Sometimes, it is just right to forget birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries and celebrate everyday people who do extraordinary things consistently.
One of such men is someone I probably saw for the first time, over forty years before now, but would be lucky to meet fourteen years ago. In between these years, I knew his name and encountered the sensibilities of his beautiful soul through the open windows of his writing.
I read his columns, his literary pieces and some of his poems. His brilliance hooked a reader from the first word to the last full stop. His style stood him and still stands him out like the antlers of the Majestic deer. His chatty, easy and sometimes conversational jabs and jibes stick a screaming label: “the grandmaster of beer banters.”
Uzor Maxim Uzoatu has helped so many writers find their feet, their shoes, their paths and most importantly, their voices. I daresay without him, I wouldn’t have found the confidence to get my first novel, ‘Pregnancy of the Gods’ published. I met him through a mutual friend of ours, who was my senior in school, and one with whom Maxim grew up. I was advised to show him my MS. He was frank to tell me he didn’t have time to read it. He, however, promised to get back to me after two months. Having followed him for years before then, I was awed that he’d read me. So I was happy and was ready to wait for even longer. This happened on a Friday.
As he parted from me, like Ernest Hemmingway, he announced that he was heading to his watering hole before going home, and asked if I would join him. I passed it up for another time not that I was a teetotaler, but I didn’t feel qualified to share his illustrious company.
The following Monday, I was in my office when he returned and dumped the manuscript on my desk. I was worried, I might have offended him with my bad writing and he didn’t want to read further. But he burst into his bantering in Pidgin English, accusing me of dealing him a bad one and stealing his entire weekend. He said the moment he got into the bus and opened the MS, he couldn’t stop reading until he saw “The End.”
That’s Maxim. He’s done this for so many other writers and I hardly see us do same for him. Where would I have been without the confidence the above encounter gave me? When I concluded my trilogy and turned towards my advertising business, he was unhappy with me. He insisted I did a new book. Sometimes, I would see him and dodge, knowing he would hand me the regular guilt rope, “where is your next book?”
When we met at the Return to Idoto II in 2018, he almost made me swear before Ukpaka Oto that I would get my new book out. I had to make him a firm promise that I would do so. Honestly I did find a way to do this. Two months ago, he became the first person apart from the editors to read the manuscript of my upcoming book. I will keep his comments to my chest for this is not about my book, but more about this wonderful and selfless lover of Nigerian writing and writers.
Maxim offers himself as the tensile rod of confidence to any one lucky to meet him. Good man, good friend, who never fails to speak truth to power whenever he needs to. Friends, join me in celebrating the God of Poetry.
Odili Ujubuoñu, novelist and copywriter. His fourth novel, “Crows of the Yellow Stream” will be published on December 1, 2020.