by Isaiah Adepoju
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a writer, teacher and a spoken word artist. He volunteered as a Radio Presenter with Ultimate FM 103.9, Campus Radio, College of Education Minna on the Poetry/Spoken Word Show ‘Voices of the Pen’. He is a librarian/ Mentor/Workshop Facilitator at the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation in Niger State.
His works have appeared and forthcoming at Writers Egg magazine, INNSAEL, Bollman bridge Review, Fetal, Quills, The Nigerian Review (TNR) LitVo, Pictorial Poetry Coffee Book (Expanding Horizons), Raindrop of Love, Writers’ Space Africa (WSA) and elsewhere.
He was longlisted for the Nigerian Student Poetry Prize (2020) and shortlisted for the Arojah Student Playwriting Prize (2020). He is a joint winner of Poets in Nigeria 10-Days Poetry Challenge (May,2019) and winner of Poet Choice Award of the Rotaract Club of Churchgate, India.
He is currently the curator of Wakaso Prize for poetry and Abubakar Gimba Prize for Short Fiction, and is an alumnus of SprinNG Writers Fellowship.
Adepoju Isaiah: Good Day Mr. Olumide, I welcome you to Tribesmen Magazine, where we seek to tell the African story the African way. Speaking of the African way, tell us some African words you have learned aside Hausa and Yoruba.
Olumide Ojo: Na ƙù penda (I love you) in Swahili and it's my pleasure chatting with you.
Adepoju Isaiah: It's a pleasure too. Tell us about yourself in few words and whether you're political or apolitical.
Olumide Ojo: I am OJO Olumide Emmanuel. I am a teacher by training. A published poet and art administrator. I fancy politics but love to watch from afar.
Adepoju Isaiah: Do you enjoy politicalness in poetry– i.e, concentricity of poetry on politics? Is ascetic Protestantism as a form of supplication to self and society similar to political activism?
Olumide Ojo: We cannot pretend to ignore the fact that politics affect our personal and corporate existence. We all have political leanings and we try to propagate our views in line with what we consider nascent as far as politics is concerned. Poetry concentrating on politics or protesting against certain political anomalies is not out of place. Writers have been arrested and jailed for writing certain things that did not sit well with the leaders, or morbidity, therein. How do you expect poetry with quiet supplication? The writer is a standby mirror, a witness of/to the society and his duties include corking his quills in protest when tyranny threatens the solidarity of the state. You have heard that the quietness of the good people is insulin in the blood of a tyrant? This supplication is both to self and to society. You cannot eject an artist from himself and his society.
You cannot detach humans from politics. Our various families are the lowest form of politics. We may pretend not to have political affiliations but we share minor sentiments with those in governance so we are all social and political animals, according to Aristotle.
Adepoju Isaiah: Are those political poems resplendent in your poetry collection, Supplication For Years in Sand?
Olumide Ojo: Very well. Poems like Blacklives (pg25), Father Is A Silent Talkative (pg 46) and #End Everything Wrong (pg47-48) explored the issues mentioned above.
Adepoju Isaiah: I read Elliot's Aronson's analysis of humans as social animals; how prone to sociopathy and 'unhuman' we can be without the perpetual commandeering of legal institutions, or common way of social relation that control those acts.
When I read the first poem, Bizarre, I became as grieved as the persona. I realize that all through the collection, you've given preference to the urchin. While I detest humanism as philosophy, I believe all social classes deserve attention. Have you given preference to the lower class? And, how do you choose whom to write for?
Olumide Ojo: I like to explain that poetry as a vortex between man's consciousness and his soul. Since the soul is the most intelligent part of man, the voice in the poem is perhaps not representing anybody; rather it is speaking for itself. That grief is another way we can understand our humanity, that we are all broken at some points and healings may not even come handy even we don't strive to let it out in words.
Life is about breaking and growing our boundaries. If we must renew our world, the artist must aggregate the thinking of the society into a model that works for everyone. The artist is a surgeon for every sickness of the universe
Adepoju Isaiah: Beautiful answer. One universal truth all humans and animals answer to is pain, then we grieve, then we reminisce, just as all these things are inevitable, it's also imperative for the creative artist to question the status quo and try to forge new perspectives on things.
Adepoju Isaiah: Are the poems in your collection inextricably linked?
In your poem, Hearing the Wind, the 21st poem in the collection is not a Supplication for Years in Sand; it's rather a Prophecy for Years in Sand. Ritualistic; as Okigbo's Elegy for Alto. In writing the collection and choosing the poetic title, did you intend to follow a specific pattern of supplicating or is it just an eponymous title for the collection?
Olumide Ojo: Supplication is an intimate kind of prayer. Its prayers are sediments to prophecy. The work may not follow similar order but they are interlinked by the common purpose of a willing to live, be heard. The poems are people with voice, sharing their personal experiences. I was following any pattern in the titles; they are just different poems calling each other within almost the same period.
Adepoju Isaiah: You are a volunteer at Ultimate FM (103.9), Minna, how's the program? What do you do?
Olumide Ojo: I no longer volunteer with them. Nevertheless, the program is a spoken word and poetry program where we bisect, dissect and analyze everything creative. We talk about literary works, we meet the authors to discuss their works, we promote their works on radio and above all we attend literary programs and inform our listeners on the latest happening in the literary world.
Adepoju Isaiah: How have those periods influenced Supplication for Years in Sand?
