Tag Archives: Helon Habila

Creative Writing Workshop with Helon Habila, Abuja, July 16-22 (and an earlier review I wrote on his Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time)

Helon Habila, author of Waiting for an Angel, Measuring Time, and his latest  Oil on Water (publication date August 2010–but an excerpt from the novel published as a short story “Irekefe Island” can be read at the Virginia Quarterly Review), will be hosting a creative writing workshop in Abuja from July 16-22. For a chance to participate in the workshop, apply by June 20, 2010. The workshop is sponsored by Fidelity Bank. For more information about Habila’s workshop and other literary opportunities in Abuja, see the website of the Abuja Literary Forum. (UPDATE 21 July 2010: The final event, which is open to the public, will be held Thursday, 22 July 2010, 4pm, at the Abuja Sheraton.)

Helon Habila speaking at the closing ceremony for the Fidelity Creative Writing Workshop, Abuja, 22 July 2010 (c) Carmen McCain

Helon Habila speaking at the closing ceremony for the Fidelity Creative Writing Workshop, Abuja, 22 July 2010 (c) Carmen McCain

In my opinion, Helon Habila is one of Nigeria’s best contemporary prose stylists, although I may be biased as my (very flawed) MA thesis was an analysis of his first novel Waiting for an Angel. Elsewhere on this blog, I have posted an interview I did with him in November 2007 and my thoughts on a piece he wrote in Next questioning the actions of the Kano State Censor’s Board. In January 2008, I had also posted a review of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time on my personal blog, which I will re-post here:

My review of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time

If you’ve never read anything by the Caine and Commonwealth prize winning author Helon Habila, the first thing to know is that his use of language is exquisite. The second thing to know is that he makes generous use of irony. Although he is a clearly political writer, he questions over-easy assumptions and political binaries. In his latest novel, Measuring Time, Habila continues the project he began in his debut novel Waiting for an Angel—that is to tell history through the eyes of ordinary people.

Waiting for an Angel opens in a prison setting. The imprisoned journalist Lomba is engaged in a battle of wits with the prison superintendent who is extorting poetry from his prisoner in an attempt to impress a woman. If Lomba’s story were told in a straight line, the way it might appear in his prison file, it would be the story of a failure: a student who drops out of university, who loses friends to madness and military violence and the women he loves to other men, a writer who never finishes his novel and whose journalistic career is cut short by his arrest in the slums of Lagos. However, this is not the story that Habila tells. By breaking up and rearranging the linear story of Lomba’s life, he wrests control of the narrative away from an environment-determined fate. The novel starts at the end of the chronological sequence and then circles back to gather stories of other characters in Lomba’s Lagos: a young boy banished from his home in Jos for smoking Indian hemp, an abandoned out-of-wedlock mother, an intellectual in a tragic love affair with a former student turned prostitute, the daughter of a general whose mother is dying of cancer, a disillusioned woman who runs a neighborhood eatery, a man who defies the soldiers on the night of Abacha’s coup, an editor pursued by the police who refuses to go into exile, a legless tailor who dreams of bidding poverty goodbye.

