Growing up, I was a short sighted boy who bored easily, so books were a release for me, and an escape. I found a lot of books that informed who I am today, one of them Melissa Bank’s The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a delightful book about a witty, self-deprecating girl navigating a decade in her life. There was also Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar which started my life-long obsession with Sylvia Plath. But while I resonated strongly with these books, and I still do, I really didn’t feel like the stories I wanted to tell were stories that needed to be heard. I didn’t believe someone like me could touch someone with my writing till I discovered Phantom Pages and the Female Decades.
In 2010, a blogger revolution swept through Nigeria. WordPress had become really popular on the heels of twitter and many young Nigerians took to WordPress. One of those bloggers was a girl named Chioma Odukwe, or Weird_oo (if you’re a twitter person). One day a link got reposted by a number of people on my timeline, titled ‘Girl On the Violin‘. It was a short story, less than a thousand words, but it utterly enthralled me.
Chioma was just like me, an ‘ordinary’ Nigerian without a degree in English-lit or mentored by Neil Gaiman except for one small difference, she had found an audience writing great stories. Even though I didn’t post on it for a while, that very day I opened my own blog.
Then the very next month, Chioma announced she was going to participating in a collaborative series called ‘The Decades Project’ on Afrosays.com (then it was a wordpress site). The Decades Project took the best and brightest talents in the budding Nigerian blogger community and asked them to write about being a Nigerian across the decades. There were two Decades project, the Decades I (written from a male perspective), and Decades II (written from a female perspective). The Male Decades was great, but the Female Decades was a movement.
Not since Buchi Emecheta and Flora Nwapa had I seen Nigerian women so complex and humanized. There was no Biafra, no immigrants or emigrants or precolonial women in huts fleeing missionaries. Instead there were unhappy marriages, crushes, abortions, matriarchs and lost love. I read every single story, commented on most, I joined the celebration of a new generation of Nigerian literary writers in the comments section. Several of those writers have gone on to do great things.
A few weeks ago, a writer called Siyanda rejoiced about finding a blog (now book) about an everyday South African girl. That in the torrent of ‘apologetic’ stories that dominates African stories, she was happy to find a story that was rooted firmly in the present about things that seemed ‘pedestrian’ compared to the lofty ideals in many of the published books today. I agree that to some she came across as divisive but she hit a cardinal point for me. Growing up, I was not represented in Nigerian fiction. There were quite literally, no books about being a teenager in Lagos or Abuja or Kano, no books that challenged my world view about being a teenager. I think this is in part, why so many people (me inclusive) love Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie, because it was told by a teenager, like me. She was the only Nigerian teenage literary heroine we knew.
Books like ‘Indie music’ do an important service for teenagers. They say
‘This tumultuous feeling you’re having, this indescribable emotion you’re experiencing, someone else had them too; and they went a step further, they described them for you’.
Books give you permission to live more fully, to write about the things you’ve lived through, to pass on your knowledge. For me, in the absence of books, these bloggers filled that gap. They gave me permission to write about the things that have always interested me. They introduced me to the inner lives of my mothers, sisters and friends; and that fascination has greatly influenced my writing.
Please don’t treat this as some lofty treatise, it’s more like a thank you note to all the women who wrote on the Female Decades, and a call to young writers (especially young women writers) to read the Female Decades (it found a new home on the Naked Convos) and maybe create the next collaborative project that will inspire new writers the way this inspired me, before that great book deal comes your way.
Do you have a story to tell from a female perspective? Log on Stories.ng (top right) with the username MissAnon and password Twin@roo4 and let’s see your drafts.