Category Archives: Non Fiction

Buchi Emecheta’s Legacy: Women are not Second-class citizens – David Adeleke

buchi-emechetaI was in SS2 when I first read Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood. Like most of my classmates, I was only concerned about doing well in the Literature tests and exams. All that talk about Nnu Ego and motherhood meant very little to me and so I didn’t understand most of what I was reading. Or maybe I understood but the weight of the subject matter hadn’t dawned on me yet. Many years later, it has become impossible for me to ignore the burden and pain that women go through every day – now when I read The Joys of Motherhood, it is enough to weigh me down. Emecheta did not pluck Nnu Ego’s story of suffering, sorrow and eventual loneliness out of thin air; it is a complex and authentic illustration of what many mothers in Nigeria and Africa go through every day.

On Wednesday, January 25, Buchi Emecheta, author of some of the most riveting books of African literature, passed on in her sleep in London. Emecheta wrote more than 20 novels and plays in her lifetime, covering topics ranging from motherhood to the independence and freedom of women through education. In 1974, she published one of her most critically acclaimed novels, Second-Class Citizen. It tells the story of a woman named Adah Ofili, and, like many of Emecheta’s books, it was a fictionalised autobiography.

As a girl, Adah, the main character, spends her days at home with her mother while her father is away at work. Adah’s brother goes to school but she isn’t allowed to because she is a girl, even though she is determined to. One day, she sneaks out of the house while her mother is distracted, and bursts into a classroom during an ongoing lecture. Even though she disrupts the class, the teacher, whom she had already met a couple of times, lets her stay in school for the rest of the day.

A few years later, Adah’s father dies. After his death, she marries a man called Francis and does her best to support him. Francis travels to the United Kingdom alone at first but eventually, Adah and her children join him. While there, she works hard to pay for his education while also taking care of their children. As the story develops, Francis transforms into an abusive husband who has become too lazy to work. To him, they (his family) are second-class citizens in the UK.
Adah, however, is determined to succeed against the odds. She strives to become first-rate in the UK while thriving as a pillar for her children in spite of Francis’ lack of support.

Second-Class Citizen depicts several aspects of Emecheta’s life. Like Adah, she was not allowed to go to school; instead, her younger brother was favoured over her. However, she eventually persuaded her parents to let her go to school, after convincing them of the benefits of her education (the more educated a woman, the higher her bride price). Emecheta first attended an all-girl missionary school. But a year after her father was killed as a soldier in the British army in Burma, she was sent to a Methodist Girls’ High School in Lagos with a full scholarship. In 1960, when she was 16, she married Sylvester Onwordi, whom she had been engaged to since she was 11. By the time Emecheta was 22, she had given birth to 5 children and her marriage had turned bitter, with Sylvester constantly abusing her.

At that age of 22, she walked away from the abusive marriage and set out on her own, with her 5 children. In the years that followed, Buchi Emecheta earned a BSc degree in sociology from the University of London, published 19 novels, 2 plays, 1 autobiography and had several articles featured in reputable publications. In 2005, she was bestowed with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).

There’s a lot Buchi Emecheta’s life and success can teach us. One of such is that it is possible for a woman to succeed without a husband by her side. There are many other successful women whose lives can attest to that fact. Marriage is not the measure of the success of a woman. No woman should be forced to stay in a marriage that is gradually and constantly eating away her soul. She can be independent if she so chooses and she is not an inferior being to a man. A woman is not a second-class citizen that cannot survive without the support of a man.

Emecheta was influenced by Flora Nwapa, and she (Emecheta) in turn inspired writers like Chimamanda Adichie, Lola Shoneyin, and Nnedi Okafor. Africa’s literary mainstage is no longer male-dominated and all evidence points to the fact that it will yet be mounted by many more women in the near future.

