Award-winning Nigerian author and secretary-general of Pan African Writers Association, Dr Wale Okediran, reflects on his life at 66 and how his journey has inspired many others.
Congratulations on turning 66. How does it feel to be a writer and a senior citizen?
I thank God for his grace and mercies. As the saying goes, age is in the mind, as such, I am still as physically active and literally productive as I was many years ago. This is especially true for writers. I am always inspired by a writer such as the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka who recently released his latest book at 86 years.
The same thing goes for the Emeritus Professor of Medicine and well known Children’s author, Anezi Okoro who recently retired at the age of 91 years. Even at 91 years, Prof Okoro was very reluctant to quit work. I was with him in his Enugu home a few days after his retirement from the Ebonyi State Teaching Hospital in 2020 when the elderly writer complained of boredom. ‘’Wale, what can I do to keep myself busy?’ he asked me. I jokingly told him to go into farming. The following morning, the old man informed me that after breakfast, I should accompany him to the plot behind his house to commence his farming career. It took me a while to dissuade him from embarking on another hard assignment even at an advanced age.
Another Congratulation for the release of your new set of books, for the benefits of those knowing you for the first time, can we know you in few words, sir?
I am a Nigerian author of many novels, short story collections, biographies and a collection of travel stories many of whom have won national and international literacy awards. I was commissioned in 2001 by Longman Nigeria Plc. to write a series of novella for school children on HIV/AIDS Awareness. My award-winning novel, tenants of the house has just been made into a movie directed by Kunle Afolayan. A medical doctor by training, I am a former Member of the House of Representatives and a past National President of the Association of Nigeria Authors. I now live and work in Accra, Ghana as the current Secretary General for The Pan African Writers Association.
What prompted you to write series of stories about the gender-based violence?
The books which were written during the long period of the Physical Lockdown due to the Covid 19 Pandemic came about at the suggestion of my Publisher, Mr Dapo Gbadega the CEO of RASMED Publishers, Ibadan, Nigeria. He observed and I agreed with him that in view of the rising incidence of Gender Based Violence all over the world especially as a result of the Covid Pandemic physical lockdown, there was an urgent need to use literature to educate the public about the scourge.
It was in the course of researching for the books that I discovered that GBV is a big issue which cuts across both genders as well as all age groups. This was why my Publisher and I decided that rather than bring out one big book which many may find too intimidating, I should write a series of Novellas which would adequately address the issues.
This was why each book, tackled different situations ranging from abuse of infants and the elderly, female hawkers, male patients as well as inmates of boarding houses belonging to secondary school and religious institutions. The beauty of the project to my mind was that apart from the stories, suggestions for the prevention of the scourge were highlighted at the end of each book. The books were therefore both for entertainment and education of readers.
Who are the target audience for the books or are they for only children?
Actually, the Advocacy Books on Gender Based Violence are not only for children. The books are for both children and adults because contrary to popular opinion, victims of Gender Violence are not only children. Some of the victims of GBV in my collection were adults including a grandmother. In addition, it is important to add that even though the majority of victims of GBV are females, males are also affected. From my experience, incidences of GBV range from a ‘male to female’; ‘male to male’ as well as ‘female to female’.
How did you decide on a title and a picture of the books?
From my experience when I was commissioned in 2001 by Longman PLC to work on a similar set of Novellas on the HIV/AIDS issue, I discovered that for such books to be attractive to readers, the titles must reflect the story lines. In addition, for the pictures in the book, a writer must work with an experienced illustrator. What I did was to explain to the illustrator how I wanted the pictures to appear. The illustrator will then supply me with some sketches which I will go through and between the two of us, we would then agree with the final product.
Must children books be poetic or pictorial in order to empower kids to be brave and fearless in their dreams and aspirations?
In addition to a very good and inspiring story line, you also need the services of a good and highly imaginative illustrator to effectively communicate with children.
It is also important to note that writing for children is a serious business. You cannot write for children unless you like children and can’t bring yourself to their level to think like them. Some people cannot tolerate children whom they see as forms of distractions and disturbance. Such people cannot make good writers of Children’s Literature.
How best can children books boast their self-esteem and encourage them to use their imaginations?
