One on One with Ayo Sogunro

 

sogunro

Ayo Sogunro is a Nigerian social critic, human rights activist and writer. He is notable as an essayist and satirist with right-wing libertarian tendencies. He is also the author of two books The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales and Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you.  Both books are a favourite of  Nigerian social media circles.

 

In 2012, a playlet he had written while in university, Death in the Dawn was published. The play, which was inspired by a Wole Soyinka poem of the same title, satirised Nigerian society and the interactions between members of the society. The play was given an average rating by reviewers, but was also praised for its message. In 2013, Ayo Sogunro’s first full length work, The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Taleswas published. The book was an instant favourite on Nigerian social media circles, generating the hashtag #SorryTales. Following the success of Sorry Tales, Ayo Sogunro in December 2014 released Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you. The book which generated the hashtag #ENGY is a paradoxical account of the lifestyle of the average Nigerian.

 

Sogunro is known for tackling critical issues in Nigeria through essays, poetry and stories. A right-wing libertarian, he is a frequent commentator on socio-political issues in both Nigerian and international media. A number of his works are directly accessible on his personal blog, AyoSogunro.com and pontificalpapers.com

 

In this interview, wea sked Ayo Sogunro about his writing history, overcoming writers block and where he plans to go from here.

 

Tell us a bit about your background.

Hahaha. That’s an impossible task. But I can tell you a bit about what I do: I’m a writer, a lawyer and a social critic/educator. This means a lot of people consider me as some sort of troublemaker.

When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?

If you can call random lines “writing— then I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, probably younger. But my first attempt at full length prose was a “novelette” scribbled in a 40-leaf exercise book when I was 15 or so. Thankfully, that cringe-worthy attempt at thriller fiction has been lost to time. I published my first book in 2004 at the age of 19. This was a collection of short stories co-written with my friend, Goke Gbadamosi. Since then, I’ve had three other books published.

 What books have influenced you the most?

Different books have influenced me at different stages in life. For example, I read Encyclopaedias and classic English and Yoruba literature during childhood, while my teenage was spent on an odd mix of philosophical/religious treatises and best-selling paperback fiction. I’ve always been an eclectic reader, and almost everything I’ve read has had an influence either directly or otherwise.

 Favourite films?

Tough question. I have yearly favourites—and a growing hard disk archive of almost 200 of these.

Favourite music?

A lot of Lighthouse Family, plenty jazz of the urban type, some Eminem rap, a whole lot of Nigerian oldies, and several artistes from the fine period of alternative rock: 2004-2007.

 Who is your favorite writer and what do find fascinating about their work?

I’ve been an ardent fan of Bernard Shaw—his style of prefacing his books is a trait I think I’ve adopted. I admire Ayn Rand’s writing for her philosophy infused storytelling. And I’m a great fan of Wole Soyinka’s logical thought process—his essays have influenced my writing tone quite significantly.

 Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

My constant goal, when writing, is to convey as much information in the simplest way logically possible. Ironically, it can be quite a difficult task to keep things simple.

Do you ever get writers block? Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writers block?

Writer’s block is a type of professional indolence. This is clear when you consider that a piece of writing is different from the ideas that generate it. We think in ideas, but we write in words. Anyone can have an idea, but the writer’s role is to express it in words. As I understand it, writer’s block is the dearth of ideas—not the difficulty of expression. In that sense, a writer who waits to synchronize the generation of the ideas with the expression of same is being inefficient. Writers should crystalize their thoughts long before they are need to express them in words. For example, if you keep regular notes of your thoughts and ideas, it will be quite difficult to imagine a period when you have a “block” that would prevent you from picking those notes and working with them. Writer’s block is for the hobbyist, serious writers cannot afford that luxury

 What are you working on at the moment

I’m working on another book. Although I can’t state what its final form will be like at the moment—but it’s another book.

 What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?

There are a number of Nigerian publishers, but I’m not sure there is a Nigerian publishing industry. “Industry” implies a recognisable market, constant participants and fairly defined standards. In a publishing industry, there are established systems than any new publisher can utilise; you will find an actively co-ordinated secondary market of agents, editors, copyeditors, designers, printers, distributors, marketers, public relations agents, and wholesale and retail bookshops. These doesn’t exist in Nigeria. What we have are individual publishers with their individual systems of manufacture and delivery with wide gaps between one process and the other. Some of the publishers are sophisticated and well-funded enough to do profitable work, but most of them are merely subsistence publishers.

 What impact (if any) do you think writers have on the political terrain?

Politics is highly dependent on public perception. Writers are able to shape perception—sometimes by expressing critical opinion, sometimes by disseminating propaganda. But whether negatively or positively, writers have always had a significant role in the political sphere—which, I suppose, is why for a long time in human history, literacy was the preserve of the upper classes.

 What are your thoughts on George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984? Do you think such books have a place in the Nigerian political terrain?

1984 is, sadly, one of those books that the Nigerian general curriculum doesn’t line along the path of the average Nigerian student. The same is true for almost every other English literary classic. Instead, the general curriculum tosses a few randomly selected books at secondary school students with vague emphasis on memorising literary devices before it is all forgotten at the end of the term examination. And so, at the end of the day, we have educated citizens who are still steeped in religious and cultural prejudices, unexposed and unenlightened about the extent of human socio-political thought. I first read 1984 in secondary school, and I have reread it in whole twice since then. I assume if more of my contemporaries read the book at a young age, they would have grown up with a more critical attitude towards government action.

 Do you think social media has had a positive impact on writing and publishing?

Yes, of course. Social media has had a positive impact on literary activity in Nigeria and elsewhere. This does not, however, imply that social media has not had a negative effect either. Eventually, it comes down to individual usage. Some writers employ social media as a platform to broaden their audience, some readers use it as a knowledge base too. But it is also a breeding ground for piracy, instant gratification, puerile content and savagery. Just like every other aspect of the internet, there is no good or bad tag to social media and literature, you will always find astonishing ignorance in the midst of such a vast wealth of knowledge.

 How can readers discover more about you?

Well, I suppose Google holds the key to that answer. In summary, though: I write literary pieces on ayosogunro.com; I write not-quite-literary pieces on pontificalpapers.com; and I have a tenancy on twitter via @ayosogunro.

14. What advice do you have for new writers?

Write. Writing is an activity and not just a skill.  There are no mental writers—a writer writes. 

Bio culled from wikipedia.com



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