Perhaps Emecheta’s grandest legacy was making us realise that feminism isn’t alien to Africa. She clearly defined African feminism as one that is different from that of the West. “African feminism is free of the shackles of Western romantic illusions and tends to be much more pragmatic,” she once said. “Working and achieving to great heights is nothing new to the woman of Africa… An African woman has always been a woman who achieves.” This definition of feminism recurs in her books; it is evident in the lives of Nnu Ego and Adah Ofili. Through Emecheta’s works, we are challenged to think about gender inequality from within (and by ourselves as Africans) and not swallow the West’s idea of it, for every society is different in its own way.

So when we fight for the right for women to be considered equal to men, we are not punching above our weight. No! We are simply asking society to open its eyes to see that gender equality is not a fruit hanging from the tree in the middle of the garden. It is not forbidden. Emecheta’s work and life are a testament to this.

Originally Published on Ventures Africa

On My Way To The Novel, I Fell In Love With The Short Story || Junot Diaz

junot-diaz-topliteI’ve spent past 20 years reading and writing short stories—which, given some careers, ain’t all that much, but it is more than half my adult life. I guess you could say I’m one of those true believers. I teach the form every year without fail, and when I’m asked to give a lecture on a literary form (a rarity), the short story is inevitably my craft subject du jour. Even now that my writing is focused entirely on novels, short fiction is still the genre I feel most protective of. The end-of-the-novel bullshit that erupts with measles-like regularity among a certain strain of literary folks doesn’t exercise me as much as when people tell me they never read short stories. At these moments I find myself proselytizing like a madman and I will go as far as to mail favorite collections to the person in question. (For real, I do this.) I hate the endless shade thrown at the short story — whether from publishers or editors or writers who talk the form down, who don’t think it’s practical or sufficiently remunerative—and I always cheer when a story collection takes a prize or becomes a surprise bestseller (rare and getting rarer). I always have at least one story collection on my desk or near my bed for reading—and there’s never a week when I don’t have a story I just read kicking around inside my head.

I am as much in awe of the form’s surpassing beauty as I am bowled over by its extraordinary mutability and generativity. I love the form’s spooky effects, how in contradistinction to the novel, which gains its majesty from its expansiveness, from its size, the short story’s colossal power extends from its brevity and restraint. Or, as Dagoberto Gilb has said, in the story “the small is large, strength is economy, simplicity, not verbosity.” If the novel is our culture’s favored literary form, upon which we heap all our desiccated literary laurels, if the novel is, say, our Jaime Lannister, then the short story is our very own Tyrion: the disdained little brother, the perennial underdog. But what an underdog. Give a short story a dozen pages and it can break hearts bones vanities and cages. And in the right hands there’s more oomph in a gram of short story than in almost any literary form. It’s precisely this exhilarating atomic compound of economy + power that has entranced readers and practitioners alike for generations, and also explains why the story continues to attract our finest writers.

But such power does not come without a price. This is a form that is unforgiving as fuck, and demands from its acolytes unnerving levels of exactitude. A novel, after all, can absorb a whole lot of slackness and slapdash and still kick massive ass, but a short story can unravel over a pair of injudicious sentences. And while novels can dawdle for chapters before sparking into brilliance, the short story needs to be about its business from its opening line. Short stories are acts of bravura, and for a form junkie like me, to read a good one has all the thrill of watching a high-wire act. When the writer pulls it off sentence by sentence scene by scene page after page from first touch to last, you almost forget to breathe.

Novels might be able to summon entire worlds, but few literary forms can match the story at putting a reader in touch with life’s fleeting, inexorable rhythm. It’s the one great benefit of the form’s defining limitation.

Stories, after all, are short, just like our human moments. (We’re all Tyrion, narratively speaking.) Compared to the novel, stories strike like life and end with its merciless abruptness as well. Just as you’re settling into the world of a story, that’s usually when the narrative closes, ejecting you from its embrace, typically forever. With a novel there’s a more generous contact. When you read a novel you know implicitly that it ain’t going to end for a good long while. Characters might die, families might leave their home nations, generations might rise and fall, but the world of the novel, which is its heart, endures . . . as long as there are pages. A novel’s bulk is a respite from life’s implacable uncertainty. You and I can end in a heartbeat, without warning, but no novel ends until that last page is turned. There’s something deeply consoling about that contract the novel makes with its reader.

