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‘Poor Citizens=Poor Reading Culture’ Tolu Ogunlesi




When and why did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t know but I remember writing a novel – and actually finishing it – when I was twelve.

What is the secret to being a fine writer?
Wanting it so badly that nothing else appears good enough as an alternative. And sometimes, discovering that you are hopeless at every other thing helps.

Greatest achievement in writing career
Every bit of success, at the time of its attainment, insists on being the
greatest. And that, I think is how it should be. When an email comes
into my box telling me about a success (publication/competition), it
doesn’t care about yesterday’s email, or tomorrow, bringing bigger
news. All it does is ask me to rejoice, which I do.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
King Solomon I think. He was a rich poet… which I wouldn’t mind being. Plus he wrote great love poetry. And his poetry outlived him.

Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to read people’s minds… or the patience to learn anything I’d love to be a master of.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Hopelessness… that state in which you look all around and all is silence and pitch darkness

What is your philosophy of life?
I don’t have any one philosophy, but if I had to say something, it’d be this: Life is Short, Art is Long, but No Long Thing (which I’d translate to mean: Work hard but never take yourself too seriously)

Who is your perfect reader?

A person who comes to a book with eagerness, curiosity and a wide open mind.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

You mean on my bed. I like to dip in and out of books, to get a feel of the writing and the spirit. At the moment a couple of novels, short story collections, my notebook, and a non-fiction book on the world’s greatest scandals…

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh?

Brian Chikwava’s Harare North and Adaobi Nwaubani’s I do not come to you by chance. I love both books, and will be reviewing them.

What is the strangest research you’ve done?
I haven’t really written on any strange topics yet… but I remember how agonizing it was to find out about the art of molue painting when I was working on a recent piece of mine… one lunch time saw me wandering
around Obalende…

Have you ever imitated another writer’s style?
You often can’t help it, what you read influences what and how you write, often unconsciously. Life as a writer is often about being at the mercy of a million competing voices in your head, offering possibilities on how and what
to write about… what they call your voice or your style is a mélange of all these voices, whipped into shape by your own stubbornness and instinct…

What inspires your writing?
Everything… sights and sounds, visions and voices, dreams and doubts. A wall gecko in the  bathtub one morning is the father of an afternoon poem in the spiral-bound notebook.

What is the worth of a book?
Not the paper on which it is printed, not the recommended retail price… a book is worth the vision that inspired it and brought it to completion, it is worth all the time that went into it, worth all the crushing self-doubt that hammered it into shape…

Which of your works was the most challenging for you to write?

It doesn’t get any better… every one has been bloody challenging… a blank page doesn’t respect any credentials you shove in its face – at least in my case. Every time I have to start from the beginning.

Solution to poor reading culture in Nigeria
I’d hate to sound simplistic, but poor citizens is equal to poor reading culture. When people have to spend all their time making ends meet, what time – or money – do they have to read? The solution to what they
call Nigeria’s poor reading culture is to increase the per-capital income… which increases disposable income. And of course, bring the public education system back to life again.

Five years on as a writer: what are your aspirations?
To have written and published a novel, and perhaps a full-length non-fiction book.

What does it mean to be a writer?
Hanif Kureishi defined it as “indolence, perversion, uselessness and hanging around.” I’ll let you know when I find a better definition. But in the meantime I’ll add “unexplained moments of pure, wild euphoria” to the list.

Read more here.  Tolu Ogunlesi is everywhere on the web; he runs a blog officially here.


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