The Nigerian filmmaker, publisher, talk-show host, bookseller, author, serial founder, and contemporary African literary heavyweight Onyeka Nwelue shares his thoughts on mentorship, dreams and fulfilment in Africa, filmmaking, publishing, writing and the power of arts.
It is a pleasure to have this conversation with you. My deepest condolences for the loss of your father. How are you holding up?
Mutually. I am keeping it together and trying to be strong.
You love to share pictures of beautiful moments you have with your family. How much importance would you say family is to a creative?
That’s a good observation. My immediate family is dedicated to my craft. Especially my parents. My father was the one who sent me to India to write my first book. What I do, is that I pay people back the same way they treated me. So, here, I celebrate my family members who stood there for me. Those who didn’t, I don’t care about what happens with them or in their lives.
Could you remember what your first story was based on? And how did you find yourself picking a pen and writing the first time? What prompted it?
I would not know, but there was a major one, The Talkative Monkey and the Rabbit. I was 12 or 11 when I wrote that and did the illustrations myself. It’s published in my first novel, The Abyssinian Boy.
You have achieved so many things as a Creative. As the role model that you are, I am sure that most people are curious about how you first started. What is your story? What are the challenges you face now?
All thanks to my parents: who engineered my way and ensured I stayed focused. The challenges I face now are financial. Just like everyone out there. Nothing more. It is a capitalist world.
If you weren’t into filmmaking, writing, and other activities concerning Arts, what would you have been doing? How do you picture life for you without Arts?
I have no idea what I would be doing now. Maybe, get married and have children and say what other people say: “Children are blessings!”
You are into filmmaking, publishing as well as writing. If you ever had to choose one of them, which would you choose and why?
I would be a publisher because that takes you into a world where you don’t have to be on set with annoying people you don’t like.
You have written over 11 books. Which of your books do you feel most connected with and why?
Point of correction, I have written over 20 books. I am most connected to my first novel, The Abyssinian Boy, because it is my first.
How is the preparation for the James Currey Literary Festival coming through? What are the challenges?
It is going well. The biggest challenge is financial.
You founded the James Currey Society. What inspired you?
I thought it was time to pay back to James Currey for the incredible work he has done!
Following the recent attack on Salman Rushdie, what would you say about writers and society?
I think society is full of pitiable minds.
Poetry is not patronised as much as Prose is by citizens, yet, it is the most widely written in Nigeria today. Why do you think this is? What attracts these thousands of young people to write it?
And the poetry books I have published in the UK haven’t sold one copy!
People describe writing as therapeutic; others say it is activism. In fact, different people attach different definitions to writing. What would you say writing is to you?
Writing is life to me. What makes me live?
You tell people not to come to you for mentorship. Do you also think mentorship restricts people from going wide with their creativity? Would you say it’s a form of slavery?
They want people to carry their financial and emotional burdens.
In your interview with PM News, you said, “I always tell people that Wole Soyinka is the God I worship. And please, leave it as capital G. I think he is the most prolific writer in Nigeria. That energy has infested me.” He is no doubt a big inspiration to you. Which other Nigerian Writer inspires you?
Jude Dibia, Denja Abdullahi, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Uche Peter Umez, and Ever Obi, whom I call my beautiful friend. There are many others whose lives, as writers, I admire.
You advise young Africans not to waste their time in Africa if they really want to actualise their dreams and aspirations. Why?
Because Africa is a graveyard of wasted dreams.
How would you describe the relationship between literature and filmmaking? What is the state of writing and filmmaking in Nigeria, India and the UK?
Tricky question. Filmmaking itself is literature. They are formed in the same tradition. People spend years working on a film. Same as writing a book. Nigeria is growing and will continue to grow because its writers are all running away.
Six days ago, you announced that you had completed a new novel this year, titled THE MOGUE IN A SMALL TOWN, which is still with your editor. It is no doubt another masterpiece. Please tell us a bit about the novel.
Yes. It’s a story set in a morgue in my village – even though there is no morgue in my village, Ezeoke. I have created one and all the stories we hear that happen in mortuaries.
Are you working on another novel already?
There is another one that is being edited. It is called The Fifth Night at Diggi Palace. I am always working.
Are you satisfied with your achievements so far? What is your greatest fear?
No. I am not satisfied. My greatest fears are to lose my father, which just happened on August 14th, 2022 and Wole Soyinka – I hope he lives forever in my life!