Words With Nana Sule: Muslim. Writer. Chocolate Chaser, and Environmental Enthusiast.
What was childhood like for you?
My childhood, part of it, is a dream. One I keep going to, in bits. I have no memory from before I was five. I do remember my fifth birthday. There was turkey, big laps. And Don Simon juice in all their flavors and rice. Lots of rice. I have memories of tea with dad and of him singing. And of him telling me folktales in Ebira.
Till now, when it rains, I am most happy. So, childhood is what it is: a dream; a collection of turkey, tea, rain and laughter. And a composition of everything I refuse to remember.
I was among those kids who wanted to be everything: a pilot, a doctor, a policeman, you know that thing with children, desiring everything? But writing wasn’t anywhere in my list until it happened. Did you imagine yourself a writer early on?
Identifying myself as a writer came much later in life. Safe to say, I didn’t think that I was one; hence I never called myself one. Even now, I am still learning to introduce myself as Nana, the writer. But I started writing since I can remember. I was able to read early. I watched Amitabh Bachchan with my dad, Chinese and American movies with my siblings and I sat down to rewrite all I watched in my notebooks. Till my stories grew independent. But all through that, I wanted to be a musician. Haha. I thought that I sang beautifully. Then I wanted to be an actress. Then an Indian, my mother’s veils suffered enough tangling in my bid to look like those pretty Indian heroines. Then I wanted to be a doctor, I remember because I wanted to find a cure for diabetes and hypertension. [Laughs]. Then I was going to be a journalist, cast news, uncover stories. Then a biochemist. Never a writer. Never a degree in estate management either. But life is like that, you never really know what you get. Or what you have.
With the exception of corporate letters, do you exchange letters for the fun of it? Did you ever keep a pen pal?
Lord! I have written letters. I write a lot of corporate letters. Before then, way before then, I wrote letters to mum. See, my mum is a tough woman; strong, resilient, beautiful and very obdurate. We don’t always see things in the same light; hence I developed the habit of writing her. If I needed to apologize, or tell her she hurt me, I wrote. If I wanted something, I wrote. Though now, text has killed that very much. Other than my mum, I have exchanged letters with my very close friend, Jay. I have exchanged letters with dear Shammah, friend and foodie. And I still prefer text to calls. Nothing compares reading thoughts and knowing that effort was put into coining words specially for me.
Minna, one place you’ve spent a long time in. How has the city influenced or shaped your being?
This is my sixth year in Minna. And I came here a seventeen-year-old fresher into the Federal University of Technology Minna for a five-year course. I had only one purpose then: finish my degree. But then here I was with all the energy and the freedom to do as I please. And the one thing I chose to do with that freedom was to explore my potentials. So, I explored public speaking and more writing. Minna opened its arms and wrapped me, and kept gifting me people and platforms that believed and accepted that there was more to a smiling face and a nice voice. And so the heat here, it melted my fears and birthed Nana Sule. Gave me a degree, too.
If you were to reimagine and re-draw the map of the world, what portion would you like to inhabit?
I won’t exist if I had that choice. In the long run, no portion of earth is really so sexy or worth the headache.
Interestingly, you’re a traveler. What draws you to and keeps you in a city?
That is an easy one. I like beautiful sceneries. And nature. And the availability of chocolate.
You have a huge interest in estate management and in the built environment as a whole. I am curious: what five (5) tips for running and advancing the typical Nigerian city would you suggest?
I am not sure I have up to five. I do have major pointers:
Burn our constitution and the land law in it. Burn the constitution! Burn it! BURN THE CONSTITUTION.
Okay, then, we need to collate data. Serious data on land we have, land owners, land holders. Their characteristics. Understand the demand and supply of housing in Nigeria. Then freaking make policies that would make land ownership much easier. Publish and enforce master plans. Some cities in Nigeria have beautiful master plans but no one follows them.
And my favorite: get tax right, no multiple taxes to extort hardworking citizens, punish tax offenders like making heaven depends on it. Revenue generated should go into public infrastructure and trees.
If I remember correctly, you were part of a grow-a-tree campaign or something like that last year. How was it like? What was the motivation for such a massive project?
