Friday, July 25, 2008

An Interview with Omoseye Bolaji


An Interview with Omoseye Bolaji


Free State Black Literature is now established and acknowledged world-wide. It is also generally accepted that the main catalyst behind this resurgence is Omoseye Bolaji, a prolific author, and journalist who has inspired many others to write. Here, HiFive’s Jerry Seekoei caught up with him for an illuminating session on the world of writing…

You’ve got a fair amount of recognition as a writer – many books published, reviews, published studies discussing your work…I was quite staggered to see how many references you have on the internet. Your recent awards too have also been well publicized. How does it all feel?

BOLAJI: I have a feeling I’ve heard this question before! (laughter). At the end of the day life goes on, really. From a simplistic point of view I believe that what really pleases a writer most is when a reader comments favourably on one’s works. The other day I met a stranger who just came to me and said: “Mr. Bolaji, I read the Sesotho translation of your play (The subtle transgressor), I could not put it down for a second. It was superb. I give it ten over ten!”

Some other observers also believe that you are lucky to have some people (writers/critics) impressed with your work. Mr. (Pule) Lechesa for example has been described as your “disciple”. Others like Petro Schonfeld and Prof Pretorius also love your work…

BOLAJI: I suppose some people would always be particularly enamoured with one’s works. Some of these people will now go out of their way to ensure that such works are even more publicized or analysed …a very pertinent example is Flora Weit Wild who over the years has done wonders in promoting Dambudzo Marechera’s literary works. It appears she has published more books - studies - on him than he (Marechera) ever wrote! However there are many others who have also promoted my work and written a lot about it…people like the late Pule Lebuso, Flaxman Qoopane, Charmaine Kolwane, Urbain Tila…my thanks to all of them.

Do you have favourites among your published works?

BOLAJI: Really I have said it before, that I am not one of those writers who go on and on reading and re-reading whatever they have published. I believe that a writer should move on after every “literary project”, as it were. Ideally whilst working on a particular book, there should be some excitement about it, but when it’s made available to the public there is no need to cling to the works with exceeding √©lan! Yes, inevitably there would be some mistakes in the books which the critics would gleefully point out. That is their province. I remember that a certain critic claimed to have detected “hundreds” of mistakes in Wole Soyinka’s The man died. But this did not stop the book being celebrated the world over.
Some other “critics” also claim that throughout all your books you hardly have anything bad or negative to say about whites

BOLAJI: There is no need being confrontational just for the sake of theatrics, or playing to the gallery, or whatever. I did not grow up under apartheid – actually my first years were spent in London (England) and I had a wonderful white Nanny who took care of me. White people have helped me a lot over the years in furthering my writing career. I have a number of very good white friends. I suppose many whites would be “bad” in the same way many blacks would be “bad” too. Recently a top footballer announced that racist jibes against him never worried him “it’s done by a minority and they just need to be enlightened” he said.

There is plenty of ignorance in respect of writers. Are writers “famous” even to themselves or in particular areas?

BOLAJI: We can all be quite ignorant when it comes to literature. As Lechesa pointed out in his book, The evolution of Free State Black Literature when Toni Morrison won the Nobel Award for literature a fellow American commented “Who is he?” As we might know Toni Morrison is actually a very famous black female American writer. What usually happens is that we all have our favourite writers. I have met many writers locally who hardly know icons like Es’kia Mphahlele or Gomolemo Moake or Njabulo Ndebele…such people usually know a lot about Ngugi, Achebe; by the same token most know little or nothing about Wole Soyinka who was the first African to win the Nobel Award. I myself only recently got to read some of the books written by Aryan Kaganof – a very funny, blunt, candid writer. It helps when those who love books – or budding writers – have been introduced to certain writers at school.

So perhaps you mean that we can sort of “specialize” as regards our knowledge or interest in writers/literature?

There are so many writers all over these days that we can be forgiven for some ignorance. Again it’s like football, soccer in a way – you get fanatical supporters of a team, e.g Bloemfontein Celtic supporters here who know EVERYTHING about the team on a daily basis. Many of them will tell you they know little or nothing about international football. Yet you get other football lovers locally who know very little about local teams but can give you daily news on Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid etc! Hence there are writers who know a lot about literature locally, a fair number of them might also have some general knowledge of writers nationally – the Zakes Mdas, Ndebeles, Mzamanes, Tlalis, Ngcobos etc. Then there are some who read only certain Eurocentric writers – others like Caribbean authors…another ilk are those who read only particular type of books, maybe romance, historical, biographies

Or mystery/detective fiction…

Yes. I have a soft spot for that! There are readers who read only the Dick Francis’, Agatha Christies, Sidney Sheldons; and the African works in this wise. You know, there are African writers who also write such (mystery) books; like Kalu Okpi, Victor Thorpe, Bolaji! (laughter all around)

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