First JP Clark Memorial Festival starts October 11 @UNILAG
By Godwin Okondo
THE Covid-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on many individuals and businesses worldwide even as the world continues to battle it with vaccines. But specifically, how did it impact creative writers across the spectrum? This was the concern of the Department of English, University of Lagos, when it held a webinar to discuss the effects of the pandemic on creative writers. With the theme ‘Creative Writing in the Era of COVID-19’ held on October 4th, it featured creative writers, who shared their experiences during the pandemic and how their passion to write was affected. Among those present were Prof. Hope Eghagha, Dr. Chris Anyokwu and Dr. Lola Akande of the Department of English, University of Lagos, and Canada-based Associate Professor of African Studies and English at Carleton University, Ottawa, Dr. Nduka Otiono.
Speaking about life during the lockdown, Otiono said, “There’s a stimuli for creative writing. Our feelings are able to trigger that stimulus, giving us reasons to write. During the heat of the pandemic, pain triggered a lot of emotions in us, and for some, creativity. Some of us began to see life from a different angle since the beginning of the pandemic. Lots of writers have also reacted to this feeling. During the lockdown, I had enough free time to interact with and learn about nature.” Akande related how her morale was dampened by the pandemic and the gale of death it spread across the world and the paralysis and hopelessness and gloom it all engendered in her. According to her, “Before the pandemic, I had plans about my work.
I finished a collection of short stories which was released in March. My next plan was a novel, which I had plotted before the pandemic became an issue in Nigeria. “There were talks about our weather and food being preventive measures against Covid-19, I never knew it was going to be so bad. I was shocked when cases started rising and people I knew were dying. I began to wonder about the essence of life; I didn’t see a point and I didn’t have the energy for anything. I couldn’t even cook and I ended up ordering food for a month.” Akande wasn’t only paralysed by the helplessness of the pandemic, she actually had it and felt what it was to be at the brink of death, as she lost consciousness at a point.
“The height of it was when I took ill,” she continued. “I went to the market to restock, and when I returned, I couldn’t perceive what I was cooking. I lost my sense of smell and I tool ill that night. I had all the symptoms, and I lost consciousness two nights later. I felt what it was like to die without saying goodbye to your loved ones. I couldn’t go to the hospital because we were all asked to isolate if we had symptoms. The influence of the pandemic paralyzed my creativity. I hope to go back to my writing and share with the world how I was affected.” Anyokwu, on the other hand, had a different story to share about how the pandemic influenced his creativity while it lasted all through 2020, a year many have sworn they never used. Unlike many others, Anyokwu actually spent the period producing prodigious amount of poetry.
“The government enforced restrictions on movement,” he started. “The normal community rituals became like a death sentence. You can’t hug your loved ones or leave home. How do you maintain sanity and survive solitary confinement? The only way to do this is to put pen to paper, writing with the belief of sharing with other people. “I wrote three volumes of poetry during the lockdown. The pandemic was the subject of my creative contemplations. I had to start writing on my relationships, ideas and actions about Covid-19. It was necessary for me to write and send to my friends of social media. I was able to maintain my sense of coordination through writing.” In summing up her thought, Akande further added, “This experience reflects on how we see the happenings around us. I don’t think I was the only writer unable to function.
I remember someone contacting me to write and asking if I had the energy. I told them I would try, and I ended up with a write up to a thousand words. “For me, sorrow does not inspire creativity. I feel very low, and I doubt if what I’m doing makes any sense or has any meaning. I hope when all this is over, God gives me another chance to develop my creativity.” In Anyokwu’s final words, “I guess there is something universal, that pain, rather than happiness, sparks creativity in a writer. Many writers actually write when they are in a state of pain, like T. S. Elliot, who wrote “The Wasteland,” which won him a Nobel Prize. I believe it is chaos that inspires creativity.
“I am an individual who writes to connect with people. Some prefer to work in solitude, but I prefer a noisy and crowded place; that’s when I can create. I am grateful to God that the pandemic inspired me to put pen to paper.” Eghagha would sum up the webinar with a reflection on man’s mortality and how finite he with the unlimited vast cosmos, when he said, “The pandemic reminds every single one of us of our mortality everyday, and how we can deal with it. We all have our creative experiences; some just switch off under stress and write later, while others perform beyond all expectations.”
‘I went to the market to restock, and when I returned, I couldn’t perceive what I was cooking. I lost my sense of smell and I tool ill that night. I had all the symptoms, and I lost consciousness two nights later. I felt what it was like to die without saying goodbye to your loved ones. I couldn’t go to the hospital because we were all asked to isolate if we had symptoms. The influence of the pandemic paralyzed my creativity. I hope to go back to my writing and share with the world how I was affected’