“Everything we do in life echoes in eternity”
Good afternoon fellow writers, it is lovely to be here. This is my second literary activity in Lagos for the past seven months, due to my fear of Lagos’ climate as it is embodied in its human activities. Considering the fact that I am a writer, I feel secure and privileged to comment on creativity, publishing and the prevailing literary temperament of the twenty-first century. Bear with me when you hear too many “I’s”, they represent premises of illustration and the end result of commitment and not necessary because I am egoistic, far from it my friends. I consider the weaver as a writer and there will be interchanged usages in this presentation.
I am an introvert, though some of my friends may totally disagree. I exist more in the world of the imaginary than the physical. I am very secure in the world of imagination and there I am a weaver having the autonomous power to make or mar my society. However, it is necessary to note that as a writer I draw my inspiration from the society like a weaver. Every writer hears the voice from the human society that motivates their creativity. But what type of voice? It’s a matter of choice for the writer. I am not here to give a prescriptive appropriation of voices to create human conditions. I have not come here to praise myself, what the above simply illustrate is the space I occupy as a reader and a writer.
I am asked to speak on “Undergraduates’ Publishing” which I entitled “Weavers’ Legacies of Madness and Creativity” appropriated from “Our Legacy of Madness” published by Weavers, a collection of well crafted poems of twenty promising writers. This collection raises a question: who is a weaver? A weaver is noun and it refers to person whose job is weaving. Weavers, is a plural noun which refers to the same concept but has varied result. I am happy that you all belong to the “class” of Niyi Osundare when he says, “My mother is a weaver of fabric and chants”. You are weavers of ideas and human conditions. It is a duty as Bolanle says in The Secret lives of Baba Segi’s Wives “… when you choose a family, you stay with them.” Weavers are expected to stay together even when you have graduated from the university.
Writers often require the concentration of a weaver as they sit in their imaginative spaces to create human conditions to achieve their purpose. The writer like the weaver in a symbolic frame uses all his sense organs to create works of imagination. There are two things that influence the weaver: choice of colour and the choice of society. Firstly, what the weaver wants and secondly what the society wants. The weaver attracts attention as a result of his uniqueness which is motivated by the weaver’s determination and deviance to existing norms and the concept of the “collective” choices in the society. At first, the unique weaver is spited and he might not have many patronages, but with time he becomes an object of inquisition by society and lovers of art. The above is an anecdote to illustrate the purpose of writing as a tool to question customs and traditions that tend to subject humans. As Achebe submits, there is a thin line between madness and creativity, which implies that most deviances are considered as madness until persistence draws that very line Achebe alludes to. At this level, in 2011 at the University of Calabar, I was considered a “mad man” because of my creativity and the repetition to myself and those who cared to listen that I am a writer. I still remember that I was advised to concentrate and make good grades because it is the first premise for acceptance of graduates into the meal industries of our society. Many of my friends mocked and few supported me although they did not know what being a writer entails. Up till now, I have not been able to tell, as a practitioner, what being a writer is.
It is said in Igbo that “Ihere anaghi eme onye ara, kama obu nwanne onye ora ka ihere n’ eme”, which loosely translates as, a mad man does not become ashamed but his brothers do. My friends were ashamed of my attitude and stubbornness to be a writer against the submissions of the “seers” that I am bound to fail. Like the narrative of the madman whose brothers try to cover his nakedness to preserve their dignity, my friends in persons of Abru John, Nathaniel Ojima and Ogar Patrick spend many nights editing my works free of charge. As I sit to prepare this speech, I see them now as co-creators in my literary madness.
Weavers should tap into the power of co-creatorship in their activities as a body. These friends of mine were writers and editors of The English and Literary studies Students’ magazine called “The Quill”. They performed all roles of a standard publishing house; they were the first to shape me. Their efforts, even at primary stage, added colour to my works. I crowdsourced for editors among my classmates during my undergraduates; they were consumers of literary works and they actually gave valid judgments of what could pass for well composed literary work. Our Legacy of Madness produced by Weavers is well edited and I am convinced that Weavers can as a matter of utmost urgency, impose the burden of creation on these ones who have demonstrated by their outputs that they are capable of being writers. They must encourage these individual writers to hold the light for other members, so that when many of you have retired into the banking sector, oil and gas, politics among others, and abandoned writing-in the nearest future; you can find one of your own who has written the stories of your time to celebrate with. That will be possible, if you can identify some among those who are seated here and give them the task of creativity by encouraging them. In the history of creativity, there has been no total acceptance that I am aware of. Creativity, like Madness grows with time as a result of continual practice; the former to a near perfect state while the latter to a disapproved state.
What is the benefit of publishing as an undergraduate? Publishing as an undergraduate stands you out among your fellow students. It entrusts a responsibility on you to carry your humility with fear. You will emphasize your humility at all times because you do not want lecturers and classmates to see you as arrogant; with time it will help you to develop that sense of humility that every writer needs to continue to exist in sanity. Writing gives you voice, you do not need to shout to validate your existence; your craft validates your existence. Writing gives you the power to speak about art as a creator and user. You will be welcomed into the community of writers in the world. Publishing as an undergraduate gives you the opportunity to make use of the university platform to advertise your product; you obtain an automatic ticket as an ambassador of your university which reflects how the university has molded and accommodated you intellectually.
