8 Questions for E.C. Osondu, 2009 Caine Prize Winner & Author, Voice of America

Nigerian writer and 2009 Caine Prize Winner, E.C. Osondu is well-known for his short stories, which have been published in AGNI, Guernica, Vice, Fiction, and The Atlantic. He was in Lagos and Port Harcourt last month for a series of book reading events for his debut offering, Voice of America, a collection of short stories shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book (Africa region) and recently published by Kachifo Limited, publisher of Farafina Books in Nigeria. Voice of America is set in Nigeria and America. The plots move from boys and girls in villages and refugee camps to the disillusionment and confusion of young married couples living in America, and back to bustling Lagos. In this very straight-to-the-point exchange, the 2011 Pushcart Prize Winner shares with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu about his new book and inspiration for writing.

When did you consciously begin to write fiction, and which writers and books had vital, early influences on your writing?
I’ll have to say I began reading fiction many, many years before I ever tried my hands at writing it. And the first thing I wrote wasn’t even fiction, it was poetry. I think I read lots of books growing up. King Solomon’s Mines, Montezuma’s Daughter, Little Women, Chike and the River, An African Nights Entertainment, etc. As you can see from the list, these were books with a strong sense of narrative. Narrative is of course central to my own writing.

Why did you leave your advertising job in Lagos to focus fully on creative writing? What factors helped you make that decision?
Even while in advertising I was still double-dipping so to speak. I was very active in the Association of Nigerian Authors and served as Vice-Chairperson of the Lagos chapter under Kunle Adebajo. I was also writing and publishing. But I think if there was one single factor it must have been the internet. I began to read the works of our own writers and many other writers online. I also began to read about creative writing programs. So you can blame the internet.

What positive habits and lessons did you bring along from writing ‘copy’ into your new endeavour?
You must grip the reader by the scruff of the neck, get their attention. Nobody is going to park their car in order to read your billboard. Even the best creative work can be killed by poor presentation. Criticism is hard to take, but learn to accept it if need be or just grin and bear it. More importantly have fun with your writing. Not necessarily in that order, though.

In the short story, Nigerians in America, the narrator’s dad suddenly turns towards her to tell her, “You have picked up enough wisdom for one night – you had better go to your bed”. How much of your childhood experiences do you infuse into your stories?
Not so much. But growing up I was always fascinated by the way people talked, their inflections, verbal tics and speech mannerisms. I recall that we gave adults nicknames based on their speech mannerisms- a favorite visitor to the house was nicknamed-You don’t mean it-because that was his stock response to every statement or question e.g. “Our daddy is not home.” – You don’t mean it, “I was first in my class” –You don’t mean it, etc.

Voice of America was a great read for me, and I never used the dictionary for once throughout the collection. Was the simple language deliberate and how were you able to achieve that?
It was deliberate. I think complex ideas can be expressed simply.

In VOA, you mostly write from a female’s point of view, whilst largely taking a swipe at the male characters. How much of a feminist is E.C. Osondu?
I am very much one. I think it makes us more deeply human. Living in the U.S. has made me more aware of the need to take the side of those that society offers limited choices either because of their race, gender, ability or disability etc.

After receiving the Caine Prize in 2009, you said Africa was yet to have a master of short stories. How close are we? How close do you think you are to becoming one?
Not there yet, but hoping and working at it nonetheless without despairing.

Where should we be hoping to see E.C. Osondu in the next five years?
I’ll continue to write. A novel and hopefully a book of creative non-fiction.

Thanks for your time!

Photo credit: Victor Ekpuk (www.untitledbooks.com); www.belindaotas.com

This interview was first published on BellaNaija.com.

Wife, Mum, TV Host, VJ…The List Goes On – Tana Adelana reveals how she does it!

Since auditioning for the MTN Y’hello TV Show in 2002, on-air personality Tana Adelana (nee Egbo) has gone on to perpetually grace TV screens across Africa. The 2005 Grind Awards winner, three-time finalist and 2011 winner of the On-Air Personality of the Year (TV) at the Future Awards, Nigeria’s most prestigious youth awards, she has worked with several top brands and on various A-List productions, including the MTN Y’hello TV Show, MNet’s ‘Let’s Dance’, LG Karaoke Mega Star Show, Coca Cola FC TV Show, Zain Naira Rain Promo, and Big Brother Africa. In this exclusive chat with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Tana who’s currently one of the Peak Talent Show hosts talks about her TV career, growing love for acting, family and other details.