No such consolation when you read stories. That’s the thing—just as they’re beginning they’re ending. As with stories, so with us. To me this form captures better than any other what it is to be human—the brevity of our moments, the cruel irrevocability when those times places and people we hold the most dear slip through our fingers.

Some friends have told me that their lives resemble novels. That’s super-cool. Mine, alas, never has. Maybe it’s my Caribbean immigrant multiplicity, the incommensurate distances between the worlds I inhabit, but my life has always worked better when understood as a collection of short stories than anything else. Thing is, I’m all these strange pieces that don’t assemble into anything remotely coherent. Hard for me to square that kid in Santo Domingo climbing avocado trees with the teen in Central NJ bringing a gun to school with the man who now writes these words on the campus of MIT. Forget the same narrator—these moments don’t feel like they’re in the same book or even the same genre. Those years when I was running around in the South Bronx, helping my boys drag their congas to their shows—that time feels like it happened to someone else. (That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it? ) I guess some of us have crossed too many worlds and lived too many lives for unity.

This is the introduction to the Best American Short Stories 2016, click here for the full article.

The Sellout | Paul Beatty’s Tragicomedy about Racism in America

imagesThe Sellout by Paul Beatty is about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court. Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of the The Sellout was raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

The Sellout was praised by critics for its humour and satirical content. It challenges the tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.

Excerpt
“We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it might sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white Republicans and the chihuahuas and East Asian refugees who love them, started out as an agrarian community. The city’s original charter stipulated that “Dickens shall remain free of Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats, Frenchmen, redheads, city slickers, and unskilled Jews.” However, the founders, in their somewhat limited wisdom, also provided that the five hundred acres bordering the canal be forever zoned for something referred to as “residential agriculture,” and thus my neighborhood, a ten-square-block section of Dickens unofficially known as the Farms was born. You know when you’ve entered the Farms, because the city sidewalks, along with your rims, car stereo, nerve, and progressive voting record, will have vanished into air thick with the smell of cow manure and, if the wind is blowing the right direction-good weed. Grown men slowly pedal dirt bikes and fixies through streets clogged with gaggles and coveys of every type of farm bird from chickens to peacocks. They ride by with no hands, counting small stacks of bills, looking up just long enough to raise an inquisitive eyebrow and mouth: “Wassup? Q’vo?” Wagon wheels nailed to front-yard trees and fences lend the ranch-style houses a touch of pioneer authenticity that belies the fact that every window, entryway, and doggie door has more bars on it and padlocks than a prison commissary. Front porch senior citizens and eight-year-olds who’ve already seen it all sit on rickety lawn chairs whittling with switchblades, waiting for something to happen, as it always did.”

48574434-cached“The first 100 pages of [Paul Beatty’s] new novel, The Sellout, are the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I’ve read in at least a decade. I gave up underlining the killer bits because my arm began to hurt . . . [They] read like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility . . . The jokes come up through your spleen . . . The riffs don’t stop coming in this landmark and deeply aware comic novel . . . [It] puts you down in a place that’s miles from where it picked you up.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Swiftian satire of the highest order . . . Giddy, scathing and dazzling.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Paul Beatty is the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, 2016. He is the of three novels— Slumberland, Tuff, and The White Boy Shuffle—and two books of poetry: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. He lives in New york.

The Sellout – Wall Street Journal Best Books of the Year, NPR Best Book of the Year, Hurston/Wright LEGACY Award – Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Awards – Nominee, National Book Critics Circle Awards Winner, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, New York Times Book Review Notable Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Nominee, NYT Outstanding Books of the Year, New Yorker Best Books of the Year, San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year, Time Out New York Best Books of the Year, Buzzfeed Best Books of the Year, Man Booker Prize Winner, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year.