Olumide Ojo: Supplication For Years in Sands didn't really come from my work as a radio presenter even though my work then made me read more and get to meet brilliant minds out there. I'd say the work came during my writers’ fellowship at SprinNG. I was attached to a mentor who'd see that I complete my readings, write and ensure they are corrected. I communed more with silence, listened to my inner self and it was easy for the poem to drip as an overflow of my life experiences.
Adepoju Isaiah: I find your choice of words in the collection rather exquisite. Examples as: I sun, I moon; we may Noah again etc. The latter line made use of metonymy and biblical allusion. For the latter – "We may Noah again" – has the question of interpretation bothered you, considering that your book is published in the North?
Olumide Ojo: Firstly, I wasn't writing for the north. I was writing for humans. Even in Islam the character of Noah exists. Noah represents flood in the work and within the context of the poem, one can deduce that.
Adepoju Isaiah: Do you have a poem in the collection that you have predilection for?
Olumide Ojo: Yeah. I think Adun on page 42 and 43. It captured my longing for love and what names mean to me in the overall interpretation of love. The poem was like a coronation for a woman I haven't met as at the time of writing the work.
Adepoju Isaiah: May you always find love.
Olumide Ojo: Amen
Zakiyya Dzukogi, 16, was runner-up for Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry) 2020, and winner of the prize in 2021. She's been published on several magazines and journals and she has three books to her name - My Book of Poems, CARVED and her unpublished manuscript Winters and Summers which won the 2021 prize.
Meeting Zakiyya at HIASFEST 2021 held in Niger State, Minna, Nigeria, and her eventually winning the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (poetry category), was one of the best moments with acquaintances with teen writers as I am, who are relentlessly breaking boundaries of literary and academic doggedness of the Nigeria state. The title of her book, CARVED, gripped me and led eventually to this interview. For a young female growing up, it becomes imperative to register her growth, voluntarily or otherwise, and perhaps using her previously published books, My Book of Poems and CARVED, as specimen of experimentation of the typical Nigerian girl. But unfortunately her works isn't atypical; queer I would say, or perhaps an attempt "to see God."
When I endorsed her for this interview she was more than receptive. From their monocle I was unavoidably drawn to a discuss with I, Mujahid, Maryam and the interviewee, for Book O'CLOCK Review, where Mujahid sparked the discussion on by asking why some people ask why writers write. In this case, I was even more elated that I want to ask why Zakiyya can't stop writing.
This is raw coming from a voice that has already CARVED a niche for herself in the North of Nigeria!
Adepoju Isaiah: Tell us something about you and your relationship with cats. And, do you have a pet or you wish to have one in future?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Yes I do. I’ve grown up to see cats around me and so I cannot help but love them. Keeping cats earns a Muslim reward because it is sunnah (sunnah is the actions of Prophet Muhammad SAW), it has been a type of ritual in my home.
Adepoju Isaiah: Last year when you were second place in the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry category) which took place in Niger State, in an interview with Mujahid Lilo, you said CARVED is a compedium of poems that are "mostly positive because I love to have things I don’t have in my poems, I love to own happiness in poems." Reading it, and reading the foreword by Paul Laim, the head of Operations, Isu Media Abuja, where he made acute comparison between a young poet, even though empowered, but still laden with the simplicities of the adolescent - "hormonal imbalances akin to teenagers." How do you see CARVED even before you wrote it? Do you aim to own things you don't have in your poetry, by publicity or otherwise, or the process of poetry of CARVED is just to lessen the grief of not having?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Poetry isn’t worth without therapy, either the therapy of not having or the therapy to any type of grief. It is a therapy that I’ve enjoyed as a poet.
Carved sketched a lot out of me, I have learned to love and understand poetry intensely while writing Carved, giving my whole self to it. I’ve learned to reach God through poetry, I have learned to have things I want, as if God answers prayers faster in poems. I’ve learned to recognize happiness in my poetry, and so poetry has long been the source of my happiness.
These are poems that were meant to be written like the normal and childish process of writing poems, writing poems for the sake of writing them, picking themes to write about and ending up with pale poems, but the case changed while writing Carved, it was not only about me writing but about learning a lot of impossible things, becoming spiritually inclined, seeing God, talking to God.
Owning things in poetry is spiritual, and this has been the trick to lessen my grief of not having or any kind of grief.
Adepoju Isaiah: Beautiful. Few months ago on Twitter, I read a tweep wrote that: "Poets are God's favorite." Perhaps it's because poets are more imaginary than any other person, and imagination is the foundation of the Earth's solid illusion. The imagination is always running wild, ever free, even to where God sits, hopefully in a Kingdom of Gold and Myrrh. The sobriquet of the poetics aside, let's talk about paucity of the motivation to write either by personal family problems, academic impasses, socializing malady, etc. In times like these, how do you confront Writer's Block?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: I’m starting to disbelieve in writer’s block, sometimes it’s a way of covering up for one’s laziness.
I go months without giving birth to a poem maybe because I feel lazy, or I don’t have time or even because of any other reason. If this happens, I don’t write, I give myself break until the spirit is back in my body. This is so because I don’t want to force lines into becoming poems which turns out to look not-a-poem at the end of the day. It’s like forcing a child to do something, in the end, he does it wrongly because he never wanted to do it, same with poems. Writer’s block is what I don’t experience.
Adepoju Isaiah: The matter of essentiality creeps in; for rejuvenation to take place, I think dormancy is essential. Recuperation too is essential. Just as Soyinka in an interview after winning the Nobel Laureate said he's a lazy writer, and how much it took him to write even the award-winning play; Death and the King's Horseman. For me too, I think writing is a process wherein like coitus, there's foreplay, penetration and climax. In respect to this, how long does it take you to create a poem? Mention your unsuccessful poems that you spent so much time in creating.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: It takes me a while, sometimes at that instance, sometimes it takes me a week or even a month to complete a poem, sometimes I leave my poems incomplete and most times I keep lines and stanzas that are just there, not yet gathered. In all honesty, I spend a lot of time creating a single poem.
