Samuel Kolawole is a 2014 fiction fellow at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, USA. He has contributed short fiction to various journals and anthologies.His collection of short stories, The Book of M was published in 2011 to critical acclaim. He is the founder and Director of Writers’ Studio, Nigeria’s flagship creative writing school, which is now spreading throughout Africa with workshops holding in Uganda, and Cape Town in South Africa. Kolawole is a mentor on the Writivism Mentorship Programme and led a five-day workshop at the June Writivism Festival in Kampala. He talks to Caleb Adebayo about his work with aspiring writers from across the continent.
CA: When did you even know writing was what you wanted to do?
STK: I wanted to be many things while growing up but not a writer although I had always told stories in my imagination.I didn’t even know someone could be a writer in Nigeria. I had thought of being an astronaut, a boxer, a preacher, a Hollywood actor/producer, a soldier (US army), even an undercover CIA agent. Then, as a teenager I became engrossed with the desire to become a surgeon because at some point I had read Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands. That didn’t work out and I had to go through a time of isolation in order to come to terms with who and what I was. It was during that time that I knew I wanted to write. I started reading first. I read like I was going to lose my mind then writing became a part of the process.I still enjoy reading more than writing. Reading is more convenient.
CA: What inspires your writing? STK: Anything and everything.What comes first is an image, scene or a spark of idea. Something fairly small blossoms into a narrative. I observe the world around me keenly and collect from life experiences. Then I allow the bits and pieces to form into something in their own time. I am drawn to stuff that is slightly surreal. When I tell stories I want to feel something. I want it to cut deep, so the kind of subject that draws me requires a strong emotive ability.
CA: Who would you say has influenced your writing the most?
STK: My tastes change from time to time but JM Coetzee is a writer whose works I go back to again and again. Coetzee is one of the most important novelists at work today.
CA: Do you have any intention of doing a full-length novel? Why short stories only so far STK: Let me repeat what I said when I was asked this years ago. I love telling short stories, it’s as simple as that. Short narratives are not what one writes in preparation for a novel, they are a distinct art form on their own. Because of its brevity and concentration, the short story form is effectively emotional or rather has to be. In a short story you need to be precise. You don’t have the luxury of space so you need to make every word count. That’s what makes it so exciting to write.I finished a novel that I am not yet pleased with so I am expanding it. I had a mental deadline that I would finish revising it a while go but I blew the deadline because of other literary projects I was involved with at the time. Hopefully it will take shape soon.
CA: What was the inspiration behind your collection of short stories The Book of M? Which is your favourite story?
STK: The Book of M was a springboard for my writing career and its reception was something of a surprise. I was less skilled when I wrote the stories in the collection so I didn’t think much of them but then my readers thought it was worth reading. I am my fiercest critic and like someone said, you need a fair amount of hatred for your work to always keep you in check. It was praised by critics and paved the way for great opportunities even though it was published locally. I am glad I wrote it. I love Mules of Fortune, my longest short story which concerns three children forced to join a group smuggling food to the border in exchange for ammunition for rebels. Mud, If It Were Goldis also a story I enjoyed writing.
CA: How has living in Nigeria and being a Nigerian affected your writing?
STK: Nigeria is a very interesting country. In Nigeria we have the good, the bad and the ugly so on one hand, Nigeria provides excellent material for stories; you can never run out of inspiration in a place like Nigeria. On the other hand, the system here stifles creativity.It is hard for an artist to thrive in Nigeria but it is possible. All I have been able to do has been done from Nigeria and I have a couple of writer friends doing amazing things despite so many limiting factors.I think it is about perspective.
CA: Tell us about the Writers’ Studio. What was the goal and has it been achieved so far?
STK: I am passionate about the development of the book industry in Africa. The establishment of Writers’ Studio was one of the ways in which I tried to explore that passion.At Writers’ Studio, our model is simple; we create a platform where experienced writers and aspiring authors interact. When we started there was no precedence for the kind of things we wanted to do at least in my country, so I realised I had to take a leap. We have since held workshops in major cities in the country and in Uganda at this year’s Writivism Festival and next year, we are going to hold a Writers’ Boot Camp in Cape Town. We can do more if we have support.
Images: via author’s Facebook page.
This interview is the fifth in a series showcasing new African writers. It’s a platform for these writers to share their story and reflect not just on their work but also on the African literary scene. Check back every Friday for a new interview. Thanks to the folks at Writivism for conducting the interviews and choosing to share it on our platform.