On Winning The 2018 Dusty Manuscript Prize: An Interview With Kukogho Iruesiri Samson

Kukogho Iruesiri Samson is the Founder/CEO of Words Rhymes & Rhythm Publishers Ltd – an educational and publishing firm. A multimedia journalist and youth mentor known for his work with young Nigerian writers and the promotion of Nigerian writing, KIS (as he is popularly called) has authored four books: What Can Words Do (2013), I Said These Words (2015), Words Of Eros (2017) and We Who Sowed Hurt and Beaded Pains (2017). He is the 2018 winner of the just concluded Dusty Manuscript Prize contest, an initiative of Guaranty Trust Bank PLC supported by Farafina Books and Okadabooks.

KIS is Praxis author of the month and in this interview, we talk about how he came into writing, coaching, publishing and being the inaugural winner of the Dusty Manuscript Prize worth a million naira.

How would you define your writing journey? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

My writing journey has been ordinary – normal. There was no point in my life when I decided that I wanted to be a career writer. Writing, like I always say, is an expression of consciousness. I started writing when I was in secondary school, mainly as an outlet for my frustrations which arose from my circumstances then – living with a brutal stepmother and a jaded father. I had no friends outside school, so the only things I did for a hobby was reading and art – drawing, carving and of course writing. Interestingly, my father is to be credited for whatever successes I have attained as a writer, because he was the one that exposed me to a lot of books, books quite more advanced for me at the time, but which I devoured nonetheless. It was this love for books that made me decide to tell my own stories – in drawing, poetry and short stories. That was the beginning. Even now, it is still just my way of expressing what I have seen, heard and experienced in living here, on this earth.

You run a literary enterprise called Words Rhythm and Rhymes Publishers, WRR for short. Before I talk about the self-publishing aspect of it, I’d like to know what awakened this interest in you to provide a platform capable of coaching budding writers as you do with WRR.

WRR began as a Facebook-based social reorientation platform for young writers in 2012 and has grown to become a publishing house amongst other things. I started it when I realised that there was a gap between talent, talent discovery, talent development and talent promotion in the Nigerian literary space, especially when it concerned young writers. I had developed on my own. Not many were lucky to have the good start I had. So I began the Facebook page and started a number of activities that included lectures, class assignments and contests with small prize money, as small as N200 airtime then. The young writers loved it!

Kukogho Samson Iruesiri

Would you say you have been successful with WRR? What significant progress will you like to share, in terms of grooming young writers?

Well, well well, it is crystal clear that the WRR project, despite still being a long way from the envisioned ‘permanent site’ has achieved quite a lot. For example, we now have an annual book prize that has published eighteen young writers for free in three years, a self-funded annual literary festival that brings hundreds of young writers together, the only one of its kind in Nigeria, an annual poetry prize, a monthly poetry prize, small scholarships, a fully functional resource website, a flourishing publishing business, etc. But aside from all these, the greatest achievement for us is the people we have helped build. Without being too boastful, I can say that almost 100% of the young poets making an impact in the literary space now passed through our initiatives at one point or the other between 2012 and now.  A little secret many may not know is that we have already secured a plot of land for a massive writers’ resource centre in Ibadan. May God bless me enough to actualize the plan. This year/early 2019, we will launch our own residency program.

That’s massive, KIS! All the best with it. And the self-publishing firm, how did it come about?

This self-publishing idea came, first as a response to my disappointing experience with my first book. I had self-published with a reputable publisher but failed in my marketing efforts. Aside that, the cost was very high then. It had cost me more than my five months wages to produce. I wanted to provide a cheaper and more effective alternative for writers, hence the publishing house. The ideas I have not been fully activated, but we are getting there.

People often disregard self-published books for reasons as poor editing and publicity/marketing strategies. As both writer and self-publisher, I wonder what your experience has been like.

Like I noted above, I wanted to provide cheaper and more effective alternatives to writers who are willing to take the self-publishing path. The issue of poor editing and marketing often arise because many writers go to printers who claim to be publishers. These people just do a garbage-in-garbage-out job for you. What we do at WRR, and quite a number of reputable organizations, is author-assisted publishing (AAP). Here we give you all the input of traditional publishing – thorough editing, beautiful cover designs, book reviews, and a substantial of marketing/promotion. The only difference is that you pay…a very, very fair price.

And how do you manage to combine being a full time writer and running a publishing firm plus a regular day job?