While the form of Waiting for an Angel reflects the frenetic beat of life in Lagos, the small town setting of Habila’s second novel Measuring Time allows for a more meandering pace. Mamo and LaMamo are twins growing up in the middlebelt town of Keti, and they hate their father, a womanizing businessman with political ambitions. They hate him for breaking their mother’s heart before she died giving birth to them, and they hate him for his long absences and his neglect. The twins’ simultaneous desire for revenge and quest for fame ends in their separation. When LaMamo runs away in search of adventure as a mercenary soldier, Mamo’s sickle cell anemia forces him to stay at home, spending more and more time in his imagination. The narrative of Mamo’s day to day life in Keti is rhythmically punctuated by adventure-filled letters from LaMamo as he travels around West Africa. Mamo reimagines events in Nigerian history: the poet Christopher Okigbo did not die in Biafra but instead lay down his gun to travel around Africa with Mamo’s Uncle Haruna. LaMamo enacts Mamo’s imagined story, becoming a soldier-poet who reports from the Liberian war front, and his words capture the spiritual horror and the boredom of war as it is rarely recorded in international news. The twins long for the other: while Mamo imagines adventures beyond the borders of his small town, LaMamo constantly searches for reminders of home in foreign lands.
The narrative of Measuring Time is frequently interrupted by folktales told by Mamo’s Auntie Marina, letters from LaMamo and a professor in Uganda who becomes Mamo’s mentor, excerpts from the memoir of the first missionary in Keti, his wife’s diary, and colonial reports, and the oral histories told by other characters. One of the most remarkable aspects of Habila’s prose is this inclusion of multiple genres alongside a continuous pattern of tributes to preexisting literary works. In Waiting for an Angel, he borrows the character of the prison superintendent from Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died and gives him some of the associations of the folkloric dodo, a dim-witted monster who is often outwitted by the youth he kidnaps. Throughout the rest of Waiting for an Angel he references writers as varied as Ayi Kwei Armah, Ousmane Sembene, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Franz Kafka, John Donne, and Sappho. Similarly in Measuring Time, he bundles together Plutarch, Christopher Okigbo, William Shakespeare, Wole Soyinka, Alex La Guma, the Arabian Nights and Faust legends, as well as references to oral tales and Nigerian video films. The effect of these competing voices is to open up the boundaries between his fiction and other fictions and historical accounts that lie outside the novel. The illusion of a smooth, progressive, and abbreviated history, such as the Brief History of West Africa that is brought to Lomba in prison (as the Letters of Queen Victoria had been brought to Soyinka in prison) is a false one. Habila’s fictional histories play a function similar to the colonial history the Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in which the district commissioner writes only a paragraph on a man who has been the subject of Achebe’s entire novel. Habila parallels Achebe’s fictional colonial text in Measuring Time with the missionary text A Brief History of the People’s of Keti by Reverend Drinkwater.

It is with these “brief histories” that Habila’s project in both Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time becomes clear. Mamo is determined to write a history that does not “cut details” as the colonial histories had—a history that tells the stories of “individuals, ordinary people who toil and dream and suffer” (MT 180). The traditional ruler’s story he has been hired to write, Mamo states, is “simply a part of the other biographies…. [that he would] eventually compile to form a biographical history of Keti. That’s what history really is, people and their lives, no matter how we try to manipulate it. It is the story of real people with real weaknesses and strengths and… not about some founding fathers and … even if we want to write about the founding fathers we shouldn’t privilege them, we should place them on par with other ordinary folks…” (225). In Mamo’s subsequent “biographical history,” he writes of his father the failed politician, and his aunt the divorced wife, placing their stories alongside the less than glorious history of the mai, the traditional ruler, of Keti. Every story has its own place alongside the others. When LaMamo returns with a revolutionary fervour reminiscent of Ngugi’s Matigari, the separate lives of the twins blend and become one—LaMamo’s panAfrican experience and his soon to be born child are given into Mamo’s safekeeping and for recording into Mamo’s history of Keti.

Such a history is not merely a radical rewrite of racist colonial histories but an empathetic window into the lives of even the unpleasant characters. The characterization of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel follows Soyinka’s original caricature, but the man is given a more complex psychology. He is a man grieving for his dead wife, a father of a young son. As Lomba realizes when he meets the superintendent’s girlfriend, “The superintendent had a name, and a history, maybe even a soul” (WfA 37). While in Measuring Time, the sleepy-eyed traditional ruler of Keti and his evil vizier take on the typed characteristics of folktale or a video film, most of the characters in Measuring Time are treated with complexity and compassion. When LaMamo calls the old widows who had pursued their father all his life “shameless old women,” Mamo reminds him that “they weren’t so bad… People are just people” (MT 343). And although the missionary Reverend Drinkwater may have misrepresented the history of Keti, his family has become a part of the history of the town. The missionary’s daughters, now old women, live in Keti, tending their parents’ graves. Although they are not Nigerian, they belong in Keti. It is the only life they have ever known.

This concern with multiple perspectives on history is behind what at first glance might seem to be an editorial flaw in Habila’s two novels. When reconstructed in both novels, time doesn’t quite add up. According to the chronology given in “Mamo’s notes toward a biography of the Mai,” the number of years between the installation of the first mai by the British and the current mai should be about thirty two or three years, yet the time period is stretched from 1918 up to the 1980s (MT 238-240). The year-long planning period for the celebration of the mai’s tenth anniversary seems to turn into three. Similarly in Waiting for an Angel, the time between Lomba’s stay at the university and his imprisonment seem much longer than the actual historical tenure of Abacha’s regime. He supposedly meets and falls back in love with an old girlfriend some time after he becomes a journalist. Yet, two weeks before he is arrested (after he has worked at the Dial for two years), another girlfriend, with whom he has lived for a year, leaves him. The times between the two love affairs don’t quite seem to add up.