Defining Your Writing Style

 Style is the way something is expressed and is the reflection of your personality, voice as a writer. It is the technique which the author uses in his or her writings, It is not a question of what is right or wrong but a function of what is appropriate for a particular audience and setting. Your writing style can be based on the objective of what you are writing for – you may just want to describe the details of a character or event, persuade somebody to agree with your point of view or explain how something works.

Elements of Writing Style
Voice is a key element of writing style which reflects the writer’s personality and style. It can be objective, funny, reflective or impersonal. While the tone of your writing can vary depending on the situation but the voice is the essential expression of your individual thoughts.

Word Choice is your diction and how precise and concise you are in choosing the exact words to convey meaning. It is important to use adjectives sparingly and adverbs rarely while you let the nouns and verbs do most of the work. Writers should choose words that contribute to the flow of a sentence – alliteration and consonants create words that roll of the tongue while onomatopoeia and short words break up the sentences.

Sentence fluency is the way sentences and phrases rhyme and it involves the use of a variety of sentences with different rhythms and lengths to achieve different effects. It is key to use parallel structures within sentences and paragraphs to reflects parallel ideas. Writers should understand how to arrange their ideas within a sentence to achieve the best effect. Avoid loose sentences, delete extraneous words and rearrange your ideas for effect.

Types of Writing Styles
Narrative Writing – this style of writing usually involves dialogue and characters because the main goal telling a story. It has a definite and logical beginning with situations such as disputes, conflicts and eventual solutions. Some examples of narrative writing include Short stories, Novellas, Novels and Poetry.

Persuasive Writing – this style of writing entails writing to convince the readers to agree with author’s point of view. Persuasive writing is based on justification and arguments because it contains the biases and opinions of the writer. It is driven by a call-to action thereby asking the readers to do something about the situation. Persuasive Writing is mostly seen in Letters of complaints and recommendation, Reviews, Editorial and opinion newspaper pieces, advertisements and others.

Descriptive Writing – this style of writing focuses on describing the details of a place, event or character. It is usually poetic in nature and the writer tries to give a visual description of whatever he or she sees, hears or perceives. Narrative writing is employed in Poetry, Journal or diary writing and also in descriptive writing in some fiction pieces.

Expository Writing – this style of writing is subject oriented because its main objective is to explain and inform. In expository writing, the writer focuses on telling you about a particular topic without sharing their opinion about it. It is written in a sequence and logical order often equipped with facts and figures. Expository writing is used in Textbooks, Business, scientific or technical writings, How-to articles, Recipes, Essays and more.

AJEGUNLE: Exploring The Slumside Of Lagos

Lagos is an emerging megacity which is home to all calibre of people from different ethnic group with varying socio-economic status. However it also host to millions of people who are among those at the lowest rung of the ladder and who have taken refuge in the slums. Among the different slums that abound in Lagos, one is believed to stand out in a couple of ways and this is Ajegunle. Wherever slums are talked about, Ajegunle is the word that comes to mind, not many know that there are actually three Ajegunles in Lagos- Apapa Ajegunle, Sango toll gate Ajegunle and Ikorodu Ajegunle. They are miles apart but surprisingly full of people that share quite a number of things in common which include a condition of living that captures poor economic strength but who are determined to make a living by all means in the megacity.

Sango Toll Gate Ajegunle- this is the least developed among the slums and also the least slum like which is situated close to the Toll gate end of the Lagos-Abeokuta express way. This community lies on the borders between Lagos and Ogun state, like many areas in Lagos the most prominent problem faced by the residents of these communities is poor roads. People living in these areas have appealed to the governments of the two states to come to their aid by constructing roads in their communities, including the abandoned roads. They believe that the only time the government remembers them is during campaign period. The residents laments that this having a negative effect on community development as many tenants were moving else where.