Well, writing is a hobby for me, not really a full-time job. As for the publishing house, its day to day activities are being run my able team members. Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom is the COO and Publishing Director. He is the magician behind our acts. We fund our annual literary festival and our literary interventions and prizes with the profits of the company, since we do not have sponsors.

Let us talk about winning the maiden edition of The Dusty Manuscript Prize. Man, how do you feel having that million naira in your pocket and about the whole process, in general?

Without sounding immodest, I would say the fact that my book – a prose work that is almost a decade old – has won its second award in two years, plus a publishing contract to booth, is much more fantastic than the money. It is a handsome sum for a literary prize in Nigeria, yes. But I am more elated to have won the contest with over 1000 entries as the judges’ unanimous choice. The manuscript which won me the prize is the Devil’s Pawn, a book I completed in 2010. I had shared a lot of it online, beginning from 2011 when it was partially serialized on, then, in 2012 on Facebook. In 2014-2015, it was again partially serialized on where it was a readers’ favourite. The story has always been well received – it was longlisted for the Farafina Trust Creative Workshop in 2012, shortlisted for the Parresia Publishers Book Prize in 2013 and announced 1st Runner Up of the ANA Prize for fiction in 2017 before winning the Dusty Manuscript Prize this year.

I guess it finally found home after all those years of searching. You are also firm promoter of Nigerian Literature and I’ve thought too that the Guaranty Trust Bank, Farafina and Okadabooks partnership buttresses the point of how much we can achieve with such collaborations. In what other ways do you think that writings out of this country and indeed, the continent as a whole can be upheld?

First I must say we have to applaud Guaranty Trust Bank, Okadabooks and Farafina Books for putting this together and making it happen. The only way we can improve the fortunes of Nigerian writing and writers is to advocate for such initiatives. We need the influx of corporate organizations like GT Bank and of course collaborations, not competition, between key players in the industry. Individually, as book lovers, writers, creatives, etc., we have a role to play. If we all dedicate one post a week to the promotion of Nigerian writing and writers, we will make great impact.

Away from Literature, you have some strong opinions against marriage as an institution. What has informed your stand?

I have nothing against marriage. What I have are strong opinions about it. First of all, I don’t think the social evolution has carried it along. We are still thinking of marriage the way our pastoralist and agrarian forebears thought of it, even though the age of technology has eroded almost all of the structures of their marriage patterns. This is the reason why most marriages are either destined to crumble sooner rather than later after they were enacted or they partners involved just stay in it for social reasons. So what’s the point? I just don’t see the point. Let me also add that I think marriage, especially as practiced here, is intrinsically skewered against women. But who am I to say…?

Do you want to elaborate more on that, marriage being ‘skewered against women’?

Perhaps this will be a discussion for another day. I will only say this: what does a woman really get from the marriage thingy that makes them, and society, consider it an ultimate ambition? In the times of hunting and gathering, women needed to be protected, hence the need for an alpha male’s favours. Now when women are increasingly becoming equally yoked, equally advantaged, a time when the penis or muscles are not needed for economic progress, a time when women are controlling more resources…what really does having a man to ‘posses’ as ‘mine’ do for women, especially when we know that men, on the average, are unsettled by nature. If a woman can secure her own security and finance, why get permanently tagged to a man who naturally assumes possession, control, and censors her expression of self, ambition, and purpose while being inhibited in his own expression? You may say companionship…but how many women truly get this in actual marriages, as they would want it? Like I said, who am I to say?

Hmm. I have reservations about some of the things you’ve mentioned, but that’s indeed a topic for another day. Aside writing and publishing, what other things do you do, especially for fun or relaxation?

Reading, watching football – Arsenal and Real Madrid fan, cooking and generally being alone. Of late, playing with my son has become a favourite hobby of mine.

Does being a new father change the way you look at things now, perhaps?

Not really. If anything, it reinforced my convictions and gives me additional assignments.

Talking about assignments, any plans for your Dusty Manuscript prize money that you wish to share?

Because of my involvement in promotion of Nigerian literature, I have a lot of young writers whose needs are often cast upon my table. This prize money will go largely into this venture…a major chunk of it will go to the 2018 WRR Literary Festival which has in the past three years been an event that brings young writers together from all over the country.  Truth is, most of it will go into settling needs other than mine.

All the best with that, KIS. Do you have final words for younger writers reading this?

Keep writing. Don’t stop. It might be the only way to retain your sanity. And, even more, it might put bread on your table someday. But if you intend to become a good writer in any genre, try to read up as much as you can about that genre, and just about a little of everything, because a writer taps into his/her wealth of experience – read, experienced, heard about etc., when writing.

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