The Empire writes back, b**ch!
SA Sabo was born in Nigeria in 1984 and has been living in London since 2005. In 2009 he was one of ten writers, who won a place on the Arts Council of England/The Literature Consultancy mentoring scheme. He has written two plays, This Earth We Seek and Everybody Knows and his short stories have been published Glasschord and The Write Room. Sabo is currently working on his first novel, Herenowhere. In his own words, SA Sabo on the art of writing and a mannered response, why he wants his writing to be taken seriously and above all enjoyed.
Sabo: The first story I remember writing was about four years ago and it was an account of a turbulent time in my life. It lasted about two weeks during which I had little to do – besides being whelmed by what a catastrophic failure I thought my life would be – and some how picked up Soyinka’s Ake and had the most immersive reading I had had till that time. I recall telling a friend of mine that I wanted to write stories, though I don’t remember what lead to the conversation, and he looked at me without a marked expression on his face, which I still can’t figure out if it was that of concurrence or disapproval. (I would ask him today if I see him). Anyway, I poured all of this into my first piece of writing and it’s been my life ever since. I don’t know if one thing inspires my writing and I have frankly never bothered to investigate it. I’m not sure of what help it would be to me or any writer to figure this out, and if at all you can truly trace the source let alone trust it. I just know I want to be taken seriously and my work to be enjoyed. Having said that, you should discount all I’ve said because I’m still in its nascence of what could be a life long occupation. I hope there is plenty to discover and rediscover.
Belinda: You are an avid reader, which books in all your reading years have made an indelible impact on you, the art of writing and in one way or another influenced your writing?
Sabo: Has there ever been a book like The Famished Road? Will I ever plunge into any work of art with as much innocence and eagerness as I did this book? I measure how much I’ve improved as a reader with each re-reading. At first I identified with Azaro. He was my ultimate superhero which is a bit sad as I was a lot older than he seemed to be, but by my eight reading, in the space of three odd years, his father became the one I warmed to and I found myself turning over his phrases and nuggets of wisdom in my head. I fondly remember spending most of the summer of 2007, writing what I believed was my first novel, which disappointingly turned out to be a mere rehashing of The Famished Road. I still have it somewhere but I dread the day I’ll read it again. The diligence with which I woke up in the morning to write or do something related to writing has remained with me. I’m lucky and thankful for that, though it is yet to produce anything as masterly as Okri’s opus.
Belinda: You have had some of your work published in 2011, what did that feel like and how has your writing been received so far?
Sabo: I felt vindicated. From what, it is unclear to me. Perhaps from what I suspect my mother makes of my writing even when she is very supportive. I also felt licensed to call myself a writer without the attendant feeling of being a fraud. People I know who have read the published ones have being delighted for me.
Belinda: The various stories you have had published touch on different subject, can you elaborate on each story, what inspired them and what the process of putting your thoughts to paper involved?
Sabo: The Dead See Clearly is the most risqué of my stories and marks a particular phase of my writing. It is part homage and part an attempt to deploy all I had read and learnt about writing what some call a character-based story. Shuttered Windows is about what our collective responsibility as a community is. It was triggered by the death of a little girl I vaguely knew, as a young boy who drowned in the well in front of our building. Nobody Likes Leftovers is about a university upstart’s experience with sexuality. I set a goal for myself to write about difficult and taboo subjects, the two prime ones being race and homosexuality. The one about race was a bit crude in some parts but the later turned out better than I had expected. I drew from my first year in Federal University of Technology in Niger State involving real people I know, some of whom were freaked out by the sex. I hear that there has been an ongoing debate as to wither or not any of it really happened with one calling me a homosexual on my Facebook page as if it is an insult. I wanted to call him a heterosexual and demanded that he take offence to it. Another one coming out in January, is Leaving Hakeem which in a way is like an appendage to Nobody Likes Leftovers for its capturing of a new wife’s discovery of her husband’s homosexuality, and her struggle grasping it. As for the process of writing, the only one I can think of is sitting down to write, unless you’re Hemingway or have being blessed with the sturdiest pair of legs then you stand. I also hold dear what Soyinka said about gestation being important. And the old man hasn’t said much wrong in his life time.
Belinda: Which of the stories you published this year is most precious to you and why?
Sabo: There are two. The Dead See Clearly because The Famished Road was an education in itself and I felt indebted to it and Nobody Likes Leftovers because I think I have achieved just what I had set out to and the strong reactions it has solicited has only reaffirmed that.
Belinda: How do you think, we as Africans portray ourselves through writing, what you like and don’t like, what you would like to see change?
Sabo: The Empire writes back, bitch. A more mannered answer would be that we have done a good job of portraying the world as we see it and see fit (and I don’t hear the Wa Thiongos decrying the efforts those who have come after.) But then I have only read works from Anglophone countries and it would be presumptuous of me to give an opinion of those in other languages, I’m ashamed to say, I have no knowledge of. I hope to correct this soon. Couldn’t some one establish a translations-only publishing house of works from French and Portuguese writers and vice versa? We only feed and are fed works from our respective colonials but there is no conversation between the literature of say Mali and Ghana or Angola and Nigeria. Imagine the wealth of possibilities that wait at these language barriers…that is not to say there are many Nigerians who have read poems and novels by Southern Africans, Including those who are now Australians and British.
Belinda: African writing, that tricky area, what are the book by writers of African descent, which made your list of top 10 books and why?
Sabo: Some one described Teju Cole’s Open City as a ‘physiological hand grenade’, I certainly agree even when my reading was a little marred by my obsessing over Sebald’s oeuvre a few months before reading it, which it resembles in style. It is a new frontier in writing by an African on account of its unapologetically intellectual heft. Biyanvanga Wanaina’s, One Day I’ll Write About This place was a delight to read. It has this line about being tired of missing birthdays and other family celebrations that has resonated with me ever since. My other favourite phrase is ‘Mr English in Swahili salmu alaikun all over the place’ on page 239 which makes me laugh every time I remember it and beautifully encapsulates a peripatetic period in his life and what is a searching, humourous and stylistic triumph of a book. It is also a memoir.
Belinda: What are your writing plans for 2012 and how would you want and view your writing career shaping over the course of the next 12 months?
Sabo: I’m just going to keep plodding along really. I hope to almost finish my novel in the summer, in order to stem what is fast becoming a Dr Dre’s Detox push back release date of a nightmare. I’ve also finished a new draft of a play which we hope to workshop with actors very soon. If I’m able to finish these two things I’ll go on an epic month-long drunken bender. Have my AA registration form ready, will you?
Belinda: Where can we read your work?