Placing the novels side by side gives a hint to what Habila is doing here. In Waiting for an Angel, Habila gathers up historical events that happened along a spectrum of ten years and bundles them into the space of a week. Although Nigeria is kicked out of the Commonwealth in November 1995, in the novel, a week after this event, Dele Giwa, the editor of Newswatch Magazine, is assassinated by a parcel bomb on the same day that Kudirat Abiola is assassinated by gunmen. Of course, historically, the two activists were killed ten years apart: Dele Giwa during the Babangida regime in October 1986 and Kudirat Abiola during the Abacha regime in June 1996. The quickening rhythm of disaster in this chapter of Waiting for an Angel parallels the last quarter of the Measuring Time in which Mamo falls into the hard-partying lifestyle of corrupt politicians, religious riots break out, and the quiet town of Keti goes up in flames. Time here is not a mathematical iambic pentameter that can be measured with a clock, but a living fluctuating force that lags behind and loops around to find the stories of multiple characters. It reminds me of the way time acts in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or in oral tales and epics. It cannot be diagramed into a dry progression of events such as those found in A Brief History of West Africa or A Brief History of the Peoples of Keti but instead can only be mediated through the memories of those who experienced it. In his afterward to Waiting for an Angel, Habila acknowledges the liberties he has taken with the chronological order of events, “[N]ot all of the above events are represented with strict regard to time and place—I did not feel obliged to do that; that would be mere historicity. My concern was for the story, that above everything else” (WfA 229).

Mamo’s story of Keti, like the story of Lomba in Waiting for an Angel, becomes in miniature the story of Nigeria—not that it can represent all the complex and multi-faceted stories of the nation, but that it offers an example of what can be written: the individual stories of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Habila layers his work onto that of older writers such as Achebe and Ngugi who rewrote colonial history in their early works, and joins other contemporary Nigerian writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole whose writing seems similarly concerned with providing entry points into historical events as lived by ordinary people. Measuring Time ends with the performance of a play by church women’s group, both celebrating and mocking the appearance of the missionary Reverend Drinkwater into Keti history. Mamo realizes that through their caricatured performance, they are telling the story on their own terms, invoking a way of life much older than the colonial encounter: “They were celebrating because they had had the good sense to take whatever was good from another culture and add it to whatever was good in theirs: they had done this before when they first met the Komda, and many times before that in their travels and migrations, in times earlier than even the oldest among them could remember. This was their wisdom, the secret of their survival. This was why they were still able to laugh… each generation would bring to this play its own interpretation” (MT 382). This at root is the power of Habila’s work—the ability of humanity to laugh in the face of tragedy—the ability to undermine stories that have been told for you by telling them yourself.

Helon Habila speaks on censorship in Kano

Helon Habila liest, P02

Helon Habila liest, P02 (Photo credit: lutzland)

(a post in which I meditate on my research obsessions and recommend a recent opinion piece on “Art and Censorship in Kano” by multiple award-winning Nigerian novelist Helon Habila)

In Helon Habila’s first novel Waiting for an Angel, which was the subject of my MA thesis, he blurs the boundaries between his characters’ fictions and the reality of the world they live in. Originally self-published as a collection of short stories Prison Stories, the novel is fractured into stories told from multiple perspectives about “ordinary” people living out their lives in the “prison state” of Nigeria under the Abacha regime. The artist, Habila implies, provides a challenge to oppressive structures by gathering up the voices of poor ordinary people, so often lost in official propaganda, and putting them into print. The novel is not merely a litany of hopelessness, although the hardship of poverty is illustrated, but also captures the loud irreverent conversations in a Lagos “Mama Put” joint on Morgan street, which has been re-named “Poverty Street” by its inhabitants and the vivid dreams of ordinary people for a better life.

