Aleph

Friday, July 28, 2006

"The English department [of the University of Ibadan] was a very good example of what I mean. The people there would have laughed at the idea that any of us would become a writer. That didn't really cross their minds. I remember on one occasion a departmental prize was offered. They put up a notice: Write a short story over the long vacation for the departmental prize. I'd never written a short story before, but when I got home, I thought, Well, why not. So I wrote one and submitted it. Months passed; then finally one day there was a notice on the board announcing the result. It said that no prize was awarded because no entry was up to the standard. They named me, said that my story deserved mention. Ibadan in those days was not a dance you danced with snuff in one palm. It was a dance you danced with all your body. So when Ibadan said you deserved mention, that was very high praise.

I went to the lecturer who had organized the prize and said, "You said my story wasn't really good enough, but it was interesting. Now what was wrong with it?" She said, "Well, it's the form. It's the wrong form." So I said, "Ah. Can you tell me about this?" She said, "Yes, but not now. I'm going to play tennis; we'll talk about it. Remind me later, and I'll tell you." This went on for a whole term. Every day when I saw her, I'd say, "Can we talk about form?" She'd say, "No, not now. We'll talk about it later." Then at the very end she saw me and said, "You know, I looked at your story again, and actually there's nothing wrong with it." So that was it! That was all I learned from the English department about writing short stories. You really have to go out on your own and do it." --Chinua Achebe


6:15 PM
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