Classics, Interviews

Professor Akachi Ezeigbo talks about her works

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Professor Theodora Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo has been in the university as a teacher of English and Literature for almost three decades now. She is also a very respected writer and has won numerous awards in Nigeria and overseas for her work. On Thursday, June 18, 2009, she will launch four of her works at the Afe Babalola Auditorium UNILAG. She took some time out of her very tight schedule to intimate ENCOMIUM Weekly on the books, her writing, teaching and other experiences garnered so far.


For how long have you been a teacher?

I was appointed as lecturer II in 1981.

When did you start writing?

I started writing as a little child. The first time I got published was during my undergraduate days in the 70s. I wrote a short story which was published in Spear magazine. Spear magazine used to be published by Daily Times newspapers. The title of that short story was The Call of Death. I was also paid ten pounds which was a lot of money then.

When was your first published book?

My first published work was in 1992. My children’s book was published by Heineman, London in 1992 and my book of short stories was published by another small publishing company in the UK.

How many children’s book do you have?

They are more than 13 and more are still on the way. I also have four full novels and a collection of poetry. One of my plays, Hands That Crush Stones, has already been produced and another one is one the way. They have not been published.

You seem to be more prolific with children’s books…

Yes, l like writing for children.

What about the novels? Your novels are usually centered around very strong female characters?

Maybe I don’t know. You are telling me.

Could you please do a brief synopsis of your novels for us?

Like you said they are all strong female characters as well as male characters. The first one is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a trilogy: The Last of the Strong Ones, House of Symbols and Children of the Eagle.

They recreate the lives of about four generations of women and men in my culture. They looked at the lives of these people in the traditional and modern societies.

The first one, The Last of the Strong Ones was set around 1915. It centres around the experiences of my people during the colonial period.  There was a kind of war between my people and the British at that time and the book deals with that. It specifically highlighted the experiences of the women. The second one, House of Symbols continued from where that one stopped. It deals with the lives of next generation of women. The children of the characters of the first one. It covers the period of their lives up to the 1950s. it’s about a woman called Eagle Woman who is the grand-daughter of the characters of the first novel, her life, her husband’s life, their family and the political issues surrounding them in the town and the larger society. The third one, Children of the Eagle, is a tale of the five daughters of Eagle Woman and her son. That last part of the trilogy was specifically set in 1990, but it looked back in time to the things that happened in the 70s and 80s.

During which period were these books published?

The first one was published in 1996, second one in 2001 and the third one in 2003. The fourth novel, Trafficked came out last year.

Where did you set the trilogy?

The trilogy were all set in my place, Uga, in Aguata LGA of Anambra State but I fictionalized it and made it Umuga in the novels. The setting also went beyond Uga because the characters also travelled around. Some of them lived in the city, but they visited Uga from time to time.

Is there any particular reason for setting them there?

Yes. In those novels, I was exploring the history of my community and things that happened to them up to the modern times. I also explored the lives of those women and the problems they faced. You could regard the trilogy as historical novels because they looked at the history of these areas both in terms of humans and the community itself.     

What about the poems?

The subject matter of the collection is varied. It looked at love, corruption, personal relationships, gender issues, pidgin poetry and so many other things. The collection is made up of various issues and my experiences both at home and abroad. So, it’s a very global collection. It had subjects from all over the world and all areas of human endeavour.

Tell us about the books you are about launching?

I am launching two children’s books, one novel and the collection of poems.

How do you write, what is your creative mode?

I usually write with whichever genre that comes. When I went to the UK, I had in mine to write a novel, but when I started writing, I discovered that only poems were coming.

So I wrote poetry. I don’t have any fixed ideas of what to write or how to write but whatever dominates my mind is what I write. When I went to Germany on fellowship, what came to me were short stories and I ended up writing a collection of short stories.

What do you feel is the position of hard work in writing?

90 percent or more. In relation to inspiration. It is hard work that organizes the inspiration. When an idea comes, I think of a way to develop it, if it’s a short story. I will know and develop it as that. If it’s going to be novel, the story has to be elaborate and sustainable. The ideas come before you make up your mind on the genre which you will use to develop it.

You are a feminist?

I don’t call myself names but there are certain things that move me or I get impassioned about. I like things that move me or I get impassioned about. I like to see that women are empowered all the time. I have also had had very strong women in my family and they influenced my writing.

There seem to be different brands of feminism, which one of them do you prefer?

I call mine snail sense feminism or womanism. It is a variant of the womanist principle that does not promote aggression in women and in their relationship with men. It seeks to promote a kind of balance in women’s lives and their relationship with men but at the same time, demands that women have an independent mind and do what they want to do but not to the detriment of other people around them. I call it snail sense because a snail moves over very rough edges and thorns without getting hurt because it has their lubricating tongue that allows it to do that. I believe a woman should be like that. In Igbo, we say, ire oma ka eju ji aga n ogwu. In a society, a woman should be able to tolerate others, work with others and maintain a very humble attitude towards others but at the same time be herself.

If you watch a snail, when things become too difficult for it, it goes back into its shell until things get better before it comes out again. I believe that in a culture like ours, that is the attitude a woman should have. This attitude will win her friends and make her acceptable to everyone around her.

What it entails then is that you recognize that there are also very aggressive brands of feminism?

Yes of course. There are women who have that kind of attitude. Even in literature, there are women who may have written that way, but I don’t write that way. My own agenda does not believe in that form of protest. There are many ways one can protest. It could be of Martin Luther King Jnr. He had a very peaceful and revolutionary form of protest and today, the dream he had materialized in the form of Obama. I don’t believe in violent change.

Among you works, do you have a favourite?

No, I don’t have any favourite. Sometimes I even forget the titles of my works. I just write and try to do a better job with the next one

Which one of them was most challenging for you?

The most challenging so far was House of Symbols because I was looking at a lot of things. I tried to do a lot of things in that novel. I looked at the traditional culture and the effects of Christianity on it. I was looking at some very profound issues in my culture, like re-incarnation and woman empowerment.

I tried to create this larger than life character who is modelled after my mother in Eagle Woman. I tried to create a balance in her relationship with her husband and her life.

In fact, I was lucky that I was in a place where I could write without any disturbance or distraction otherwise I would never have finished that work. For one to write a novel, you need concentration because a novel is a very substantial kind of writing, it is unlike a short story which you can write in a day or two. You can never write a novel in a day or two.

For me to write, I need full concentration. Of course, there are people who could write in a market place, but that’s not me.

I remember Charles Dickens complaining about nostalgia at the characters he was leaving behind in a finished novel. Do you ever feel that sentimental about your characters?

What I can clearly say is that if I delay in writing is particular book, the characters would be haunting me and would never allow me to rest. I remember before I wrote the book, House of Symbols. I used to have no peace till I started writing. I delayed so much and at a point, I could find no peace of mind. There was a time I was dreaming about Eagle Woman asking me to write her. She kind of took a life of her own and tormented me till I wrote the novel. My case is the reverse of Dickens because when I am getting to the end of my novels, I am so tired that I can’t wait to finish and rest.

What’s your view of the present literary situation in Nigeria?

I think, as always, there are so many things one can write about. The only problem here is that very few people have very comfortable places to write in. many homes are crowded and even when you have a place of your own, it may not be very comfortable.

What is your objective of launching these books?

So that they will circulate to a wide audience. The publicity will help the sales of the books. Another is to see if I can raise some funds because there are a lot of things I want to do and I need funds. The publishers may have their own ideas but the author can also influence the publicity of his or her work.

Tell us a bit about your family?

I have a husband and three children who are all grown up now. My youngest child is in her twenties. My husband is a professor but he has just retired.


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