Tuesday 23 June 2015

The Port Harcourt One Day Short Story Surgery - Feedback from Participants by Jinaka Ugochukwu

Pemi Aguda winner of 2015 Writivism Prize
Congratulations to Pemi Aguda, whose story 'Caterer Caterer' has won the 2015 Writivism Prize. Pemi took part in the 2014 Caine Prize one day short story surgery, which Stanley Kenani wrote about in his blogpost back in November last year. 

The short story is in rude health. 

It’s striding along inspiring competitions, compilations and festivals in its name. This year already there has been the Time of the Writer Festival in Durban, the Costa Short Story Award, the London Short Story Festival in June, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Writivism and there's still the Short Story Day Africa Prize to look forward to.

Last year The Port Harcourt Book Festival was one such event in the calendar.  Taking place in October and celebrating Port Harcourt’s status as UNESCO 2014 World Book Capital, it also showcased the short story form. 

Africa 39 was launched there, a compilation of short stories and excerpts from novels and The Caine Prize One Day Short Story Surgery was facilitated there.  15 participants, selected from an open call for applicants were offered the opportunity to ‘become surgeons…to cut open their drafts and mess with the guts’ 

The one day surgery was the first of its kind for the Caine Prize which has hosted annual 10 day workshops, for the Prize’s shortlisted writers and others who have caught the attention of the judges, since 2003. 

The 3 facilitators of the short surgery were Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Abubakar Ibrahim and Stanley Kenani.  Stanley Kenani has written about the experience from the facilitator’s point of view here on the blog.  He outlines the group’s analysis of the key elements of storytelling (setting, language and character) through critique of the participants’ own work and that of 2010 winner, Olufemi Terry.

Writing advice can often boil down to ‘write more and read more’ so did the participants, Jo Nwinyi, Ndubuisi Newman, Tope Rotimi, Ikenna Okeh, Victor Emmanuel Idem, Nihinlola Ifeoluwa, Kechi Nomu, Louis Ogbere, Chika Tobi Onwuasanya, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya, Yomi Kolawole, Adeniyi Mopelola Omayeni, Owoyemi Olorunfemi, Pemi Aguda, find this approach useful?

Here is some of their feedback:

So much learning and discovery stuffed like a Thanksgiving Turkey into a few hours – Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya

The Caine Prize Short Story Surgery opened for me a whole new perspective on how to approach writing - Louis Ogbere

[The surgery was] validating for me as a writer – Victor Emmanuel Idem

And perhaps only in Nigeria, and other countries on CAT (Central African Time), would the ‘punctuality of the facilitators’ be something to highlight but that caught the attention of Chika Tobi.  She also, like several participants, commented on the skill and expertise of the facilitators.

Ellah Allfrey [created a setting] which allowed [all] to speak, encouraged [all] to listen and persuaded [all] to learn - Chika Tobi

The facilitators made it worth each of the 21,600 seconds it lasted - Anaele Ihuoma

And Tope Rotimi put it simply - the facilitators were brilliant, warm and very well prepared

It was clear also that the facilitators had had a longer term impact on the writing of the participants.

I constantly see Mr Stanley’s face before me when I embark on too intense a description or explanation - Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya

[I learnt new things] especially not leaving my characters alone as it allowed for them to travel backdown memory lane rather than moving the plot(s) forward - Victor Emmanuel Idem

I heard the phrase ‘thought verbs’ for the first time [and I learnt] the importance of showing, not telling - Chika Tobi Onwuasoanya

Resoundingly the day was a positive experience for the writers. 
They were pleased to have been plugged into social media where they found out about the call for applicants and they enjoyed being associated with the Caine Prize and they are looking forward to developing their writing.

[The] event reinforced my determination to pour out my soul into my future writings - Victor Emmanuel Idem

There are things you feel you are good at until someone else show you how to be better - Louis Ogbere

[It] was an exhilarating experience - Tope Rotimi

Thank you for the experience of the workshop - Pemi Aguda

So whilst there are no immediate plans to repeat the event, ‘The One Day Short Story Surgery is a one off, for now’ says Caine Prize Director Lizzy Attree, it would likely be a successful undertaking if it were.

It was perhaps appropriate to have the surgery in Nigeria a country from which there have been three winners, and from which its writers are shortlisted almost every year and where year on year they contribute the most entries for consideration.  In recent years workshops have been held in locations from which the Caine Prize would like to encourage submissions. Let’s look forward to the future of these 15 writers and anticipate their future contributions to the ever growing short story canon.

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