L ast month, Eloghosa Osunde took part in one of the most sought-after literary workshops on the continent—The Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop.
She spent 10 days in Lagos honing her craft under the tutelage of none other than Chimamanda Adichie.
Here is her account of the life-changing experience.
Enjoy! and click HERE for all the lovely photographs.
starts with plenty small talk in hushed tones, while we wait. We are trying to get to know each other, yes – but the main priority is to keep talking, even when we are repeating things – because we must quiet the anxiety. It is a silent agreement.
So, when we run out of things to say, we talk about hunger. Some of us, after much contemplation, decide to do something about it. We walk out of the room in an awkward line.
When we come back in, it is with Coaster Biscuit and Burger Peanuts. It is not what we expected, but we laugh about it, because it works.
When Ms. Adichie comes in, a hand reaches for my own under the table. I know that it is my new friend. I don’t look at her. I just tighten my grip and together, we exhale.
It is before we’ve laid each other down and bare in front of the entire class in writing, it is before she pairs us up and asks us to write about what we know after 15 minutes, it’s even before we start the class properly. It is right there, when my new confident friend, hand still in my own, is asked to say her name and she can’t. It is when she begins to cry and apologise, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. It is how she does this for all 25 of us – how every eye in the room is fixed on her, unbelieving, understanding. That’s when I realise it: that everyone in the room too, is human.
On days 2 and 3,
Ms Adichie is still the main instructor.
We come to breakfast tired after spending over half of the night awake, working on the assignment from the previous day. We laugh about a lot. We still talk about how worried we are about reading our work to the class.
We talk about her – how she delivers both criticism and praise with equal measure of grace.
When we read our work out loud later in the day, we don’t keep our heads down for as long. Now, we’re looking around the class and at each other’s faces.
We trust the voices that we are using. We trust the voices that we are hearing.
On Day 4,
Aslak arrives. He is to teach us for the next 3 days.
One of the first things he writes on the board is “Normal is good enough.” He says it often too, so that it sinks. To that end, he forbids the use of disclaimers and apologies at the beginning of any reading.
For the in-class assignment, we are to write about where we are from in two paragraphs.
There are many outstanding pieces read on this day; and listening, I feel a surge of respect and appreciation rise in my chest.
The participant to my left, my friend, an often transparent woman, writes on this day, about home as an older relative in whose house she grew up. Reaching the end of it, she starts to cry. Two hands reach behind her back at the same time – one belongs to me and the other, to our incredible friend to her left. We hold her together. Under our hands, she is trying not to shake.
The rest of the class allows the silence.
Day 4, is the day home becomes all of us,
is the day home becomes all of us,
comes with heavy topics, under whose weight the entire class sighs. Everything is non-fiction. So, every one is fragile. Every one is shedding shame.
This one is an assignment on gender, sex and sexuality, and so, naturally, we argue a lot.
But when we read work out, the diversity is stark, the air in the room is thick and there is truth everywhere.
That evening, we stay up until 4am at the bar outside, laughing oversized laughs, trading forgiveness, learning acceptance. We are clinging to something.
is a free day. We sleep in. We gather in a friend’s room later. We raise our voices a lot. We scream into remote controls and plastic bottles. We pass the current.
We shout lyrics together. We are celebrating two of our friends. One is going to be a year older. The other is leaving us in the morning.
All of us insist, over the music, that “toniiiight, we are young.”
All of this is loud, and we know – which is why we are not surprised when we get sent out of the room and later, back into the hotel. We settle on staying inside, quietly this time.
Nobody wants to sleep.
Days 7, 8 and 9
belong to Binyavanga.
It is no coincidence that these last days are also the most emotionally draining. He means them to be so when he sets a 5 page assignment due the next day.
We think we’ll break under the pressure and we talk about it in detail after class, but let morning come. Twenty five stories later, tired eyes and bones and all, our hands have taught us this lesson: Do not underestimate your own self. Do not underestimate these writers, these friends, this family.
belongs to us. We arrive at Modé’s studio in a huge bus during the day. When we are done, we hang around doing nothing, as if we don’t have anywhere to be. But we make it in time for the literary evening.
After the event, we stay up with Ms. Adichie, who is now also known as Chi-Our-Mama, talking. Those of us who leave to bed at about 4am will be outlasted by others who will stay up until 7am. We will be told later in the morning.
This is Day 11,
and there is a lot of leaving; which also means that there is a lot of crying.
But there’s also trustable (re)assurance. We will keep in touch. We will keep pushing this writing. We will keep close. We know.
In the end, I know what I learned about writing; but I know now too, that lessons are empty without people. My writing is better after these ten days, it’s true. But mostly, that’s because now, I am bolder and less afraid of my voice. You do not get that unless you find yourself in a safe enough space to speak your pain into a room of people who are willing to cover you and love you just the same.
Love does not announce itself. It lands softly.
Fear is a thing that evaporates. Slowly at first, and then all at once.
You learn this only by doing.
Ten days and 25+ people later, I realise now that my life did not ask me for permission. In the middle of all the writing, the reading, the pressure, the anxiety, the leaving, the missing, the treasuring, it did The Big Thing by itself – it changed.
Images by Eloghosa Osunde. Find her on Instagram @theforgetterseye.