the ranking.

Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” directed by Francis Lawrence, lands at No 1, deservedly so, followed by Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” directed by Dave Meyers; D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?),” directed by Paul Hunter; Beyonce’s “Formation,” directed by Melina Metsoukas; Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” directed by Bryan Barber; and Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” by Metsoukas again—at Nos 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively. But my happiness that Metsoukas is deservedly recognized for her best two videos was cut by seeing Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” directed by Joseph Khan, at No 7. I understand that greatness can be found in a video opening on an aeroplane, with Britney as an air hostess, and in flashy shots in which Britney is dressed in shiny clothes and is a futuristic heroine, but I do not understand how that video is this one. Especially when this one places ahead of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” directed by Jake Nava, at No 8. The Top 10 is completed by Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” directed by Spike Jonze, at No 9, and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” directed by Hiro Murai.

After Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis,” directed by Spike Jones, at No 11, and PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” directed by Cho Soo-Hyun, at No 12, the ridiculousness returns. At No 13—one spot ahead of Lady Gaga’s Beyonce-featuring “Telephone,” directed by Jonas Akerlund, and two ahead of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” directed by Dave Meyers and The Little Homies—is a choice I’m not even accepting as the artist’s best: Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” directed by Joseph Khan. For real? How is “Blank Space,” with its trite angst of a wealth-spoiled, angry lover, even in the same space as, not to talk of being ranked ahead of, “Telephone” and “HUMBLE.,” two modern classics by artists whose music and video legacies are among the greatest of the current crop in the business? How is a show of opulence and jealousy anywhere around these two which merge serious art and social consciousness without compromise? I suspect that, as with Britney at No 7, Billboard’s critics have mistaken Swift’s huge celebrity for video artistry.

Missy Elliot’s “Get Ur Freak On,” directed by Meyers, sits at No 28, and Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers,” directed by Wolf Haley, is at No 32, four spots ahead of Rihanna’s Jay-Z-featuring “Umbrella,” directed by Chris Applebaum, at No 36, with Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” directed by Colin Tilley, at No 37. Kanye West’s Pusha T-featuring “Runaway,” directed by West himself, is at No 39, and—this is blasphemy—Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” directed by Akerlund, is at No 40. Question: How did these five videos end up behind Katy Perry’s Snoop Dogg-featuring “California Gurls,” directed by Matthew Cullen, at No 23?

Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” co-directed by Rihanna and Megaforce, is at No 61; Missy Elliot’s “Gossip Folks,” by Meyers again, is at No 64; Kendrick Lamar’s “I,” by Alexandre Moors, is at No 75; Janelle Monae’s Big Boi-assisted “Tightrope,” by Wendy Morgan, is at No 73; Gotye’s Kimbra-assisted “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Natasha Pincus, is at No 77; Madonna retains her video relevance with “Hung Up,” by Johan Renck, at No 79; and Miley Cyrus scores a second entry with “We Can’t Stop,” by Diane Martell, at No 80, after “Wrecking Ball,” directed by Terry Richardson, zoomed in high at No 19.

David Bowie comes in at No 87 with “Lazarus,” directed by Johan Renck, as does Aaliyah at No 93 with “Rock the Boat,” by Hype Williams. Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” directed by Nabil Elderkin, is at No 96; Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” by Sam Brown, is at No 97; and Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever,” by Francis Lawrence, one of the videos of my childhood, arrives at No 99. The list is closed off by Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down,” directed by Matt Lenski.

 

 

Image collage from Billboard.com.

The Coo of a Blue-Plumed Bird

1.

When I write prose fiction and poetry, the sparks that birth my words ignite from within, a thing riotous and chaotic, kindling and kindling until cooled, but when I sketch essays or anything else, it all begins with a small, calm flame outside of me, a gathering glow out there in the world. Mornings, evenings, I take walks, on still-sleepy streets, on bubbling roads, in wild bushes, my mind ajar, ears open, eyes searching, all my senses in brazen awareness. On these walks, I am alert to the forms that my sparks of inspiration might assume: the slide of a drop of dew off a lemon leaf, the unsettling slither of an invisible animal in the grass, the tilt of a palm tree bending in the wind, the waning gold of dusk light, an excited child scampering along the sidewalk with a wrap of roasted corn, the blinking headlamps of a foul-mouthed driver’s vehicle, the low coo of a blue-plumed bird. Without walking, without immersing myself in the rawness of the world, I do not write. I can, but I don’t, because there’s something deepening about tossing ideas in your mind on a stroll, about knowing that the sight of a squirrel on the run might be all your story needs to set its feel, its tone, its life.

2.