One striking scene shows the main character Lomba, a journalist and aspiring novelist, watch a fictional scene he had written for his paper come to life. Lomba’s characters reflect what his editor James tells him to capture: the “general disillusionment, the lethargy” of being trapped into a story where “One general goes, another one comes, but the people remain stuck in the same vicious groove. Nothing ever changes for them except the particular details of their wretchedness. They’ve lost all faith in the government’s unending transition programmes. Write on that”  (113). The story that Lomba writes is filled with “ubiquitous gun and whip-toting soldiers,”  “potbellied, glaucomatous kids” playing in gutters alongside the carcasses of “mongrel dogs worried by vultures” (118). This story does, indeed, seem to reflect the despair of life in a prison until the end of the story where he writes of “the kerosene-starved house-wives of Morgan Street. I make them rampage the streets, tearing down wooden signboards and billboards and hauling them away to their kitchens to use as firewood” (118). This moment suggests both the extremity of the environment, which has forced the people of Morgan street against the wall, as well as the agency of the women who take their futures into their own hands. And although James removes the celebratory conclusion before publication, telling Lomba he is “laying it on a bit too thick,” on his way home, Lomba sees an angry mob of women who “set to hacking and sawing” at a large billboard advertising condoms. It is Lomba’s knowledge of the script that allows him to tell the man next to him that “‘They are not crazy. They are just gathering firewood’ I explained to him. It was my writing acting itself out. And James thought I had had laid it on too thick. I wish he were here to see reality mocking his words.”

Although Lomba’s first reaction is one of hopelessness that “we are only characters in a story and our horizon is so narrow and so dark[,]” this episode is a revolutionary moment in the text (119). While Lomba, as well as the women outside the window of the Molue, may be characters in a story, this moment marks a remarkable departure from the prophecies of prison and death foretold by a marabout in another “story” in the novel. The porous borders between Lomba’s fiction and his reality that allow his writing to act itself out indicate the possibilities of the imagination—the possibility that while caught in a the literary metaphor of a prison, the “prisoners” might turn around and revolt. Lomba, and subsequently the mob of women, take the text into their own hands and appropriate the property of the state to sustain their own needs

In recently thinking about my research interests on Nigerian films and  “meta-fictions,” I realize that what obsessed me about Waiting for an Angel is also what obsesses me about Nigerian and particularly Hausa films, both in the reflection of the stories of “ordinary people” so often seen in these films and in a projective imagination that often (although certainly not always) challenges injustices by acting as what Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentions as a crucial aspect of art, that of a mirror, which “reflects whatever is before it—beauty spots, warts, and all” (1998, 21). People are rarely passive in these films. Beloved comedians like ‘dan Ibro often skewer the rich and powerful in their satirical stories.

I’ve heard people complain that there is too much “shouting” in Nigerian films, yet to me this “shouting” becomes a powerful metaphor for what Nigerian films have done for the “voiceless.” Gayatri Spivak has asked if the “subaltern can speak”? While I want to be over-cautious about over-romanticizing Nigerian films, which often do reproduce Nigerian society’s worst stereotypes of women and offer alarmingly unhealthy “solutions” to problems, I think one of the reasons I love the films so much is because they do seem to allow the “subaltern” to speak, both literally (in that so many of the film participants come from poor backgrounds) and metaphorically.

Attempts to suppress these films, therefore, seem like the attempts of the prison superintendent in Waiting for an Angel to suppress and co-opt the voice of the writer Lomba. The writer is imprisoned, seemingly muzzled, but attempts to suppress his voice ultimately prove to be impossible. Lomba smuggles stories about his “life in prison” through metaphoric language in his “love poems” commissioned by the prison superintendent for the woman he is woo-ing.

Hausa films are often dismissed for being “just love stories.” But stories of love can be powerful. There is often more going on than the reader of surfaces will find.

I was thrilled, therefore, this morning to find that Helon Habila has recently brought together my two research obsessions in a recent article in one of my favourite new publications, NEXT: “Art and Censorship in Kano.”  In the article, he both challenges simplistic critiques of Nigerian films and meditates on the “politics” of censorship. As Habila points out, while Nigerian films are not always polished “cinema” pieces, they have “made movie making a grass roots experience.”

[UPDATE: 19 October 2013. While I was doing a little blog maintenance, I was afraid I had lost access to this article because NEXT went out of business a few years ago and took all their content with them. Fortunately, Sola at Naija Rules had copied the article over on her site. I’ve previously been irked when Nigerianfilms.com and other such sites have copied my blog content without permission, but I am beginning to be grateful for these sites that make articles available long after the original sites have gone down. I am re-copying Helon Habila’s article here for archival purposes.]

Art and censorship in Kano

By Helon Habila

It is so easy to underestimate the achievement of the Nigerian film industry, and this is because we always measure such achievements using false parameters—we compare Nollywood to Bollywood and Hollywood.

Whenever we do that, Nollywood will always come short of our unreasonable expectations. How long has it been in existence? Ten, maybe 20 years? What of Hollywood, over a hundred years? And Bollywood, when was Sholay made, 1960?

The extent of what our film makers have achieved in the short time they have been here was pointed out to me by a Nigerian/South African director friend.

