For every prize I’ve won, there are like ten that I didn’t win. For the ones I won, I might not have won them if the judges were different. Overall, write because you must. Not because of anything else.Onyekachi Iloh
Today’s blogsode is an interview with one of our Panelists at Reggiesspot Writers Fest_ Onyekachi Iloh, a writer and visual artist. He shares his writing journey, tips for budding writers, challenges writers face and how to overcome them. Read on!
Kalu Rejoice: Thank you for availing yourself sir, we are set.
When did you start writing and how did you harness you skill to the level it is now?
Onyekachi: I can’t really say this was the exact moment I began to write. It’s something I’ve always remembered doing, right from the moment I could read. To put words on paper, to create miniature versions of reality I can possess. I read widely, having grown up in a house full of books. I believe that helped me immensely.
Kalu Rejoice: Interesting.
You are a writer with a number of interesting laurels, especially in poetry. You recently won the Oxford Brooke’s International Poetry Prize, Third place in the Singapore Poetry Prize, Finalist for both the Barjeel Poetry Prize and Frontier Award for new poets. Sterling! How did you start out on the international plane, did you hit it on your first attempt? If not how long did it take to hit the mark?
Onyekachi: I definitely did not hit it on my first attempt.
So we are clear, I do not consider myself a success as a writer, or a big shot— I’m budding, waiting for my first leaves to taste sunlight, like you all.
Serious writing for me began, I would say in 2017. I would write and send it to journals, and get rejections. There were times I felt “this thing isn’t for me” (it Still happens)
But I began to realize I was writing in voices not mine, telling stories not mine but ones that resonated with me.
Once I discovered my voice, everything got better.
I read writers I admire, looked at what they wrote, and saw how the originality of their voices reflected in their writing. I knew what I had to. Seek growth consciously, without pretense, seek my own voice and discard the echoes I had been worshipping.
Kalu Rejoice: wow, insightful!
Your bio reveals that you believe in art as a weapon of revolution and I’m sure this largely influences your work, so can you tell us what social issues you’ve written on and how much impact it has made, at least in your judgement?
Onyekachi: This influences my work, true, but I wouldn’t want to call it a conscious move.
I’m in an abusive relationship with Nigeria and she worms her way into my work, even without my consent.
For example, I’m writing a poem about depression or love lost, and before you know it, I’m talking about a boy from the Niger Delta who died from benzene poisoning as a result of oil pollution.
I’m inclined to think, to be Nigerian, and a writer, is to be revolutionary. It won’t be conscious—doesnt have to be
I am one of the four Nigerian poets published by the American journal, Palette Poetry for the #endsars movement.
I have a forthcoming poem in Welter, the literary journal of the University of Baltimore about Police Brutality.
Talking of impacts these works have made, I don’t know. Plato said Poetry should be banned from the ideal republic until it proves its usefulness. But what is the usefulness of poem? To remind us of us. If someone picks up a poem of mine and it stirs something in them, that is the biggest Impact in the world.
Speaking of known ones, Oxford Brookes University recommended my poem for their students’ Summer Reading list. I guess that counts?
Kalu Rejoice: Wow suave. Lastly for want of time.
What would you say to a budding writer who is insecure about their finesse and rising prospects?
Onyekachi: Read. Read. Read.
It’s the biggest way to get better. And while at it, don’t fall into the trap of writing the things you have read—find your own voice.
Write everytime. Even if it is bad. Write. You’re a writer. Write.
Experiment with other art forms. Photography, painting, music—could be anything.
Writer’s block? Do something else.
Find a community. Find amazing writer friends who can help you grow.
While feeling insecure, it’s possible to be depressed. Never neglect your mental health.
You might not win awards. That doesn’t make you less of a writer.
The work is the achievement, not the prize. The prize is merely recognition.
Kalu Rejoice: Hmmmm!
Onyekachi: For every prize I’ve won, there are like ten that I didn’t win. For the ones I won, I might not have won them if the judges were different.
Overall, write because you must. Not because of anything else.
Before you know it, the world would say “look, that’s a young woman doing something we’ve never seen before, she should win something!”
Writing with prizes in mind will burn you out and make you doubt yourself. Just write.
Kalu Rejoice: Thank you so much Sir, I’m inspired.