Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Author Questions & Answers Session With Sunday T. Saheed

Zakiyyah: Good evening, Sunday and welcome! 

Thank you for accepting this invitation. We are super honoured to have you in our space. Our members are so excited to learn and hear from you.

I have ten questions for you today, and I hope you are as excited.

Saheed: I am; I am!

Zakiyyah: Alright💃🏾. Let’s begin. We all know you to be an excellent writer from Lagos State. How will you describe your writing life?

Saheed: My writing life has been a topsy-turvy story. Sometimes, it thrives, and the rush I feel as a writer cannot be understated. I mean, sometimes I get influenced by almost everything —if not every— around me as a push to write something. But there are times, too, like now, when I have piles of assignments staring at me to be done, and I slack with that same rush I used to feel.

Zakiyyah: Interesting.

Saheed: Also, Lagos is a very crowded city. You either find a voice there, or it erases it. I am still finding mine now among all the cacophony of noises.

Zakiyyah: Your book, Rewrite the Stars, won the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors in 2021. How did you react to this win? Did you see it coming, or was it a surprise to you?

Saheed: Winning (as a first runner-up) the Nigerian Prize for Teen Authors in 2021 remains one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It is a language that doesn’t leave my mouth whenever I am to list my line of achievements.

I was returning from an exam hall to my house with my mom when I received the news. If I remember correctly, your and Garko’s Messenger messages informed me of my winning. It was a moment of celebration when I told my mom, who was tired from the stress of the road. It came as a surprise to me. At that time, I have never won anything that validates my poetry ability. So, being on the shortlist alone was enough fulfilment for me. But then, God did it. Hamdan!

Zakiyyah: HIASFEST is doing so much for known and upcoming writers. Congratulations on this and many other wins to come.

Saheed: Yes, yes. Thank you. Amin.

Zakiyyah: Talking about your award-winning book, what is the content of Rewrite The Stars, your book.

Saheed: Rewrite The Stars is a collection of poems centred on Nigeria and a poet(me).

I wrote Rewrite The Stars to be the voice to call hope back into the circles of the country. To me, Nigeria was a dead country—a cluster of stars hidden behind the foggy clouds of a bright sky. Rewrite The Stars is a collection of poems advocating how those hidden stars can be rewritten.

It also reminds me to keep myself up every time I falter. So, most of the poems were reflections.

Zakiyyah: I’m enjoying your responses😁. I can see that you’re into reviews these days, and we all know you to be a poet; if you were to choose one genre, which would it be and why?

Saheed: It will always be poetry.

Yes, I review, but this is solely influenced by my being a Literature Student. I started writing poetry before I knew Literature as a subject, but my reviews came way after that.

Poetry, to me, comes more quickly than the rest of the genres. And there is the brevity attached to poetry that thrills me. I can write a complete poem within a frame of a day, depending on how I want it. I doubt this is possible with the other genres.

Zakiyyah: This brings us to the next question, what is your writing process like?

Saheed: Although unconsciously, I remember starting poetry at a very early age. Then, I wrote many poems because I wanted to, not necessarily because the poem was worth it. And albeit although many literati would argue that any work of art —conscious or otherwise— has a distinctive existence of its own, I hold the feeling that most of my works back then didn’t qualify to be called ‘poetry.’ I wrote them to constantly nail down the fact that I was a poet, too, into my head. I always had the title before the poem during my insentient writing period. I didn’t realize it at that time, but my poetry was led by it. It impeded my imaginative mind and the ability to spread wings and be the dot in the vast sky. The title contained everything I wanted to write in a cube, clipping off all the overlapping parts.

I started writing poetry consciously around August 2021. That was two years ago, and I’m so glad by how far I have improved. The process of my conscious writing is so stale and uninteresting. It will be hard for anyone but me to attest to that because I am usually shy to write when my eyes are fixated on me. It makes me too aware of my physical surroundings and, thus, get excommunicated from the imaginative milieu.

