Afterword: Who is a Young Writer? – Dami Ajayi

Last week, medic and critic, Wilfred Okiche bemoaned the dwindling quality of music reviews in a tweet. I responded by saying that music reviews are not particularly rewarding, tweets make for quicker feedback, are inherently easier to publish and young ‘guns’ are not interested in the rigour involved with editing and rewriting commissioned pieces.

Within 24 hours, Nigeria’s literary twitter was buzzing without a hashtag. Timelines were popping with monologues, quips and bytes of discontent by people who had chosen to generalise and problematise this harmless banter, a legitimate critique of the dearth of music reviews by two of the most prolific music reviewers writing at the moment.

As with most social media conversations, it was hijacked and things quickly went south and personal. Egos were bruised and threats were issued. Twitter became distracted and the real conversation about the dearth of reviews did not happen.

In my private moments, I reflected on what happened. I thought about the intensity of the outrage. I asked myself if the term, ‘young writer’ is derogatory. Then I wondered what it means to be a young writer. Who really is a young writer? Who assigns this title and who decides when you progress into writerly adulthood? Is ‘young’ really an adjective that should be used for any writer?

Then I remembered how Chimamanda Adichie was dragged by Elnathan John for calling him one of “her boys” whose great stories reside in her mail inbox. I have read about the historical literary feud between Ayi Kwei Armah and Chinua Achebe. The literary circle, like any circle of life, is also about allegiances and disagreements. It is about showing growth by insisting on your independence, sort of like the way a toddler takes ownership of the word, ‘No’ first and adolescents eschew their parent’s ideas for their own spontaneous methods, with the hope that they don’t run into trouble.

For the writer who identifies with this line of thought, here is a Faulkner quote for you: “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.”

12 years ago, I sat in a workshop where author and Professor of Pharmacy, Bayo Lamikanra, raised a compilation of our workshop entries and called it a crock of shit. I remember feeling some kind of outrage at the time. In retrospect, Lamikanra was right.

Perhaps the expression of rage by those who identify as ‘young writer’ is also some kind of catharsis, some anger at our system or the lack of it. To be an aspiring writer is to realise that your words may not travel, your well-written novel may not be published, your collection of poems may not win that coveted prize. If you chose to be a writer then you must make peace with this reality. Even in better climes, publishing is not a meritocracy. But on Twitter, everyone is a pundit—pundit plus, if you reside abroad.

In the final estimation of things, outrage is not brand new. Being young is not a fixed experience; the young will always grow. Literature is not a gerontocracy. Every writer must negotiate their salvation.

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