ON THE SPOT II (ISSUE 5)
In this thorough interview, Poets in Nigeria (PIN) questions Charry Adannaya Onwu-Otuyelu on her background, writings and literary achievements.
- Who is Charry Adannaya Onwu-Otuyelu?
She is one of Nigeria’s most talented contemporary female writers and had her education in medical field at University College Hospital, Ibadan as well as Island Maternity Hospital, Lagos. Ada is also an ex-soldier who served in the 68 Armed Forces Medical Services, Yaba Lagos.
Some of her literary works include, Ifeanyi & Obi (which earned her the best African Children’s Literature Award in 1988), Our Granny’s Tale, Catastrophe, One Bad Turn (which earned her a chieftaincy title on the launch day), Anthology of New Nigerian Writings (edited by Cyprian Ekwensi), Triumph of Destiny, Revenge of Uche, Adaobi, Amaigbo Kwenu (the history of her autonomous community), Jaggeren Obi & Andrens Barn (published by Danish UNICEF), Good Morning Mr. Kolanut, Ada Marries a Palm Tree (which earned her the ANA Imo 2014 Children’s Literature Prose Prize) and many more.
Apart from being a prolific writer, she is also a well-known actress and has featured in movies and television dramas like: Village Headmaster, Masquerade, Kongi’s Harvest (written by Woke Soyinka), Bisi daughter of the river, Igbo Plays on IBC TV & radio and many more.
She is the first female director of Imo State Council for Arts & Culture and was also a part of the team of script writers for ‘BBC voices’ drama series. She is the proprietor of Adugo Clinic & Maternity and was also Head of Department of Igbo Language & Arts Culture of Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies (ICAPS). Her works have won her awards at State, National and International levels. She is a member of the Igbo House of Fame.
- How did you find yourself lecturing on traditional literature and culture?
It’s a natural flare which has been in me from childhood and has grown over the years. As a child I was quite interested and involved in folk tales, folk songs, cultural dances and anything that had to do with culture. This trend grew with time and reflects in my writings as well as other areas of my life and projected me into becoming the first female director of Imo State Council for Arts & Culture.
- From the introduction of yourself, is there any area you would want expatiated?
Not exactly, as your first question has summarised all about me in a nutshell.
- Could you speak further on your experiences at your last assignment with the Imo state government?
Well…for now, I choose to be silent on my experiences at my last assignment with the Imo State Govt.
- You are reckoned as a foundation member of Imo state branch of Association of Nigerian Authos (ANA) Imo. What was it like being part of its beginning? Any experiences to share during your tenures?
At the beginning it was tough, because we were quite few in number, so I had to go about in search of our prominent and older authors like Eze Eze Ogali to join the Association, I also had to create awareness via radio, newspapers, TV and by word of mouth. The association was young, so funding was a great challenge at that period, I sometimes had to use my personal funds for the running around on behalf of the Association. However, as time went by and more people began to join ANA, things became more organised as well as better and we all began to benefit and are still benefiting from it.
- Did you ever serve at the national level of ANA? Share with us your experiences
Yes, I served at the national level for about 8years.
It was an interesting experience because irrespective of age, we all worked together as a family and it enabled me tour various states around Nigeria.
- What can you say of ANA then and now?
ANA has grown over time and is still growing.
- By your writings, which genre of literature would you be identified with?
I can be identified with three different genres of literary writing:
Poems and Drama Plays
Adult novels mainly cultural stories
- Can you list books authored by you?
Ifeanyi & Obi (which earned the best African Children’s Literature Award in 1988)
Our Granny’s Tale
One Bad Turn (which earned me a chieftaincy title on the Launch Day)
Anthology of New Nigerian Writings (edited by Cyprian Ekwensi)
Triumph of Destiny
Revenge of Uche
Amaigbo Kwenu (the history of my autonomous community).
Jaggeren Obi (published by Danish UNICEF)
Andrens Barn (published by Danish UNICEF)
Good Morning Mr. Kolanut
Ada Marries a Palm Tree (which earned me the ANA Imo 2014 Children’s Literature Prose Prize) and many others
- As a renown author of Children’s literature in Nigeria, please give an insight into writing for children and the way forward for boosting it.
When I write a book for children, before publication, I usually bring together age appropriate children of the said Story Book and then read out the story to them after which I ask them questions and also entertain questions from them. During this process which I refer to as “brain storming with my kids”, the children are entertained and at the same time educated, while I in turn, actually learn a lot from the children and on a number of times, I have had to include their inputs in the books before publication.
The way forward for me include:
First, to imbibe the reading culture in our children and people generally.
Conducting book fairs and workshops for children in school and at various children’s events.
To include Literature in our school curriculum, with the relevant and age/class appropriate literature books.
- You have had several moments of joy as a writer like winning awards, etc. Share with us, please.
Ifeanyi & Obi (earned me the best African Children’s Literature Award in 1988 by USAID)
One Bad Turn (earned me a chieftaincy title on the day it was launched)
Ada Marries a Palm Tree (earned me the ANA Imo 2014 Children’s Literature Prose Prize)
Good Morning Mr. Kolanut (which earned me a place in the ‘Igbo House of Fame’)
The Blind Man & his Son about to be published by Long man PLC ( the manuscript won me a NESA award)
Amaigbo Kwenu (earned me a chieftaincy title from my autonomous community)
- Has writing ever paid your bills? Is writing worth making a living?
Yes, writing does pay my bills sometimes. However if only Nigerians will imbibe the reading culture, a lot more people will then be able to make very comfortable living from writing.
- Have you ever traveled out of this country as a result of your forays in writing?
Yes. The book Ifeanyi & Obi earned me the best African Children’s Literature Award in 1988 by USAID. I and other awardees had the privilege of touring 10states around the United States of America for 2months.
- When exactly did you begin to see yourself as a writer who could be taken seriously?
In 1984, when two of my books (Ifeanyi and Obi & One Bad Turn) were published.
- Is your writing in any way influenced by your profession as a nurse and mid-wife?
Sometimes when the writing is medical or child-birth related.
- As a pensioner, do you still do anything for money? How do you survive the harsh economic times?
Well, money or income is never too much for man, so yes, I still engage in other businesses to earn additional income.
- You are the mother of Bobby Michaels, a Nollywood star in Nigeria. Did you ever support him at the initial stage of his going into films? How do you feel having him as a successful personality?
Yes, I have always supported my children in their chosen fields and have supported them even more when it comes to the field of Arts and Entertainment as I have a natural flare and love for Arts & Entertainment. I feel quite proud and happy to have him as my son and baby of house. He is my last child and so is very close to my heart.
- No doubt, you are one of the very few whose dignity is intact after serving government till retirement. What was the magic?
Honesty, Hardwork and Contentment
- Have you ever heard/known PIN and what it stands for?
Yes…but I haven’t been a part of it, however I am quite pleased with how PIN is projecting poetry writing, reading and performances in Nigeria.