Nigerian literature tickles me
By Henry Akubuiro(

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sun News Publishing

She bristles back and forth the mini-emporium outside Kano
State Library Board, commanding a natural exotic grace. Her
tone is so cool that laughter comes without warning. Even
her gesticulation sweeps up in waves of comedy, barring a
slight change of posture.

The menace of the blazing heat is softened by her occasional
giggles at the malams displaying their wares on the ground.
Deborah Klein has a theatrical way about her, as she
relishes a whirlwind of new experiences at the 24th ANA
Convention in Kano.

The American from Florida feels a sudden surge of excitement
on the invitation for a chat. Sitting at a table in a
corner, her shiny spectacles look like an exclamation point
on her intellectual horizon. She swells her oratory to
preacherly roundness, as she responds to questions. She is a
lecturer, a writer and the vice-chairman, ANA, Jos.

Above all, she has demonstrated an unprecedented commitment
to the course of young Nigerian writers and the country’s
literature to the extent that she was accused by a Jamaican
in America during a meeting of African Literature
Association of America in New York, 1994, of being too
Nigerian in her thinking.

She beams with delight as she recalls the incident. "At a
time, I was involved in the African Literature Association
of America. I was accused by a Jamaican of being too
Nigerian in my thinking, which I thought was a nice
compliment. We were trying to set up a convention on African
literature, and I said that, since majority of African
writers is Nigerian, the keynote speaker should be a
Nigerian. The man said to me: ‘Ah, you Nigerians! You
always think Nigeria should come first in everything!’ I
looked at him, and started laughing."

Before going to Jos, Klein was engaged in missionary work in
Abak, Akwa Ibom State. When she came to Jos, she got
involved in ANA activities, and her level of commitment led
her to be appointed an executive member of the state
chapter. She is happy that the chapter has come up with a
number of publications. It gladdens her heart, also, that
the chapter, through her initiative, has floated a linkserve
called "Josana".

The harmattan air is so perfectly cool as to seem like a
cloud of pleasure is suspended in the atmosphere. She smiles
with affection and smoothes her handbag. "We started with
about 18 people with email addresses. Now, it has grown to
about 140 people." The linkserve is used by writers to
exchange literary ideas and sometimes personal issues. As
the moderator, she sometimes removes members who descend to
absurdities. "I can even add you," she tells the
interviewer, her smile inviting. "Over all, it is healthy;
it’s been fun," she sounds upbeat.

It is her desire to connect the writers to the world wide
web. Meanwhile, she would like the linkserve to expand.
Anybody who wants to join in the interaction, she says,
should write to the group. The beauty of this initiative,
she says, is that you can reach many writers in different
parts of the country. "Somebody who’s having a special
event can notify others. Somebody who’s putting together
an anthology can call for papers. There is a whole lot of
information you can pass on or receive."

At Unijos, she lectures in the Department of English and
teaches mainly Creative Writing. She will be going on an
extended leave later in December this year to assist her
husband who has a health problem. Even at that, she is going
to continue her role as the moderator of the linkserve,
because, partly, she would like to be informed of what is
going on. "I have a feeling that I would get to know of more
opportunities so that I can inform people of," says she.

A maze of voices from nearby sounds like a rumble and the
vibrations of her mobile phone elicit a sideways glance and
a pause in the conversation. It turns to be just a flash.
Emission of faint sighs. Gradually, our chat turns to a
progression of information and entertainment. "In America, I
intend to get in touch with some publishers," she drawls. "I
have discovered that a lot of publishing companies won’t
talk to you except you go through an agent, and a lot of
agents are not willing to deal with you. So, one of my goals
is to make contacts with some agents. If I succeed in
getting that, I think that would open the door, then I can
start showing them the works of some of the people I know

Her interest in ANA, she says, stems from her love for
literature, teaching it and seeing it grow. "So, I will do
all I can to encourage people to make money out of writing,"
she promises. Klein has just completed work on a novel,
Straight on to the Morning, the tittle which derives from a
line in the story, where a person is asking the other how to
get to his house in America, and he replies: ‘…straight
on to the morning’. The book itself is a semi-science
fiction, but it really has to do with "a lot of things,
partly, in modern Africa." It also draws from some of her
experiences in the mission school and a university in New
York, where they talk about how concerned they are about the
third world, yet what she sees is the abuse of third world

Klein, who also write poems and short stories, has resisted
the temptation of self-publishing, because she wants a
publishing company to pay for her effort. What fascinates
her most about Nigerian literature is the writers’ play
with language. "I am a big fan of Soyinka’s writing,
though I do not agree with him politically. I am also a fan
of Ezenwa Ohaeto. I particularly enjoy reading the poem he
wrote in pidgin, "If say I be President". However, she
identifies editing as a major problem facing publishing in

Many would say she is stating the obvious when she says that
"there are no professional editors here to correct mistakes
by writers." To an extent, she helps out: "I assist young
writers in editing their works, but the demands of lecturing
do not allow me enough time to do that. I think Nigerian
publishers are not treating their readers and writers well.
Piracy is also a big problem. When I see students come up
consistently with incredibly first point of views and
wonderful ways of saying things, I get excited reading the
stuffs. This is why we should encourage them."

She also makes a case for Nigerian teachers: "We need to
train the present generation of Nigerian teachers to teach
the students well. I see people eager to read; I see people
eager to write; I see people taking every step necessary,
turning things into poetry, and creating stories. I really
think the government made a big mistake by paying more
emphasis on science and so little on arts. If you really
want to talk about national resources, the whole wealth, I
think, is in the brain. In that hall (venue of the
convention), we have some of the most brilliant people in
the world, but a lot of them are not going to stay in the
country, because they will get killed if they do," she

Klein spends her leisure writing stories and poems. She
enjoys playing computer games and singing, too. The American
is also concerned with the course of the barren and helpless
children. There is a particular seven-year-old child who
lives with her that she assists in academic works. "One week
we may be reading Harry Porter; the other week, we may be
reading Robin Hood. Anything I can lay my hands on I teach
him." She also does not joke with her pet, a dog.

Although she has lived in the country for more than ten
years, she admits that the more she stays, the more she
realizes how much she doesn’t understand the country. For
example, she does not realize how important it is to greet
people after her first ten years in the country. She says
here you greet people specifically by their names, by each
time of the day, in a household, unlike in America, where
you wake up in the morning and say: " ‘Good morning, how
are you?’ And that’s it." She confesses that she has met
some good people in the country, as well as the bad,
especially conmen and policemen, who come to collect
"illegal toll."

A few moments later, Klein is back to the hall to
participate in the day’s event. Later in the evening, at
the awards night/dinner of ANA at Tahir Guest House, where
this reporter emerges the Literary Journalist of the Year,
she leaves her seat faraway to say congrats. Her smiles are
nothing but lavished.