I grew up with a garden in our backyard. I don’t eat okra so much these days. I am not so fond of mangoes either, because we had these in abundance and I think I have had enough. Mum made us plant a lot. We had lots of okras, lots of mangoes, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin leaves, basil, bitter leaf, guava, pawpaw, tomatoes, and lots of chicken. I have been planting all my life, thanks to mum, but I had no idea how important it was till I started volunteering for Regional Centre for Expertise (RCE) Minna. Then I learnt about environmental protection and climate change and I saw the effects in places where the results for bad environmental practices are far worse. So we (myself and a group of very wonderful young people at RCE and our ever supportive coordinator) have been planting trees. In schools, open fields, and open spaces. This particular one you make reference to was on the last World Environmental Day, and we got youth and students in Minna to plant at least one tree at the 3-Arms Zone in Minna. Currently, we are planting over a thousand fruit trees across fifteen boarding secondary schools and commissioning school gardens in a bid to increase student nutrition and save our environment. There’s also a partner project myself and Saddiq Dzukogi have been talking about, we hope to join resources and plant more trees within our environment but those plans are still in the works.
Nana is a chocoholic, yes or no?
Yes! Yes! Yes!
What five (5) books have you never fallen out of love with since you read them?
—The little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
—Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila
—The Measuring Time by Helon Habila
—The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
—The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
What do you think of poetry?
Just beautiful! And that’s all there is to say or think or know. Beautiful.
What is your typical writing setting or desk like? Are you the I-can-write-anywhere type? [Laughs].
I am the I-can-write-on-my-bed type. Thank you!
You just completed session at the Ebedi International Writers Residency. Can you share a little about your experience there? With regard to your writing.
I just want to put it out there that I climbed a mountain. And if people would say the truth, like I am saying it to you, it’s as tall as Everest. Haha, okay, so we went to climb this mountain—Ado Awaye—we went to see the hanging lake and, by God! it was beautiful. Other evenings, we took walks. Then we returned to discuss everything and everything. My housemates were wonderful, so was the help. I worked on my short stories at other times. But mostly, I read. I ate, craved suya, took lots of baths and looked amazing. I am not going to forget going to Ebedi; and I am capturing as much as I can remember in a non-fiction piece, just have no idea when I would be done with that yet.
I worked on some short stories I am planning to collect into a book. A psychological thriller of sorts. Of us. Of our societies. Of the North. And I hope that when it does reach your hands, you and every other reader connects with it.
You have a children’s book forthcoming. Do you mind sharing a little about the motivation for this project?
Names. African Names and the need to embrace them. For long I have come across names like Independence, Perpetual, and what not. Not trying to downplay those names or their bearers, I feel our Nigerian names have deeper meaning and should be embraced. The book is entitled A New Name, and it is about a boy who sets out on a fantasy journey to change his birth name. It is a first for me, ‘cause of two reasons: it is a children’s book, and it is fantasy.
When I wrote the story, it was to be part of the short stories in a collection I am still working on. But it stood out. It was different and it commanded a different home. A different space. And a different audience. And so far, it has been fun. Editing it, picking the illustrations and sampling opinions from my nephews. I must add that the push for this particular story came from a friend whom we discussed this name thing with. And he was like… why don’t you write something about this, Nana, you really should. And I did. And here I am, a children-author.
You have moderated proceedings at events, symposiums; I am curious about your interest in public speaking. What two important occasions would you like to moderate in your lifetime?
The funny thing is, and I say this because a lot of people don’t know this, I don’t like being in a crowd. It is the scariest thing. It’s why I don’t like markets; it’s why I sit at edges or corners. But in front of a crowd, or being able to control the crowd, it gives me so much satisfaction. It could be orgasm. My interest in Public Speaking is something I cannot describe. I just know that when I stand out there, everything, everything fades away. And the world makes sense.
With regards to occasions I would like to moderate: one is a platform; I dream of having my own TV network, where we hold sessions with artists, old and young and just serve constant ideas and inspiration into the world of arts.