Poems like 'I Cannot Paint' published in the INNSAEI Journal took me a whole month. I started writing a poem in the ending of last year titled Other gods Of Corners, and completed it last week, I have a poem titled The Poetry Of God, that poem lasted for almost a week to be completed. And many others.
Adepoju Isaiah: Decades in retrospect, a poetry collection published by Northerners was titled: "Voices from the Desert", where the foreword says the publication of it is a way to invalidate the insubstantial claim that the North of Nigeria is a desert of literary activities; do you see your book CARVED as a verifier of that claim that the North isn't a desert after all?
Simply: recent books from the North of Nigeria is a bulwark against the claim that there's no literary movements in the North. Do you see your book CARVED as part of that movement of bastion against the North?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My poetry is controlled by the curiosity to meet God, the anxiety to know what dying feels like, the fear of dying. I get my motivations mostly on these terms. I’ve fallen in love with death. I’ve died many times in my poetry going against nature, yet I feel unsatisfied.
Meeting God is what I’ve been wishing for and so poetry has allowed me to meet Him. I’ve explored in eschatology in my poetry, I don’t mind if the low depth and spiritualism of my type of poetry slowly pushes me into what I’ve given more focus on, death. With or without my consent, death shall drag me to where God stands along with her. I enjoy the idea. This type of poetry has led me closer to God.
As for the second question; the first early writers of Nigeria, the likes of Usman Danfodio Of Sokoto, his daughter, Nana Asma’u were northerners. This notion about Northern Nigerians not participating in the literary space is old. Nobody says that about the North anymore because books are now coming out from the North. For instance, take a look at how the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation is producing teen authors. As a matter of fact, the North competes with any other region in Nigeria in terms of literary productions.
I’m a northerner, so my book, Carved is an automatic addition to that movement, not just in the North, but also in Nigeria too.
Adepoju Isaiah: What literary pilgrimage have you gone on? I mean quests, or periods of isolation where the academia doesn't as much amuse you except the ability to profuse your emotions, or the experiment of the aesthetics on paper? A perpetual longing that has become a ritual.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: I’ve always been moody for my lines to get along, perhaps my type of poetry needs that. Most of my poems go through a sense of direction by my mood to be completed. Maybe that’s why I consume a lot of time to make a single poem. It’s true that giving a poem life is not at all easy, it is either you are sleeping off in your imaginations trying to feed a poem plenty imageries and metaphors or it’s you doing it unconsciously. To get my poem together, I let myself in a special kind of state for me to somewhat appreciate that art, with the help of a serene environment and the dark night, my poems are helplessly completed. Writing late at nights is one of my rituals of writing poems, I feel the night gives so much comfort to the way my poetry sits. Many times when I write and I don’t feel the depth of the poem, if the poem is not in line with my current emotions and if I cannot help it, i keep the poem for another day.
Adepoju Isaiah: My Book of Poems; you talked about family. The poems portray how much you are connected with family, how much Saddiq Dzukogi, now acclaimed Poet, inspires you. In CARVED, I realized there's no poem that condescends on Family. Rather an exploration of a beyond that is closer to God. From the title Winters and Summers, should we expect something about differentiating aspects in nature?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My dad got me a poetry teacher, Paul Liam at the age of 8, to strengthen the meaning of poetry on top of my soul and to help with the foundation. After that coach, I gathered 30 poems suitable for publication. My dad published the book when I was 10 years old. The Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation encourages teen authors, so at that age, I got full support of the members, my family, and even my school because I remember the college buying hundred copies of my book for its students.
I am happy to have written those books. The truth is, my first collection has always made me feel like I’ve insulted the holiness of poetry. Before now, I felt the poems could be a lot better than what they are, but it is better that they are what they are.
While Carved is a brief biography on the changes in me after meeting poetry again, I felt re-carved into a finer artist after my first collection. My latest chapbook, Winters and Summers which won 1st in this year’s (2021) Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors appear to have confirmed that feeling. This means with every collection, a poet should ascend higher to the poetic realm.
As a child, your mind is yet to be opened to different type of things, of ideas. Perhaps the innocent persona in my first collection noticed nothing then but the importance of family and the things she saw around her at that time. While in Carved, growth creeped in. With growth, mindset and ideologies changes. Maybe that’s why there is no family themed poems in the book or perhaps the relationship with God has somehow linked it to family.
Winters and Summers in my assumption is a deeper version of Carved, talking of God, heaven, death, hell, God, God and God.
Adepoju Isaiah: Good then, I would wait right on to devour the philosophical cartilage of the intrinsic existence of the physical and the metaphysical.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Thank you.
Adepoju Isaiah: Let's deviate a little to what I would like to call: Literary Postmodernism, wherein laid down belief about literary theories are being objected. Then to some poets who label themselves, or wants to, as African Literary Postmodernist. Winters and Summers, your manuscript that won the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry) had been garnering brimming opposition on the instance that even the title, and prognosticatedly the contents of the manuscript were UnAfrican, or rather less African. Has the topic of Africanity bothered you in your choice for the title of the manuscript or in choice of imageries?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Poetry is universal so it doesn’t bother me, it has never bothered me even while deciding the title. The poems are African.
