Azuonye’s ekolanut for lovers of creativity

Nnorom Azuonye

UK-based writer, Nnorom Azuonye, reflects on his writings and the operation of his Sentinel Poetry Movement and magazines, writes AKEEM LASISI

Author, publisher and editor, Nnorom Azuonye knows how to bridge the gap between him and the Igbo tradition he left behind at home. A welcome note he left by the gate of his website suggests this.

The man who founded Sentinel Poetry Movement in 2002, notes, “Welcome to my website. Kindly accept a piece of eKolanut and a cool glass of ePalm wine, (or if a little alcohol is not your thing), a glass of eWater.”

Like many Africans abroad who still hold their roots close to their hearts, Azuonye persistently stressed the need to be oneself wherever one may be when he participated in the  writers’  session of the cultural programmes of the Olympic Games that ended in London on August 12. This is part of the reasons he threw away his English middle name – Sidney -sticking to Nnorom, the way a snail sticks to its shell. The only reality he has accepted is that he has to keep his first name as short as it is now, because the full name, Nnoromeleuwakandinwuruanwumma, meaning ‘if I am alive looking at the world, it is better than those who are dead’, is far too long and winding.

Yet, he does not hide a question that hangs on his identity.  A native of Isuikwuato in Abia State, he asserts his Nigerian citizenship but also acknowledges the historical fact that he was born at Enugu in the Republic of Biafra, just six days after the Nigeria-Biafra war began.

He explains, “I am one of those people carrying Nigerian passports but might not actually be described as Nigerians. I am not British either, though my children are. I was born during the Biafran war. Over the years, some of us born during the time have really struggled to state categorically that we are Nigerians without betraying our consciences, without betraying the blood and sacrifice of our people. Are we Biafrans or are we Nigerians?”

The puzzle is compounded by Nigeria’s seeming refusal to rise to the height it was destined to for, as the ‘giant of Africa’ is more or less trapped in self-inflicted ailments. According to him, some of the incidents happening in Nigeria, especially the Boko Haram saga, regularly spur the question in him: Do we really need to stay together?

But ‘irony’ can easily replace Azuonye’s middle name.  The reason is that the same writer who feels strongly about the various problems that confront his fatherland does not like to dwell much on them in his creative works. He loves to focus on innocent things like love and flowers.

“I don’t want people to read my work and get depressed,” he explains. “I want to celebrate people who have been able to triumph against all odds.”

Azuonye founded Sentinel 10 years ago. What sustains it, he says, is the love he has for literature. It also focuses on style while ensuring that only quality materials get published in it.

He adds, “Sentinel has not focused on money. Some other literary magazines had started after and failed because they focused on money.”

His expertise in website development has also helped. For instance, he has not spent a dime on building Sentinel websites since it was inaugurated. He built and maintains it himself. But he notes that the respect he has for contributors and the materials they send also works for the magazine. He allows contributors to be involved in editing, stressing that even if the magazine is not yet a paying one, it respects their works.

While Sentinel is self-funding, it organises a quarterly poetry and short story competition that offers £610 in prizes to winners – first prize being £150; £75 and £50 respectively for second and third; and £10 each for three highly commended entries in each category. The annual edition of the competitions offers a combined £2,000 in prizes – £1000 in each category of poetry and fiction.

Unfortunately, Azuonye’s experience with some participants from Nigeria has not been rosy. According to him, when some people send entries, the tone of the cover notes that come with the materials is often unbelievably arrogant.

“When you read the cover notes, you think they are from the president of America. Yet, they have only probably published on some websites or their own blogs. If their works do not measure up to what you can publish, you get angry responses when you tell them so.  I used to write short notes to people from Nigeria when their works are not accepted for publication. Some of them would get back with all kinds of messages. Can you imagine one of them writing back, ‘Your editor must be very stupid. My poetry was published in How dare your editor say my poem is not publishable?’  They do not know that rejection is part of a writer’s life,” he explains.

His first major work, Letter to God and other Poems, was published in 2003. Although he has published a hybrid he titles The Bridge Selection, he is expecting another baby – A Juror of my Time – in 2014. He is also working on Kwansabas in Colour, a celebration of his personal black heroes. Azuonye adds that he has also written a play, Funeral of the Minstrel, a surreal play that imagines a befitting funeral of his late friend and mentor, EsiabaIrobi.

Azuonye’s collection of short stories, The Magenta Shadow is due in Winter of 2012.