My dream occasion would be like this: just have me in the middle, and let it be Idris Elba, Eminem, Adele, Asa, Peter Dinklage, Helon Habila and Maroon 5 in a room. And I swear, what would come out of that is going to be conversation so epic, it would make the world explode.
Okay, let’s be serious, every occasion is an important one for me. So I would gladly moderate every session life throws my way.
Nana is a gowns-person, and they come in various styles. Tell us about your fascination with gowns. What informs your clothing styles?
Okay! You got me. I am a lazy person, always finding ways to make life easier. So what’s better than a piece of cloth you can throw over your head and manipulate into making you look simple, sophisticated, or royal in seconds? Nothing.
The other reason, even as a lazy person, I love to look good. And gowns are just gorgeous. And with the body for it as added advantage, it got me hooked. So for style, I sketch what I sew or take great care in buying unique wears. I wear a lot of black too, I think it’s sexy. And easy to pair with different veil colors. So there you have it, gowns and black is my style.
Let’s go back to Minna: what are your favorite spots in Minna?
AMAB, for the books and for the feeling of home. RCE, for the ideas and family. After those, there really isn’t much to make favorites out of in Minna. It’s the people in places that fascinate you, not the spot itself.
AMAB bookshop is now a household name in Nigeria. Not only do they sell books, they publish authors, and they run the Minna Book Club of which you moderate. I would like you to speak about the literary atmosphere in Minna.
Yes. AMAB; the ART Centre at Hilltop Model School; ANA Niger. These are places that have given me friends and mentors and shaped my writing. It has done same for a lot of people. I can say and say with pride that when it comes to literature, you would find everything you look for in Minna.
Sadly, the literary air here is thinning. You are aware NIFESTEENA (Nigerian Festival of Teen Authors) has been moved to Kaduna, right? It broke my heart. I also miss the weekly and very active ANA meetings way back when I was in levels two and three. The activities here are on a pendulum. Sometimes swinging right and giving hope to resurrecting Minna. Other times, it just swings left and stays there, quiet and unsure.
A new addition to the mix is the ART MUSE FAIR, a blog in Minna with impressive wide web coverage, giving platform and exposure to writers. Thankfully though, the seeds from the past and vibrant Minna are sprouting beautifully everywhere they find themselves. But have they abandoned Minna? Is promoting others suddenly not so important? Or is giving back not a thought that should cross the mind? There is only so much government and Veterans can do. Minna needs everyone. We must accept that the days of the colloquium and the Annual Schools Carnival of Arts and Festival of Songs (ASCAFS) are over, and with it new opportunities are arriving.
Let me quickly gossip about the Minna Books and Arts Festival scheduled for September 2018. We have a similar discussion set up for a particular session then.
It would be interesting to hear your views on new writings from Nigeria, the Nigerian literary community in general. What is going right?
Oh my God! The new writings are breaking status quo.
Let’s talk narratives. I swear that we are at the peak of narration. Nigerian writers are bringing it with style and metaphors, and what we have is just brilliance! What is going right is the plots and narrative styles. What is going right is that more young writers are emerging and using their voices to question stereotypes and societal constructs. And non- fiction! I recently sat down and read the pieces from Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction… because I am voicing some, and by God, what I saw was honesty and courage to tell stories the way they should be told.
But the literary community in Nigeria is a funny one. There’s just so much concepts and misconceptions. Followers and leaders. And bending traditional transactions that I am no longer sure what to think of it. So while I commend Nigerian writing recently, I rather just keep observing the community.
Let’s end our conversation with music. What’s your everyday playlist like? Which singer is your favorite? And what songs take the top of your list of Nigerian music?
Ordinarily, I am a pop person.
I am looking at my playlist now and there is: Ed, Alessia Cara, Brymo, Eminem, Labrinth, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Asa, Coldplay, Jonny Drille, Sam Smith and Chris Brown.
My favorite person is Eminem; his is about the only rap I listen to. And I love him.
—Not the Girl by Dare Art Alade.
—Comforter Song, Tomorrow and Eyo by Asa.
—Alajo Somolu and Waka Waka by Brymo.