Looking Back Through a Misty Film: Recollection from the 2019 Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop

by Bura-Bari Nwilo

In December 2019, I stood over Oly in my apartment in Nsukka and drew her attention to posts of Facebook friends who had screenshot acceptance letters signed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the year’s creative writing workshop. And in my eyes, she could see mild fury hinged on disappointment. I deafened her with tales of my yearly rejections and why I felt I had a right to be disappointed with all things Nigerian.

Then by whatever stroke of fate it was, I checked my email and saw my own letter. Like a letter I had once received explaining how I was among a shortlist of 50 amazing writers and the apology for what could not become my invitation letter, I read those years of rejection and apology into what was an acceptance letter for 2019. When I read through to the second paragraph, I felt an inch taller and almost swiftly, I was massively subdued, like I stood on a tower of resentment for all that had been my misfortune and it turned out it was a day of glory.

When I read through to the second paragraph, I felt an inch taller and almost swiftly, I was massively subdued, like I stood on a tower of resentment for all that had been my misfortune and it turned out it was a day of glory.

Oly shared kind words with me and I went back to the email to see if I had not been too optimistic to have read into a poor letter an acceptance that was only in my imaginations. And I was not dreaming. I was truly invited to the now renamed Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop after more than five rejections.

At the workshop, I shared experiences of my years of application and some of the wild thoughts I had nurtured. Once, I had thought that my serial rejection, after many of my friends were invited, was because I was not Igbo and I thought I could change my name to allow me entrance. Don’t die yet. And for the year I received a consolidation email signed by Ms. Adichie, I could not mix anger with such obviously patronizing letter. Goodwill messages from Facebook friends, of how I was such an interesting writer, added in me some courage to keep writing. And looking back at such thoughts, I am grateful it ended up between Arinze and me.

And for the big question in class, I asked Ms. Adichie what interested her in my entry that did not meet her many years ago, especially since it was just a regular story, something I had not even taken seriously, against the many I had written with all hopes and concern. And there, I concluded that maybe what makes the big mark comes in the funniest wrap. I had written a story about a serial killer who lured her victims, especially taxi drivers. The killer writes about the incidents on her blog. The few paragraphs I sent were the reason I was invited.

And there, I concluded that maybe what makes the big mark comes in the funniest wrap.

I come from a place of ‘serious’ literature. And I have tried creating most of that seriousness. I have given elbowroom to experimentation and maybe it is why I am yet to decide on writing a novel. And after listening to other participants share their acceptance tales; I knew that I was not alone. We were a universe of people motivated by Chimamanda and would do as much as applying for several years just to hear her up-close, watch her read and share thoughts on story writing and being a writer while addressing us by our names and whatever it was that made us stand out.

The 2019 workshop had it a bit unfortunate. The classes were cut to five days instead of ten days and a lot of things had to be stuffed into a really tiny car. Chimamanda, Lola Shoneyin, Eghosa Imasuen, and Novuyo Tsuma Rosa gave us thrilling experiences with backbreaking tasks: reading multiple stories into late night and class writing tasks that would see you read aloud your writings and listen to others and give constructive feedback. We made a coolly glossy family in a few days than would have been imagined. And maybe the shared rooms enabled bonding, but the 2019 workshop was tense, practical, overwhelming, indulging, compelling and it ended on such evenings where writers knew tears like they knew words and sentences. And those whose tears did not make the warm walk through cheeks, it formed a bubble in their hearts and stayed there as a priceless memory.

Her brilliance lies more in her ability to share quite controversial yet informed thoughts without breaking anyone’s back.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brilliant and adorable in giving kind words. We share a birth date with a ten-year age difference and that’s my consolidation for being a lazy writer. Her brilliance lies more in her ability to share quite controversial yet informed thoughts without breaking anyone’s back. Her playfulness and humane jibes and photo sessions informed me that it takes more than a fine head and great skill to be a superstar. A sprinkle of warmth, friendliness and sometimes vanity could be other awesome additions.

With the workshop, Chimamanda builds confidence, encourages collaboration, and invents homes for broken yet agile storytellers whose shortcomings are not only placed outside the spotlight, but their strength and wellness are given so much cheers and support to germinate.

 

Bura-Bari Nwilo is the author of The Colour of a Thing Believed, a book of short stories.

Ernest Ogunyemi

Ernest O. Ogunyemi enjoys playing with words to express what he feels within, or wants to feel. His stories have appeared in magazines and blogs such as Tuck Magazine, Naija Stories, Poetry Soup and his poetry is forthcoming in Acumen91 (out in May) and African Writing. Currently, he is working on a short story collection: Weaving Fine Rhythms from Broken Tunes.

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