Emmanuel Iduma is the author of A Stranger’s Pose, which was longlisted for the 2019 Ondaatje Prize, and The Sound of Things to Come, a novel. He received an arts writing grant from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation, for his essays on Nigerian artists. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts, New York. (May 2019)
Around the time I decided to take writing seriously, my family moved to a new town. I remember filching a worn copy of People of the City from a bookshelf, beginning to read it: maybe it could teach me a thing or two about how to write a novel. And since I was only fifteen, I saw no error in lifting entire paragraphs of Cyprian Ekwensi’s story and, after changing the characters’ names, putting them into mine. Any Nigerian writer who has tried to write about Lagos as a city with feeling descends from Ekwensi.
The books published about the Biafran War, by memoirists on either side, are written from the perspective of those who survived, and can manage to speak of its horrors. The dead, voiceless, keep to themselves. And what of the unborn? When I remember my uncle, it is to grieve for a man whom I never knew, forty years after his death. Youth is a meteor, gone in a flash. The tragedy of the deaths of the poet Christopher Okigbo and the photojournalist Priya Ramrakha is outbalanced by the longevity of their words and pictures. They survive through what they managed to wrest from the terrible war. My uncle wasn’t as fortunate. The details of his life are vague and imprecise, amounting to no more than an hour of talk when I sit with any relative.