As part of our January Conversation Issue, read Amatesiro Dore’s Letter to a Young Queer Intellectual.
I’ve been meaning to write. Sorry I missed your calls and have not been able to return them. I read your manuscript and I’m angry that you have deceived yourself into believing you need my opinion or any other before you send it out for publishing consideration. I was angry because you reminded me of myself and my years of literary stupidity, timidity and unnecessary quest for validation. That was how I and my generation lost almost a decade of literary progress and achievements because we were desperately seeking the blessings and endorsements of one literary Madam and Oga or another. Creating lords and mistresses over our destinies; tyrants and gatekeepers who were only interested in dictating who and what gets published; queens and kings who ensured the table was reserved only for them and their works, as if only one man or woman can satisfy the literary appetite of billions, as if there was only one particular way of cooking Nigerian jollof, as if only one cook can feed the world. Hope you get my point: there’s always market for any writer in the world and you’re not in competition with anyone. Just write your work and your audience will find you. Chikena!
Since I cannot send you money at this stage of my career, I will give you words and share experiences that will make your career easier, advance the standard of African literature and improve our collective hustle.
Read everything, especially the language and nuances of social media writers. Study great white men, admire their prose but remember you were born in the nineties and nobody is interested in reading the stories of Ernest Hemingway pseudo-plagiarised or copycatted by a black queer boy living in Aba. Don’t be like my acclaimed friend, Orimalu, who currently has no story to tell so he bullies everyone with the techniques of dead white men in order to hide the fact that his pedestrian existence as a straight, mildly-achieving, middle-class Nigerian with girlfriend issues and concerns about our sociopolitical nightmare is unworthy (just my jealous opinion) of a full-length novel. So you see why he admires Updike who with admittedly beautiful sentences glorified the mundane lives of straight white men during the era of the Civil Rights movement in America, apartheid in South Africa and other exotic world problems of his time.
This is our time. You bear the marks of the queer struggle: you’ve been blackmailed, harassed, detained, raped and abandoned by friends and society. Harvest your pain, tell your stories and leave Orimalu to bother himself about your use of colons and semicolons. We need people like him in the industry to elevate our form and structure, but don’t let him bully you and your kind into silence because his Literatures-in-English tutor could not appreciate the glorious difference between ‘Abiku’ by JP Clark and the other same-titled poem by Wole Soyinka. Tell your own Abiku story. Leave the critics to argue about form.
And remember, we have a rich oral tradition on this continent. We are traditional storytellers and not ‘writers’. Start thinking of ways to tell your stories on YouTube and via WhatsApp voice notes. Continue to preserve the cultural nuances of your ancestors. You do not need to start writing like a nineteen-fifties Nobel Laureate in 2019. Jesus, the Queen may still live but the Commonwealth died a long time ago. Na neo-colonialism dey reign now. Liberate your mind, follow where the story leads and stop writing as if Chimamanda and Binyavanga are peeking over your shoulders. Let it be said, ten years hence, that your works, indeed the DNA of your creativity, can be identified without so much as a byline. That’s what Oyinbo calls ‘style’. Invent styles for your generation. Let your own jollof rice be distinct. And who said we must all love jollof, or even rice? Your style might just be tuwo and gbegiri.
Get as a much paper as necessary. Let your intelligence become documented, so you can effectively compete in the global literary market. You know I don’t believe in MFAs but in this world of shallow thinkers and dumb consumers you need as much paper lamba as possible. Na person wey dey win award nia them dey give award. Na person wey go school nia them say get sense. At the very least, get a degree every ten years. Just go and get something, to fulfil all righteousness, so lazy editorial assistants will be motivated to reply to your emails and fickle evaluators will consider you worthy of a grant, residency or whatever. It’s annoying but that’s how the lucrative Western literary merit system currently works. We pray Aliko Dangote will start giving grants to creative writers—but we may have to wait until two years before his death for him to have sense like Alfred Nobel.
As with degrees, so with money. Owo ni koko, so do everything you can to get paper that you can spend. The days of the starving writer died with Knut Hamsun. Though Nigeria seems unable to wise up like other energy-rich countries, our standard of living as writers must improve so we can compete with our colleagues around the world. I have never heard of anyone who finished a book better as a result of hunger and lack. Fuck anyone that says otherwise: poverty kills creativity. You will spend more time wondering and plotting what to eat instead of writing. And you need more than a room of your own to create nowadays, so be conscious and strategic about your survival. Dead men do not write, hungry men make silly grammatical mistakes, and broke writers eventually develop shitty personalities. Find a way to survive and sustain your mind before launching into a full-time writing career. Don’t repeat my mistakes. Or Igoni’s. The point of having elders is to do better than them. Don’t be an African writer when it comes to your finances. Think like a writer who lives in Manhattan with bills to pay. So get a day job if you can—and, if they will accept you and your queerness, kiss-ass your parents until you’re truly financially emancipated and never move out of home until you know you’ll have adequate food and shelter for the next ninety days of creative hustle, or until an acceptance letter arrives that can pay your bills. Do not romanticise poverty. That shit stinks.
