The first thing I miss is waking up to memories of last night’s Smirnoffs. Waking up to the thought of breakfast with my literary kindred: litres of orange juice and mounds of French toast disappearing as we lament the fact that we have been irresponsible and not typed one sentence decent enough to be read in class, much less critiqued.
I miss sitting in the Coaster bus, gossiping about our tutors as we wait for Buchi (perennial latecomer that she is) to prance downstairs so we can go for class. I miss posing for pictures. I miss how the room brightened when Chimamanda walked in bearing apples and Ferrero Rochers (because we were such great students 😀 ) I miss the laughter during lunch at the Lagos Resource Centre where we held our sessions from 10 am to 5 pm (sometimes 7).
The workshop was many things. New friends. Self discovery. Surprises. I would find out that Chimamanda did not read the entry I sent in; someone sent her the link to one of my blog posts and I was selected by that. The story I did submit, she found bleh. And I liked that story, oh. A lot. But if her reaction to it was anything to go by, I doubt it would have gotten me in. If you’re interested in reading it though, you can find it here.
Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot you can learn at a workshop. Either you have an insatiable word-hunger or you don’t. Either you have a story to tell, or you don’t. Chimamanda was quite clear: If you don’t have something to say, this workshop won’t give it to you. What it can give you is lessons in crafting, detailing, character development and possibly widening of horizon.
It gave me more. Honesty in my emotion, for instance. I can tell you that I cried as I wrote the first draft of this post because I missed the others so much. And I’m not ashamed to admit my tears, my fears, my weaknesses.
I learnt to think of what I do as art. As something powerful, something profound. Not my work personally, no. But the written word itself, its tradition and history and all the possibilities that lay before it. And me, I’m just an instrument, a selfish one because all I want is to get those words Out. Of. My. Head. And read.
I read. Learnt to read as a writer, not a critic. Learned to pick writing till all the elements could be identified and analysed. What works here? Why? What doesn’t? Why? How does the writer achieve so and so effect? How can I replicate it? It reminded me of an article I read recently, aptly titled “How to steal like an artist”. And don’t we all? What is new under the sun?
There were many laughs. Like the posh New Yorker who wanted to remind everyone that he grew up on the “mean streets of Surulere”. Like the intense dislike we developed for clichés. Like the Abuja banker who introduced herself all the time as mother of “four girls and one boy”. Like the Abuja lawyer we hated and loved in rapid alternation for being such a bloody know-it-all! Like the coinage of the term “Linguistic Playfulness”, a grandiloquent (see, I know big words too!) response to the question: What do you look for in a piece of writing?
I’m glad I went for the workshop this year, with the others. It wouldn’t have been the same if I went last year or next year. For one, this year I got to sit in class with a Botswanan on the Caine Shortlist 🙂 And when I consider the queer turn of events that led to me going (someone on the first shortlist of twenty couldn’t make it), I’m grateful. Dare I call it fate? It was a matchless experience, and I pray, hope, and fervently wish that all my friends who write get in for this workshop sometime real soon. Amen, somebody?
I’d like to say a big thank you to Farafina Trust, whose brainchild this workshop is. Thank you to Nigerian Breweries for sponsoring, and believing. And to Okey Adichie, who made all the arrangements. Thank you for just being so darned friendly and generous. You’re the best, Okey! A big, warm thank you to the facilitators: Chimamanda Adichie, Adewale Maja-Pearce, Binyavanga Wainana, Tash Aw and Faith Adiele. And Muhtar Bakare, especially for his kindness.
And finally, one bit of advice I won’t forget in a hurry (courtesy Binyavanga):
“If you aren’t reading at least 30 books a year, forget about writing anything worthwhile. You should aim for a book a week.”
Tall order. I need me some cheap books!