Children by nature are very inquisitive and very intelligent. Apart from being eager to learn, they quickly sponge up things that they see around them. This is why it is very important that the reading material they are exposed to must be of a very high quality. It is an anomaly to think that because your reader is a child, you have to water down or ‘talk down’ on them. As pediatricians will tell you, children are complete individuals on their own and must be treated as such. They are not ‘small adults’ who should be spoken to in a derogatory or ‘childish’ manner.
Are there any particular children’s book or author, dead or alive, that have inspired and keeps inspiring your writing and style?
Mabel Segun, the famous author of MY FATHER’S DAUGHTER and other children’s stories is actually my mentor in the genre of Children’s Literature. It was after attending her Seminar on Children’s Literature which was organized by the Association Of Nigerian Authors in Kaduna in 1990 that I started writing for children.
I have also benefited immensely from the works of some famous authors of children’s books such as Maurice Sendak as well as J K Rowling, the author of the immensely successful Harry Porter series.
I have equally learnt a lot from reading about Children’s Literature from Literary Magazines such Writers Digest which I have been subscribing to for the past 20 years. Another very good resource is the Cartoon Network on the Television which I watch with my grandchildren whenever they are visiting.
Can you share with us a little in any of these books, either your personal-favorite-thoughts on any or your favorite sentence, paragraph, or page?
Mabel Segun used to emphasize these phrases; ‘’You have to like children before you can write for them’’ ‘‘to be successful as a writer of children’s stories, you have to come to their level’’
I have also discovered that just like every form of writing, the best children’s stories are those that were well researched. It is not just enough to sit in your sitting room and write for children. You have to go out and see children in their natural location or read widely about a subject you wish to write about.
My children’s novel; THE RESCUE OF UNCLE BABS (Macmillan Publishers 1998) which won the 1999 ANA/Matatu Children’s Literature Prize was borne out of my experience travelling in a train from Ibadan to Kaduna to attend the 1998 ANA Convention which took place in Kaduna.
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For your best writing time and companion/energy: morning, afternoon or evening and sugar or plain, tea or coffee?
I write every day, morning, afternoon and evening. However, I prefer the early hours of the morning from 2 to 6 when my brain is very fresh. My writing companions are a hot cup of coffee, light music in the background and some cracker biscuits to keep my sugar level steady. In my younger days, I use to add some Kolanuts to my writing arsenal just to keep away sleep. I hardly use that wonderful writer’s friend these days unless if I have to keep to an emergency deadline or whenever my Publisher comes up with another wonderful idea accompanied by a fat cheque which I cannot resist.
What’s the last book you read or the last thing you experienced that made you laugh out loud or cry?
An excerpt from Ken Saro Wiwa’s wonderful book SOZA BOY where a policeman who was promoted burst into tears and refused the promotion because it would meant being posted away from his very lucrative check point duties to a desk job.
Can you tell us something literary important that you wish you knew as a child?
That much of Literature is a reflection of the society, its good values and its ills and that there is nothing new under the sun.
How do you do so much writing at once: travelogues, novels, essays, children books and running an Association as big as (PAWA)
I thank God for his mercies and favours. He gave me parents and teachers who inculcated the virtues of hard work, team work, love of reading and writing in me at an early age. As I grew up, I was also lucky to meet friends and associates who recognized my God given talents and encouraged me to tap into them. I can say that a lot of what I am doing today was on the recommendations of friends and family members.
Unknown to many, I am actually an introvert as well as very conservative person who just want to be left alone. There have been instances when I actually did my best to run away from some suggested projects only for those projects to be some of most successful ones in my life. On the promptings of people, I have moved out of my ‘comfort zone’ and achieved things beyond my imaginations.
Perhaps, the most important lesson I have learnt is the need to help others. My Ebedi International Writers Residency in my hometown, Iseyin, Oyo State which I have been running for the past 11 years at no cost to writers is a case in point. Through the project, I have been able to mentor many writers, students and community leaders who have in turn been sources of immense blessings to me in many ways.
Is there another side of you that even your most loyal fans may not know about you?
I don’t know how to dance.
And lastly, what’s the one simple word of comfort and motivation to an abused child?
God loves you
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