Book: It Couldn't Matter Less
Author: Omoseye Bolaji
Congratulations on your new book, Mr Bolaji! It is remarkable that you have been consistent as an author for many years – averaging a new book at least, every year. Is it a deliberate policy?
BOLAJI: Probably. I think that those of us who claim to be writers should try to be consistent, come out with new books fairly regularly. Zakes Mda has been doing this for decades; he is a real icon. I don’t think writers should become complacent or rest on their laurels. Take Pa Chinua Achebe for example – he published his first classic, Things fall apart in 1958; and at over 80 he has just released a new work, There was a country (2012) Writers, I believe should churn something of quality out on a regular basis even if it be literary essays or clusters of poems…the range of literature is wide; as we have genres like poetry, fiction, drama, literary criticism, general writings, etc
Yes. Your new book can best be described as “general writings” – short writings of yours over the last couple of years or so. You have put these writings together in a book, just as you did with Miscellaneous Writings (2011). Your range is fairly diverse; but as usual lots of the writings are about literature and sport
BOLAJI (smiling) 'Guilty as charged'!
Seriously, in many of your writings you make allusions to famous literary works most of our people do not know about – like the one you wrote on Revenge, where you brought in Moby Dick, a classic work overseas. Is it also deliberate on your part?
BOLAJI: I don’t think so; perhaps it is a mélange of many things. We learn a lot from classical works, you know; we can’t cut ourselves off from what is eclectic and excellent indeed. Revenge is a motif that runs through the work, Moby Dick…by the way at least two people contacted me and said for the first time in their lives they sought out and read the book, Moby Dick, thanks to my column.
In another of your essays, also in this new book, you refer to the fact that Africa a huge continent with over 50 countries has had just a few Nobel laureates, whereas the United States of America one country has had hundreds! It is a shocking revelation…
BOLAJI: I think I have heard this question before! (laughing) What can one say? We Africans must realize that the gulf between us and the so-called advanced, Eurocentric world is very huge indeed, a mammoth chasm really, despite the efforts of a number of Africans. In respect of literature we must pull out all the stops to ensure that our people read much more…and our writers must avoid complacency which is a bug bear.
In another essay in your new book, you compare – or is conflate a better word – two white ladies, Mary Slessor and Emily Hobhouse, both who went out of their way to better conditions in Africa. Yet your write-up admits that most South Africans would know Hobhouse, whilst Nigerians would know Mary Slessor. I never heard about Slessor, e.g until I read your piece; then I did research on her and admired her remarkable life…what can be done to bridge such ignorance even among educated people?.
BOLAJI: We must continue to learn on a daily basis and realise there are countless things we won’t know about anyway. On a facile level we can state for example: Flora Nwapa was the first Nigerian woman to publish an authentic novel; and Miriam Tlali was the first SA black woman to publish a novel. But the shocking aspect comes in when we realize that not many so-called lovers of literature in these respective countries know this elementary fact! I think we should continue to encourage the younger writers in our midst who relish learning regularly about the world of literature; I have people like Tiisetso Thiba, Charmaine Kolwane and Masakala in mind
But Charmaine is an established writer…
BOLAJI: Yes but she realizes, as we should all do, that we can learn more, much more on a regular basis. She really enjoys reading and basking at literary occasions. She is a researcher to boot. I pity half-baked writers who go around strutting like peacocks because they have published maybe a book or two. I think writers should always regard themselves as learners…there are so many great writers out there who still remain humble.
In this your new book, and in your many other writings, you pay tribute to many accomplished writers…
BOLAJI: Yes, and there are many others I admire intensely that I have never actually mentioned. Take Britain’s Peter Ackroyd for example; a superb superb writer: prolific novelist, essayist, poet, biographer. He has published scholarly acclaimed studies on iconic writers like Charles Dickens – books of over 600 pages! And his fiction, novels etc are outstanding too. If such writers can remain humble after doing it all, why should those who are just learning to crawl literally, get carried away?
Thank you Mr Bolaji. I must say that just like your collection, Miscellaneous Writings, this new book of yours is very good and a mine of information for us all.