James Eze, winner of the 2020 ANA POETRY PRIZE, is Chief Press Secretary to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State. He is also a speechwriter, journalist, lover and weaver of imageries.
In this interview, he speaks on the prestigious award, which he won with his debut poetry collection, ‘Dispossessed’; literary writing in Nigeria; his fascination for Unoka, a character in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’, who he says “carries in his character, the chilly aura that stills life’s turbulence around him… (And) drains life of all excess tensions and needless frenzy…”, among others.
What does winning the Association of Nigerian Authors 2020 poetry prize mean to you?
ANA Poetry Prize is an important validation for any poet who takes poetry seriously in Nigeria. It is an affirmation of sorts…a shove in the back to move forward and share my gift with an appreciative world. ANA prizes are not only the longest running and most visible literary prizes in Nigeria but also among the most respected prizes. They are about the only literary prizes conferred on writers by fellow writers. To that extent, therefore, they are a literary ‘vote of confidence’ on winners; affirming their art as well as their contributions to the Nigerian letters by fellow writers. Nothing comes close to the joy of standing before your peers and being welcomed with open arms. In winning last year’s Poetry Prize I hear ANA say to me…’welcome home.’
What triggers the muse in you?
Writings of the imaginative type do not come easy to me. So, what triggers my muse is not easy to predict. It could be the disarming beauty of a golden sunset. It could be a sparkling phrase from a song. It could be the bejeweled innocence of a baby’s smile. But it could also be extreme human suffering that reveals in its blinding light, man’s helplessness in the grasp of fate. What is important is what I do when the impulse kicks in; when the urge for expression knocks on the door. I have had to pull over by the roadside so many times while driving to put down a stroke of insight. I have found the solitude to write poems in a church while the entire place was ablaze with raised voices. Quite strange; right? Well…that is how unpredictable my muse is.
At what point in your life did you realize you were going to be a writer?
I wrote my first manuscript when I was about 12. I was in junior secondary then. And it was a work of fiction. Poetry came to me much later. So, I had always known that I was going to take writing seriously some day. What I didn’t know was how soon it would be. I started reading in elementary school. And that love affair is still going on strong.
What book moved you to be a writer and how?
I read a lot of fascinating books when I was a boy. All the books nudged me towards picking up my pen to write. But I’d point at ‘Chike and the River’ by Chinua Achebe as the book that made me pick up the courage to write my first manuscript… a work of fiction entitled “The Village Calamity.” I was in Junior Secondary Three then. The simple narrative style of ‘Chike and the River’ made me believe that I could tell a simple story of my own. I handed the manuscript to my high school teacher, Mr Linus Ogbuisi who is now a PhD holder. He was impressed with my effort and urged me to keep up the good work. I feel so sad that I have no idea where I kept the manuscript now.
When you read a book what are the salient things you look out for?
A book is like a beautiful woman to me. When I see a beautiful woman, her appearance announces her beauty to me. Then, I draw close and engage her in a conversation. In the process, I will discover her character. The beauty of a book to me is language. The language takes me to other things that I would consider to be the character of the book…theme, plot and other things that make up a great book. From this analogy, language comes first to me. It is the beauty of a book. If language fails the author from the beginning, I’m turned away from the story. And I won’t therefore discover its inner beauty if it has any.
– Media Report