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The Man And The Writer: Emmanuel Iduma

Anyone who’s conversant with the arts community in Nigeria knows of Emmanuel Iduma. He is a writer, editor and art critic. In 2009, he founded Saraba Magazine, a nonprofit literary magazine which aims to publish the finest emerging writers and create an unending voice for them. Today, it has become one of the most read literary magazines in and out of Africa.

He has three books to his credit; with the most recent A Stranger’s Pose published a couple of months ago. He works as a member of the faculty at the School of Visual Arts in New York and he speaks to us about his life and his journey.

What’s your writing ritual like?

Nothing stringent. When I’m working on something, however long or short, I work with a word count in mind. And divide it according to the number of days between when I start and when I hope to finish.

Usually, I leave a day or two for revisions.

Is there anything you find challenging in your writing?

Describing a place.

Who are your favourite authors?

Right now I’m re-reading John Berger’s Here is Where We Meet. When I was 15, I plagiarised passages from Cyprian Ekwensi’s People of the City in a manuscript that is now lost. I hope nobody finds it.

I look for every opportunity to talk about Anne Michaels.

You were on the curatorial team for the first Nigerian exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2017. What did that feel like?

It was a momentous opportunity to address the way Nigeria’s history had evolved in relation to art. And I made new friends.

Your new book, A Stranger’s Pose is getting positive reviews and even made it to Vanity Fair’s Fall’s Best Foreign Books. How do you feel about this?

I feel curious and hopeful. Stories are seeds in search of good soil. Have I cultivated my patch of earth well enough? Perhaps the seed can sprout.

A Stranger’s Pose. Photo: Browns Books for students

At your book reading, there were a lot of mentions about African countries and cities, most of which the stories in your book are derived from, what do you think can be done about travelling within the continent?

Completing the Trans-Africa Highway is a good idea.

With your travelling experience, what would you say is the difference between Lagos and other cities you’ve been to and similarities?

All cities are containers for hope and hustle. Lagos is a bigger container than most.

What’s your biggest fear of travel?

I’m writing this after I missed my connecting flight. I don’t want that to happen again. I’m worried it would.

Emmanuel Iduma at Venice Biennale (Twitter)

Asides writing, photography and art criticism, are there other fields you’re exploring at the moment?

When I was six or seven, I gathered a few props to produce a film. I feel ashamed not to have followed through with that.

You’re a member of the faculty at the School of Visual Arts, New York where you had your MFA in Art Writing. What’s the experience been like for you?

Each year I help students with their writing in relation to art. It has become easier to tell when a piece of writing I’m working on would lead me nowhere.

Do you have any advice for writers and storytellers who want to create a niche for themselves with their work?

Create distinctions, not hierarchies. No one form of writing is more important than the other.

If you were to highlight a major lesson you’ve learnt in your years of writing, what would it be?

I hope to do this for the rest of my life. It is one way to learn humility and generosity of spirit.

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