2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, held this year from 4th to 13th October. This year school commitments preclude me from going, but I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour to celebrate this festival. In keeping with my new-found passion for poetry, I hope you enjoy the following guest post by Nigeria-based poet Wana Udobang – A Q&A the publicists did with her plus one of her poems…
Q&A with Wana
Wana will be appearing at Cheltenham Literature Festival on 12th and 13th October. She will also be appearing at the AKÉ FESTIVAL 2019 – AFRICA’S LEADING INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL (THURSDAY 24 – SUNDAY 27 OCTOBER 2019)
A Nigeria-based poet, journalist and documentary filmmaker, Wana Udobang’s work has been featured at the British Library’s Word, Symbol and Song exhibition and CNN African Voices. Her acclaimed poetry albums Dirty Laundry and In memory of forgetting explore trauma, memory, womanhood and self-renewal, with the latter hailed as a reminder of our ‘collective humanity’. Wana’s performances are celebrated for being visceral, honest and vulnerable.
- When did you start writing?
I started scribbling things down when I was about 16. It turned out to be angst ridden, really bad poetry but now I have come to understand it was a good place to start. I think I was mostly trying to articulate my feelings and emotions. It was that time in a young persons life where you feel everything about you is crumbling to pieces but I think those terrible poems held me together.
- When did you move into performing, and why?
I moved into performing officially in 2009. I had just moved to Nigeria from England and started attending an open mic event at a place called Bogobiri here in Lagos. It started with just reciting the poems I had written and then both the writing and the recitals started to take on a natural evolution with an audience there every week.
- How would you describe your work?
I often say that I write personal poems. I see the personal story as an entry point to connect with much bigger and wider themes.Our bodies are really the first site where politics, structural power dynamics and marginalisation play out. So I think in many ways with my work I am writing backwards.
A lot of my work interrogates personal memory, trauma, healing, womanhood, love and reimagination.
- Which writers/performers do you admire?
I love the works of Sonia Sanchez, Niki Giovani, Maya Angelou, WarsanShire, Claudia Rankin, Mary Oliver, Charles Causley, Chris Abani, Derek Walcott, Lebo Mashile, Titilope Sonuga, Efe Paul Azino, Koleka Putuma.. the list does go on.
- You are also a journalist, broadcaster, film maker – how does your work intersect?
I often see all of it as storytelling just in different mediums. I usually say that the stories determine the form. They all converge as stories.
- Your poetry collection ‘In Memory of Forgetting’ has been hailed as a reminder of our ‘collective humanity’. What was your inspiration?
The album was the beginning of recollecting memories for me. Some that I had tried to forget or deliberately suppressed. I say the beginning because when I listen to it now, I feel like many of the poems were only vignettes of some experiences. I was looking at different pieces of trauma in my own life from violence, to parental absence and sexual assault to just an attempt to build yourself back together from a place of worthlessness.
- What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on my third album. It’s working title is 35. I am attempting to write a memoir. I say attempt because I am petrified of this book project but I will do it regardless. I am also continuing my archiving series called Culture Diaries where I use video interview to document the works of African artists around the world.
- Can you tell us about Ake Festival and the arts/literary scene in Lagos?
Ake festival is in its 7th year which is a huge feat considering how it has helped to create a thriving literary community but one of the most important things it has done is to create this connection and pathway with other artists in diaspora. It hasn’t only helped to nurture a local community but global friendships and broaden the scope and space for writers to connect, be inspired and to create as their authentic selves. Writing as an art can be such a lonely thing both as practice and experience and knowing you have a community around the world that gets it cannot be underestimated. For me personally in my own career it has been a space to be seen, affirmed, connect, thrive and grow in my artistry but mostly as its for ideas, knowledge sharing and fun. We must not forget the fun part.
The literary scene is growing, more young people aren’t only writing but reading and writing about writing. So there is an arts and literary eco-system that is thriving. I think officially art which didn’t get much praise in our community is fast becoming the new cool. We are all thinking about infrastructure and ways to sustain this African literary magic that has been propelled by the festival.
This year at Ake, the theme is Black Bodies & Grey Matter which will examine the violence around black bodies from patriarchy to colonialism. The festival will explore scarification, stereotyping, mental health within the African context and gender diversity and expressions as well as identity.
- What are you most looking forward to at Cheltenham Literature Festival?
I am looking forward to meeting the other writers from across the world, connecting with them, immersing myself into the panels and events as well as performing at the TongFu event as well.
CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR MOTHER
Your mother says that you are spilling with guts
She kisses her teeth every time you sit
Says you spread and sink into the living room couch
Says your back has no arc
And your bum has no bounce
Every time she sees you
Her voice is thickened with anger
Because you fail miserably at this kind of self-sculpting
You are painted in your father’s skin
You wear his frugal hands
And slip right into his flat feet
This is why she still sends you a care package
of creams, teas and potions in-between
You see, your mother is doused in lemon cream
She is burning on both cheeks
Her hips are stuffed in girdles
She is crackling at the seams
Her blood is a cocktail of diets and diuretics
This is why she soaks your breakfast in chillies
Says the heat will purge you of your ugliness
Since your body is twice its size
She gives you a double dose of everything
Including her regret