WRITING, PRIZES AND FEMINISM: Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi Beyond The Bank Of The River

Writers – like every other creative artist – have hearts where fears erect skyscrapers. They are humans who have un-customized upbringings and childhood experiences that would rather live with them than leave them. J.M Coetzee’s catchphrase – all autobiography is storytelling; all writing is autobiography – doesn’t have absolute credence, because for Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi, “experiences as a child didn’t really influence On the Bank of the River as much as my [Ife’s] determination to write something unique, something different.” This statement comes as a surprise to many of her readers who might have (mis)taken Enitan, the central character in the novel, to be a fictional caricature of the author’s childhood.

on-the-bank-of-the-riverOn the Bank of the River, Ifeoluwapo’s debut novel, tells the story of Enitan, a young girl who staggers in a fracas, between a past that birthed her present reality and the present that feeds her tireless curiousity; and each moment, each experience, living with her village mother or her city aunt, Jibike, opens up forbidden pages of hurts punctuated by betrayals and awestruck silence punctured by memories not hers. And today, there are many Enitans wishing to travel in or out of a life travesty that has come to stay.

After reading from the Chapter Eight of On The Bank of the River, a two-scenario five-female-character chapter, during a prepublication reading alongside Dami Ajayi at Obafemi Awolowo University’s Natural History Museum, Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi was probed by the audience on her take on feminism.

“I’m not a feminist”. She asserted.

When I asked again in the middle of this conversation, across two idle bottles of soft drinks, how she responds to readers who posit that her book dances to the trending tone of feminism: “I’m not a feminist,” Ifeoluwapo declared again, letting out a giggle. But Ifeoluwapo wouldn’t let her assertion slip away unaccompanied by a robust explanation:

“Sometimes I wonder whether what people do is to profile a Literature text as either a feminist text or non-feminist. I think that shows that we do a narrow-minded critical reading of creative texts in this part of the world. Unfortunately, people have bastardized the definition of feminism grossly and it has most often than not been represented to mean a struggle against the patriarchal order in the society. Patriarchal order here (in this society) is delimited to mean the man. The reaction is therefore narrow-minded which in most cases ends up with the women attacking the man for their plight, forgetting that the inequality they fight against is a man as much as it is a woman. It is a system of men and women who handover inequality and discrimination based on ethnic, gender, class and other variations. I am always careful to write about what I see as true, without necessarily aligning myself with people who call themselves feminists because I do not want to associate with an order of people who brandish a term that is bastardized, overrated and grossly misunderstood in this part of the world.”

Ifeoluwapo wanted to be done with the book after the launching. She just wanted to take a break and write another one, “Unfortunately, On the Bank of the River comes popping up everywhere and I realized that the book has its own existence. But I must also say that what happened in the space of one year taught me lessons that in this part of the world, prizes, to a large extent, determine the life span of a book. So the prizes have helped with giving the book a larger visibility than even the author and publisher intended. And at some point, I had to read the book again and ask myself: But what was it that I wrote in Part Three that is making people ask about this book?”

Let’s not call it losing, but I asked Ifeoluwapo what lessons she drew from not winning.

“Not winning has taught me that you just have to keep writing better, first, and the second is that prizes do not necessarily determine your status as a writer, considering that humans are those who make these decisions, and what appeals to you is different from what appeals to the other person.”

“If I had known there is a big game out there about winning prizes, maybe I wouldn’t be amongst. I would have been too conscious that the spice that people enjoy in On the Bank of the River may never be there. I didn’t care; I wrote a novel that has a very moralistic bend that I wouldn’t sacrifice for anything. So if I had had prizes in mind, I would have jettisoned some of those things.”

In answering about authors and books she draws influences from, Ifeoluwapo mentioned, as expected, Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, Chimamanda Adichie, Wole Soyinka and described Lola Shoneyin’s Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives as “daring and brilliant”. Though she considers Soyinka’s plays as written “with such depth that no word is wasted”, the earlier mention of Elechi Amadi pulled her back into the unfinished conversation on prizes and visibility:

“I love Elechi Amadi, especially his The Concubine. Left to me, he’s one of the brightest writers we’ve ever produced in this part of the world. But there’s this thing again about visibility; when you’re not well-placed, it has a way it limits your coverage as a writer.”

ifeoluwapo-adeniyi

In the creative industry, swords outnumber cutlasses; and perhaps only a few artists are unidirectional. Painters dance, sculptors act and writers sing (or singers write, as in the case of Bob Dylan, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature). The question that didn’t go unasked was how Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi, as a twenty-four-seven broadcast journalist with Splash FM, managed the conflict between the sides of her sword:

“Journalism requires that you write, read, and conduct interviews and researches on a daily basis. So you can imagine dropping that and then immersing yourself with the attentiveness that creative writing demands. I think the saving grace for me was that the manuscript was there, so all I needed to do was to revisit and edit. But the good thing now is: I’ll take a pause from journalism so I’m going to have time devoted fully to writing, and perhaps do much better.”

Like Asake (upon Enitan’s return from her first visit to the city), readers expecting another love story from Ife Adeniyi should get ready to feel ‘jilted’. Speaking of her next book, Ife’s words slip through her smile:

“It will be a real story about the gnashing reality of living in Nigeria. And I’ll like to project the suffering that people are going through and the neglect of the government. It will make a statement!  I also realize that a book has a function in the society. So when writing my next book, I won’t think about winning awards so I’m going to write it all the way it is. The joy in it would be that there was a writer who once lived and who wrote well, well enough for the people of her generation and those after to understand the failures of the past, and well enough for them to acknowledge that some people stood resilient, in spite of the pecks that they could have gotten by the side, to speak the truth the way it is, for the intended change.”

There is, thus, a longing in the heart of readers who have stayed long enough on the bank of this river, that a book is coming from Ife Adeniyi; and like a heavy hand, will immerse them into the river. This longing, this anticipation, is the basis for Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi’s fears:

“My deepest fear could be that the next book would have to compete with On the Bank of the River. It delights me when people call me and say the book was ‘un-put-down-able’. I’ve heard that countless times and it thrills me. Sometimes I fear if the next one would be un-put-down-able too. But a writer should realize that the books you produce have a life of their own, just like children. You have five children. Not all of them will be equally successful. So it’s the same with books.”

 

[Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi is the author of Twin Sisters and On the Bank of the River. She published the former when she was 11, and the latter was launched on the 18th of August, 2015. On the Bank of the River has been longlisted and shortlisted for the 2015 Etisalat and 2016 NLNG Literature Prizes respectively, and was selected among the Top 15 Books of 2015 on Channels Book Club. The book is currently being used as a study material in Literature classes across a spectrum of higher institutions. Check out other episodes of THE ART OF THE MATTER.]

 

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Adeniruju Adedapo-Treasure
A writer, wishful filmmaker and advocate who breathes and tweets via @TreasureNGA.

2 Responses to “WRITING, PRIZES AND FEMINISM: Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi Beyond The Bank Of The River

  • kola Johnson

    This is a pithy, yet engaging review cum interview. your pen have done it again Treasure, well done.

    Ifeoluwa’s On The Bank Of The River is actually one of the balanced stories about Africa and the Girl-child

    I await your next work boss

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