Meet Tana
My names are Christiana Nkem Adelana, born to a royal and Christian home in the early 80’s. I schooled in Lagos – Treasure Land Nursery and Primary school in Surulere and St. Francis Catholic Secondary School, Idimu. I studied and obtained a B.Sc. in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Lagos. I am a TV presenter, an actress and a business woman.

What piqued your interest in the media and entertainment industry, especially TV?
I have always been talkative and I knew someday (didn’t know how), I would be talking professionally so when the opportunity presented itself, I accepted, found it a bit challenging initially, got comfortable and fell completely in love with the camera.

Could you briefly describe your journey to becoming a widely celebrated Veejay, whilst shedding some light on the nature of the learning curve?
Hmmm, ok, it started off in 2002 when I auditioned for the MTN Y’hello TV Show. I got the job after series of auditions and nudging. I did the job and I realised it was fun. It was me and it was exactly where I wanted to be. After MTN Y’hello, I started getting calls to do other jobs; that was the beginning of my very busy career. Presenting, like every other job is easy provided you understand what it is. It’s like acting: you are giving a script and a brief; you get into character and deliver your lines in the most convincing manner.

What professional courses and trainings have you enrolled in to give your career a lift?
While on different jobs in the past, I have had one-on-one trainings with speech therapists and oral English teachers; in recent times, online courses and the New York Film Academy.

What are those extra ingredients that one could add to become a top-flight on-air personality?
To be a top flight on-air personality, you just have to be the best you can be and let your personality shine through. Never try to be anyone else because it never works; it’s like a magnifying glass, everyone will see right through you boldly.

What are the peculiar challenges faced by practitioners in media and entertainment industry, especially for TV presenters?
Most practitioners are faced with inadequate funds. Pure and outright nepotism, and it’s like a food chain, we are right under production companies so if they suffer, for the most part, we suffer.

You have also recently started to act in movies. How have you been able to make that transition, and which movies have you acted in recently?
Making the transition to Nollywood isn’t so difficult for me as presenting is like acting; you have a script (which is totally different for every production). You get into the character and deliver your lines convincingly. I have featured in 3 seasons of Disclosure (a B Concept production), Flatmates and In-laws (a K.P. Cypress Production), and 2 brides and a baby, which is set for release in October 2011.

Working for long hours and frequent travelling are undoubtedly some of the features of your job. How do you cope with the huge demand on your time as an on-air personality, actress, wife, mother, and mentor?
First of all I will like to mention that I have a very big God by my side and a very loving and supportive husband. God just works it all out for me and my husband helps out in every way he can so it works out well at the end of the day; but you are right, my job takes a lot of my time and looking at my schedule, it may seem crazy to anyone who’s not in the field.

How financially rewarding is your profession, especially for new entrants? For how long do they have to hang on in there before the big checks start to come in?
It may not be so lucrative in the beginning for new entrants, but as long as you can prove yourselves to be indispensable, the pay checks will definitely start rolling in before you know it.

Undoubtedly, a great deal of business savvy is needed for one to succeed in whatever field of endeavour. How have you been able to develop your business sense and build your brand?
I am an Igbo girl o! Lol. When you have been in the game for long, you will understand how negotiation works, but it all boils down to what you think you deserve.

Continue reading the interview here: Wife, Mum, TV Host, VJ…The List Goes On – Tana Adelana tells BN how she does it!

Meet IBK: The ‘Dreamer’ who Conquered Don Jazzy’s #Enigma

Born in the city of Warri in Delta State on 18 December 1982, Ibukun Kevin Emuwawon, better known as IBK, is a producer, rapper, singer, songwriter, and vocal instructor. On the wings of his music production outfit MARTIANSHIP and teaming up with mix Engineer Olaitan Dada, he recently won the Don Jazzy #Enigma Beat Competition which took over the online community of young Nigerians across the globe, after garnering 38% (13,214 votes) out of the total of 34,410 votes cast. After three weeks of recording, screening and voting, IBK Spaceship Boi’s “Enigma- I Have a Dream” won the $2,000 top prize out of over 1,800 entries received for the contest. With the Spaceshipboi persona—a fictional superhero figure from another planet sent to earth with a message of change and hope to inspire this generation—he is gradually, but surely becoming a major influence in the Nigerian music industry. In this exclusive interview with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, he talks about music, growing up, how he ‘killed’ the Enigma Beat, and much more.

