Young writers expand frontiers of Nigerian literature on social media


Just like other forms of writing enterprise, which have been tremendously impacted on, literature is beginning to cope with possibilities of new media. Social media publishing, for instance, is one of such.

Young Nigerian writers are taking to the all-welcoming nature of e-publishing, as they continue to find it difficult in getting reputable publishing firms to look into their works, let alone, get those ‘crude’ art into the impressive gems they could become once taken through the editorial crucible.

Writers who have had little or no luck with publishing their creative works offline have appropriated and are continuing to appropriate the free pass of the social media in churning out the result of their creative muse. Social media have become their gateway for engaging their growing readership, and Nigerian literature now, as with all regional literatures, is wearing more daring garbs due to the influence of social media publishing.

Writers such as, Rasaq Malik Gbolahan, Shola Ojikutu, Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Ndubuisi Martins, Kanyinsola Olorunnisola and others have been exploiting the enormous space offered by social media to get audience for their creative works.

Young writers on social media have even taken experimentation, which is one of the hallmarks of the postmodernism movement in literature, up a notch.They do not only challenge the norms in the writing space with their daring subjects and quirky styles, they also engage the huge questions posed by globalisation. Exploiting the quick response utility of the social media, young writers are getting their works read, critiqued, ‘shared’, ‘liked’, and ‘retweeted’ to larger audience, they would not have dreamt of, in a matter of minutes.

A regular ‘publisher’ on Facebook, Ojikutu, has this to say on the opportunities offered by the media: “Without mincing words, it has been for me an available platforms to give voice to my creative muse, and I can say that is the case with other young writers.” He added, “sometimes, the muse strikes and spontaneously, the gadget receives my thumbs and a verse of poetry is birthed.”

Rasaq Gbolahan enthuses, “it is no longer a novelty that younger writers have subscribed to posting online in order to gain wider audience as creative pieces posted online are opened to the world in a matter of seconds.”

Meanwhile, the proliferation of literature online by young Nigerian writers in recent years has not been taken seriously, perhaps, due to the fear that its freewheeling nature is bound to produce poor writing rather than anything that comes close to what is called literature. More often than not, there is a dismissive silence on the literary merit of writings on social media and a chance that such works can be considered, as a standard genre seems far-fetched for now.

On why there seems to be little or no recognition for works on the platform, Gbolahan thinks the issue of plagiarism and shoddy editing are major factors. He says, “they affect the creative merits of the writers and their works.”Sunny Awhefeada, a professor of literature at the Delta State University, Abraka, does not share the pessimism that often greets works on social media. He believes “every work should be assessed onits own merit irrespective of the medium of publication.”

Literary critic, Ikhide Ikheloa, says a lot of prizes, like the Caine Prize, accept works published online; but could literary works on Facebook, for instance, be accepted for prizes? The critic replies, “we are not there yet.”Also speaking on the cold shoulder often given to literary work on social media, Ojikutu says: “That there are lot of bad writings on social media does not mean the platform cannot be a source for serious and enduring work of art.”

He continues, “it is a fact of this century literary artists have to live with and take advantage of. It gives us young writers opportunities to get audience for our works, and more so, get those works critiqued as soon as they are published online. This helps in honing our crafts.” He adds, “its platforms are extending the scopes of Nigerian literature in such ways that practitioners probably would not have thought about 20 years ago as prompt responsive flash fiction and poetry have become staples for the Internet.

“With social media access at the click of our fingers, young writers respond almost with immediacy to issues of our time as they happen… meanwhile these issues and the way they are engaged are in no-holds barred manner.”A lack of awareness of the need to engage their society, especially the socio-political issues, is often an albatross that has been placed on young writers generally.

Yet Tope Lanre Bello, himself a young writer who has been making use of the social media platforms to air his views, thinks, “while young writers may be guilty of rushing their creative works into getting published whether on the social media or even hard cover, they are still generally committed to their society as their ‘forbears’.”

Akin Oseni, who is an emerging critic, believes, “it is obligatory for a writer to be society-sensitive at all time if a critic, a secondary voice on literary products, is tasked to establish the nexus between literature and the society in his critical endeavours.” The Guardian checks on the Facebook posts of three of these young writers exploring the opportunities of the social media to get their works audience will suffice to see their social-sensitiveness and creative merits. Ojikutu in his A New Way to Die, published on his Facebook page, reflects in vivid imageries the worrisome realities of his society. The lines of the poem read:

A New Way to Die.
Death, the transformer, varies in forms.
On our expressways, it is a friend
Leading to the hospital bereaved of life savings,
Yet rich in modern mortuary equipment;

Behind our hospitals are hectares of gardens for rest
There undertakers bring men to their final feet.

But there is a modern way to die –
Stray into a crowd of holy cows on Benue Hills
And your life will worth less
For herdsmen are not human shepherds
And butchers are merciless sacrifiers
Skilful in throat slitting.

Of a particular quality to note in Ojikutu’s poetic work is the simplicity in his diction choice while capturing the worthlessness human life has become in the country, as the menace of the rampaging herders is not checked. Yet the poet’s simple style does not detract from the poetic merit of the work. In this way, the poet is ‘a man speaking to man;’ a poetic manner championed by the poet laureate, Niyi Osundare, whose influence on Ojikutu is at once seen when the younger poet’s Facebook poetic updates are perused.

In the same vein, Martins Ndubuisi poetic musing on his account shows a poet with the grasp of the socio-political and economic ironies of his nation. An excerpt of the bard’s musing in one of his updates goes:
I hail from the green land
Really green for sumptuous serenades
But too many grey lepers lay on the succulent carpet
And the milk of my land mills through rotten breasts
The windfall of power brings pesty prongs to her nipples…

The vicious cycle which Nigeria’s elections have become is at the centre of the poetic muse of the poet who laments the failed change another election year has wrought on the country as the change still lays “languid in old robes” that have soiled heir prehensile leprosy hand on the country since independence.

Replete with concrete metaphors and evocative imageries, which cause deep reflections in the readers, Ndubuisi’s poem will stand shoulder to shoulder with poetic works that have been domiciled in reputable anthologies; yet his was a Facebook update.Same way you can point to Gbolahan’s. His updates are replete with mélange of literary forms. Something, however, knits his diverse literary renditions together – their society-sensitiveness. He is especially a very evocative and emotive writer whose social sensibilities bear great influence on his works. These works, in varying forms and styles, are regular Facebook updates that often generate discussions in the comment sections.

For all the three young writers that have been the focus of this piece, as of numerous writer-denizens of the social media, the frontiers of literature are expanding and this reality must be taken cognizant of by literary gatekeepers. The essence of social media writing is aptly captured in one of Gbolahan’s Facebook updates: “the endless drama, the hilarious comments, the suspense, the right and wrong perspectives, the bitter stories, the fear and courage, the resilience and commitment, the setbacks and determination to survive, the hope and love, the virtual and physical interactions… it is really good to be here… on this space where strangers knot the tie of friendship.”

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