Last month, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, at the launch of All Things Good Around Us: An Anthology of Short African Stories, hosted at the Palace of Westminster. I was sat next to James Gibbs who is a critic and admirer of Prof Soyinka’s work, so you can imagine the excitement that filled the room, or well, at least my row!
Prior to his speech, the King of Ashanti, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, had spoken about Democracy in Africa, some failed paths, untapped potentials and hybridity in governance. His speech lasted about 45 minutes of which roughly 8 minutes involved his songs of praises being sang and an “ajuuh” being uttered by his choir of traditional eulogists at the end of every sentence. They did a very good job at indicating where the full stops lay in the transcript being read.
Given this, I was expecting Prof Soyinka’s speech to last just as long. Surprisingly, however, his speech was roughly 15 minutes! But. He said a lot in those 15 minutes, without saying too much. Charismatic as always, he spoke about being truthful in one’s writing. He told a story about a writer who communicated some concern about her writing being on the “dark side” and feeling the need to conform, and you know, tell the good stories.
And he said to her, which he relayed to us, “don’t get rid of anything you express in your literature”. Now, we all know Prof Soyinka to be unapologetic in his writing which reflects a stance against corruption and criticism against political tyrannies. So at this point, I was all here for this. He further said “it is inevitable that the dark mirror would be held up to the Nation”. If there are things that are unacceptable or unjust in your country, no matter how tall, wide or short the spade is, it’s still a spade, so you call it a spade!
This is so important for all writers to know! Especially those who dabble into political issues and are vocal about the need for change. I find that it is particularly hard to stay true to your values and beliefs when you are surrounded by people that are satisfied with the ‘norm’ and have their principles eroded by the satirical state of their economy. I, for one, stopped talking on political issues for the fear that it would come back haunting me in a few years!
But then, I realised that there are so many things in life you can be romantic about. Writing, unfortunately, is not necessarily on the list for me. Especially when, there is a lot of wrath and a deeply ingrained culture of corruption which rids millions of a better life daily. So you can imagine how I felt listening to Prof. Soyinka when he encouraged writers to always reflect what is going on and keep one’s writing truthful and youthful.
This gospel echoed that of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the 2015 Girls Write Now Awards where she gracefully reminds writers to “tell your story truthfully” and “forget about likability”. You see, life is honestly too short to be a shadow behind your words. Writing is such a powerful tool which has an unimaginable sphere of influence. Use it well - truthfully, and unapologetically. If you happen to be witty too, extra brownie points!
Watch the full video from the event titled Africa’s Democratic Dividend and the Search for Economic Transformation by Otunmfuo Osei Tutu II, King of Ashanti, with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.