Meet IBK!
My name is Ibukun Kevin Emuwawon. I was born in Warri, Delta State. I spent the first 26 years of my life there, so I’m a Warri Boy, certified! I went to NNPC Primary School; then I attended Demonstration Secondary School, owned by the College of Education in Warri. There, I was schoolmates with Omawumi Megbele and Nneka Egbuna. I studied Computer Engineering at Covenant University and graduated in 2009. I was the assistant choir director for Covenant University choir. It was a great opportunity for me to develop myself as a musician, an artiste, and a producer. I’ve offered vocal lessons to several artists and I am very much associated with Cobhams Asuquo Music Productions.

What do you do at Cobhams Asuquo Music Production?
I was the director for the Music School there at CAMP. (Pause) I still work with some of the artistes under the label; I did a production for Bez in his album, Super Sun.

How was it like growing up and who were your major influences?
Growing up was fun. I’m the last child in a family of six. My brother is a great guy; I look up to him a lot. Anything he did, I did too. I would see him make toy cars with remote controls and I did that too. He was interested in rap, so, I had to be interested too. My sisters have been very instrumental in my journey too, with the older of the two being responsible for the singing part of me and the other setting me off on my quest to making hip gospel records. I have great parents, a mother that loves me and supports what I do and a father whose counsel I never take for granted. If there’s anything I learnt from my father, it is “never give up” on a literal tip. I’m not just saying it because it’s the right thing to say, it’s what I saw growing up. In things as simple as pushing a car to start, this man would make us push his car for an hour until it started… There was a time it happened, and he was like, “I told you. I told you; let’s just push this thing one more time.” I was always quick to go to a friend’s house to play video games. I was in a group called PrimeRose Entertainers back in secondary school. I remember a time Omawumi (one of Nigeria’s top female artist) told me she wanted to show me stuff she had been doing in the studio; we were still in secondary school. She took me to the place; I met the producer, heard the music, and I was like “Wow! This girl has started o…” The next thing I saw was her on West African Idols; I was so inspired *Waje’s voice* (laughs). I had great people around me, like Oscar Heman-Ackah and Aiwa Ohunyon, with whom I teamed up in a rap group called Fourth Dimension. We ministered and got people blessed in churches and schools like UNIPORT and UNIBEN. Oscar is now a great producer; he just produced Chidinma’s song, Jankoliko, which features Sound Sultan.

When did you officially decide to pursue music full-time?
It’s been music all along. I’d been writing music since I was 5; writing music for commercials, to myself, anyway (laughs). But then, when my brother decided to develop himself in web designing and he gave me all the books he read, I was like, “Okay, my root stops in music for you. I can’t follow you to this one.” So I just stayed in music, and he went on to become the best web designer in Nigeria. He won the award last year. His name is Gbenga Emuwawon; he is the CEO of Iceberg Infotainment. I joined Fourth Dimension just after secondary school in 1999/2000. That’s also when I started producing music. I was using our house as a studio. I had a computer in the house; I got software from a great friend of mine, and his name is Morris. I started recording with Cool Edit, then went on to Fruity Loops, which I used for quite a while until a friend of mine introduced me to Reason.

Did you have any formal training along the line?
Not within the four walls of an institution. I trained myself by getting materials on the internet plus most of the people that I needed in my life as regards my music just came with materials. I read stuff up; I studied. I try them, they work, and I teach people.

Do you play any other musical instruments?
I play, but not professionally. I know how to find my way round the piano, or the guitar, for what I want to do; getting the required chords to power my music.

From where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
Honestly, it’s from God’s Word, and from things I see around me; then I bring God’s perspective into the situation.

How did you hear about the Don Jazzy Enigma Beat Competition and decide to take part in it?
I saw it on Notjustok.com, but I kept scrolling to see other articles. I’m this kind of person who does not like getting involved in something everybody is involved in. I want something exclusive to me. Later, when I was going about spreading my new single (I HAVE A DREAM), I got to Eko FM and gave DJ Charlie-Shee my CD. He listened to my single and liked it. He asked if I knew about the Enigma Beat and if I could do something on it for him; like, rap and do a mention so he could use it on his show. Later in the week, at my friend and mix Engineer, Olaitan Dada’s studio, he and another friend, Omolara encouraged me to just do the rap. I decided to forget the old-fashioned me that wanted exclusive stuff. I thought, “You want to bless people, you want a large audience to hear what God has to say through you, so this is a great opportunity. Take this music, preach God’s word through it, be professional about it and put it out. You never know what might happen.” I set out with the intention to inspire people, make something that is not ordinary or mediocre. When we put it out, one PR person told his artiste to listen to my stuff that that’s what they were up against. I got many twitter messages from people telling me they were inspired and wanted to do their own. Some went back to the studio to remake theirs. I was fulfilled in my heart.