We’re not neglecting the African culture because we use non-African symbols in our writings, it’s not even constant nor continuous, it’s incidental - to enjoy the fun inside writing. It is another thing to contribute to the growth and development of the African culture as African writers. Using non-African imageries to define your piece of art is not wrong nor is it a way of not contributing to the society as an African. There is no big deal if an African writer uses non-African terms to depict what he or she wants to convey, sometimes it’s just symbolism, sometimes style. Concerning this, I find no fault in African writers who enjoy using words like “winters” in their works even without any experience of it, to allow their imaginations soar, maybe that’s their own preference at that time. It is not wrong too for a non African to use African terms in writing poems and stories. There is total freedom in writing.
Adepoju Isaiah: Tell us about something you're working on presently.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Right now, I’m not working on anything.
Adepoju Isaiah: Thanks Miss Zakiyya for your time.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My pleasure
Mollie Sambrook is a young writer from Margate, England. She has a degree in English Literature from University of East Anglia and a Creative Writing masters from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has recently self-published a collection of poetry: ‘A Brief History of the oVERSEsensitive’.
When did you start writing and what got you into it?
I’m not 100% sure when I first started writing, but my mum has a few of my old notebooks from when I was little that are filled with stories about fairies and teddies and a main character called Mollie that are all about mundane things that capture a child’s attention such as having a bath or going to the beach. She likes to embarrass me with those when I bring my friends to visit. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid and got told off frequently for devouring Jaqueline Wilson books under my covers until the early hours of the morning but I think what properly got me into writing was reading the Twilight saga. In year 8 we were asked to write a 50 word flash fiction for an anthology of stories from kinds in all the schools in the area and of course mine was about a vampire. It wasn’t until the end of Sixth Form that I realised that writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and if I could make a career out of that, I’d be able to have a profession that I enjoyed and was passionate about.
You recently self-published a collection of poetry. How did you find taking on the roles of poet, editor, and publisher?
The whole self-publishing ordeal was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. There are many websites that help authors to self-publish so it was more about choosing the right website for me. Once I found which site would help me produce the collection the way I wanted to it ran pretty smoothly from then. The editing was a little laborious but I’m a perfectionist so I enjoyed doing it myself as I was able to make sure the font, spacing, ad the way the illustrations looked on the pages was exactly how I wanted. Being the poet comes naturally to me but now that I’ve seen how easy self-publishing can be, my fears and nerves over publishing have been squashed.
Was there anything you wish you had known when you first decided to self-publish your work?
I wish someone had told me that it was easier than I thought it was and the hardest part is actually letting go of your own writing. It’s daunting having it out there in the world, in other people’s hands. I, also, wish someone had told me how rewarding it feels to hold a book that is solely your own creation. I think I would have produced it years ago if I’d realised.
How did you decide which poems to put into your collection?
I’ve been posting my poetry online for six years now so it was a process of deciding which ones were my favourite and which ones seemed to get good feedback from other poets and readers. I wanted to create something full of poems that those following me had enjoyed but that I was also proud of and thought deserved a physical space. I spent a long time putting the poems next to each other to see what fit where and what kind of story they were telling in which order. In the end, I could see that certain poems in a specific order felt as if they were growing up alongside of how I was myself. So, I wanted to keep that feeling of coming of age in the collection.
You often write poems in second person, directing them at ‘you’. Do you find it easier to write a poem when you have a specific person in your mind that it is for?
Being a poet means that you’re consistently opening up and revealing something that you wouldn’t necessarily share out loud- it’s a vulnerable art. So, I think using second person is a way to distance myself from it a little… even though it simultaneously makes it more personal as it is directed intensely at a specific “you”. Coming to terms with my sexuality has also meant that the pronouns in my work were becoming interchangeable, therefore by using a “you” it can be anyone’s “you”. Although nine times out of ten I have a specific person that I am writing about or to, this way it can resonate with so many other people as anyone reading it will also have a specific “you” in mind. Second person should definitely be used more in writing!
Is there anything you hope your readers gain from your poetry?
When I read a piece of poetry that speaks to me, it’s really like someone has cracked me open and said “here you are” so I guess that is what I want from my own writing. For someone to read some of my poetry and see themselves in it or to relate to it deeply.
This is a bit cliché, but I have to ask who or what inspires you?
I’m always inspired by other internet poets as the quality of writing and talent that some of these writers have, despite not being published, is amazing. I’m inspired by specific but also random things. Anything from jewellery left by the bath or a snip it of a conversation can inspire me. I’m most interested in intense and intimate conversations that can happen between friends/lovers/family that aren’t necessarily obvious to others but I’m interested in what isn’t being said and what a simple sentence can really mean if you look deeper. The way other people’s minds work fascinate me so I like to try and imagine what is going on in another person’s head and use this to write poetry. But if you want the cliché answer, then other poets that are inspiring me at the moment are Richard Sicken whose poetry never fails to make me cry and Emily Dickinson whose recovered scraps of poetry have caught my eye recently just purely because of how much of it is missing and what this does to the poetry that is left.
What advice would you give to poets who are just starting out?
I think I would just say keep writing and don’t stop. We writers are our own worse critic and the only way we can better ourselves or evolve our writing is to write as much as possible. (A feat which I am finding increasingly harder and harder at the moment.) Other people’s opinions are just that and if you’re writing something true from your heart then you are making art and the world needs more of it.
Do you have any plans for future writing?
I would love to collate another book of poetry, as well as feature in zines and fiction magazines. Mostly, I am working towards finishing the draft of my novel in progress- When Life Meets Death.
