Helon Habila

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Illustration by Ayo Arogunmati


Writing on the topics you select seem like a huge responsibility. How do you deal with the pressure?

I write what I want to write about, so that reduces the pressure. Writing about The Chibok Girls or the Niger Delta is equally as hard as writing about a family in a suburb, or a love story. The responsibility is to write a good book, to tell a good story. 

Have you come to terms through your writing with regards to the political dysfunction and military dictatorships you lived through as a young boy?

I guess so. For a writer the past is an experience to be used over and over again to make sense of the present and the future. History tends to repeat itself, not always in the same formulation, but similar in its effect and its intention. 

Will that journey of reconciliation ever finish?

There is nothing to reconcile. I wasn’t a particular victim of the dictatorship. There are some who lost family, or who were incarcerated. I was just a general victim, like everyone else. The past is what it is, we cannot change it. 

You started a publishing company, why is writing so important to you?

Writing is important for many reasons, but mostly because I enjoy doing it. The publishing company will take things to the next logical step. We need to control our literature, we need to decide what is important and what needs to be said. The only way to do that is through publishing. That is why we started Cordite Books. 

Do you have method of writing? What is your routine in the process of authoring a book?

No, I have no fixed routine. I research and just write when I can, and then re-write as many times as I can.

How do you define success with regards to your book? Is it personal satisfaction from improving your writing or is it selling more than your previous book?

I think you want to write the perfect book, or at least the best book you can under the circumstances given to you. Selling lots of copies and winning literature prizes are things outside your control. 

Where is Nigeria currently in terms of its socio-political structure? Is it different from what you remember?

Yes, I think so. The country continues to evolve. Hopefully our structures for governance will continue to keep up evolve as well. 

What impact can new writers have on it?

Writers must continue doing their duty as thinkers and cultural activists. They must refuse to keep quiet when things are not going well. We are a country of over 50% under the age of 30. These young men and women need some kind of cultural and social guidance, it is writers who will lead that dialogue. So yes, there is a lot to be done. 


Q&A, AuthorFemi Adeyinka