Award winning author, publisher and consultant, Hyacinth Obunseh, who is also the national public relations officer (South), Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), speaks on his writing career and on Nigerian literature in this interview.
CAN you recollect the first thing you wrote? Unfortunately, I’m unable to recollect what exactly I first wrote. I have tried to, but, no, I can’t recall. I do however recall writing a few things back in secondary school. Not something that is worth publishing though, just some stories and that sort of thing. After that, I had a couple of stories in my old school magazine which I still go back to sometimes. What made you take up professional writing? I am not sure beyond the fact that I was very restless at the time and looking for something to keep me down. Meeting Richard Mammah, an old secondary school pal did that for me and I began to write for money in newspapers, magazines, journals and books.
Tell me about your first written work and your first published work?
My first published work, in book form is Valley of Decision, the school-life story of Onome, born to a poor family but determined to make his life better than his father could for him. The message is that you make it, if you dream, and that life has another side. A bitter side different from the one we are mostly presented with in literature and films.
How much did it fetch you?
Valley of Decision sold out and reprinted twice I think. I believe twice. However, thanks to pirates and the attendant problems of the book industry, I did not make as much money as can be expected. Some teachers, headmasters, and books distributors took books and till date, since 1999 have not paid up.
How many works do you have till date?
I have only published one work. Working as a publisher, writer, consultant, and a senior member of the Association of Nigerian Authors has not been easy for me. I have a couple of other works that I need to polish before sending out, but I have not had the time to do so, yet. Do you only write for children? No! I write for various categories. I write for adults too. I write adult fiction, I write all sorts of things for various ages of people.
How easy is it writing for children?
I don’t know about other people but it comes naturally to me. I just go back to their age, time and try to be them all over again. It comes naturally to me.
What made you combine publishing with writing and consultancy?
Butter and bread! I like to write, then I went into consultancy and publishing to keep body and soul together, and then, also to share my experiences with people. Help them getter results from their work. Improve on their lot while taking myself to the next level too. As you consult for someone else, you improve on your knowledge. You see newer things and better ways of doing the same old thing. Is it ideal for an individual to engage in all three?
How easy is it to do this?
I don’t know about ideals. Are we living in an ideal society? People do what they have to do, what they can do to make our society better. No, it has not been easy for me combining the three worlds, but I have survived, maybe because I’m doing things that appeal to me. Things that I love, that I want to continue doing till infinity.
How did you feel when you won the ANA Matatu Prize in 1998?
Winning the prize? I felt like heaven. Winning was one thing, but beating a world famous professor is another. I could not wait to celebrate. I began celebrating from Awka, Anambra State. I am indeed still celebrating today. I celebrate it every day, as I remember it, talk about it, I am celebrating it.
As a writer and publisher, how can Nigerians be made to love books again?
As things stand today, it will be very difficult achieving this result. First, we have to make books cheaper, more affordable, and more attractive. We have to advertise them, we have to put them where they can be easily located and picked up. We have to put them in libraries. We have to practically put them in the people’s faces by using bill boards, handbills, posters, TV, radio etc. That was how Nollywood started. People did not give them a chance, but see where they are today. That is where the book too can be, if we get our priorities right.