Conversation with Elnathan

Our twitter chat with Elnathan John

 

Prestige Bookshop:

Hello @elnathan_john. Thank you for joining us for this chat. We are going to talk about your novel, the trip to Kenya and much more

Elnathan John:

My pleasure. Glad to be doing this.

PB:

Thank you. Firstly, are you satisfied by the reception that Born on a Tuesday has been given?

EJ:

I am thankful that Born on a Tuesday has reached where it has. It could have been worse. It could have been just my 5 friends and my lover.

PB:

How so? The book, in all honesty, is a good one. Did you suffer from doubt when writing or publishing?

EJ:

A lot of doubt. It took a lot for my publisher to pry the manuscript out of my hands. He had to bribe me with very expensive lunch. I, like many writers I know, are never sure until they actually see their story or book successful. I still have doubts even now.

PB:

We are glad the publisher did so. Otherwise we wouldn’t have met Dantala.

EJ:

Indeed. Cassava Republic has been my reliable partner in this project that has seen more doors open around the world.

PB:

What has been your experience with the novel. The promotion and the audience that is.

EJ:

My experience has been rewarding. I have been to 14 cities in Europe and Africa and had the best audiences, from libraries to universities.

PB:

Congratulations on the success. What do you attribute to this?

EJ:

I will not call it success. I will call it progress. My publishers both in the UK and US have been great. And Nigerians have been supportive.

PB:

Favourite audience so far? Or you’d rather not?

EJ:

Who knows, my favourite may turn out to be Nairobi! However I must add that my biggest, baddest, sexiest audience has been #Nigeria, where I have had packed rooms and sold out books.

PB:

Oshe!!! Wait until you experience the KENYAN crowd.

The book is set in Northern Nigeria. Did you have any challenges writing about this rarely explored area? How, as an outsider, did the concept of talking about radicalization in Nigeria appeal to you?

EJ:

My challenge was portraying characters honestly and with empathy, but also nuance and depth, especially as an outsider to the Muslim community

PB:

How about the African publishers? Do you feel that more can be done in terms of publishing in Africa?

EJ:

African publishers brave many challenges, not unlike other African businesses: distribution, travel difficulties, marketing, economy etc.

We need more funding for publishers, more support, more professional editors, more marketing networks, better distribution infrastructure

PB:

Agreed. How do you think this can be realised?

EJ:

As a reader I can help by supporting African publishers, buying books and discussing African literature.

PB:

This is true. @KKombani has been talking about the challenge of book piracy in Kenya. Is this a challenge in Nigeria?

EJ:

Yes piracy is a challenge even though I am not an expert on that issue and as such cannot speak to the extent. But yes it exists.

PB:

One of the challenges here is taxation of books. Is that applicable to Nigeria too? And what do you think of taxation of books?

EJ:

I think that especially in Africa, taxation of books is horrible. There are many ways to support local publishing and writing. Not taxation.

PB:

Could you tell us some of these ways?

EJ:

Our govts support many useless projects. Like pilgrimages. And commissioning ceremonies. They could support publishing directly. Govt can [also] actually remove or reduce taxation for people starting publishing houses especially for literature, educational books etc

PB:

You seem to be politically charged. Is this a result of your background in law?

EJ:

Being a lawyer certainly heightens your sensitivity to justice & right and wrong, however I think we all are political in some way or other

PB:

Why then did you depart from your law career to be a writer? Did you influence @theMagunga ?

EJ:

I am too restless to sit in Nigerian courts for years sometimes until you get a final judgment. Also, [there are] too many My Lord’s and Yessirs.

PB:

In BOAT you use Hausa language liberally and the Englishes therein are no longer the Queen’s. Should Africans adopt this?

EJ:

I think that people should write in whatever language is theirs. And “theirs” can be English beaten into submission. Or Kikuyu. Or Arabic.

PB:

Will your next novel be in an African language? Hausa, perhaps?

EJ:

No. I do not see the point. I support those who do, as well as translations but it will be counterproductive for ME. I own my Englishes. [So]I’d rather use English well than use Hausa wrongly. I’d rather have harrowing duels with English, (like Dambudzo) than be lazy with Hausa. And this way [I describe] English applies to most languages. Language alone is not the question. How we use language is more important.

PB:

Do you feel you have been accorded the respect you deserve? Especially from the ”established” writers? What are your thoughts on the @CainePrize and @BinyavangaW ‘s opinion that we give it too much legitimacy?

EJ:

Hahahahahaha. I am walking away from this one. I will say though that the best way to challenge the “legitimacy” of the Caine is to create something that works better. Not tweeting. However I think the @CainePrize has done a lot to promote African writing. But they are just one institution. We can create more. We should.

PB:

Hahaha can we talk about the bald head instead?

EJ:

Nah. I’ve made peace with my bald head. It is a lost cause. I will never be able to have African Writer dreadlocks. *weeps*

PB:

Will you be attending the @StorymojaFest later this year in Nairobi?

EJ:

Who knows? As a poor writer I can only afford to travel to places that pay for my tickets.

 

PB:

What are your thoughts on the @CainePrize and @BinyavangaW ‘s opinion that we give it too much legitimacy?

EJ:

I will say though that the best way to challenge the “legitimacy” of the Caine is to create something that works better. Not tweeting.

Enkare Review:

Like SSDA? @ShortStoryAFR?

EJ:

Everything. Prizes (as much as I hate them), Publishing, Writing programs, Workshops, robust reviews, journals, festivals.

Enkare Review:

2017 seems to have started off well in that regard, what with things like @JaladaAfrica‘s Mobile Festival

EJ:

I hope it gets better. The more the merrier. I want the African writing space to be unpredictable. To see more names I do not know.

Otieno Owino:

I love sparse prose. BOAT is excellent in that. Was this because of the narrator, or a conscious decision?

EJ:

Both. I had to use my narrator’s own language and match his Hausa proficiency in English. I transliterated as well as translated. You could say that BOAT is a project in translation as there are several layers & levels of translation. The language had to reflect this. There’s the pressure to write flowery “elegant” prose to prove you can write, to be taken seriously but my character was more important.

Otieno Owino:

Absolutely. Thank you for saying this. When Malam Abdul-Nur asks Dantala if he will do anything Allah asks without question, what is he onto?

EJ:

I’ll answer that at the reading. I don’t want to give too much away to those who haven’t read the book 🙂 Deal?

Nsibidi Arts/Lit:

What plans do you have for growing the art? Especially for young writers?

EJ:

To declare plans for growing the art would feel a bit presumptuous for me, especially when I am busy growing my art. However I have been giving free workshops since 2013 in Nigeria. I couldn’t last a year due to a problem with funding. I must say thought that writers have to find their own way. Writing is such a deeply personal project. With or without support writers must keep developing themselves.

PB:

It’s a wrap guys. Thank you all for joining @elnathan_john for the Twitter chat.

EJ:

Thanks for engaging. I look forward to being in Kenya in a few weeks. It’s been fun!

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