The Farafina Creative Writing Workshop – Yewande Omotoso

If someone told me when I was five or fifteen that at thirty-two I would sit in an air-conditioned room in Lagos, on Victoria Island, with a woman named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and twenty other writers and I would sit for nine yewandedays and we would all talk about writing, our own writing and the writing of others, that there would grow a soft place inside me for all the participants and organisers of this strange meeting, that the meeting would come to an end but actually that things like this never end. If someone had tried to convince me of this it would all have sounded rather unlikely. I guess when I was five Chimamanda wasn’t yet Chimamanda the acclaimed author and Farafina did not have a workshop in its name; there was no Farafina, not yet.

Today I am grateful to have my own memories of what it was like to participate in the 2012 Farafina Creative Writer’s Workshop. And I struggle to write about it without using words like joy, profound, indelible. What struck me about the workshop and the manner in which Chimamanda led it was the intimacy she managed to create with us twenty-one strangers. The workshop days, eight-hour sessions, happened with plenty of humour, lengthy exchanges on the politics of writing, ethics, and what exactly is feminism. We were often asked to write true stories from our life experiences and then read them out to the class. In discussing our histories, our cultures, our prejudices and stereotypes there was sometimes offence taken. This brought with it many apologies, working through misunderstandings and always a burgeoning friendship.

There had been nine hundred applications to the workshop. Chimamanda took pains to explain how the selections were made, no one’s cousin made it through and there was no pandering to calls from big ogas who wanted their sons and daughters to be accepted.

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My Farafina Creative Writing Workshop Experience – Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu

It was my third application. I paused a while before I typed the address into my mailbox. Twice before, 2010 and 2011, I had answered the call for entries for the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. On both occasions, I got an email informing me that though I made the long list of thirty five, I unfortunately didn’t make into the final list of fifteen.
While I was saddened by the first mail, the fact that it came from Chimamanda Adichie, whose “I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your entry – and to send my best wishes for your continued writing”, eased the disappointment. For me, that mail was a tacit stamp of approval that I was on the right path. In 2011, when I got a similar response, I was mad. How can they turn me down two years in a row? Does this mean I am not good enough or have not improved at all despite my efforts? So, I penned this.

Now, you chiagozieunderstand the reluctance with which I applied for this year’s workshop. I felt I did not need any coaching from any writer, no matter how renowned. It was easy to learn about writing, especially with the internet. Having convinced myself that I didn’t need to learn from people who turned me down twice, I tried to forget about the call for entries, to ignore the nagging urge to type a small bio, copy and paste one of my numerous short stories and send another mail to Udonandu, whoever that is.

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