Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

There is water everywhere, a skyline, tall buildings, twinkling lights, pleasure craft behind locked gates. Leaning back in the taxi, I relax. I’m in Lagos, on my way to the Purple Hibiscus Trust Workshop. Twenty-two writers, ten days, reading, writing, critiques, eating, arguing, bonding. The email on November 7, which started with “Dear Clementine” and ended with “Chimamanda.”

All my life Nigeria had been a myth, and Nollywood just across the border and yet so far away. Cameroon is a small country. Seventeen million people. At 170 million, Nigeria is supersized. So we have our assumptions about the sort of thing that happens in Lagos, a place where most have never been. It’s very similar to what happens when I say I am going to Zimbabwe and everyone white metaphorically smacks their forehead. Now, I’m here.

At Murtala Mohammed Airport, the Visa on Arrival (VOA) office is full, but no one is standing, and as soon as I enter a young man with dreadlocks and an American accent offers me his seat. I smile, sit, cooled by two fans. Each towers a full head above me.

‘Are you Nigerian?’ the man at the VOA says. ‘Cameroonian-born Nigerian?’

I shake my head, no, admit it’s my first time here.

‘You look like Whoopi Goldberg,’ he says.

I am liking Lagos already.

The staff are remarkably thin, elegant in fitted beige cotton, soft spoken, friendly, and competent. The men slap hands, click fingers. I watch this masculine ritual, think about West African cultures, the colonial boundaries that separate us, what the 11-year-old tradition of, first, Farafina, and now the Purple Hibiscus Trust Workshop means for our literature.

Over the next hour the room empties. Having arrived last I am dealt with last, but the VOA process is smooth and painless. I pay by credit card, drawn on a British bank. I say this because, in a kind of financial apartheid, my German card issuer refused to process my transactions the whole time I was in Nigeria.

Every day 22 writers walk through a conference room door that says PURPLE HIBISCUS TRUST. Mr Okey Adichie emails us assignments, magics away obstacles, gives us our printouts, all with smiling calm.

The room is dead silent.

We read frantically, like our lives depend on it.

There are Ms Adichie, Mr Eggers; there are Mr Aw, Ms Shoneyin, Dr Imasuen. My assignments are usually the shortest. There are Farafina Workshop alumni: among them are Mona Zutshi Opubor, Tolu Talabi. The writers shine. How they shine, these writers, unrestrained. I am intimidated. They know their escapes and crimes. The best assignment gets a prize, a beautiful box set of Ms Adichie’s books from her publisher, Narrative Landscape Press.

‘Find your writing friends,’ we are told. ‘Find the writers who get you, who read your work, whose work you read. Find writers who understand what you are trying to do. Find community.’ So we do. Over ten days we form bonds of affection.

There’s a Literary Evening at the Oriental: there’s Phyno, Falana. And then it’s over.

The truth is, I find endings hard. I have been a silence in many crowds. This one is lonely souls, is people who stay up all night reading and all day writing and want to talk about both. It’s gist and yab and I wish I wrote that and oh shit, what assignment? Now it’s over.

I have a certificate in my hand, my throat hurts. I know I will get over not being in the conference room freezing and talking, taking enough notes to write a manuscript. I will be back in Lagos soon. I have trouble remembering new names, but never old friends.

 

 

About the Author:

Clementine Ewokolo-Burnley is a writer, mother, and community worker. Her work has appeared in Versal Journal, Losslit magazine,The Feminist Wire, die Neue Rundschau, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Bristol Short Story Prize Competition and the Miles Morland Scholarship, and received an Honourable Mention for the Berlin Writing Prize. Clementine writes essays and long form fiction. In her most recent work she explores colonial history, memory and citizenship in Cameroon and in Germany.

Tags: , , , , ,

3 Responses to “At the Purple Hibiscus Trust Workshop | Clementine Ewokolo-Burnley” Subscribe

  1. Mona Zutshi Opubor December 10, 2018 at 7:57 am #

    This is really beautiful. I love your writing.
    It was so good to meet you at the workshop, Clementine! I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

  2. Amatesiro Dore December 10, 2018 at 9:48 am #

    Best sentences ever!

  3. Kpakpando December 10, 2018 at 11:26 am #

    Clems,

    You write beautiful sentences, sentences that are vital and resplendent and jar at the same time.

    Thank you, thank you my dear friend.

    Progress on. I’m glad you brought us here.

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

The Heart of It: Working Through Xenophobia in South Africa | Ruksana Elk

XENOPHOBIA - South African civil society and private citizens march in protest against xenophobic violence in Johannesburg. EPA-EFE and Yeshiel Panchia

READ: 15 Pieces to Guide Your Understanding of Xenophobia in (South) Africa Talking xenophobia with South Africans of all classes […]

The Brittle Paper Interview with the Caine Prize 2019 Winner: Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah with bust of Sir Michael Caine - credit to John Cobb slash Caine Prize

In July, Lesley Nneka Arimah received the 2019 Caine Prize, the award’s twentieth edition, for her short story “Skinned,” published […]

Hollywood or Nollywood? As Americanah TV Series Goes to HBO, Actress Stella Damasus Suggests Industry Slight & Chika Unigwe Responds

danai gurira, lupita nyong'o, chimamanda adichie, stella damasus, chika unigwe

The Americanah TV series adaptation, starring Lupita Nyong’o and written by Danai Gurira, has been ordered by HBO Max. The […]

15 Pieces to Guide Your Understanding of Xenophobia in (South) Africa

xenophobia in south africa - photo by guillerme sartori for agence france press and getty images

Once again, this September, xenophobic violence was unleashed on other Africans, mostly Nigerians, in South Africa: businesses were closed, shops […]

Johary Ravaloson’s Return to the Enchanted Island Is the Second Novel from Madagascar to Be Translated into English

johary ravaloson - winds from elsewhere - graph (1)

In May 2018, we brought news of the first novel by a writer from Madagascar to be translated into English: […]

Sundays at Saint Steven’s | Davina Philomena Kawuma | Poetry

unsplash3

when god runs out of money (how, no one says) once a week, these days, we come to where the […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.