Ikorodu Ajegunle- is a water catchment area situated along Ikorodu express way with a population of about 1500 is surrounded by the Lagos lagoon and the Anjuwon river from Ogun state. The residents of this area live in constant fear of relocation by the government because of floods which have continue to ravage the Owode-Ajegunle communities since 2008. Though some of the residents were relocated to Epe in 2011 after the flood which led to loss of life and properties. The housing structure in most parts of this areas is poor because most of the houses are built with light woods and zinc. This area is surrounded by a river, which the residents depend on as their main source of water and use it for washing, bathing and other culinary activities. But portable water still remains a luxurious commodity to this community water because the water from the river is not safe for drinking and they risk exposing themselves to water borne diseases especially the children.

Apapa Ajegunle- this cosmopolitan community is located in Ajeromi/Ifelodun local government area, there is an area called Boundary in Ajegunle because in the past, Ajegunle was the boundary between the western region and Lagos colony. Apapa wharf and Tincan Island also border this community on the west. Ajegunle means ‘Wealth has landed here’ in Yoruba language and its popularly known as AJ City. It is home to almost all the tribes in Nigeria- Yoruba, Urhobo, Efik, Igala, Bini, Ibo, Hausa and Pidgin English is the popular language in this locality and a common denominator which unifies them. This Lagos suburb is notorious for infrastructural decay, criminal tendencies and the rate of unemployment is at its peak.

Many of the youths in this community roam the streets and have taken to gambling. Many Baba Ijebu (gambling points) and other betting vendors have taken over the area, because the patronage is high. Majority of the young men are out of school, jobless and they believe quick money can come from gambling. Also most of the girls take to prostitution in order to provide for their families. But these young ladies see it as ‘Runs’ not prostitution because many of have families and live at home not in brothels. Nightlife is a common phenomenon and this ‘Runs’ business can be said to be quite lucrative because nightclubs, bars and hotels dot virtually every street within Ajegunle. Some of the popular ‘Runs’ areas within Ajegunle are Gorilla which many people refer to as ‘Good evening street’, Mary’s corner by Nasamu street and the Tolu axis of AJ City which boast of no fewer than twenty brothels and houses over a thousand prostitutes.

Football is a family game in this community and everyone has a vast knowledge of the game from the oldest to the youngest. Many notable footballers have emerged from this suburb which includes Emmanuel Amunike, Taribo West, Samson Siasia amongst several others.

Originally published on Ynaija.

Understanding Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction is also known as literary nonfiction is a genre of writing that uses literary devices such as voice/tone, character development, setting to create factually accurate narratives about real people and events in a compelling and dramatic way. The primary goal of creative nonfiction, is to share information like a reporter but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction. Some forms within this genre include memoir, personal essay, lyric essay, literary journalism, and more.

CreativeNonfiction-TopMuseThe Literary Journalism is the public side of creative nonfiction or Literature of fact (Big idea stories). It uses literary techniques to capture the scene/setting of the assignment or the persona of the person being interviewed. It has a large audience because there are no limits to the subject matter as long as it is expressed in a story-oriented narrative way. Memoir unlike literary journalism is personal because the writer owns it. It is a longer piece of creative nonfiction that takes a deep journey into the personal experience of a writer.

Personal essay is a piece of writing that focuses on a piece of writing through the lens of the personal experience of the narrator. It is usually in the first person and should be based on the personal experience of the writer. While Lyric essay is written in a poetic and musical way with the influence of imagery and description.

Creative nonfiction tries to put a dramatic spin on random everyday events thereby making it enlightening and enjoyable. In the academic community, it is the mainstream way of writing and has become the most popular genre in the literary and publishing communities.

In her book- The Art of Fact, Barbara Lounsberry suggests four constructive characteristics of creative nonfiction – Subject matter, Research, Scene and Fine writing.
Subject matter- the topics which form the subject matter are taken from real life experience and events as opposed to what is invented from the writer’s mind. There is no limit to the subject matter as long as it is expressed in a story oriented style. The Scene – this is the building block of creative nonfiction and it forms the foundation of the narrative. Writing the narrative in scenes and structure reveals the writer’s artistry.

It is key that a piece of creative writing should project a beginning, middle and end that conveys the characters, conflict and pushes action towards some form of closure or resolution.