ON THE SPOT (ISSUE 6): “Writing in Nigeria is not a goldmine and expecting quick cash is self-delusion” – Nnenna Ihebom
In this exclusive interview, Chinemerem Mary Anyi, PIN’s Special Contributor and bilingual writer probes into the personality, writings and achievements of Nnenna Ihebom, author of Okowata, a comprehensive Igbo dictionary.
- You are a highly respected personality. Our readers would like to meet and know you. Who is Nnenna Ihebom?
Nnenna Ihebom is a native of Ubakuru Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local government Area of Imo state. She is married to Sabastine Ihebom of Umuomi Uzoagba in Ikeduru Local government Area of Imo state. She is a health worker who uses her spare time to string words together.
- You are famed writing in Igbo. How did you discover your niche?
I was inspired by Prof. Anele Barnabas Chukwuezi and Dr. Chidi Osuagwu, who kept emphasizing the need for Igbo people to write in their language. Again, from childhood, I learnt how to read Igbo fluently from my church experience, using the Igbo Bible. So Igbo was not scary at all. Another factor is that I spent my formative years in the village, so I got a firm grip of the Igbo language. When I developed the passion to write in Igbo, it was not too difficult to start.
- Can you share with us your works published in Igbo? Do you have any unpublished work? What is holding you back from publishing?
I have Odogwu Be Anyi, Omaricha(abu umuaka) Igirigi Ututu, Akamkpo Chinedu, Mkpanaka Igbo, Egwu a gwara ogwa and Okowata (Igbo dictionary). Yes, there are many others that are waiting to be published. Money palava is the reason why they are not yet published.
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me. It makes me come alive.
- How many hours a day do you write?
It is not uniform. I think it depends on many factors including my mood, how excited I am about the subject matter in question and how my schedule is.
- What period of the day do you write better?
Early morning and late night.
- . How do you select the names of your characters?
There is no special method of selecting the names of characters. Sometimes the names are abstract especially in writing in English. At other times, they are significant and match the attributes of the character, especially in Igbo stories.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
There have been very hard scenes and chapters but there is one that comes to mind. Scene twelve of my play, Folly is a Dance. It was really challenging and I am glad it turned out well.
- What are your favourite literary journals?
ANA Review, AÑU, Whelan Research Academy journals.
- What is your favourite childhood book?
African Child by Camara Laye, This is Our Chance by Ene Henshaw.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Again, it depends on many factors but generally, it can take between two months and five months to finish putting down the story. Of course that is a long way from finishing the book.
- Do you think it’s better to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Of course it is better to be original. A writer has a duty to be loyal to his muse and his conscience at all times. I think it is commercial writers that only think of what the readers want at all times. It is good to consider what is in vogue but it is more important to use your art to teach and remind society of the right path as you perceive it.
- If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would that be?
Well, I would tell her to pay more attention to her people’s history; to grab as much as she could from the old people around. I would tell her to pay less heed to alien dogma aimed at distorting the views of young people about who they are.
- What is your favourite under-appreciated novel?
The Lunar Princess
- What other authors help you become a better writer?
My training as a writer came from some young writers and an online writers’ forum – Fanstory. These young writers include Chidozie Chukwubuike, Chuks Oluigbo and Nwokedi Sylvester. We are still working together to help each other do better.
- What was the first book that moved you to tears?
Things Fall Apart
- What are common traps for aspiring writers? And what is your advice to them in view of the fact that writing doesn’t yield immediate financial reward?
One major trap that young writers may be exposed to is plagiarism. It is not worthwhile at all and can ruin everything for you. If you do not have the talent or calling, do not force it. Again, writing in Nigeria is not a goldmine and expecting quick cash is self-delusion.
- How do you manage the busy literary schedule with the very tasking home front?
I try to manage my time well. Actually, if we get rid of certain habits we are used to, we can find enough time to do all we want to do in a day.
- What promoted you to write the Igbo dictionary?
Passion. I just caught this consuming zeal to help save the Igbo language from extinction and started the work. It started with the book, Mkpanaka Igbo, which I published in 2014. It has a glossary of Igbo words and meanings at the back. I decided to expand it into a full monolingual dictionary.
- Our indigenous languages are fast going into extinction. What’s the role of writers in saving this ugly situation?
Well, writers should write in these indigenous languages. The government must get responsible in this direction. Writer should invest their time, intellect and craft while the government invests money into promoting these endangered languages.
- Do you think that government is doing enough to encourage writers?
No, the government has neglected writers for far too long. It is a painful truth that the government and corporate bodies remember to celebrate a writer only after another country in the Western world has celebrated him or her. Nigeria cannot grow without her writers.
- If you didn’t write, what other passion of yours would you promote?
I love singing and the dramatic arts among other passions
- What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Plagiarism, piracy and copyright violations
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I was part of the tours in celebration of Chinua Achebe’ Things Fall Apart at 50. We visited Nsukka and Ogidi. I have been to some conferences within the country
- What is your take on the post humus celebration of writers?
Well, I have nothing against it provided the said writer was recognized and celebrated in life
- If you are appointed the Commissioner of Education in your state, what would be the first thing you would do?
Well, I would advance policies that would inspire school children to fall in love with reading.
- You are a key member of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Imo State Branch. What really is ANA doing? Are they pulling their weight enough?
ANA is trying their best to encourage writers in Nigeria. I am sure they will do better if the government gives them the much needed support they require
- Do you have plans of translating your poetry works written in English into Igbo? Or, do you mind it being translated by someone else?
No such plans for now.
- Have you ever been published in PIN Quarterly Journal?
I think one of my works has appeared there.
- We will always want to have you speak to the generality of our readers especially the youth. Leave us with your parting words.
Fellow writers and readers, let us be diligent and properly focused in the task of promoting literature in this generation. We must tell our story or someone else will tell it for us and believe me, it will not be pleasant.
Chinemerem Anyi is the Founder of Relief Pitch, a non-governmental organisation promoting child and maternal healthcare. Her writing career started in 2011as the columnist of Family Line in Citizens Advocate, a weekly newspaper of Ebonyi State Catholic Church. She is a bilingual writer in English and Igbo languages and published her first book, “Biko Egbuchulam” in 2012. Her other works include, The Goddess of Hope, I kissed myself, Red Haze, Her woes, Light my Fire, Guilty bystander, “Okorobia eji agba ugwo”, “Udara Onye uwa”, and “Oku daa ibube.” She is the Secretary of Coal City Literary Forum and a member of ANA, Enugu. She is married to Mr. Michael Anyi of Nomeh Unateze in Nkanu East Local Government area of Enugu state.