My Next Big Thing!

Last August, I had the privilege of participating in the Farafina Trust Creative Writers’ Workshop, annually organized by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in partnership with the Farafina Trust. It had been my third attempt and the quality of writers who made the final shortlist of 22 was a testimony to how much the workshop had grown and how competitive it had become. A total of 987 entries had reportedly been received from around the globe. Every participant at the workshop brought a unique trait and contribution to the table and I still battle the sense of nostalgia when I recall the two-week life changing experience.

Yewande Omotoso

One of us (the participants) whom we would all have voted as Class Captain if such was allowed is Yewande Omotoso, a young Nigerian born in Barbados. She grew up in Nigeria with her Nigerian father, West Indian mother and two older brothers. She and her family moved to South Africa in 1992 and have lived there ever since. She is an architect; space and buildings being a passion of hers second only to words and literature. She has lived in Cape Town and currently in Johannesburg, working as a designer, freelance writer and novelist. Later in the year, she would go on to win the English First-time Published Author Award at the 2012 South African Literary Awards for her debut novel BOM BOY. The Nigerian edition is to be released in the first quarter of 2013. I can’t wait to lap up the story and interview her exclusively! You can follow her on twitter @yomotoso and read her blog at 1of6billion. One more thing, you can purchase a copy from Amazon here: Bom Boy or an e-version on African Books Collective.

Recently, Yewande invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing, “an opportunity for writers in the blogosphere to tell readers what they’ve been working on, and introduce them to the works of other writers they may or may not already be fans of. A kind of chain cake except there’s no baking involved or a relay race without the baton or hotpants and everyone’s a winner.” She answered questions about her next big thing HERE. Its working title is “Your House is on Fire” [what a title! :)]. We had a privilege of listening to her read excerpts from it at the Farafina workshop, and I tell, you just have to be on the look-out!

The last two paragraphs have been about Yewande, and I guess I should await my check already, right? Let’s get to Part 2 of this post!

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Gbenga Awomodu

I can imagine the joy people feel when hold copies of their first book, novel, short story collection, poetry collection, whatever it is! I have stories to tell, but I am not in a hurry to get them out there. The Next Big Thing (literature) I am working on slowly but surely is what could be my first published novel. Here’s more about it:

What is the working title of your book?
Ababuo. Incidentally, that happens to be the name of the main character at the moment.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had been obsessing over the Ghana-must-go bags and the story behind the name. I heard many tales about how really good/competent Ghanaian teachers were, especially those who taught Maths and English in Nigeria. I had some childhood friends whose parents hired a Ghanaian as a private tutor in the 90’s. It is fascinating how a nation whose citizens were kicked out of Nigeria a few decades back is beginning to find its bearing. I also find it intriguing the huge amounts of money Nigerians now spend sending their children over there for education and other benefits. I imagined how some of those Ghanaians who were brutally evicted from Nigeria felt at the time, and how those of them still alive reflect on that experience now. I wanted to explore various characters and ideas surrounding bilateral relations, etc.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction; hope nothing much changes about that in the end.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Would I want to even get the novel or parts of it adapted into a movie? Maybe, but I am wary of filmmakers and actors/actresses not interpreting the characters adequately. One thing I am sure of is that the movie would cast a handful of Ghanaian actors alongside that beautiful accent.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A young girl, trapped in a foreign land, is fascinated about returning to her home country amidst news of economic resurgence, and she has to overcome vices and inhibitions, both internal and external, to lift her family; but she must also survive the political intrigues she stumbles into in her journey.

When will your book be published?
2015. I would rather not follow the self-publishing route for this particular book. Hopefully, my final draft in the first quarter of 2014 would catch some lovely agent’s fancy.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Now, that’s a tough one. The final draft is still in my head!  I am still having those lengthy conversations in my head, and getting to know the characters better. If my baby-steps approach works, I would have spent between 9 months and a full year writing the first draft. That would include lots of research and perhaps stealing into Ghana if I ever get a holiday this year. I agree with Yewande Omotosho who wrote in her post “I find it takes longer in the beginning and then it speeds up at the end.”

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The multifaceted analyses transformed into a narrative might interest the geeks and political analysts. Nevertheless, fiction should also be interesting and entertaining, so I’m not lost on those.

Oops! The chain cake stroke relay race moves on to Adebola Rayo and Mazi Fred Nwonwu who will blog about their next big thing on Wednesday 16th January 2013.
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Adebola Rayo is a full time writer and editor. She works at Kachifo Limited, publishers of Farafina Books. Her short stories and articles have been published in several newspapers and magazines. Rayo’s next big thing, she thinks, is a collection of a few long short stories. Some of the stories are fiction, and some are faction (fictionalised telling of actual events). She blogs at all4words.blogspot.com where she will be posting about her next big thing next week.

Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu, who prefers the Igbo male title, Mazi, to the English Mr. is a writer and freelance journalist. Melrose Books—who are taking a crack at fiction, away from their traditional educational publications—will publish his short story collection ‘Footsteps on the Hallway’ in the second quarter of 2013. Mazi Nwonwu blogs at fredrnwonwu.blogspot.com and publishes book reviews at 7venhillsmedia.wordpress.com. His short story ‘Masquerade stories’ was recently selected for Africa’s first Science fiction anthology. By next week, I am sure he would have decided which is truly his next big thing, either a Crime Thriller set in Lagos [Working title is: ‘Death is a Woman’] or a science fiction short story collection.

Photo credit: www.elisedillsworthagency.com

On Becoming a Man: On the Bus – In Search of Some Quiet

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” – Joss Whedon

Everyone is looking for relevance, and more relevance. That is your conclusion after your futile attempt to answer the too-many questions that you and your friends and the strangers around town seem to have.

On the bus, you look around and see smiling faces and angry people. Smiling, because they are lost in a trance – daydreaming. Some other persons on this same bus are angry, yes they look really angry. You can tell because of the scowls on their faces. The young man sitting next to you is beginning to raise his voice over the phone. “What is she taking me for, a fool!? Ken, abeg, I have spent almost a million Naira renting and furnishing that flat. What nonsense charges is that agent talking about again!?” Of course, you don’t have an answer and you wonder why everyone on the bus must be dragged into this. He has only succeeded in reminding you of that apartment you must secure for yourself soon. The third category of people sits there aloof; you cannot tell for sure what is going on in their minds.

While you are still trying to wrap your mind around these things – why we do what we do and all – your mind drifts to a recent discussion with an acquaintance. How she had been in a church for several years and was now feeling distanced and more distanced from the environment with the graying of time. How her mind often drifts during the sermons and she often feels guilty fiddling with her Blackberry. One Sunday, she left in the middle of the sermon for a recreation centre. That was neither the first nor the longest time for which she had abandoned the church; she had once joined a different church for a full year before returning. You had many questions you did not ask her: was the problem with her, the preacher, or both of them? Could she have been better off joining one of those units/sub-units in church where she could have felt a sense of purpose and fulfillment ‘working for the lord’? Had she become so familiar with the weekly dose that the Word had lost its impact in her life? Had she become numb out of inaction on the ‘sacred instructions’? What was the state of her heart?

You are hardly better than her. You remember the so-many decisions you are yet to make. Motions and pressures and the harsh reality of corporate world survival vis-à-vis illusory societal demands stick you like glue to the same spot year-in-year-out. You acknowledge there is a greater power, a most-powerful force in charge of the affairs of the world and its inhabitants. You are tempted to question His existence like many of your contemporaries, but you realize that they all get more confused in a bid to ‘make a statement’ and sound intelligent. You have been there and you know too many people who question their faith openly only to seek God’s forgiveness secretly. He must be really patient, you like to reason.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta said, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” You want to touch souls. You feel the need to be relevant in this world and beyond, but this bus – and most other places you can easily flee to – is filled with confusion and confused people.

You want to be relevant in the scheme of things. You need to find purpose. You need time to find some silence, but they say time is money. You wonder when you would be able to afford that silence. Yes! You need to buy some time from this crazy world. Or, could there be a way to create silence in the midst of so much noise?

Photo credit: soulinmotiononline.blogspot.com
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Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. Follow him on Twitter: @gbengaawomodu | Gbenga’s Notebook: www.gbengaawomodu.com | Facebook Page: Gbenga Awomodu

Meet Gossy Ukanwoke – President, Beni American University

Every year more than a million candidates seek admission into Nigerian tertiary institutions. Usually, less than 40% of this population get admitted. The situation is further compounded by the limited accommodation and physical teaching facilities in the universities. However, with the continuous advances in technology, especially with the concept of hybrid learning, there seems to be a lasting solution to the problem of inadequate physical infrastructure in the Nigerian and, by implication, African educational system. Today, Gbenga Awomodu chats with Gossy Ukanwoke, a 23-year old Nigerian who is the President and Founder of Beni American University, a forward looking online university which hopes to bring quality education to every African youth, adult or teenager willing to study for a post secondary diploma or degree. He talks extensively on how the BAU team is building a 21st Century University with strong emphasis on technology, web 2.0 and entrepreneurship. Enjoy!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself – your education and where you grew up?
Gossy Ukanwoke, currently concluding my Bachelors in Management Information Systems at Girne American University, North Cyprus. I grew up in Nigeria and had my early education in Nigeria as well.

How, when and why did you found the Beni American University?
Beni American University was conceived in December 2011. However, the eventual news of what we were working on was broken by a U.S Media website and that quickly picked momentum across other news media. BAU was founded out of the concern and challenge to do something about Nigeria’s failing educational system. Based on official and public records, about 30% of secondary school graduates are able to get admitted into local universities annually. This means we have millions of students piling up every year, who are willing to take on higher level learning, but do not have the opportunity. There are also working professionals and stay-home adults who may wish to acquire entrepreneurial skills conveniently and effortlessly to match their schedules. Finally, BAU was born out of a need to ensure that our university graduates can effectively compete based on content, quality of learning and opportunities as against their international counterparts.

