One writer who has been able to use the internet in connecting effectively with his readers is Elnathan John. Described variously on many sites on the internet as Nigerian novelist, satirist and writer, Elnathan John is well known for his satirical pieces published on his personal blog, www.elnathanjohn.blogspot.com where he reaches out to his readers.
It is worthy of note stating that Elnathan John has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing on two occasions. He was shortlisted also for the NLNG Prize for Literature in 2016.
Furthermore, on his blog, readers are able to send in their comments about what they think of his posts, whether a satirical piece or a short story. This novelty is in contradistinction to traditional modes of publishing books or magazines where automatic comments are not possible.
I shall proceed hereafter to a dissection of the topic at hand into two polarities, the prose criterion, and the poetry criterion.
The Prose Criterion
Nigerian writers today are changing the dynamics of the publishing world especially with works published on the internet. A whole lot of African writers have embraced similar dynamics. These are seen on Facebook, Twitter and some other social media sites. Some writers have taken this dynamics further by experimenting with flash fiction on Twitter. Teju Cole is one of such writers. On his Twitter account you would find flash fiction stories like:
“Pomp, pageantry and tears of joy. A ceremony was held for graduates of the entrepreneurial training programme at Kiri Kiri Prison.”
Another interesting flash fiction is the one below:
“Pastor Ogbeke, preaching fervently during a storm in Obrura, received fire from heaven, in the form of lighting and died.” (@Teju Cole, on his Twitter handle).
Blogging has become a growing trend today amongst gifted Nigerian writers on the internet. A well known Nigerian blogger, particularly on Nigerian literature is Pa Ikhede. He is one blogger whose influence has grown phenomenally in the Nigerian literary scene. He blogs at www.xokigbo.com. A striking feature of his articles and essays are their in-depth nature and articulate stance. Apart from literature, Ikhede also writes about politics in Nigeria. A highly opinionated writer, he drives home his points in clear and unambiguous terms when saying a thing or more about literary works in Nigeria and elsewhere.
On his blog he has written quite a lot of lengthy pieces on literature in Nigeria, Africa and the rest of the world. A major part of his writings on contemporary Nigerian literature involves review of books or stories written by Nigerian writers. But Ikhede doesn’t seem to limit himself to only works by Nigerian writers. He has reviewed Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday, Julianne Okot Bitek’s 100 Days, Petinah Gappah’s The Book of Memory etc. His writings also cover personal matters as he did with his August 2015 blog post, “Summer Blues: Life is a Beach”. His analysis of E.C. Osondu’s novel, This House is not for Sale clearly digs into the work as well as explores its anthropological significance in contemporary Nigeria. Ikhede points out the loose or disconnected plot structure of Osondu’s novel and metaphorically ascribes same to life—highlighting a similar state of things in daily human life.
Ikhede has played significant roles in literary festivals in the African continent. At the 2015 Writivism Literary Festival he moderated a panel on the topic, “What is the Science in Afro sci-fi?” A significant aspect of the debate over this at the festival is the emergence of innovative stories by African writers and a gradual departure from the poverty porn stories which gained notoriety for far too long in African stories.
Ikhede was also a key participant at the 2013 Ake Festival where he played a critical role moderating one of the sessions.
The Poetry Criterion
In the poetry scene, lots of young African writers churn out poems almost on daily basis and have them published on the internet by merely copying such poems from their MS Word environment to the respective websites, or by sending them via mails or Submittable to online literary magazines, or through whatever means feasible and allowable. But the point being made is the level of speed at which these works reach their readers. In some cases, these poems can be written on the spur of the moment in the respective site, whether social media network (Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc) and are immediately published. Publishing has never been this easy in the history of mankind as it is today; neither has it been so quick as it is now in comparison to the times of our first, second and third generation Nigerian writers. However, lots of critics are quick to excoriate this breakneck publishing style, seeing it as no different from a perfunctory raconteur before children, and have rightly pointed out the numerous snags in it, ranging from shoddily written poetic pieces, short stories or any literary work for that matter; increasing level of lethargy amongst young writers; embarking on a wild goose chase in failing to take good time to learn the literary craft through meticulous reading, attending literary workshops, going for trainings or even having mentors to guide them. The outcome, to state the pitiable list, is one that comes with effluvium.
While these constitute some of the negative sides of this “quick publishing” disposition, it is important stating also that there are positive sides to this trend. Today, there are great websites in Nigeria involved in promoting writing, particularly amongst young Nigerian writers. At the forefront of this mission is Authorpedia, a site curated by Kukogho Iruesiri Samson. The site is built with interactive features in mind, enabling young Nigerian poets to have their poems published to a large reading audience. It also organises a monthly poetry competition, the Brigitte Poirson Poetry Contest. The contest has since inception brought to limelight the likes of the following who have won the monthly contest:
Samson Oluwatoyin (February, 2015), Chika Onwuasoanya Tobi (March, 2015), Onis Sampson (June, 2015), and several other monthly winners up till date.
The Authorpedia poetry site/ Words Rhyme and Rhythm (WRR) platform is mainly funded by its curator and CEO, Kukogho. On the judging panel is Brigitte Poirson, a French poet and lecturer for whom the contest is named after in honour of her tireless contribution to the growth of African poetry.
Quite striking is the fact that the contest is a private sponsored initiative. It resonates with the need for other private bodies and individuals to step in and make their own contributions to the growth of Nigerian literature.
Authorpedia makes it easy for poets to learn from its poetry college and also have their poems published on the site. This gives them great exposure to the teeming number of readers that visit the site. WRR is reputed to be the biggest online poetry platform in Nigeria and I think this worth commending.
One of the sterling qualities of the platform is its Poet of the Week splash where it showcases a poet whose poem(s) published in a given week made a great impression.
We shall now turn our attention to the social media network, Facebook with a view to looking at how Nigerian poets have been able to utilize this medium to grow their works. On Facebook, we have many young Nigerian poets who publish their poems almost on daily basis. While this brings to mind the witty saying, “practice makes perfect”, it has also been said that this quick mode of publishing poems often occasions dishing out of poorly written poems lacking in quality. Some of the abiding downsides to this have included poems full of clichés, poems hastily written with enormous obscurantism in a bid to show off poetic skills and craftsmanship that have not yet been properly learnt; and sometimes… one has also noticed that amongst some of these young poets publishing, who may not be blamed for some of these literary mishaps, there tends to be a tilt toward archaic Elizabethan rhythms which does not fit into the contemporary thematic engagement which forms the crux of the poem they have written.
Sheer obscurantism has been condemned incessantly from the times of first generation Nigerian writers. Even though the likes of Osundare, Aiyejina and others sought to write poems that could remedy this obscurantism, it is still certain that traces of it abide in contemporary Nigerian poetry. And if one should contemplate over a causative factor for said anomaly one need not think deep or too far before such factor(s) are noticed. There is a dearth of a stimulating reading culture in the country traceable from political leadership, traceable from ill-equipped libraries in tertiary and secondary institutions, traceable from a slow and crawling publishing industry where books are rarely sought for because the interest for reading is very minimal.
ONIS SAMPSON is a young Nigerian lawyer, award-winning poet, essayist, playwright, scriptwriter, Author, and writer of diverse genres whose oeuvre is quite ineffable. His book of poems, A city is talking inside my head was recently published by Proofnet Publishers.