Chetachi Igbokwe is a final year student of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is the current editor of the University of Nigeria’s student journal, The Muse, a journal of creative and critical writing, founded by Chinua Achebe in 1963. He is a 2019 alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop, facilitated by the Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
What was it like having to be taught by the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Was it your first time of applying?
CHETACHI IGBOKWE: Thanks to Black Boy Review for affording me this platform. I respect Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and being taught by her was a great deal for me. Having read everything she has published thus far, starting from her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, which was a tour de force, it is evident that every generation must feel blessed to be graced with a writer like her. Originally, I knew about the workshop from close friends. I also knew how very competitive it was but I never applied because I despised competitions—especially as regards the arts where I think there cannot be any proper scale for judging the best.
In 2018, I applied because Onyeka Nwelue, a writer and filmmaker whom I respect, sent me the link and in my mind, I said, “Onyeka thinks I can get in.” I didn’t get an acceptance that year, but I got a ‘blurbable’ message from Adichie: “Yours was among the most promising entries I read.” When I applied for the 2019 workshop, I didn’t hope to get in; I only applied to also get another beautiful blurb from Her Majesty. But I was elated when I received the acceptance mail.
What were the highlights of your classes? What major things did you go home with? Would you want to repeat a class like this?
CHETACHI IGBOKWE: The highlights of the classes include writing exercises as well as readings and discussions on fictional and non-fictional stories. We read short stories by which Eghosa Imaseun exposed us to different forms of writings on people and on places.
I particularly loved that Adichie read all the stories submitted by the participants and discussed each person’s writing, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. She was honest with her responses and this heightened my adoration of her. Largely, this is because not every mentor can give constructive criticisms on a mentee's craft. She was also very open to answering questions, even the most personal or informal ones. In all, I went home with the validation that I am a writer.
Indeed, I must say that I look up to other classes, but then again it would definitely not be the Purple Hibiscus Workshop, and this is because other writers need to get in there too if they must hone their skills appropriately.
Tell us about other extra activities aside the class as well as your best moments with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?
CHETACHI IGBOKWE: I met new people and had important conversations with them. We shared our stories, built a network. Lola Shoneyin taught us a game I think she called ‘Devil’s Murderer,’ where a silent killer uses eye blinks to kill. Shoneyin gave so much life to the workshop.
My best moment with Adichie was the time she was giving feedback to my story, The Thing that Comes. Let me brag a little here: CNA affirmed that I am a beautiful storyteller because I appropriated something she calls ‘Righteous Anger.’ According to her, though, righteous anger when not well-managed can block us from seeing the humane parts of the characters in our stories. In her words, “Sometimes, one needs to put one's righteous anger aside in order to create art.”
What has changed after the class? Are you working on new projects? Let us know what can propel more young people to apply the next time.
I now see stories with a new lens. I learned that the little things we ignore are the things that even make great stories and that we can include them through keen observation and patience.
I am currently the editor of the University of Nigeria student’s journal, The Muse. It’s a journal of creative and critical writing:an annual publication of the Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka which was founded by Chinua Achebe in 1963. I hope to work hard with other associate editors on the board to give the very best.
More so, I am revisiting my old short stories and writing new ones too. I have written a play that I so much love. Whenever I pick it up to reread, I don’t get bored. Perhaps, I will publish it first. I am not so happy that attention is not being paid to the dramatic genre of literature. Publishers are hardly interested in plays; there are little or no prizes and even audiences. But because a story teaches us how to write them, that story came to me as a play, and I have written it as such. I also have a blog, chetamedia.com, where I publish my thoughts on politics, literature, theatre, film, painting, and music.
I hope that every young writer gets into the Purple Hibiscus Class. Chimamanda knows how to help you find both your voice and feet and I am grateful for what she is doing for young creatives in Africa.