Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Famished Road Cover

What do authors think about when they read their own novels? Follow me inside Ben Okri’s head and see for yourself. On a copy of The Famished Road recently donated to English Pen, Okri left revealing marginal comments that give us a sense of how he processed his own writing. For example, on page 500:

 The last sentence took a long time to come to me; and then it came all at once, a distillation of the inward mood of the book, a moment of poetry, a gift from the gods to a hungry yearning loving writing soul.

Scroll down to see more marginal comments. All the pages below correspond to the first edition of the novel published by Jonathan Cape. Enjoy!

famished Road Anotation

p.3 ‘Worked a lot on the opening paragraph: everything is in it: all came out of it; thinking of music; the opening notes; had to get the words absolutely right or the rest won’t follow….Odd that the beginning was written last, when I knew what the work was dreaming…’

p.3 ‘From ‘Abiku’ to ‘spirit-child’ is a leap; a leap from fact to poetry, from belief into something more open, into which hope can perhaps enter, if it wishes…’

p.3 ‘Thinking of those masters, those masters whose eyes peer out in the faces of the astonishers of the human race’

p.8 ‘Do you have intimations of spirit-companions? Those voices in your head at the edge of precipices, those gentle voices where do they come from calling you over into beyond’

p.9 ‘Suffering says go or stay’

p.9 ‘To lock yourself in life. The courage to be.’

p.25 ‘Lucky I couldn’t draw so well: saw these so clearly if I could paint or draw would have done them in clear bright normal colours.’

p.106 ‘Opening the bar to many dimensions’

p.313 ‘Ali the blind old man: a nightmare real in the incandescent days. I know in my bones his living symbolism. These histories like wilting flowers know his touch his gaze. These histories rising like rape in spring know the transcending of his bones.’

p.500 ‘The last sentence took a long time to come to me; and then it came all at once, a distillation of the inward mood of the book, a moment of poetry, a gift from the gods to a hungry yearning loving writing soul -‘

Endpaper ‘In the vast playground

of imagined reality
the writer moves counters
in an invisible game
And all the things of earth
and dreams and realms
In between are moved
Too, in ways unsuspected.
The sand shifts,
People live and die and live
Again on the mysterious
Tree of life;
And their death melts
Like stories at the roots
of the tree to nurture
Philosopy Politics Laws
And love’s endless ways
Things passing in the questing
wind. Blood, tears, birth,
Laughter, mysteries, wonders,
Growing and dying.
Counters moved by the hand
on blank paper in the vast
playground we call living.
The moon returns from pluto.
The chequered board gleams,
In the twilight
where spitit-children
Glimpse flowers and fishes
Multiplied in the land.
The road rolls on beyond.
No longer famished,
No longer a road.
Counters moved in a dream.
The universe responds
With the gift of the word

9-1-13
London’

Want to Nadine Gordimer’s annotations on Conservationist? Click HERE.

Originally published in UK Guardian

Tags: , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

ANA President Denja Abdullahi Has Not Paid 18-Year-Old Student the N100,000 Prize Money He Won, Despite Months-Long Requests from Teachers

Denja Abdullahi (2)

In October 2018, at the prize ceremony at Preston Hotel, Ikeja, 18-year-old Nigerian writer Ernest O. Ògúnyemí was announced winner […]

The 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize Goes to Nigeria’s OluTimehin Adegbeye

OluTimehin Adegbeye

The 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize has been awarded to Nigeria’s OluTimehin Adegbeye, for her nonfiction piece, “Mothers and Men,” described […]

Binyavanga Wainaina, Bestselling Author, Queer Icon, and Great Literary Influencer, Passes on at 48

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA PASSES ON

Binyavanga Wainaina, the great Kenyan writer, bestselling memoirist, queer icon, beloved literary influencer, and arguably the most gifted prose writer […]

Membrane: A Festival of African Literatures and Ideas | May 23-26 in Stuttgart

Membrane Book Festival Stuttgart (1)

Three major cultural organizations in Germany, Literaturhaus Stuttgart, Institut français and Akademie Schloss Solitude, are hosting a four-day international literary […]

Akachi Chukwuemeka, Poet and Editor of the University of Nigeria’s Literary Journal The Muse, Passes on at 21

Akachi Chukwuemeka - graph

Chukwuemeka “Akachi” Emmanuel Ugwoke, a Nigerian poet and editor of The Muse, the literary journal of the University of Nigeria, […]

The Caine Prize Announces 2019 Shortlist

Untitled design (8)

Five writers—from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria—have been shortlisted for the 2019 Caine Prize, for short stories that explore “the […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.