Alive, Well and Breathing


An ode to Nigerian Literature by Clara Jack.

I will begin this essay by stating clearly that Oris’ argument has some validity. The premise of my argument opposing his view is that he hinges deeply on the train of thought of the validity of a thing starting at acknowledgment and visibility. For me, I do not have the luxury to streamline the validity of everything in my life to begin with visibility. It will simply not be enough and in my career as a writer, it is simply not true. I am a writer because I am and there are testaments to the fact sure but still the validity of my career is not hinged on visibility. The visibility at best encourages me but does not define me.

He starts his essay with a history tracing technique which is very classic in narrative spinning. He recounts how Nigerian writers in time passed have gathered in a place and projected the image that inspires covetousness. It is in fact true. I remember being at Litfest in 2021 with my partner at the time and he made a similar statement. He said being among writers, creative people made him want to be one and I rested in the fact that as downbeat as it is to be a writer, it is still very coveted.

This covetousness also hinges on visibility and I know that your works have no effect in a large lens if they are not being seen but being abundantly clear, I will state that it does not mean you are not a writer. Oris continues on the path of how writers have had to surrender into the business and marketing worlds to give their works a fighting chance. In the name of writing copies, may our literary prayers be answered. For some like myself who marry academia, there is the pivot into academic narratives. Critical thinking, argument formulating and polite sentences. It can be a bore because you are subjected to references, verifiable sentences and consideration of even the arguments you are trying to oppose. That is a path that I have found some ground in because I have surrendered to academia.

From both career paths being shrouded in a lot of ‘unrecognized’ words, they remain your words and your voice. That is what it means to be a writer. To speak with written words so how can a thing be dead when it still very much exists in the fabric of existence?

There is what I term, a disruption. A classmate of mine defined disruption as ‘a punctuation in the status quo’. I ran with it. The disruption in the Nigerian Literary system is not something that killed it. It survived and is finding roots in those of us that have stayed and decided to plant the new roots. With works like ‘Vagabonds!’, ‘This is how you fall in Love’ and ‘Nearly all the Men in Lagos are mad’, it is very clear that the manner of writing has shifted. This is not something that signifies death but growth. Something as encompassing and life-saving as literature cannot afford to be stagnantWe have shifted from stiffer narratives and ambiguous words to incorporating the new narratives and new words. This has always been a characteristic of literature because it is a field that is kept alive by the people that practice it. It is somewhat coherent to state that the cease of what we know as ‘Nigerian Literature’ amounts to death but this is the argument I disagree with the most. Why? Perception.

On a more personal note, I have been writing for ten years and in that time, I have not gotten as much recognition and publication as I intended or craved in the very beginning. I have also taken up more rigid styles of writing to make a living and written copies that I would rather not curate as my voice but these are the harsh realities that face writers in any part of the world. Fiction is a short-term financial safety net and that is a painful truth we need to rectify. The largest group of writers in the world, the WGA is currently striking due to work conditions and low pay. How then is it a flaw of Nigerian Literature that the career of a writer is not highly valued? It is a flaw of world perception, where writers are not regarded as serious and whatnot. It is a perception that needs to shift and that is the bone of contention we need to bury. There are a lot of variables to consider in understanding this flawed perception so I will not be delving into it.

Penultimately, to recount the fourth paragraph of the disruption in the literary scene, I will remark in the romantic pillar literature rests on, there is hope. The hope of new writing techniques coming up and more writers being indeed discovered. Granted not at their own time but eventually, when the world is ready to read their words. But, and even needless to say, they will not be widely read, if they are not narrowly read and they will not be narrowly read if they do not write as ‘nobodies’. There is hope because even if I succumb to Oris’ essay and conclude that the scene has died, there are people to breathe life back into it through their words and prayers. No labor of love goes unanswered. I will sing the praises of the spoken word being incorporated into the scene with champions like the Abuja Literary Society, Dike Chukwumerije and LIPfest.

Finally, to give some personal advice to any young writer reading this, your identity will not start and end at acknowledgment. It is something you have chosen. Leonard Cohen said;

“…If it is your destiny to be this laborer called a writer, you know that you’ve got to go to work every day, but you also know that you’re not gonna get it every day. You have to be prepared, but you really don’t command the enterprise.

Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, you know, expecting victory after victory, and you understand deeply that this is not paradise — we somehow embrace the notion that this vale of tears, that it’s perfectable — you’re not gonna get it all straight. I found that things got a lot easier when I no longer expected to win….

You understand that, you abandon your masterpiece, and you sink into the real masterpiece…”

This very sound doctrine hangs over my reading table in print and serves as a reminder on days, months and even years that I don’t ‘win’ to keep going. I am a writer, no one can take that away from me. I had a harsh realization in 2019 when I wanted to give up. Writing is something that as a career will cause your heart to beat and prevent you from going mad. It will also put food on your table but it is not something that will ‘take you somewhere’ because you are already there from the very first day you put ink to paper. Also remember that even with how ‘undiscovered’ you are, there are people dying to be you. We also forget that most writers are appreciated in retrospect, another paradigm that needs to shift. Some more visibility will grant me encouragement but until it comes, I remain a writer. I have a publishing house, Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine, that publishes indie writers every Friday and we get brilliance in ink pouring in throughout the week. This is a give back to the Nigerian Literary community after said community saved me. Six years I have been at it, and long will that prayer continue to be answered. Agreeing that Nigerian literature is dead is ignoring all the readers who are still reading because there is still a market I assure you, is demoralizing a lot of unpublished writers and most personally is disregarding my life’s work and for a prayer as sound as that one, I simply will not accept that- nay, I cannot.

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Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine was founded in 2017 by Clara Jack to be a home for African writers, asking them to come as they are and giving them room for growth. The publication aims to give back to the Nigerian Literary scene for the things it has given us.