I don’t find writing poems hard; I only see it challenging to create the time for it. The decision to generate a time is divine for anything written. It will interest you that I don’t lead my poems —unlike before— they lead me now. Once I start with a word, I let everything pan out by itself, untamed and unrestricted, and it always comes out well. At least, for me (since beauty is subjective, hehe).

Zakiyyah: Wow! You have so many works in national and international publications. Do you have any tips for a familiar NWF member on getting their appointments accepted in magazines as you get yours?

Saheed: When I started submitting my works for publication, the rejections I received were enough to make me question my writing prowess. However, I got some tips from several published poets I admire. 

First, I learned that submissions aren’t something you plunge into. Before becoming a good writer, you must be a good reader rather. It is the same way a good speaker is a good listener. So say, to start submissions, read many works — especially the ones from the journals/magazines your submission is headed to.

Zakiyyah: What is today’s most unethical practice in the Nigerian Literary Society?

Saheed: Hehehe. 😂

I think that would be deliberately sending out a work published to another magazine that clearly states that it doesn’t want published works (but then, they do it anyways because of the honorarium/payment). It is a crime.

Zakiyyah: Nigerians are stubborn🤦🏽‍♀️😂

Saheed: It’s one of our socio-cultural values. 😂

Zakiyyah: For real😩

Saheed: I don’t want to mention names, but something like this recently happened. An adult-established poet was shortlisted for a contest meant for teenagers. I couldn’t contain the laughter.

Zakiyyah: This is sad. What role do you think poetry plays in society, and how do you hope your work contributes to that?

Saheed: Poetry is an instrument for communication. Communication isn’t about who is writing it but what is being written about and how it is being said. Most of my recent poems are poems a typical Nigerian will easily relate to. To me, poetry shouldn’t be selfish. A poet shouldn’t always write about himself. I want my readers to feel themselves in my poems, their presence.

Zakiyyah: It’s so kind of you to consider your readers. Have you encountered any challenges or setbacks in your journey as a poet, and how have you overcome them?

Saheed: My setbacks in my journey as a poet were doubted. I doubted my art. But winning The Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors helped me overcome that.

Zakiyyah: We are all glad! How do you balance preserving the personal nature of your poetry and making it accessible to a broader audience?

Saheed: I do not understand this question, please.

Zakiyyah: How do you balance keeping your poetry personal while also making it accessible to a broader audience?

Saheed: Well, it has been a long time since I wrote a personal poem. These days, I feel the need to connect to other people more than I feel the need to connect to my feelings. This is because I can identify some new sensations in myself from the reflection of other people. So, it doesn’t take much hassle to balance both.

Zakiyyah: We’ve all heard and learned from you. To wrap this up, please advise a familiar NWF member.

Saheed: Rejections aren’t parameters to the writer’s ability. However, at the same time, writers should check in with themselves to see if the problem isn’t with them. I have seen writers who aren’t ready to “improve” complaints regarding rejections. Yes, editors’ tastes differ, but are you also submitting the standards of their wants?

My advice to all writers is to be great readers too. The best writer is a good reader. It is the same way the best speaker is the best listener. To write well, one needs to read well.

Zakiyyah: Thank you so much for your time; we enjoyed today’s session; contributions and questions can come from the members.

Saheed: I love the beautiful questions. Thank you, Zakiyyah.

Zakiyyah: It’s my pleasure ☺️

Stay tuned; we will extend invitations to additional skilled guest authors shortly.

Saheed Sunday, NGP V, is a Nigerian poet, a Star Prize awardee, a Best of the Net nominee, and an HCAF member. He is the author of a poetry collection: Rewrite The Stars. He was shortlisted for the Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award, Wingless Dreamer Poetry Prize and The Breakbread Literacy Project. He has his works in The Deadlands, Shrapnel Magazine, Rough Cut Press, Map Literary, The Temz Review, Brittle Paper, Poetry Column, Off Topic Publishing, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, he was shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange. He can be reached on Twitter @saheedtsunday or Instagram @_saheedsunday.

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