Continue reading the Interview here: Meet IBK: The ‘Dreamer’ who Conquered Don Jazzy’s #Enigma

The Serial Entrepreneur – Olabisi Waller, CEO, Elise Charles Company

Self-employed since 2001, Olabisi Waller identified a major gap in the gift industry for unique useful gifts for special events and businesses. After consistently receiving inquiries from people wanting to make purchases for various items to send to Nigeria, as well as an increased demand for event styling, decorative lighting and event consulting services, she started the gift and souvenirs business, Elise Charles Company with her husband, Charles Waller, in 2007. A year later they launched EC Cosmetics with the goal of providing unique products that truly enhance a woman’s beauty. The companies moved online the following year. An astute business woman, currently enrolled in the Wharton Business Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania, she got her entrepreneurial inspiration at a young age when she would buy affordable goods at a local market and resell it for a profit to her schoolmates. In this insightful, exclusive chat with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Olabisi Waller talks about growing up in Nigeria, her beauty and special events business, marriage, and relocating to the United States.

Meet Olabisi Waller
My name is Olabisi Waller. I was born in Delta State, Nigeria over 3 decades ago and grew up in Lagos with a large family of nine sisters. My mother is a strong, inspiring petite woman who constantly reminded us, her girls, to never allow anyone tell us we couldn’t achieve whatever we wanted. Because of this, I quickly became a very determined, strong willed person. No wonder my pet name while growing up was “manpower”! I had my primary education in Lagos, attended Federal Government Girls’ College, Oyo, and the University of Ado Ekiti, where I studied Business Administration. I am currently enrolled in the Wharton Business Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania. I run a company called Elise Charles. We offer Gifts for special events and Event Consulting services. We exclusively provide in Africa sophisticated lighting designs by Blachere who have created lighting for the Champs Elysees, and the Eiffel Tower, to London’s West End, Walt Disney, Cartier, and more. We also have a cosmetics company EC (Elise Charles) Cosmetics. An exclusive distributor of unique peak performance beauty products such as Divaderme Lash Extender, Brow Extender, Lip Extender, Stimulash Intenso, Model in a Bottle and a variety of other products.

What other various services does the Elise Charles Company provide?
The Elise Charles Company provides a variety of services with a focus on Special Events & Festivities (www.elisecharles.com) as well as the Beauty Industry via EC Cosmetics (www.eccosmetics.com). With Special Events, our services include: Event Styling & Decorative Lighting, Event Consultation, and Gift Solutions. We offer turn-key event consulting services which includes the total organization of your event or we can simply assist with the scenic elements such as decorative lighting, and more to make your event truly one of a kind. We are your Event Partners – Our team can provide you with as much or as little help as you need. Elise Charles (EC) Cosmetics is a distributor of peak performance beauty products internationally and exclusively in Africa through salons, independent sales representatives, beauty professionals, and select retail stores. Elise Charles started in 2007 with EC Cosmetics following a year later.

Why and how did you start the company?
The company started because we identified the gap in the gift industry for unique useful gifts for special events and businesses. I was consistently receiving inquiries from people wanting to make purchases for various items to send to Nigeria. Then came inquiries on event styling, decorative lighting and event consulting services. Elise Charles was created to cater to this increasing demand. We launched online about 3 years ago with a decision to focus on special events and named the company after my kids Charles & Elise. EC Cosmetics started simply from the desire to share effective beauty products that I use myself and are proven hits in the U.S to my fellow African women.

In what ways have your previous jobs impacted your business thus far?
To be honest with you I’ve only been employed twice in my life and realized very quickly that I was not suited to a 9-5 corporate job. I got easily bored and did not feel creatively challenged at all. Working as an employee served its purpose within that specific time frame and then it was time for me to move on. I learned about work relationships, teamwork specifically, and being somewhat structured. Running a business is challenging, but it’s a challenge that I look forward to everyday. Your brain is always working; you are continuously pushing yourself to learn new things about the business, learning how to interact with various people – that’s where the teamwork came in handy.

*Read full interview here: The Serial Entrepreneur – Olabisi Waller, CEO, Elise Charles Company.