If you want to read Mollie’s poetry, you can buy her collection at https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/868010346/a-brief-history-of-the-oversensitive?ref=shop_home_active_1&frs=1&crt=1
You can also find her work on Instagram and tumblr: @ColdFeetOnTheKitchenFloor
by Morgan Flodman
Kat Winters (she/her) is a 19-year-old author from southern California who is currently residing in Missouri. She writes Young Adult and New Adult fiction and is self-publishing her debut novel, Free Me, in the spring of 2021. Winters has agreed to tell Augment about her novel as well as her ethic as a writer.
What is your history in writing?
I’ve been writing for about 10 years and I’ve always written with the hope of giving people an escape where they can feel free and seen and validated.
Are there any authors who have influenced your style?
There are a few. I’m definitely inspired by other self-published authors such as Trinity Lemm, Anna D Stoddard, and Catherine Downen who showed me this was even possible. But growing up, I was definitely inspired a lot by writers like Rick Riordan, Susan Colasanti, Veronica Roth, and Lisa McMann. As far as style, I find that authors like Colasanti and McMann definitely pushed me into the contemporary style, but they’ve all influenced me.
Out of the characters you have created for this book, which one is your favorite? Are there qualities of yourself or someone you know that you put into them?
I definitely favor Zayne and Arriana (Josh’s sister). I find a lot of myself in them. I feel I resonate with Arriana in the way she always tries to stand by those she loves regardless of what people think of her and how she always just wants to see everyone smiling and being themselves; everyone needs an Arriana in their life. Zayne I feel is, sadly, a very relatable character. He struggles with his mental health and self-esteem and struggles to ask for help and I myself have gone through some of the things he has. I hope seeing a character like him, seeing his story unfold with Josh, will help others feel less alone.
What do you want readers to get out of your novel?
Love and acceptance is key. You don’t have to agree with how someone lives their life, but you do have to respect them and treat them with kindness. You never know what they’re going through or how your words can affect them. Choose kindness and acceptance and love yourself. Be unapologetically you, be kind and true.
Why do you write for young adults?
I try to write for young adults because they still have so much to learn. Arguably, each generation faces new struggles and this generation of young adults is facing so much. Human rights, police brutality, the exchange of power in the government, increasing mental health struggles—it all falls on them and they have to learn from it and grow with it. I write to show them it’s okay, and they can tackle anything that can come and they are stronger than they know. They can change the world, they can overcome anything, they can create an escape and fight for a better world and a better life for themselves and others.
What role does LGBTQ+ literature play in today’s arts? Do you think significant representation has increased over the years or is there still room for improvement?
I definitely think representation for all minorities has improved, but we can always be better. Everyone should be able to pick up a book and see themselves in it. That’s why we read, right? To escape the world and put ourselves in an adventure. LGBTQ+ literature has definitely been on the rise and is becoming more popular and it’s incredible because that means we’re making progress; people aren’t as scared to talk about it anymore. With any hope, someday there will be LGBTQ+ books in English classes along with other minorities as we keep raising these voices higher and helping these voices be heard. By making these books popular, we validate and raise up hundreds of thousands of people who identify with these groups, pulling them out of the shadows that keep them trapped and scared.
Are you working on any other projects? What plans do you have for the future?
I’m currently working on quite a bit. I’m in the middle of making my website to sell signed copies and merch (all made with the wonderful help of small businesses) and hosting a giveaway and a charity event (every June, all Free Me profits go to the Trevor Project to help at risk LGBTQ+ youth). I’m already editing my next book to be published; I’m working on two new books. I’m hoping in the next three years I will have released a second book, donated at least $200 to the Trevor Project, and have an audiobook of Free Me available so everyone can enjoy it.
What is your advice for young writers? LGBTQ+ writers?
Don’t be afraid. Write what you want, write what you would want to read. There is an audience for everything and there will always be someone to support you. Do not hold back, do not hide yourself. Embrace who you are and own it, flaunt it to the world and show them just what you are made of. Never let anyone tell you what to write or who to be.
Readers can keep up with Winters and updates about Free Me via Instagram (@kittkat4818) and Twitter (@KatWinters18 and @FreeMeBook2021). Her other books can be found on WattPad, Inkitt, GoodNovel, and other publishing sites under the username Kitty4818. Her official website will be launched by February 18th (KatWintersBooks.com).
John Chizoba Vincent become the names of three people who deliberately see through each other. Sometimes, they are at war with each other ,and at times, they are the ties that never got broken. They: Them: Us: We represent Boys and their Anatomies, Men and their vulnerabilities, and Humans and their imperfections. Between them are rosy track roads that are rough and tough. They live in a lonely room in Lagos, Nigeria. They have been published widely in online magazines and offline magazines. They are the founder of Philm Republic Pictures and Co-founder, Boys Are Not Stones Initiative; an organization that upholds the love for the BoyChild. Staff writer Isaiah Adepoju interviewed him about his work and his thoughts.
Isaiah Adepoju: Good day Sir.
John Vincent: Good day, Mr. Adepoju
Isaiah Adepoju: You are the convener of "Boys Are Not Stone", an extraordinary voice emerging from Africa's theater and Creative sector in its aspect of providing an avenue for boys who are victims of Hegemonic masculinity to speak out their scars and its enormity. We, the audience, have been expecting this anthology to be out soon which promises to be groundbreaking, so I wish to ask what inspired this giant leap?
