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“This feat gave me the realization that I could write”: Q&A with Edzordzi Agbozo, part 1

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The Q&A series features poet Edzordzi AgbogoAkwantuo is looking for writers to profile, please get in touch at akwantuo (at), on Facebook or Twitter.

Q: What genres do you write? Which one most attracts you when you sit down to write?
A:Poetry comes to me naturally. It is what attracts me most. Any time I attempt to write anything, I start with poetic lines. I, however, attempted some short stories (which I did not consider good enough and have been hiding in some folders on my laptop.)

Q: What is the first piece you remember writing? Tell me about the circumstances. How old were you if you recall, why did you decide to write? Did it change anything for you?
A: The first piece I wrote was Mia Denyigba (Our Motherland). The poem was entirely in my mother tongue, Ewe. When I was in Junior High School in Mafi Kumase Comboni Roman Catholic School, I was selected to represent the school in a poetry performance contest as part of the annual cultural week celebration. Someone was supposed to write a poem for me to memorize and perform but the person delayed in doing that task so I decided to write my own poem for the contest. The person, however, brought the poem and my teachers thought his piece was better. Mine was discarded. This poem was my first attempt and my teachers applauded me for the initiative. I won that poetry contest both at the circuit and district levels. I was 13 years old. This feat gave me the realization that I could write. I subsequently wrote some poems in Ewe but stopped writing until I got to Sogakope Senior High School.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it? If so, how? If not, what do you need to overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge I faced as a writer was being rejected by the publishers I approached to publish my manuscripts. Many of them rejected the manuscripts outright without even going through to evaluate the quality of the works. Their reason simply was that my name is not well known in the writing circles so marketing my work would be difficult and that poetry does not sell. I resolved to ‘market’ my writing through my blog and to contribute to anthologies both in Ghana and internationally.  I have been successful in publishing in some anthologies and I have got a few followers on my blog. Whenever I am in Ghana, I read my works on radio and perform at various public spaces. I have won some awards too. I hope these can market my works enough to enable publishers accept my manuscripts.

Q: Do you write from the same physical space? If so, describe it. If not, what are your ideal surroundings for writing?
A: I write from different physical spaces depending on the stimuli around me. My ideal surrounding is quiet lonely greenery with calm classical or Ewe traditional music (preferably borborbor or agbadza). I could substitute a well-ventilated and quiet room for the former.

Edzordzi Agbozo’s works appeared in the Intercontinental Anthology of Poetry on Universal Peace (2014), Prairie Schooner (2014), Glass Warriors, (2012), among others. He also performed poetry at the state funeral of the late President J. E. Atta Mills of Ghana (2012). Find him on Twitter. Watch out for part 2 of our Q&A.

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Everything else

When what I love loves me back, the feeling is silky smooth. Last night I sat cross legged as the sun set around me, darkness cut by the glow of my keyboard. I lost myself in my story and the feeling was sublime.
It’s a feeling I try to remember when I’m doing everything other than writing. The sun set around me yesterday because here’s what I did before I wrote:
- read four newspapers
- drank four cups of coffee
- did two loads of laundry
- washed one sink of dishes
- listened to the radio
- watched television
The television was almost my undoing but here came my story, asking questions I wanted to answer, demanding attention it deserved. As the week begins and more distractions call I’m remembering the delicious feeling. It might not come again for a long time – I’ve lost it for weeks before, even months. When it’s gone I feel like I’ve misplaced something and I search through words until I find it again. The only way to find it is through discipline and practice, by showing up at my glowing keyboard, again and again.

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Where are all the stories?

Akwantuo is pleased to reprint an article by Golden Baobab, the organization for African children’s literature, which originally appeared on the group’s website.

By Bontle Senne, South Africa

Every few weeks, I meet someone who tells me they want to be a writer. Quite often they say they want to write for children or have started writing to give their children something more fun to read. They work in the evenings, after long days behind desks and putting little ones to bed. They tell me they have been working on it for 6 months or 6 years. All of them want to know how to get published. Many of them imagine it will be much more glamorous and profitable than is really likely. Quite a few of them have multiple books they have abandoned, half or a quarter way because they could not find inspiration or had ran out of ideas. I must have met dozens of people with this story in the last 5 years or so. There must be thousands of these hopeful storytellers across Africa but where do all their stories go? Very few of them are ever published by a traditional trade publisher. To be fair, there are very few strictly trade or children’s book publishers on our continent to begin with.

Writing textbooks or other educational materials would certainly be a more sensible and reliable source of income for those who wish to write professionally for children. We have not begun to fully mine the potential of technology to unleash our stories into the world. Why haven’t we? I could point to the many institutional roadblocks and structural inequalities of the publishing world. I could lament our odd preference for work from beyond our own shores.