Think of how this will sound, “I am Onyekachi Onuoha, a writer and a two hundred level student of the University of Calabar”. The introduction attracts attention; it affects one’s psychology and triggers responses. Why? You might wonder. Our generation is considered as the noisy generation which is incapable of introspection and as such lacks the capability of creativity. Some people are alarmed when they see a younger writer because they consider it a deviance from the norm. People were interested to know how I find time amidst this noise and study. The first encouragement I received was from my lecturers and fellow students. The university was a solid platform that I strived on for three years until I graduated and became independent. I now introduce myself as “I am Onyekachi Onouha, a writer.” I no longer need a long tag because the statement has been made through a viable platform.
The power of social media and digital platforms in the shaping of creative consciousness of the writer cannot be deemphasized. Social media and digital platforms are some of the means by which the writer can make his voice heard. The writer therefore cannot extract himself from the virtual community because it, builds the foundation upon which his fame rests. Writers secretly covet fame and the achievement of this starts from a profound virtual presence. However, the writer must be careful in this self and literary propagation in the virtual space. Digital platform provides the space for those who have the power of creativity. The internet is a powerful tool of the writer. Therefore, the writer must be consistent and original in his approach to content pasted on social media. A tag of ownership must come at the tail of every post. That way you can guide against intellectual theft. I have been privileged to attend many conferences based on my ability to be different and not follow the crowd on twitter. I am happy to inform you that I am twitter writer. It is necessary as writers to be careful of what we post on social media. Like digital democracy, we can leverage on the advantages of social media and digital platforms to promote our art.
Why is it necessary for our generation to write and publish? Our generation has been branded the noisy generation as a result of madness and noise generated by technology. These sounds in the market places of various African societies have taken a new center in a digital age and we are attacked amidst the sounds fused with noise in our social spaces. Spectators and actors do not need to go to the market places for them to intercept the noise of those sounds but they are entertained by it. The sound sought them even in their closet, and as such the realist writer is affected by it. As D.S. Bland observes, the writer is an active participant of his time and he actually adopts the resources of creativity from the existing chaos in his cosmic space and brings order to it within the framework of literature.
We are living in a time of great social upheavals ranging from inter-tribal wars and stereotypes, unemployment, loss of culture in the name of globalization, religious extremism to reversed semantics, and break down of morals which are embodied in the semiotics of our time. According to Niyi Osundare, ‘Sound is meaning and meaning is sound”. The twenty first century youths are caught up in these competing sounds in their social spaces- sounds of social media, mass media and other previously highlighted challenges. The youths of the twenty first century exist in the information age and the information they receive becomes part of their existence. Nwahunanya(2011) assents to the role of reality when he opines that;
Creative works of literature are product of the society’s libido.
The psychological approach may illuminate the creative process,
but the goings-on in the psyche itself are not central as such to
literature since they are only preparatory to the act of creation
and psychological truths become artistic values only if
they enhance coherence and complexity in a work (36).
The reason for the above mentioned shows that the writer is an active participant in his society and by extension recreates the collective experience of his people. The African experience thus transcends the concept of “Arts for Arts sake” but performs a function in the society in which it thrives and emerges into preserving the norm of realism of the time it is produced. The prevailing literature reflects the time we are actually in, a time of cyber immediacy and digital born literature in a jet age. The sound which we encounter in our generation actually finds it ways into the literature of the time in terms of the issues we grapple with. The sound which is meaning to my generation threatens the literature of the time in terms of grammatical infelicities, structure of ideas and depth of composition. This is where The Weavers must come in to intercept such noises that affect literary outputs. According to Okediran in Tenants of the House, “All you need to change the world is a small group, dedicated, loyal and focused on big things…. what you are do is writing your name on gold”. Weavers have the strength to change the look inside the world of our literature and by that make a valid statement that irrespective of the affliction of the time our literature is exceptional in form and content. In view of these various sounds that threatens creativity and the peace of introspection, Anyokwu (2012) in his newspaper interview comments thus,
…the age of being on the go, people are always moving and
they don’t indulge in reflection. They don’t enjoy the culture
of reflection, of sitting down to reflect about their idea stream
and try to understand human psychology.
The foregoing emphasizes the challenges of introspection and creativity in the twenty first century. Weavers must extract themselves from the syndrome of “on the go”, reverse semantics on their use of words and be very careful of the promises of religion. Finally, how many contributors to “Our Legacy of Madness” finally became full blown writers? I leave you to answer the question for you. Since I have no answers to the above question, permit me to quote from the Our Legacy of Madness acknowledgments’ page, What we have in this collection are enraged voices at last finding the strength to rise above the chaos that had previously overshadowed them. It is like a homecoming, a recovery of a near identity. What do you when you arrive home as weavers? Read more books. You are expected to write and put your ideas down, you are expected to save for your work, you are expected to submit your works to publishing houses without fear of rejection; their suggestion will help you restructure your work. Since you have arrived home, use the power of weaver as a community to edit your works. Write more and build your defenses for the chaos is still with us; as long as the chaos remains with us, our literature must carry this lamentation of what Achebe calls the alternative handle on life. As you have said in Our Legacy of Madness”
This work we have carried on as a dream for several months, the
same way a pregnant woman bears her burden of joy. Yet it is not
a sigh of relief that we bestowed on it, but a blithe, throaty groan
it is in a bid to give meaning to the meaninglessness that surrounds
us that we have come to proclaim this legacy which is ours,
which we met- a maze of madness we are caught.
If it is not with a sigh of relief weavers create, then they should continue to nurture their creativity and be reminded that one of their responsibilities is to extend the boundaries of creativity within the world of literature. I will love to end with Prof Ezeigbo’s word in Roses and Bullets “Everything we do in life echoes in eternity”. Thank you.
By Onyekachi Onuoha.