Thoughts: On Writing, Mentorship and the “Laziness” of Young Writers.
Recently, against the backdrop of the whole Twitter brouhaha on reviews, mentorship, the laziness of young writers, and gatekeeping, I read an essay in Brittle Paper written by Tendai Huchu detailing his love affair with Sarah Ladipo Manyika, how her book in dependence shaped his writing and how you don’t need to have a personal line of correspondence with your mentor before being mentored by them, and I could not but draw a parallel.
My style is a confluence of styles drawn from mentors whom I’m mostly sure do not even know I exist. From Wole Soyinka to Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Funso Aiyejina… These writers and their works have at one time or the other helped in shaping my writing into what it is today.
I grew up reading a lot of Soyinka and titles in the African writers’ series. I discovered the numerous treasures in the Igbobi College library early on in my sojourn there as a student, my father also had a personal library which I dipped into without apology. In those early years, I was reading primarily for enjoyment, getting high off the thrill of the story. Amongst amazing books such as Sundiata, Shaka Zulu, and the Count of Monte Cristo, I particularly remember reading Wole Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists in that period and having “ rem acu tetigisti “ stuck in my head even though I hardly understood what I was reading. It was later on, newly into adulthood and reflecting on the impacts of my past readings I realised how much Soyinka had influenced my writing particularly in the use of language, breaking the rules of grammar and improvisation.
Chronologically, after Soyinka, my next big influence was Funso Aiyejina. Prof. Aiyejina mentored me on how to tell stories through poetry. Every time I read his poem; “and so it came to pass”, it made me, and it still makes me want to dance. There was this rhythm, this cadence, this underlying sing-song rhyming he brought to poetry without necessarily rhyming. And consciously or unconsciously, a lot of my poetry have been modelled after this unseen pattern. I don’t know if I’m making sense here, but if you’ve ever read my poetry, you’ll understand what I’m saying.
Moving on from Prof. Aiyejina, the next significant influence on my writing were Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Elnathan John and Abimbola Adelakun.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow was my first conscious encounter with satire. Whilst I’d previously encountered satire with Prof. Aiyejina, I was at that time unable to identify it for what it was. The Wizard of the Crow was my first true awakening to satire as a genre. Ngugi showed me I loved satire and if you ask me off the top of my head, without giving thought to it what my favourite book is, I’ll most probably respond with Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Wizard of the Crow 90% of the time.
Where Ngugi showed me that I loved satire with the Wizard of the Crow, Elnathan made me understand that I wanted to write satire, Elnathan showed me how to write satire. My first encounter with my mentor; Elnathan John was at the back page of the Guardian newspaper. My father had brought to my attention his article: how to worship the Nigerian god and there and then I told myself… I fucking want to write that. And thus began my apprenticeship. Every Tuesday, I was at the Dark Corner waiting for Elnathan to drop a new lesson on satire. A lot of times, I wrote derivatives from, and rejoinders to his articles (a lot of which never saw the light of the day thank God) and in the words of Amaka, I was a proper Elnathan John fanboy.
With Abimbola Adelakun I expanded my world view about writing satire. Her weekly ruminations on the back page of The Punch gave me a lot to chew on and I also wrote a number of derivatives from her articles. I would later encounter her book Under the Brown rusted roof years later in Ibadan, but that is a narrative for another day.
Coming back to the present day, my current mentors are Tunde Leye and Ayodele Olofintuade.
Tunde Leye because I am going to write historical fiction, and his book Afonja: The Rise is instructive in this regard. History is generally considered by many to be a boring subject. Thus, successfully weaving a narrative that personifies and brings to life these historic characters makes Afonja magnum opus in my eyes.
I consider Ayodele Olofintuade as a mentor for the ease of her writing and the similarity in our styles. Her use of language in Lakiriboto Chronicles is how I aspire to use language. Simple, humorous, witty and without apology.
At this point, I realise that I have become long-winded and would be hard-pressed to command any more of your attention. However, this essay would not be complete if I do not mention Dike Chukumerije, Titilope Sonuga, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Linkin Park. I’ve always known that I wanted to perform poetry. To bring the words written on paper to life on stage through performance … and Dike and Titi have been mentoring me in doing just that. One of my mid — long term goals is to perform at Dike’s Night of the Spoken Word and I’ve been known to accomplish whatever I set my mind to (it’s cliche, I know 😁). The band; Linkin Park helped me make sense of anger as an emotion, as an outlet for creation and from them I learnt that it’s okay to just rage… on paper. On Lin-Manuel Miranda? His artistry is just insane. I often tell myself that if I can create something half as good as Hamilton, I’d have fulfilled my purpose in this life.
What am I saying in summary? You do not necessarily need to have a personal line of communication with your mentors before you’re mentored by them. You do not need to seek their validation before you have “learnt” from them. Rather, identify aspects of their work, of their style you strongly identify with and coopt them into yours without losing your voice. The goal is to become better, to be the best writer you can be, to keep creating, to keep writing, to keep inspiring.
Thoughts: On Writing, Mentorship and the “Laziness” of Young Writers was written in January, 2020.
Originally published at http://femiojosuwrites.wordpress.com on April 9, 2020.