When I asked him to compare the two film industries, he said, South Africa has all the right tools and techniques, they make movies on celluloid and with multiple cameras and have the right post-production requirements, but Nigeria doesn’t have all that, yet South Africans can’t get people to watch their movies whereas the Nigerian movies are practically jumping off the shelves.

It is true South Africa makes great movies, like Tsotsi, every once in a long while, but Nigeria has made movie making a grass roots experience. That is the paradox: whereas movie making in Nollywood is nondemocratic and cliquey, yet the consciousness towards it, and the patronage, is widespread.

This mass patronage and consciousness is indispensable if any nation is going to have a viable film industry. And we are achieving all this without government participation, or should I say, in spite of government participation.

And government participation is what brings me to Kano. The industry here is called Kannywood (what else?) Most people outside the Hausa speaking world aren’t really aware of it, but it has been going on for a while. Just as Nollywood’s progenitors are the early Nigerian soap operas like “Behind the Clouds”, “After the Storm”, etc, Kannywood also grew on the back of popular Hausa TV ‘dramas’ like “Samanja”, “Karkuzu”, and of course “Kasimu Yero’s Gagarau”.

Other unmistakable influences are Bollywood movies. The Indian influence on Hausa films can at best be described as odd, at worst weird—here I am not only talking about the excessively romantic nature of Hausa movies, the love theme could easily have come from Hausa literature, but I am talking about the song and dance numbers. It seems each film has about three songs and dances.

I remember the first time I saw a Hausa film, nobody had warned me that there was going to be singing and dancing, and so when it came I was taken totally unawares, and yes, I was disconcerted to watch these Nigerians singing and dancing on the streets of Kano.

That was the first impression. The second impression was: Well, the songs are really not that bad, if you are a song and dance kind of person. All in all one wished the songs would end quickly so the movie would resume.

But this piece is not really about aesthetics, it is about art and politics.

These actors would have gone on singing and dancing in peace, and mostly unnoticed by most Nigerians outside the Hausa speaking world if not for what has come to be dubbed the “Hausa Film Porn Scandal”. It seems in August 2007, a popular Hausa film actress, Maryam Hiyana, was filmed making love to her boyfriend, by the said boyfriend. In their defence they said it wasn’t for commercial purposes, so that technically means it is not porn, but somehow the eight-minute clip was leaked to the public and this began a series of what can only be described as a siege on the film industry by the Kano State government. And to quote a source, “So far, according to Ahmed Alkanawy, director of the Centre for Hausa Cultural Studies, over 1000 youth involved in the film industry and related entertainment industries ‘have been arrested in the name of shari’ah and sanitization.’ … However, although shari’ah law is invoked, most ‘censorship’-related cases are being tried in a state magistrate court, a mobile court on Airport Road presided over by magistrate Mukhtar Ahmed.

Defendants are often arrested and convicted within an hour, without the benefit of legal representation. Some are given prison sentences while others are given the option of paying a fine.”

A popular actor, Rabilu Musa (Dan Ibro), was arrested for “indecent dancing”!

What I find most chilling is a book-burning ceremony staged in a girls’ school. Book burning, in a school! The government may as well close down the school, for by burning books in front of students, the whole aim of educating them is defeated.

Even individual writers were required to register before writing!

The most recent case is the arrest of a former gubernatorial candidate Hamisu Lamido Iyan Tama—a film maker whose film, “Tsintsiya”, is an adaptation of the Hollywood classic, “Westside Story”. He was first arrested in May 2008 for three months and fined 2,500 naira, then in January 2009 he was sentenced to 15 months with a fine of N300,000. It seems in the movie, he acted the role of a governor and carried out an investigation into the causes of sectarian violence.

Here, at last, the government is showing its hand. Whenever an art form begins to go beyond entertainment and to appeal to people’s political consciousness, the people in power become scared. That seems to be the case with Kano.

The question to ask is, are the censors working in the interest of the people, or are they using religion for political ends as we have seen so often in the shari’ah states? Any society that seeks to silence the artist is attacking the people, for often it is only the artist that can articulate the secret hopes and yearnings of the people.

NEXT

 

The Heroism of Ordinary People: An Interview with Helon Habila

Nigerian writer Helon Habila at the Göteborg B...

Nigerian writer Helon Habila at the Göteborg Book Fair 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an interview I did with Nigerian novelist Helon Habila about a year ago, November 2007. I did my MA thesis on his novel Waiting for an Angel, and was thrilled to get to interview him for Leadership newspaper.