John Vincent: We are humans. We are fallible. Be it male or female gender, we all have our shortcomings and weeknesses. Girls got raped and molested; and boys got molested and abused too, but the problem is that the society tends to pay more attention to female abuse and molestation than the male gender. When it comes to rape, molestation, abuse and others, we talk more of the female molestation, harassment and abuse forgetting that there are boys who are also abused by their parents, aunties, uncles, priests and others, sexually or emotionally.
I started boys are not stones In 2018. And what prompted me to start this course was what happened at a Police station. A friend of mine was arrested the night before while he went out to buy something from a shop near our house, and he was arrested by SARS. So, when we were informed of where he was, we went to bail him. On getting there, we were asked to sit in the reception. Then that morning, a young man of twenty or so ran into the police station to report a case of molestation and rape. He said some group of ladies molestated him the night before and one out of them who had been making some advances at him dragged him into a nearby bush and forcefully had unplanned sex with him.
The police men on duty then laughed at him and said he has no case against those ladies, that he actually enjoyed the sex with them. And this statement alone made the guy feel ashamed of coming to report. He left covering his face in shame. He looked stupid and rejected as he was leaving the station. I was angry because this was a boy that came to report to the law enforcement agency (police) all what he passed through but he was made mockery of.
So, after bailing my friend, Boys are not stones was birthed that afternoon while at home, angry, thinking of the manner by which the police men attended to that case. After some weeks of writing about boys and their plights in our society, especially those experiences nobody knows they pass through, and even others which the society failed to address through my social media, Jamiu Ahmad chatted me up and said we could actually turn those emotions into a book and that was how the first anthology was born. And from 2018 till now, we have had two publications which includes Boys are not stones and Country Of broken Boys.
IA: What should we expect in this anthology? Are the judges more focused on the originality or the writing prowess of the submitted works, or what are the criterion for the selection?
JV: The team is looking out for works that portray boys in general - their plights, pains, weaknesses, steadfastness and emotional will. We focus on the originality of the works, prowess and the ability of the writer to dig deep into what makes a boy, a boy. Besides, we are digging deeper into the anatomy of boys, men and others. And this is a guideline for anyone that wants to participate. Readers should expect a beautiful journey into the life of the BoyChild and the totality of boyhood.
IA: In retrospect and introspect, what changes has happened to the male gender? Do you also believe that the rise of feminism, African or Western, has lifted burden off their shoulders, as it claims it has, subtly or conspicuously?
JV: Nothing changes. A change to one man is not a change to all. The same as a change to one woman is not a change to all women. We still have men who beat their wives, we still have men who take their wives for granted. We still have some men who don't respect their wives and we still have some women who still see men as worthless being because of how they were groomed. We still have women who see men as beasts because their mothers constantly planted those seeds in their ears while they were growing up.
To me, nothing has really changed now from what was in the past in as much as the world is changing. We still have women who still see men as the breadwinners of the house and when these men are not able to meet up, they are seen as weak or defeated men. Feminism, African or Western culture has not in anyway lifted any burden off their shoulder rather in some areas it has compounded their plights the more. But like patient preachers, we will keep preaching hoping that some day both men and women will open their eyes to embrace themselves and say, 'no one is better, we are all humans'.
ID: Feminism. Femininity. Womanism. Masculinism. Misogynism. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). Do you hold grudges for any of these subtly related philosophies, and why?
JV: I don't. They are human beings as we are.
ID: Following the latest release of the world renown writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story, Zikora, do you perceive toxic femininity in the story? And doesn't it serve as an antagonistic force towards the realization of the masculine as not only the known 'predator' but also the prey. A victim. A victim of Hegemonic masculinity, of societal alienation and parental negligence as some sort of African-perceived 'higher' gender?
JV: (Smiles) I reserve my opinion on this.
ID: Viewing it from the critical lenses, both as a writer, a creative artist, and a cinematographer, who has seen first hand Nigerian theater and literature, have you noticed any movement of literature that effortlessly tries to approach masculinity from the perspective through which you have approached it through the forthcoming publication of "Boys Are Not Stones"?
JV: There is a saying that If you make a show of going against the time, flaunting your unconventional ideals and unorthodox ways, people will think that you only want attentions and you look down on them. They will find a way to punish you for making them feel inferior. It is far safer to blend and nurture the common touch. Share your originality only with tolerated friends and those who are sure to appreciate your uniqueness. The fact is, there is no Literary work or any literature that has fought or approached masculinity from the angles which we have taken that I know. In fact, when I started this, I was blocked many times on facebook and other social media apps because many people saw it as madness or rather something that shouldn't be there. Until Jamiu Ahmed joined, then Ebubechukwu Nwagbo, Jaachi Anyatonwu, Maxwell Opia-Enwemuche, and many others joined us to create a stronger voice. Right now, people still make reference to us when it comes to anything about the BoyChild.
IA: Do you see Nigeria literature, home and abroad, tackling and expatiating the ideology, in few years to come?
JV: Of course, yes. Many people are already working around this. Often times my attention has been called to many write up on facebook about the BoyChild. Some people even shared links of popular posts about the boychild published online journals. Recently, aside Boys Are Not Stones Initiative, there is also two organizations that are pushing behind us. One of them is Boys Matter Too and the other is The BoyChild movement. I think all we need is time. It will definitely get to the mainstream media and gets more acceptance in the Nigeria literature. Right now, there is a book I am reading which is about the BoyChild. I think the title is: For Coloured Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough edited by Keith Boykin. This book is mostly about the plights of the Boychild.
IA: Looking at the future in its grown physique and enormity and stealing a gaze at the lean past when we were necessary victims of this African style of parenting, do you see the gargantuan faultiness in this parenting style? And how do you propose we change and make it better?