In 2009, when I began paying attention to literature, it was poetry that I first wrote: politics poetry, love poetry, rain poetry: a phase of stimulation sown by J.P. Clark’s “Agbor Dancer.” Then one afternoon, Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty made me want to write prose, but instead I began a diary, until July of 2012 when I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and finally decided to write seriously, and then began my first short story that August, then left it, then completed my first full one in October, then showed it to only one person, then finally, after beginning Purple Hibiscus, I made my first confident attempt, a four-page baby called “Small Things.” In March of 2013, I stumbled onto Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow, a novel partly set in Aba where I grew up, whose prose style was instantly attainable and so eased me in. Yellow-Yellow was a turning point: it gave me permission to write.

3.

I have a complex, overlookable relationship with the word “writer.” I don’t consciously think myself a Writer. What I think is Storyteller, because before I ever knew I would write, I told stories, recitations of grand historical events that usually had my family and friends still and entranced, and so I think myself a storyteller who happens to have found his expression in writing, who had he chosen painting would still tell stories with his brush strokes.

I first read, then I wrote; I read now, then I write. And it helps greatly that I am widely and wildly interested in Things. Artsy Things. All Things. History. Physics. Religion. Biographies. Nature. Mathematics. Music. Movies. Barbing and carpentry. Diversity that grants me a flexibility of imagination, offers unrestrained utility in my writing. My writing life is hemmed around this trajectory: Reading all and reading deep, reading and pausing, reading and re-reading, pondering why the author chose a comma rather than a semi-colon, why the author refused to close a sentence soonest, chose to let it run and run, on and on, like a cultured snake. This way, I learn the magic of words, and I learn the rhythm of meaning, and I learn the truth of stories, and I surrender to their often-overwhelming power: opening Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things or Ali Smith’s “The Art of Elsewhere” and feeling elevated to soaring levels of perception, having a writer-friend tell me he felt likewise reading Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.”

I cannot be without weighing words, without painting images, or crafting metaphors and similes and personification, or dressing phrases, or polishing syntax, or drafting and redrafting sentences in my head, in my notebooks, on my phone, on an okada, on my Laptop, Nnaemeka.

4.

To write, for me, is to care too much, too deeply, to exist in a state of wild curiosity about the world, about life and love and longing, pain and people and prayers, questions and  meanings and fear. To write, for me, is to comb the words and look of strangers for probabilities, to prod vulnerabilities for possibilities, to wonder what story lay behind that tilt of the head, that blink of the eye, that warmth in a handshake, that unprovoked outburst. To write, for me, is to remember all that has been said, all that has been done, to ruminate and pick them apart as they are being said and done. To write, for me, is to be in deep sleep and have a seductive sentence catwalk into my head, to be torn in a consequent half-sleep between the pleasure of rest and the business of craft, to succumb to the latter and get up and open Nnaemeka because the sentence might walk out of my life if I don’t, walk away and forever.

To write, for me, is to live in an interminable stream of perception, to infuse observation with perception, to understand the boundaries of both.

5.

My writing is about dabbling into other arts, about finding inspiration in a Vogue cover of Rihanna, or in the vortex of creativity that is a Lady Gaga music video, or in the piano riff of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” or in Kelly Clarkson’s haunting contralto in “Already Gone,” or in the multifaceted tangibility of a Wangechi Mutu painting, or one by Kehinde Wiley, or one by Kerry James Marshall, or in an artistically inexhaustible book cover helmed by Victor Ehikhamenor.

To write, for me, is to find in the craft of non-writers grounded depth for characters: the majestic gait of Daniel Day-Lewis, the domineering elegance of Cate Blanchett, a moment-halting stare from Viola Davis, the sensuous swagger of D’banj, the nuanced restraint of Genevieve Nnaji, the calm assuredness of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the charismatic masculinity of Idris Elba.

To write, for me, is to indulge in a collection of ornamentally poetic, elegant, sprawling titles of works of art: Julie Maroh’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them, Alexander Pope’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

6.

There breathes, in the writings of my influences, a beating, bleeding, sensitive heart: Teju Cole, Jhumpa Lahiri, Adichie, Uwem Akpan, Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Garth Greenwell, Chinelo Okparanta, Michael Ondaatje, Marilynne Robinson, Richard Flanagan, Vladimir Nabokov, J.M. Coetzee.

To write, for me, is to try to recreate this heart, to endow my fiction with nuance, resist the temptation to unnecessarily “elevate characters to archetypes,” the carelessness to “reduce them to stereotypes.” Because, to me, they are people. Because their conjured humanity is the only way I convince myself that their stories matter enough to hold my unwavering interest.

7.

Late 2012, in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, just before I wrote my first story, I joined The Writers’ Community (TWC), a group of undergraduates meeting, reading, sharing prose, poetry, even music lyrics. Late 2016, we remain a literary family, mapping out careful, honest criticism, necessary encouragement to each other.

The writing life is mostly about community. And often about rooting for favourite authors and scrutinizing awards and dabbling into literary arguments. But always, always about this: the hunger for success.

 

 

Image by Dawn Ashley via Flickr.