On Plays/Short Stories Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Soji Cole

On Plays/Short Stories Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Embers

 

Soji Cole. PhD

Performance/Theatre Studies and Research, Performance as Research, Drama Therapy, Trauma Studies, Cultural Memory in Post-Colonial Dramas and Films, Diversity Studies, Creative Writing.

• Winner of the NLNG NIGERIA PRIZE FOR LITERATURE (2018)
• Visiting Research Scholar (Centre for Arts Research and Creative Exchange), University of Roehampton, London, UK. (2018)
• Diversity Studies International Teaching and Scholarship Network Fellow (2013 & 2017)
• Fulbright Research Scholar (2014-15)
• Winner of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Playwriting Prize (2014)
• Winner of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) ‘New Scholars’ Prize’ (2013)
• Winner of the African Theatre Association (AfTA) ‘Emerging Scholars’ Prize (2011)

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write plays/short stories?

ANS: Old stories, comics and cartoons that I read when I was in elementary school were my foetal inspirations. I grew in them. I tool fancy flights in them through my imaginations whenever I read them. I could remember ‘Chike and the River’ by Chinua Achebe, a lot of Enid Blyton stories, ‘Tintin’ cartoons, ‘Austerix and Obelix’ and a whole lot of others. I gulped them down voraciously and they became the inspiration which triggered my writing sense. And moreso, I had a difficult time growing as an orphan so those books provided me with some sort of escape.

2. Who introduced you to plays/short stories?

ANS: In my lower secondary school I had my seat beside a small-sized girl who could make beautiful character drawings and cartoons. I thought I could do the same too but when I tried I found that my drawing could only be compared with scratches of a chicken feet scrambled on pure sand. I decided to just write my story without drawing. That was the introduction to my writing plays and stories.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older playwrights/fiction writers?

ANS: Oh I was quite aware of their presence. We were nurtured on these prominent older figures, and their prominence overwhelms us whenever we study them. At some points I got angry that I was being fed the same cuisine all over. I began to have introspection. This writing thing is like doing business. You can’t ask an older wealthy business man to retire because you want to be wealthy too. The ground is too large and will accommodate all of us. I felt we need to engage them in some sort of healthy generational competition. And I think that is what the younger generation of writers across Africa are doing now.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

ANS: I don’t write daily. It is unfortunate. In Nigeria – and almost in the entire African continent, it is hard to cast yourself as a full-time writer. We don’t have the type of literary set-up that some other countries have. So what we do is to pick up a job, at least for subsistence (or survival), and then write as pastime. I would have a daily writing routine only if I were a core full-time writer. Here, we deal more with the burden of living than of writing. And I think that makes us fantastic – because we are resilient!

5. What motivates you to write?

ANS: My environment mainly. And when I say my environment I mean from the minutest immediate surroundings to the whole world. Issues of humanity propels me to want to write. There are many good things to write about the world – good things that people willingly bypass or are ignorant to see. There are many bad things to write about the world – bad things that are not being redressed because they suffer attention and pretensions. Those things are materials that motivate me to write.

6. What is your work ethic?

ANS: My work ethic is not static. But in every work I do I try to be as honest as I can and then I attempt to justify my conscience. I have been in a few trouble with some authorities because of my work. And I believe I will still continue to be.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

ANS: Oh I read a lot of fantastic stories while growing up. So I guess the biggest influence when I was way younger was the story. Great stories transport me. As I attain some level of adulthood I came to believe that how language is manipulated to tell the story is more important than the story itself. Fortunately I was already weaned on the storytelling. So these days I try to manage a great story with beautiful language when I write.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

ANS: Well, if you were to ask who is the writer that I admire most I would say Henrik Ibsen. But you have put a clause in the question which means you are referring to more contemporary writers. I think I love Chigozie Obioma and Arundhati Roy. On the same level. They have this sublime use of language to convey their beautiful stories.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

ANS: I enjoyed it. If I were given an opportunity that’s the only thing I’ll do. It gives me joy to see that I have the power to create a world by myself. To create some sort of unrestrained happiness and justified sorrow. To create characters and kill them off as I wish. To toy with the emotion of potential readers just in a bid to gauge the humanity in all of us.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

ANS: I’ll probably ask the person; ‘how do you cook’? As humans we all probably have the instinct to know how to cook. Some took strong fancy for it while some feel it’s not part of what they wish to know. Those who took likings for it have different aspirations for doing so. While some just want to learn to be able to cook for themselves and probably their family, some others aspire to be professional chefs. In the end when we ask who the real cook is we know who we are referring. That is the way I am still learning to be a writer, and that is how I’ll answer such question.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

ANS: None. I have some ideas I am flirting with but they have not developed into anything worth writing on. Like I said earlier, we keep other jobs here as writers and the jobs take their toll on us. But then, I am hoping that by the end of the year one of the ideas would have fully ferment and then I can go ahead with the processing.

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