JV: The fact is, you cannot teach a mother how to train her child. To some extent there is no school of thought that has the laydown rules, formats, principles or policies on how a child should be trained. Meanwhile, you cannot fault a parent in whatever ways she chooses to train her child, hence I always believe that no parent should be blamed on the upbringing of a child. Why do i have this Believe? This is why. There is a particular time/age that a parent cannot control her/his child any more. And I believe by this age, the child should have known what is good and bad and the way he should live his life. Remember these people are just our guidance, they are not us. They may have given birth to us but they don't have a say in our lives. We are life Longing for its own and we are responsible for our life and we must own it. So, no matter how bad or good a parent must have trained his or her child, the child has the right to re-train himself and go after what he wants in life. So, as a mother or a father, the only thing that is desirable of her/him is to show her child the right way to life and what life entails. Every one has a weakness, a gap in the castle wall. That weakness is the usual insecurities, an uncontrollable emotion or need; It can be a small secret pleasure. Either way, once found, it is a thumbscrew you can turn to your advantage.
IA: Where do you see the movement you have so humbly started and the involvement of the Nigeria, Africa, and world literature about the men's victimization, in the next ten years?
JV: (Smiles) World wide. I see it already taken it own shape even when I am not there to attend to it. In the next ten years, I see a body that cater for the Boychild. An organization that fight for the uplifting of the Boychild and giving them hope to live for who they are and what they plan to be in the future. I see an Organization that defend the BoyChild in all his plights and giving them a shoulder to lean on.
IA: Do you see this ideology thriving here, in the African continent and by the extension of its richness to the world at large?
JV: Yes. It will definitely thrive here and beyond. Many boys are already picking interest, coming out to say what they passed through in the hands of their maidens, aunties, uncles, priests and big mommies as boys left in their mercy to take care of. There was a day a boy from London sent me a message on my messenger about the abuse he received while growing up in the house of his Aunt in East London. To be honest with you, this is happening everywhere, every day. This is happening and these people that it is happening to are either shy to talk about it or they don't have someone they can rely on or they don't have channels through which they can relate their experiences to. Girls got molested and abused; and boys got molested and abused too. Relatively, it happens everyday in our houses, streets and compound where we live in. Honestly speaking, it will thrive. Every new thing takes time to settle well with people. We strongly believe that it will be a success because we don't venture into something that is fruitless.
IA: And onto the last question: can you tip us about some of your plans in ensuring that 'badness' is in equal proportion levelled on both genders, without prejudice nor favoritism?
JV: We are working to create initiatives that would cater for humanity (Boys and girls, women and men alike.). A girl can walk in and be treated as a boy was treated and a man can walk in and be taught as a woman was taught. And when these initiatives take shape, we will have no option than to see that our services are for Humanity and not for genders, not for boys and girls but for Humanity, just humanity. There is a foundation we are hoping and planning to establish soonest. And one of the objectives of this foundation is services to humanity.
Like what I have always said, all I wanted is a balanced society where girls and boys can be treated equally and not based on who they are; a Boy or a girl but humans. We need a society where a boy can be seen as a human he is; and should be able to show his weaknesses and flaws without being mocked. He can also be allowed to weep when necessary and this would not in anyway make him a lesser boy. And a girl also could be seen as a girl and a human she is and can be able to cry and be taken care of. In as much as balanced is seen as an Illusion by many, it is still achievable.
Denika Mead lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is 16 and has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She published her debut novel Royal Orchid, The Death-Hunters, in October 2019 when she was 15. The prequel to Royal Orchid, Into the Flames and the next book in the series The Ghost Warriors, have both been released in 2020. Over the past few years, she has won and been a finalist in several youth writing competitions, including being a two-time finalist in the New Zealand Youth Laureate award 2018. Denika was a finalist in the Best New Talent category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2020. When she is not writing, imagining dragon adventures, or immersed in her latest reading escapade, you may find her occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments. She can be found at her website: http://www.denikameadauthor.com. Staff writer Thee Sim Ling interviewed Denika about her books and experience as a teen writer.
What first inspired you to create the fictional world of Ghost Orchid?
The story came to me when I was looking at my penguin bookmark. I began to imagine what kind of world could be inside and the people and creatures who would live in this land. The story evolved from there.
In the Royal Orchid series, there are many intriguing and unique characters. Do you have a personal favourite? If so, who and why?
It’s really hard to choose, but I always like villains in stories so one of my favourites would have to be the magician, Felix. I also like Leor. He’s very caring but has some buried secrets.
What is life like for an author during COVID-19? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Because of Covid-19, I have had a lot more time to write which I have enjoyed. However, many of the local markets that I regularly attend to sell my books have been cancelled which has changed the way I have been promoting the series. The Royal Orchid prequel, Into the Flames, was released in April 2020 which coincided with our national lockdown. This meant the book launch needed to be online. The options for buying my books online have also increased.
What is your writing process for your books like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I plot the majority of the novel and once I have an overall idea of the direction of the story, I start writing. If I get stuck, I go back to plotting and work through that particular point.
Being an author of three books and a 16-year-old secondary school student “occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments”, you must have an incredibly busy life. How do you find time on a typical day to write, and how do you strike a balance between school and writing?
I mostly write first thing in the morning when I wake up. This is when I am the most productive. There are logical times when it makes sense to take a break from writing and fit in some more school work. For example, when I send my manuscript to the editor or proof-reader, it makes sense to put it down for a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s very balanced; I try to make sure the writing outweighs the school work.
