Tuesday, January 13, 2015

‘I Helped Close Friends Win Girls' Heart As A Teenager By Writing Love Letters For Them…’

You’d love to meet Henry Mazi-Njoku, the winner of Elechi Amadi Prize for Literature (Prose Category), 2014!

Going by his calm and collected demeanour, you’ll guess the handsome young man has something to offer. And when you see the architecture of his scintillating debut novel, UNWANTED, you’ll know you’re right. UNWANTED beat over 150 other entries to win the Elechi Amadi Prize for Literature (in the prose category) organised last December by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Rivers State chapter.

I had a chat with Henry recently, and here’s what he had to say:

Please introduce yourself.

I'm Henry Mazi-Njoku, a quality freak who loves knowledge. I'm a banker who writes, and is enthusiastic about art.

When and how did you discover your talent in writing?

I have always had a passion for the pen right from when it was just a pencil. I wrote a letter to my grandma in Igbo and it was read aloud in the village compound, much to the amusement and surprise of the adult...for I was 8 years old or so. I helped close friends win girls' heart as a teenager by writing love letters for them. It was just fun then, perhaps a burst of juvenile literary exuberance but every sentence helped hone my craft.

Who are your role models in literature? 

Tom Clancy inspires me a lot. Albert Camus too. I am pleased with how Chimamanda makes her characters come alive. I read a lot of the works that made up the African Writers Series. Ngugi wa Thiong'o is quite witty. Wole Soyinka's craft is amazing.

Tell us about 'UNWANTED': how the inspiration came and how long it took you to prepare it, any help you got in writing it, etc. 

UNWANTED took me 6 months to write, with at least 6 hours a day, every day, in isolation. We are all bombarded with campaigns of HIV/AIDS prevention, abstinence and use of condoms, etc but we seldom hear about the institutionalized discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). That was the idea behind the novel; bringing to the fore this scourge of discrimination and other ills plaguing our country, especially corruption.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about? 

I am also passionate about art (I organize art exhibitions) and travelling.

What are the challenges you encountered in writing and publishing your work and how did you overcome them? 

The biggest challenge with writing is writing. Especially fiction. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice. There are times you may feel you've reached a dead end and ideas seem to have gone into extinction. You just have to keep going, defiantly, one word at a time and you'll get there.

Who's your favourite character in 'UNWANTED' and why? 

My favourite character is the Enigma for obvious reasons. He is incredibly intelligent but a little understood maverick. He embodies the ultimate intellectual; cares little about what people think or say about him and he does a lot more listening than speaking. Sort of like a positive villain.

What next should the reading public expect from you and how soon? 

My next publication will be a collection of short stories which should be out this year, hopefully. I also have an unpublished poetry collection. I should begin writing my second novel pretty soon; the ideas have been hatched already.

Please, leave a word of advice for up-coming writers in Africa.

For upcoming writers - which includes me - please choose quality over everything. Be patient but not complacent. Read voraciously and don't be afraid of being different in your literary approach; originality is the fertilizer for the arts.

UNWANTED can be purchased online on major websites like amazon.com, eBay.com, Barnes & Noble, etc. It'll be available in book stores in Nigeria after the book launch on March 1, 2015.

Connect with the author on Facebook: Henry Mazi-Njoku, and on Twitter: @MaziNjoku

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