Tuesday, October 4, 2022

MEMORIES OF MY FATHER'S BOOKSHELF: Guest Post by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo

The following article will appear in 2023: Mystery Readers Journal: African Mysteries (39:2), but since Believers and Hustlers is available now, I had to post Sylva Nze Ifedigbo's article early. It's a wonderful novel you'll want to add to your TBR now.

Sylva Nze Ifedigbo: Memories of my Father’s Bookshelf

It may sound cliché when writers say the very first thing they did after perhaps learning to stand and walk was to write, but really for me, this is mostly true. I have written since I can remember. My earliest memories were writing alternate stories of characters, some of them, animals, I encountered in children story books I read as a child. My parents who were teachers with a thing for documentation ensured they captured my earliest stories in exercise books which I had the pleasure of reading much later in life, and I understand I always harangued their visitors back then, to read my stories. One thing was responsible for this – the books in my father’s bookshelf. 


As a child, I didn’t have the luxury of computer games or cable television. All I had was my father’s overflowing bookshelf. It was a four-row wooden shelf, the length of my arms spread out, which was the center of attraction in our living room, next to the black and white Sharp television which had a table of its own. It towered high and in my child eyes, was the biggest bookshelf there could ever be. Those shelves held a treasure trove of books, mostly titles from the Heinemann African Writer’s Series with their familiar yellow spines and fascinating cover designs. It also had a rich collection of simpler children story books, including titles by Enid Blyton and many by African writer. I fondly remember the like Kola Onadipe’s Sugar Girl, Michael Crowther’s Akin Goes to School and Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River among others. These books introduced me to the written word, shaped my love for storytelling and inspired me to become a writer. 


With that foundation, it was not surprising that all through my early education I gravitated towards activities that would help me bring my imagination to life, in words. I was always in the press club and literary society in school. I completed my first manuscript for a novel in my second year in secondary school. It was written in long hand, in a forty leaves notebook which my classmates took turns to read. In my senior years, I remember having quite some fun writing short poems for classmates who wanted to impress their adolescent love interests. By this time, I had already feasted on most of the books in my father’s bookshelf and was actively exchanging other titles from the Macmillan Pacesetters series, Hadley Chase series, and even Mills and Booms with friends. I was in love with words. 


I started writing seriously in the university. While pursuing a core science-based degree, I was part of the editorial board of the campus magazine and spent quite a great deal of time in company of students in communication and literary arts. I managed to find time in-between my tasking course work to also complete what would be my first published book, a novella and attended the maiden Creative Writing workshop hosted by celebrated writer Chimamanda Adichie, in my final year as an undergraduate.


That workshop was perhaps the real turning point. It made me to start blogging on WordPress in 2007, serving as a repository of my thoughts. It was about the time Facebook was becoming a global phenomenon and I remember the now rested feature ‘facebook notes’ on which I shared drafts of my writing for feedback. I participated actively in many literary societies and writing groups where we routinely critiqued each other’s works, shared news about new publishing opportunities and gossiped about writers and writing. 

Today, I have four published books including Whispering Aloud, (the novella earlier mentioned) which was published in 2007 by Spectrum Books. It is the story of twin girls separated at birth who would live different lives and reunite in unexpected circumstances. The Funeral Did Not End, a collection of stories was published by DADA Books (a now rested imprint) in 2012. It was a collection of twenty stories described by one reviewer as “fictionalized social commentary”. My debut novel, My Mind Is No Longer Here about those who have made an industry out of helping young people emigrate, feeding off their desperation for a better life elsewhere was published in 2018 by Parresia Publishers. Believers and Hustlers, my new novel explores the quest for power, the fears that trigger it, the hypocrisy that sustains it, and the ways in which religion can be weaponized to shroud it all in a mystery.


In many ways, my work has been influenced by the many African writers I have read over the years starting from those I encountered first in my father’s bookshelf. Achebe sits atop that list. There is also the late Chukwuemeka Ike, easily my favourite African writer of all time. The brilliant Pius Adesanmi who passed in the ill-fated Ethiopian air crash a few years ago is another who’s essays are a cherished collection for me. Among those who are still here, there is Chimamanda Adiche who taught me in her writing workshop, the amazing Yemisi Aribisala, whose essays I admire a lot, and a long list of other writers such as Helon Habila, NoViolet Bulawayo, Obioma Chigozie, Tsitsi Dangarembga, the Ngugi’s and many others. It’s a long list.

My father’s bookshelf still stands today. Most of the books it once held have left and were not returned, replaced by academic texts, biographies, religious books and other odds and ends. It doesn’t hold the same allure as it once did for me, but the memories and impact linger. 


Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of Believers and Hustlers published in the US by Iskanchi Press. He holds that stories matter and being able to tell them beautifully is the most powerful way to impact the world. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria and tweets from @nzesylva.


1 comment:

Osagie said...

Thank you so much for this, it is like i can see myself literally. I also like to write and that has made me jump on some nice writing trains. I currently have a website where i talk about stuff i use for traveling. Oh yes! My dad's bookshelf still stands too even though he is late. My dad is more of a science, math kind of academia with a touch of literature lol!.. But i still love his bookshelf..