In partnership with Writivism, Syncity NG is publishing conversations with the shortlisted writers of this year’s Writivism and Koffi Addo Creative Nonfiction Prizes. This conversation took place on Twitter (@SyncityNG) with Eugene Yakubu (@BobbiSafari).
Eugene Yakubu is on the Koffi Addo Creative Nonfiction Prize Shortlist for his story How to Wear Your Body. Eugene is a storyteller and cultural critic who lives and writes from Nigeria. He writes essays and non-fiction on non-normative identities, fluid gender roles and human rights. He is running a graduate research on Queer Studies and LGBTI narratives in African literature at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His nonfiction This Hell of a Body has been shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak Award.
SynCity NG: Welcome, Eugene. Nigerians didn’t come to play at all. Eugene, your story How To Wear Your Body made me cry. Out. Literally. Kai! I’m curious as to how this story came about.
Eugene Yakubu: It made me cry [as well], and gave me sleepless nights. I came face to face with an aunt who’s been living with breast cancer. That fateful day I barged into the room and saw her staring at her injured breast with a mirror. I have never been the same ever since until I wrote this story.
Syncity NG: Understandable. The emotion in that story is palpable. Every single feeling was made prominent with your writing. How did you manage to finish such a story when it brought you so much pain?
Eugene Yakubu: The story haunted me, so I had to be done with it, so not just me will cry out my eyes. Lol. I was sure the smile I saw on my aunt’s face and her words trying to console me that should be consoling her got me going till the end of the story.
Syncity NG: I am so sorry. Speaking of pain, do you think a good writer needs to channel pain before achieving a level of authenticity in non-fiction pieces?
Eugene Yakubu: I believe pain inspires creativity. Most times. I don’t know, but it works for me; most of my works are written when I am down, alone, feeling like the whole world is up against me. I think clearer then, and write basically to get out of my ashes — not even for publishers or readers.
Syncity NG: So, if the story hadn’t made the shortlist, what would you have done with the story?
Eugene Yakubu: Writing is therapeutic; that’s enough an achievement for me. I’m this writer that isn’t all crazy bout prizes. I believe my credibility as a writer shouldn’t be determined by judges alone. It would have gone with my other manuscripts to my work in progress collection of essays.
Syncity NG: Your bio says you are running a graduate research on queer studies in Zaria. How’s that going and how have you used the information gotten from your research to improve your knowledge on the subject?
Eugene Yakubu: Going great, and I’ve learned how ignorant I’ve been on the topic. Funny, but peeps think queer studies ends at homo and lez study. Not true. there’re a whole lot of discourses surrounding the body, and I’m glad I did research on that.
Syncity NG: Hopefully we see more of this in your coming works. What do you do to protect your mental health with all that is going on now? How do you stay sane and alive despite the chaos and uncertainty that comes from being a creative?
Eugene Yakubu: I forgive myself. Everyday. Most times when I get hit so bad I only have to tell myself ‘breathe, relax and be human’. I nourish my soul with whatever livens me up — that soothing sound, visit that cool friend, be around loved ones, appreciate good art, make it a habit to be happy.
Syncity NG: Words that cut deep and ring true. Thank you for reminding us to forgive ourselves and just live.
@K_tops: What do you think can be done to amplify the voices of people with diverse gender expressions in a “conservative” country like Nigeria?
Eugene Yakubu: First, we take it for granted that we are normal. Not everybody is, and we’ve to respect that. When we start accepting our differences and learning to accept people for who they are and not forcing them into where they don’t fit, I believe, then the biggest battle would have been won.
@gwinuc: Two questions for Eugene. One. You made mention of pain being a source of inspiration, what else inspires you? Two, how often do you write?
Eugene Yakubu: Only when I’m cocksure I’ve something new to say. Something that’s gonna lift someone out there from their ashes. But I think I write everyday in my head, I make up dialogues, create stories, design the ending, recreate it many time that when I sit to write I know I’m writing.
@mystiquesynn: Eugene, where else can we find your works? What next should we expect from you? Also, if you were to win the Wtitivism prize money, what would you use it for?
Eugene Yakubu: I don’t have much. You can find my works in Selves Afro-anthology, Sanctuary Anthology, some ezines and journals, and the yet to be published YELF anthology. About the Writivism prize money, I’m just gonna keep thinking until I win. and what next to expect from me? I think keep doing what we do. WRITE
@gideonogbonnac: Is there any place for happy stories? Can happy stories share the same spot as sad ones? I ask this because I noticed that most, if not all, stories that made the shortlist were sad stories.
Eugene Yakubu: Yes. Definitely. Happy stories are also valid. If you know what ‘happy’ looks like, why not write about it? I only hope the readers are out there. But with what we’re getting out of life, I’m still trying to imagine what a happy story would look like. But if it works for you, then why not?
Thank you, Eugene, for setting out time to chat with us. We wish you Godspeed with your future endeavors. As for the Writivism Prizes, may the best man win.