What authors or books have the greatest influence on your writing? What are you currently reading right now?
I love fantasy and dystopian novels. Like a lot of people, growing up, I loved Harry Potter. I also adored the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.
More recently, I’ve been immersed in several book series, including His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, The Inheritance Cycle, The Way of Kings and the Children of the Furnace series, by New Zealand author, Brin Murray.
What can readers expect from this book? No spoilers!
They are coming of age stories with strong female characters, dragons, an undead
army and a lurking magician. Readers can expect plenty of action and suspense. They are fast paced stories with a focus on finding where you belong.
If you were to describe your novel in three words, which words would you use?
Exciting, action, and adventure.
What are you working on next? Could you share any details with readers?
I just published the third book in the Royal Orchid series in November and am currently working on a new fantasy novel, The Good King and planning the final Royal Orchid novel. I plan to release The Good King first, which will likely be a standalone book, followed by the final Royal Orchid.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring young writers like you?
Some advice I would give is to read and share your work with friends and family. Asking for feedback from others is a really good way to improve your writing. Look out for writing competitions you can submit to. Different competitions can challenge your writing and it is also helpful having a deadline to work towards. But most importantly, don’t give up. Believe in yourself and the story you are writing.
Heather Bjornlie is a multimedia artist who explores the best way to communicate ideas through the pliability of fibers, the traditions of metalsmithing, and the layers of painting. Her work is forthcoming in Issue I: Indulge. We contacted her and asked her a few questions about her background and process.
What’s your artistic background?
I have always been interested in art. Even as a kid, my teachers would tell my parents that I spent too much time doing art and not enough time on the other subjects. My grandpa taught me how to paint when he realized I had a creative streak.
I spent 3 years at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, trying to obtain a degree in science because it was the smart thing to do. My senior year I threw it all out the window and decided to spend the next 4 years getting my Bachelors in Fine Arts with a minor in Art History. ISU’s art program was very diverse! I learned metalsmithing, drawing, painting, natural dyes, paper making, loom work, printmaking, and sculpture/casting. Studying art was the best decision I have ever made.
We noticed that jellyfish seem to be integral to a lot of your work. Could you describe your interest in these animals and what they mean to you? How do they inform your art?
Wow, what a loaded question! Jellyfish are definitely a huge obsession in my works due to several factors. The first is the question that I am still trying to explore, how can a creature with no brain, spine, or nervous system be the longest living multicellular organism on earth? These delicate creatures have thrived in the harshest environments that have killed the fiercest predators, by flowing with their situations. They don’t fight the outcome. This mindset is what helps me explore my artistic instincts, and find peace when I am going through hard times.
Are there any other subjects that you focus on creatively ? Is there anything you’d like to explore in the future?
I want to keep exploring my jellyfish subject. As I dig into one question, I get faced with other questions. It is like picking a video to watch on Youtube. Before you know it, you have fallen down a rabbit hole and spent hours on topics diverted from your original search. Sometimes, I do need a break from jellies, and I find myself working on human anatomy, pet portraiture, and complications of family dynamics.
Who are your biggest influences and inspirations?
I have three major influences that I like to gather from. The first is the American painter, Wyland. He creates massive works on buildings that draw attention from viewers world wide. One can only marvel at the undulating water patterns, and the beauty in conservation that he highlights on. The second is the local acrobatic troupe, Stasia Acrobats, based in Idaho Falls Idaho. When I need to study determination, heart, and the raw power of the human body, they are my go to circus people. The third is the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. Studying his works and writing is what made me comfortable in exploring my multimedia practice. As LeWitt best put it in his essay, Sentences on Contemporary Art, “Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken), to physical reality, equally.”
How has your art and creative process evolved over time? What do you believe has led to this evolution?
When I first started my journey I had to learn how to do art by imitating others. In some ways we artists will never fully escape that. Subconsciously we will see an image, or hear a tune, and have those bits of memory resurface later when we are searching for inspiration to draw from. Over time though, I believe that my works have started to develop less and less from other influences, and more from the pieces that I have already created.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any plans for projects?
Currently I am trying to create impasto paintings from an aerial view of frothy water. Once I can consistently find techniques to transport my audience from their homes to the warm beaches in their memories, I want to start incorporating the thick, bubbling caps into my jellyfish works.
Speaking of projects, what would be your dream project to work on?
My dream project would be to create a large scale, permanent and interactive installation in a public environment. Providing a place to both be educated on the life lessons from jellyfish, and to experience a different world. A way to provide relief from the humdrum of our everyday routines. Imagine walking through a space with water wave lights dancing on the walls, smells of the ocean and warm sands easing your senses, hearing the sounds of calming bubbles in water. All while being surrounded by interactive exhibits on jellyfish. That total package experience is my dream project.
Any advice for young artists?
I have three tips for any artist out there, professional or amatuer. First you need to find a community of artists who share your interests. That way you can reach out to them when you need to work out an idea, or need help finding out why your piece just doesn’t look right. Having a fresh pair of eyes that share similarities to you can be exactly what you need to dig out of a funk. The second thing is to find a community of artists who you mutually respect, but may not agree with their style or presentation. This will allow you to be pushed to think outside of your comfort zone, and try different approaches you may not have thought of on your own. The last thing to do is probably the easiest said, but the hardest to follow. Stop listening to others, and stop listening to your self doubt! If you want to be an artist when others say it's foolish. Do it anyways. If you want to start a project that you think you can’t complete. Do it anyways. If you want to enter a show but don’t think you will be accepted. Stop caring, just do it. And by all means, make sure you are having fun doing it!