... says some books have gone out of circulation after winning prizes
Anambra State-born Ndidi Dorothy Chiazor-Enenmor is an award-winning author of many children's books. Married with four children, Chiazor-Enenmor holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a Post Graduate Diploma in English from the University of Lagos. She recorded a major feat in her creative writing career last year when her book, "A Hero's Welcome" made the longlist of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2019 sponsored by Nigeria LNG. This brilliant writer shares more in this interview with Vanguard's Arts & Reviews:
Where did you start your education?
I did Primary 1 and 2 in my hometown before I went to Aba to live with my sister. I attended Hospital Road Primary School Aba, formerly St. Michael's school when it was being run by the CMS. Interestingly, this school has the honour of being the place the great Chinua Achebe wrote his entrance examination to Government College Umuahia. So, when the government took over schools, it became Hospital Road Primary School. But now, I think the church has taken it over again. That's the St. Michael's Anglican Cathedral, Aba.
I run an education consultancy outfit in Lagos/I represent colleges in Canada. I recruit students from Nigeria to study in Canada.
When did you develop a passion for writing?
Writing is a passion ignited in me at an early age. I grew up in Aba, in-home full of books. I was seven years old when my eldest sister got married. Shortly after her marriage, she brought me to live with her. Her husband, Geo Ezeaba of blessed memory was a lawyer. He was a voracious reader; therefore, the house was stocked with books; beautiful books covering all subjects. There were novels, biographies, encyclopedias, memoirs, autobiographies, books on geography, history - just name it. I read and read... and that helped me a lot in school. I had sterling performances in primary and secondary schools and through the university.
I attended St. Catharine's Girls Secondary School, Nkwerre, Imo State. Established in 1955, St. Catharine's was one of the best schools in the Eastern region. While there, my love for reading was boosted by the rich collection of storybooks in the school library. I read a lot of the Enid Blyton series in the library. The librarian then knew me and admired me. I will borrow books and return them even before the last due date because I read them very fast and wanted to borrow more.
Also, my mother told me a lot of folk stories; not only my mother but other members of the extended family. Whenever I was in my hometown for the holidays, I enjoyed the tales told under the moonlight. Folktales were the norms then. Usually, after dinner, families sat around and told stories. Playmates also exchanged stories with each other. I had a lot of cousins and while growing up, we enjoyed this beautiful norm together. I could say that these are the things that influenced me and geared me towards writing.
So far, how many books have you published?
My first children's book was published in 2006 while I was still working at the British Council, Lagos. I was previously selected and sponsored by the British Council to attend the London Book Fair in 2003. After I came back from the book fair, I wrote an article entitled, 'Books, Books Everywhere'. It was published in 'InfoNews', the British Council Global Magazine.
Before then, I had written several short stories and poems. Some of them were published in the defunct TNT and Diet newspapers where I had brief stints with journalism as a reporter and features writer respectively.
My short story 'Oso Ochu' featured in "Wings of Dawn", an anthology of works by WRITA (Women Writers of Nigeria), published by British Council, Lagos.
I can recall my first poem, 'Departure' which I wrote in my final year in the university. I posted it on the notice board of our department and my classmates wrote comments on it. I was thrilled, even though some of the comments were very critical. I kept that poem for a long time. I showed it to my siblings and other family members. Their encouraging words were very exciting to me.
After my first book, I went ahead with more children's books; "One Little Mosquito" (2008), "Stories of our Land" (2011) and others. "One Little Mosquito" won the ANA/Atiku Abubakar Prize for Children's Literature (2009).
In 2017, I wrote a picture book, "Mina and the Birthday Dress". It was part of the Book Dash project in Johannesburg. There were selected children's books and authors from several countries in Africa who took part in the project. We were sponsored by the Goethe Institut, Nigeria after a rigorous selection process.
Does it look like you've concentrated only on children's literature?
True, I have a lot of children's books to my credit. But my debut novel "If They Tell the Story", was published early this year. The book has domestic violence, depression and societal culpability as major highlights.
Your book, 'A Hero's Welcome' made The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2019 longlist. What informed your writing of the book?
"A Hero's Welcome" was borne out of my desire to promote the speaking of our indigenous languages. Like some of us are aware, our local languages have been relegated. While English remains the official language, there is no reason why we should not speak our languages to our children.
Did you have the Prize or any other in mind while writing the book?
The wide acceptability of "A Hero's Welcome" and my other books is far more important to me than any prize. Of course, like every writer, it is natural to desire to win prizes, but it becomes pathetic when a writer does not look beyond the prize. I can tell you that there are some books that have gone out of circulation after they had won a prize. That goes to show that the writer only wrote for the prize and after the whole euphoria of prize-winning, you don't get a copy of the book to buy anywhere. It is very pathetic.
How has making NLNG Literature Prize Longlist impacted on your creative writing?
I have been overwhelmed by the reception accorded "A Hero's Welcome". Many schools have adopted it for their book clubs and other book reading projects. A headteacher here in Lagos called me and pleaded that I adapt it for drama. There are so many things I am working around with the book. I am in talks with some organisations to hold a major programme annually to mark the International Mother Tongue Day which is commemorated in February. "A Hero's Welcome" will be a handy tool for that. Being longlisted in the 2019 NLNG/Nigeria Literature Prize was one of the high points in my writing career. It brought a lot of recognition to me and I don't take that for granted.
Are there other projects through which you contribute towards improving our reading culture?
I have held similar programmes in the past, in collaboration with the Goethe Institut, Nigeria. Project Read Aloud and Tell (PRAAT) was one of them. The first edition was held many years ago in the old Alliance Francaise premises in Lagos. So, apart from writing, these are the kind of projects I have been involved with; programmes that promote reading and learning outside the classroom. Various schools in Lagos and Ogun states have participated in them. We have also held events to mark Children's Book Week, in collaboration with the Lagos State Library Board.
What inspires you as a writer?
I am inspired by things that happen around me; things that happen in society as well as some personal experiences.
What's your assessment of the literary industry?
The writing industry in Nigeria has gone through a lot of metamorphoses. There is a lot of dynamism, which is good. It is an ever-evolving industry.
What challenges do you have as a writer?
Sponsorship is always a major stumbling block but I don't give up because I enjoy what I do. It will be a welcome development for corporate organisations to sponsor programmes that enhance our children's creative abilities.