 

Students Circle Network was your first attempt at a start-up. Can you tell us a little about that?
Students Circle Network is the only student-oriented social layer for the OpenCourseware Consortium resources. As a member of the OCWC, Students Circle provides academic content from some of the top universities in the world to students in Africa for free. The students can connect with teachers and fellow learners from across the globe and learn in a virtual social environment.

What valuable lessons were you able to take away from that in setting up the Beni American University?
SCN taught me that once your product is unique and provides value, it will be accepted, recognized and given global attention. I also learned the importance of having a good team as well as working with a very definite but flexible plan that can allow you to refocus and be dynamic with the ever-changing market.

How do you plan to tackle the problems associated with Nigeria’s poor educational system, unemployment situation and overall development challenges?
First we have come to understand that there is an emerging problem. We have considered these problems and have picked out a few ways to deal with them. Firstly, we are working with internationally trained tutors, who are young and understand the dynamics of teaching and learning in the modern environment. They are 80% Nigerians by origin as well. This will allow our students learn from people who understand them, people who have quality backgrounds in their respective fields. Secondly, we are working with a few international Centers for Entrepreneurship as well as Entrepreneurial Hubs to take our students through a rigorous business development boot camp; which will allow them form teams that we will fund. Then, they can launch a product in the market upon their graduation from our institution. Finally, we are also partnering with international institutions that are ready to absorb some of our students when they graduate and allow them complete their degrees and graduate-level learning at their institutions.

Continue reading here: Meet Gossy Ukanwoke – President, Beni American University

The Benue Notes: 14 Year Old Kenger Igba is Dead – Another Reason to Help Build the Nongov Community a Primary Health Centre

Gbenga Awomodu & the late Kenger Igba

On Monday 28th May 2012, at least two hundred of over three hundred students of Kings Technology Academy, Gbeji Village, Nongov Community, Buruku L.G.A. were on ground to receive exercise books (courtesy Millions4One.org) and other stationery. Most of those absent were either at home to observe the public holiday or had trekked several kilometers to a meeting point in order to meet up with the children from other neighbouring communities. The children were excited about the intervention and they would have more reasons to go to school, resume early and stayed longer in class as they could now write down lessons in class.

Kenger Igba was not in school. Sadly, the little girl who was barely fourteen had finally succumbed to her struggle with oedema. Her parents could not afford to get her proper medical attention and even though Mrs. Msuega, a retired health worker who lives in the community, had used her own funds to get some drugs for Kenger several kilometers away. Many children and adults die weekly for several reasons – deaths that could be avoided if there were properly equipped health facilities with adequate, well-trained medical personnel.

The Nongov Community
Nongov is an interior community in Buruku L.G.A, which is located at least 150km from Makurdi, the state capital. Located at least 6 kilometres from the main road and under the Mbaade Local Council Ward, the Nongov kindred comprise approximately 10,000 adults and children. The nearest primary health centre is in Tofi, nine (9) kilometres away from Nongov, whilst the nearest health post at Mbatera, which is now dilapidated, was built in 1991 and is over three kilometres away from the village. Grossly understaffed (it has not more than three experienced staff on duty), bereft of required drugs and other medication, and located across a river, the old health centre is not easily accessible by the villagers. It is also worthy of note that there is no electrification in the community, hence the need for the proposed health centre to be powered by a power-generating set, pending when the community becomes electrified.

Late Kenger Igba (R) with Mrs Msuega (A Retired Health Worker)

The Intervention & Progress So Far
After consultations with the community leaders and key opinion leaders, it was clear that the establishment of primary health centre was a cogent need. On receiving approval from the NYSC in April 2012, I set to work creating an online blog on the internet where I started writing about the Nongov community whilst giving details on the Primary Health Centre Project. I also wrote a number of articles to create awareness and advocate for support on behalf of the community. The community leadership allocated a space for the project and the land was soon cleared for construction. I obtained three standard designs from the National Primary Health Community Development Agency (NPHCDA), Abuja, one of which was adopted to design a building plan for the Primary health Centre. Progress is being made in mobilization and talks with key project partners, including the Benue State Ministry of Health, Benue State Ministry of Commerce & Industries and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, Nigeria. At the moment, the online advocacy is beginning to yield more results as more Nigerians and organisations are showing interest in supporting the project. The foundation for the structure (18 metres x 12 metres) has been completed and work is scheduled to resume in mid-June towards the completion of the health centre building, as well equipping it.

Continue reading here: The Benue Notes: 14 Year Old Kenger Igba is Dead – Another Reason to Help Build the Nongov Community a Primary Health Centre