And hide, modafucker! Stay inside the closet until you have received your inheritance, have no need of it, or have acquired all you can from your family, community and hypocritical countrymen. Blend into the landscape for as long as you can. Be anonymous for as long as you can. We do not need any more martyrs from Nigeria. We need living, educated and privileged saints who can survive without communal goodwill and financial assistance. We currently have no structures for dispossessed queers in this country. And trust me: you don’t want to be a pawn or dependent of any NGO or charitable organisation in Nigeria. You’re already stripped of your right to exist and create. You don’t want anyone to tax you for breathing rights or arm-twist you into fundraising activism geared towards programmes that have not caused any positive change since the founding of such NGOs nineteen years ago. Servitude under an angel or demon is exactly the same thing as slavery. Never help perpetuate a corrupt civil society ecosystem or enable ineffective so-called human rights defenders, even if it means begging to survive, to write, to shower and to have sex in peace. Depart from their midst as soon as you discover their duplicity. And never hesitate to destroy any dishonest structure you have innocently validated. Better we have no safe havens than permit wicked and opportunistic people to lead our struggle. We must come with clean hands to win our battles. We do not have a god to do it for us. The gods are busy with the right-wing movements for now.
Never come out as a child, minor or dependant except you have parental support—which is currently non-existent in our country. Do not trust any fucking helper unrelated by blood, creed and values. Who helps a chicken during Christmas? Be wary of those who want you to become their sacrificial goat. Be very careful, unless you want them to turn you into asun.
Be strategic in your advocacy. Plot with your generational mates and allies, whose loss of opportunities in Nigeria is commensurate with yours. Ensure they also have a surname, like you, and a reputation that is equal to yours, before you co-sign any document or programme of action. If your fathers or mentors are not mates, partner with their fathers and mentors, or walk away. Always have an escape route. Join the underground movement. Be like a Liverpool fan: never walk alone. And no one is permitted to commit suicide until we have all decided where we are going to go afterwards. Watch your leaders and hold them to a very high standard. Don’t let anyone turn your advocacy into a perpetual failure. Do what Arsenal finally did: sack any coach from your life who has stopped performing, or who is deliberately underachieving in order to maintain the status quo (one that elicits Western sympathy and grants). Run away from mentors who do not like the success of their mentees. You will know them by their fruits. A wolf can never act like a sheep during dinnertime. Learn to identify and walk away from corrupt elders. And you must receive the wisdom to correct your elders with love, threaten them with exposure if they refuse to change their ways, and hang up every corrupt reputation for the public to analyse. Do not spare the rod to spoil the elder. Our parents spared our grandparents and that’s how our country turned to shit. Those that choose not to stop pouring san-sand into our garri must be disgraced out of office like Mugabe. Sha, never treat them the way Libya handled Gaddafi, it will become counter-productive to our movement. Remember, Mandela spent only one term in office! The sick and dying must know when to retire and advise us from their bedrooms.
Above all, you must fight the good fight of faith from the safety and privacy of your circles. You must learn how to run. You must never be beaten without your permission. And you must ensure that your tormentors and their archaic ideologies die alongside you if push comes to shove. Do not edit yourself. Do not blend your soul. Be yourself but only out yourself and never expose a brother or ally in the closet against his will and desire. But preserve receipts to ensure proper checks and balances if the asshole becomes hypocritical and counter-productive to the movement.
Finally, be armed for battle if they bring the fight to your doorstep. Rally your squad to challenge any bully, intruder, and tormentor of your peace. My brother, we must ensure that no queer blood is spilled without commensurate consequences, repercussions and international justice. Let the lions fight, let the sheep stay at home and let everyone perform their responsibilities whenever they can, until our lives are no longer quarried and discriminated against in this godforsaken country. My beloved comrade, let your elder brothers and sisters fight for you until you come of age, then retire us to the grave or Promised Land.
- Amatesiro Dore is a 2019 writer-in-residence and fellow of the Wole Soyinka Foundation, 2009 alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writers Workshop, and 2015 fellow of the Ebedi International Writers Residency. In 2016, he was awarded the Reimagined Folktale Contest and the Saraba Manuscript (Nonfiction) Prize. His short story ‘For Men Who Care’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Gerald Kraak Award. His fiction has been published in London’s Litro and in Harvard’s Transition magazine. Follow him on Twitter.