Award winning novelist Helon Habila grew up in Gombe State. After earning his BA in English at the University of Jos in 1995, he taught at the Federal Polytechnic, Bauchi. Moving to Lagos in 1999, he became the arts editor at the Vanguard and wrote a novel, published as Waiting for An Angel in 2002, which won the Caine Prize for African Fiction in 2001 and the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2003. Habila has published stories, articles, and poems in journals world-wide and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia. After a stint as the first Chinua Achebe fellow at Bard College in New York, Habila took a position at George Mason University where he teaches creative writing. He is in Nigeria from November 17 to November 24 to promote his second novel Measuring Time. In this interview on behalf of LEADERSHIP, he speaks with Carmen McCain, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, about his writing.

CARMEN MCCAIN: I was wondering what your creative process is like. Where do your stories come from?

HABILA: I really cannot say exactly, but I am really inspired by books. Sometimes I write in reaction to books I have read. Then there is also my experience: Measuring Time has a lot of that—my experiences as a child growing up. There was a time when I realised that I wanted to write about my hometown. From that moment whatever I did I viewed it through the eyes of fiction, thinking of how to represent the people I met, the things I did, the places I saw. I was thinking of them as already a part of my book that I was going to write. I was going to write Measuring Timeeven before I started writing Waiting for an Angel.

In both of your novels the act of writing itself seems to take on a political significance. What, to you, is the political responsibility of the writer?

Well, quite a lot, especially as an African writer. I think there is that tradition which started from the first generation of African writers. They were writing against the whole colonial system, which was very repressive, very racist, very dictatorial. They actually used to have congresses where they would discuss the best way to write fiction in a way that would address the political issues of the day. Even before that, in traditional African society, from the folk tales, there’s always a kind of moral lesson, a kind of didacticism that is seen as an aesthetic part of that story. So politics more or less becomes an aesthetic in African fiction. There are no boundaries between what is purely political and what is art. Art becomes politics and politics becomes art. So I think people like me who find themselves in that tradition, and have that temperament, that awareness of what is going on, who feel that things shouldn’t be the way they are, have a duty to speak out. It is tradition and it’s also a matter of temperament, because there are definitely writers in Africa who don’t write about politics. They write art for art’s sake, or whatever you want to call it.

Could you say more about the influences of Hausa literature on

Helon Habila liest, P13

Helon Habila liest, P13 (Photo credit: lutzland)

your writing?

Definitely. I grew up reading the translation of One Thousand and One Nights in Hausa and the works of Abubakar Imam, Magana Jari Ce, Ruwan Bagaja, etc. So there is that magical or folkloric representation of reality, which is very different from pure realism. I was definitely influenced by that. And before that I was also influenced by folktales told to me by women in the compound. So, these Hausa books I discovered later were almost a continuation of that story tradition with the magical elements, spirit figures and things like that.

Both of your novels deal with history. In Measuring Time, the character Mamo wants to write a biographical history. Is this one of your own goals?

Definitely, I think so. Because so much that we have is fast fading away and being taken over by the modern, I see writing itself as cultural conservation. That is exactly what Mamo’s project is, conserving the history of people…, because they were misrepresented by the [missionary] Reverend Drinkwater. If you represent what has been misrepresented, you are putting the records right. And that is what history is supposed be. Taking moments of glory, and also ordinary moments—moments of humanity, of value to the community, and putting it down in books. It doesn’t have to be about generals, it doesn’t have to be about chiefs, it could be about ordinary people, their heroism. That is the whole point of the book, that lives should be celebrated, regardless of what office or what lack of office that person has.

Newton Aduaka, the winner of the Golden Yennenga Stallion at the FESPACO film festival, is making a film based on Waiting for an Angel. How involved have you been with this?

I’m not really involved. I’m just the author of the novel. I see film as being totally different from literature. They are both narrative art forms, but they have different ways of representing their story, their subject. I trust him as an artist. I think my novel is strong enough to stand on its own, even if the movie is a bit different in some of its portrayals.

Have you ever thought of writing a screenplay or becoming involved in film?

I really want to do that some day. Some people approached me to write a movie script. I started writing it and then it became a novel! I’m really enjoying the experience. I don’t know how far it’s going to go, but I’m definitely going to go into movies one of these days. To write, or even direct, if I have the chance. The movie industry is just incredible, and I think this is the moment to get involved.
All right, thank you so much.

Thank you, you’re welcome.