Today, I’d like to talk about fear. This is the one thing that all those who have told me they want to be writers have in common. They are afraid they can’t finish writing their book or it won’t be good enough if they do, afraid of the inevitable rejection letters or their book won’t sell. I am not immune to these fears. For years, my particular brand of fear was that people would think that I couldn’t really write if I chose to write solely for children. My fear fuelled my excuses for not doing the only thing that would actually make me a ‘real’ writer: writing. I have a theory that this is why after many years as Africa’s only Pan-African children’s literature prize; Golden Baobab only received 180 story submissions for the 2013 prize. That is deeply depressing, especially since we have no shortage of writers; just a shortage of opportunities.

The Golden Baobab Prize and its writing and illustration workshops represent one of the few reasonably accessible opportunities to become a real writer. The stories submitted are written by Africans and for African children, in settings that are relatable, with characters not so unlike the children themselves. So why aren’t there more entries? Where do all our stories go? They go nowhere and we are going nowhere as long as this is the case. Stories can be as powerful as bullets. They can shift perspectives and ignite passions. They can keep our history and heritage alive. They can change the future for one child and a whole family.

Bontle Senne is Golden Baobab’s Media Fellow. She is a blogger, web editor, speaker and literary activist on the board of NPO Puku Children’s Literature Foundation and NPO READ Educational Trust. She writes stories for FunDza Literary Trust and regularly speaks on social media and children’s literature at international literary festivals and conferences.

The Golden Baobab Prizes for literature were established in July 2008 to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. The Prizes invite entries of unpublished stories written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin. The prizes have expanded to include The Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations to discover, nurture and celebrate African illustrators of children’s stories and The Golden Baobab Lifetime Achievement in Children’s Literature Award to honour deserving writers and illustrators who have contributed immensely to African children’s literature.

Golden Baobab is online, on Twitter, on Facebook

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At the blue morning

I’m finding comfort in the inky blue of the morning. It may be that the cold of the Johannesburg winter is easing and the promise of spring and summer is coming to the Southern Hemisphere, to my place at the bottom of the world. It’s been a cold season, one where cups of tea and coffee stopped my shivering for a few minutes only, and it was only deep in bed under layers that I found warmth.

My mornings, my favorite and most convenient time for writing, have been a challenge over these cold months. I missed the heat of the Accra morning when writing with a cup of hot coffee meant sweat pooling on my back if the ceiling fan wasn’t on to air me out. I missed the light at dawn that comes reliably, not like the fickle seasonal change of winter. I wasn’t ready for winter, and my writing took a long time to adjust.

But the morning light outlining the black trees is worth tugging back the covers, putting on the coffee pot, and getting to it. My words are coming back, emerging just in time like spring blossoms.

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“I know nothing about a writer’s block that lasted beyond a few minutes”: Q&A with Nana Yaw Sarpong

2199Akwantuo’s Q&A series kicks off with Nana Yaw Sarpong, curator of Creative Writing Ghana, an online literary news hub.

Q: What genres do you write? Which one most attracts you when you sit down to write?
A: Of genre, I write both poetry and short stories. I started a novel twice but I abandoned it. If I want to communicate something, my impulse says poetry.

Q: What is the first piece you remember writing?
A: I don’t recall the title, but it was after a class on Literature in High School. We had just analysed Amu Djoleto’s Ut Omnis Unum Sint. The poem struck a chord. It might not have been my first attempt at writing. That honour goes to a play I wrote in 2000. I was in a drama and we performed our own plays at the time.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for you as a writer?
A: My biggest challenge as a writer? Now or before? I know nothing about a writer’s block that lasted beyond a few minutes. I think that there are a few thematic areas I cannot touch because people would see what I thought and I fear they wouldn’t be able to distinguish that process from my person.

Q: Do you write from the same physical space? If so, describe it. If not, what are your ideal surroundings for writing?
A: I can write anywhere. I find it creative to sit in the midst of people with talk going on all around and you sort of mute them all out and write.

Q: Writing can be a lonely business. What do you get from being part of a creative community?
A: I dedicate my time to ensuring that there’s a place for writers to meet. And working with Writers Project of Ghana makes that possible. But which writer doesn’t like to be invisible when they’re writing?

Q: How do people react when you tell them you write?
A: In the past it used to be weird. Today, people look on it more favourably and think that it’s cool. I also think that writers have a tough skin and would rarely allow how people thought of them being writers stop their writing.

Q: Are there challenges unique to Ghanaian writers that others may not face?
A: I think there’s barely any local support for writers. By support I mean enough workshops, spaces for writing, publishing opportunities, competitions -prizes, that kind of thing. Are they peculiar? Some are. There’s no serious national award in Ghana. All that money goes to football. What’s a national investment promotion center doing pumping cash into a national football team? Do you know what happens even in Nigeria? They’ve a literary prize. So that’s a major challenge right there. The thinking being done about creative writing is problematic.

Nana Yaw Sarpong is the Curator of the platform Creative Writing Ghana, an online literary news hub. He’s also the Media and Projects Officer with the Writers Project of Ghana. He is a poet and he’s currently working on a collection of poetry on babies.

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