This past week, Buchi Emecheta would have celebrated her 77th birthday. One of Nigeria’s greatest female writers, Emecheta told her story over hundreds of pages, writing more than twenty books during her lifetime. An unconventional career choice for a woman of her time, she inspired the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another literary hero Nigeria can be proud of, and myself.
Like Adichie, I too was an early writer, writing stories from as young as six or seven years old. Growing up, I mainly had Western books to influence me but today I am grateful for the array of voices and backgrounds shared through the books I read. I learn the histories and cultures of many from around the world through carefully chosen words written out on pages. I aspire to have the same effect on people some day through my own words in books, particularly focusing on stories sharing the beauty of northern Nigerian life and culture.
While I can list writers from the south, I can barely name a writer from the north, especially a woman. Northern writers do exist, and several Hausa women have been pioneers in the Nigerian literature scene, such as Balaraba Ramat Yakubu and Hafsat Abdulwaheed, but we just haven’t made it to the mainstream conversation yet. As a whole in Nigeria, we don’t lack the writers, nor do we lack the passion. It’s more about the encouragement from our general society and the attitudes we hold for pursuing such a career, which is not seen as a viable option. While writing is definitely a precarious career path to go down, I think it’s a skill we should definitely encourage and nurture alongside more stable professions.
You might be thinking, but why? Why do we need writers? There’s enough in the world, why do we need to take the risk?
Well, firstly, like Adichie once said in a Ted Talk, there’s danger in a single story. It “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” If we continue to suppress our voices and the chance of telling our stories, our culture and our way of life will continue to be reduced to nothing more than a headline ripped from the news and misinformation. I speak mainly from a northern Nigerian perspective as most of our writers and creatives tend to focus on creating work for our own community to consume. Although there is nothing wrong with that – I think it’s important to serve your own first – but if we continue to focus solely on reaching our own people, we will run the risk of only telling that single story.
Writing is another way of keeping our sense of history. Storytelling through oral traditions has long been a thing in our community, and in a way, it still exists in informal settings today. My mother will tell me story after story about her childhood and things my grandmother told her about her own, but yet there is little to no documentation of the events she recalls. There is some photo evidence, but even that is very slim in comparison to the number of photos we have today. I always ask if my grandmother kept a diary or if any of the stories, she tells me are written down, but it’s always a no.
I fear that as time goes on, there will be generations of information that will disappear simply because of lack of documentation. Knowledge is passed from one generation to the next, but without the hardcopy evidence, whether it be in the written or photo form, parts of history will die off and be forgotten about. We can’t all be Buchi Emecheta, but we can do our part, and should be encouraged and supported to do so. Writers are educators in their own right too.
Whether it be pen to paper, a photograph, or a blog, my generation has taken documenting our lives to the next level. But we can still do better. Let’s forget about choosing the right filter for that Instagram picture and concentrating on listening to our elders as they tell us about their history. Sit down with a grandparent this weekend, ask them a few questions about their lives growing up and write it down. There you have it, the story is saved forever.