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‘Writers need not hurry to publish’

Bookshelf: How did you start-off editing manuscripts?Unoma Azuah: I started in secondary school when I realised that I have a special love for literature, writing…

Bookshelf: How did you start-off editing manuscripts?
Unoma Azuah: I started in secondary school when I realised that I have a special love for literature, writing and reading. Hence, I became one of the editors of our literary magazine.
Bookshelf: How did your journey as a writer begin?
Azuah: I started writing in high school as a means of therapy. I would keep journals and diaries because I like putting my feelings and thoughts on paper. Often I would even be writing poetry during class time. One day my Literature teacher then, Mr. Ike Joe Ogugua, questioned if I was paying attention to the lesson. He demanded to see what I was writing and discovered my love for writing. He then insisted that I submit one of my poems to our secondary school magazine. When I saw one of my poems published for the first time, I felt thrilled. It occurred to me that beyond providing a personal healing, writing also rendered a form of empowerment. I remained passionate about writing and when I entered the university as a freshman, I threw myself into literary activities that were available. By my third year, I was editor of the departmental magazine – ‘The Muse’ and coordinator of what were referred to as “literary nites”. This was an annual awards ceremony that recognized the best submissions of poetry, drama and fiction for the year. This has encouraged me to keep at it and I have not stopped.
Bookshelf: Do you believe one has to be a writer to edit?
Azuah: Not necessarily. Some writers can’t edit their works or their writing because they are too close to it to see any flaws or errors. So they are two distinct roles.
Bookshelf: Some people have a problem drawing the line between editing and proof reading. What is the difference?
Azuah: Yes. However the two are different. Proof reading is more technical than editing. In other words, when a book is being proof read, the proofing, as it is sometimes called, has to have a sharp eye to detect grammar errors. For instance, while an editor can be seen as a specialist in a specific area, a fiction editor for example, has an eye for how all the elements of fiction are effectively executed in a prose work. The same goes for a poetry editor who has a vast knowledge of what it takes to write compelling poems. So even when a book has been edited, it still needs to be proof read.
Bookshelf: How did you become part of the Nigerian Writers Series group of editors?
Azuah: I was contacted. I suppose that the administrators of the series are aware of the work I do as both a literary artist and as an editor.
Bookshelf: What is your take on the emergence of the series?
Azuah: It’s an exciting development that will, I believe, resuscitate the near death of traditionally published books and improve the availability of books to readers. In all, it’s a great platform to continue to nurture and sustain our Literature. Kudos to the Remi Raji administrator of ANA for their creativity and push for such a lofty evolution. I also applaud the governor of Niger state, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, who saw it as a worthy project to support. Hopefully, the new set of ANA administrators when Raji’s tenure ends will keep it going. It’s an investment that will see a bloom in our literary culture, I think.
Bookshelf: Which of the books did you edit?
Azuah: I read through the submitted manuscripts and then edited the selected/winning manuscripts. The bulk of the task was mostly assessing the scripts that stood out.
Bookshelf: Do you think all the ten books deserve to be under the series?
Azuah: Yes, I believe so.
Bookshelf: What major challenges did you encounter?
Azuah: In proof reading, I encountered a number of grammar errors. Then with editing, there were some structural issues that didn’t remain consistent with verisimilitude and characterisation. In all though, they were interesting to read. I enjoyed being abreast of current trends in themes that were tackled.
Bookshelf: As one of the editors, can you suggest ways in which the series can be improved upon?
Azuah: It would be great for ANA to create writing workshops that can teach the core elements in writing fiction, expose potential, emerging writers and those interested in entering for the contest. Also, if ANA can provide more outlets for regular readings and critiquing, that would really be helpful.
Bookshelf: What do you think is lacking in Nigerian literature?
Azuah: I can’t really say that a particular thing is lacking in Nigerian literature. However, I do think that more of us need to read more, especially classics, not be in a hurry to publish, be patient with our writing and open to learn and develop a tough skin for criticism.  
Bookshelf: How do you think good editing can impact Nigerian literature?
Azuah: That can’t be disputed. Good editing brings out the shine in any text. Hence, good editing will surely impact Nigerian Literature.
Bookshelf: What do you have up your sleeve now as regards writing?
Azuah: I have a number of irons in the fire. My collection of poems is in its final stages of editing and I am compiling an anthology of narratives from the so called “deviant” sexualities in Nigeria. I must not fail to mention that I just started a publishing firm called Cookingpot Publishing. It is in its budding stages.


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