“Poetry Is the Soul of Society”: INTERVIEW WITH KHALID IMAM
By Zakiyyah Dzukogi (Literature Voices)
(Khalid Imam, a Kano born bilingual poet, playwright, editor, translator and literary columnist, is the Founder and Curator of All Poets Network. He is a teacher and award-winning writer of over a dozen books in all genres. He was among the ten finest Nigerian writers selected by the Wole Soyinka Foundation in 2017 to participate at the Study Abroad In Lebanon (SAIL). He is the immediate past Vice Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch. He has authored many books which include: “The Song of San Kano,” “Letter to my Students,” “Sodangi,” “Emir Muhammad Sanusi II the Toast of Kanawa, etc. and co-authored, “A Clan of Madmen” with late Ibrahim Shu’aibu. He is reputed as the pioneer editor and notable promoter of ‘Teen Authorship Scheme’ in Kano as he singlehandedly edited three secondary school teen authors anthologies: “A Citadel of Excellence,” “The Bird’s Evidence” and “A Wise Whisper.” He also edited “Hawayen Alhini,” an Hausa poetry anthology contributed by the undergraduate Hausa students of Bayero University, Kano in 2008.)
Zakiyyah: Good day sir, please may we know you in terms of your literary journey?
Khalid: I am Khalid Imam. I am a Kano born bilingual poet who is in his late forties. I am a playwright whose Hausa play: “Sodangi” has been widely acclaimed and studied by students of a good number of tertiary institutions within and outside Nigeria. Last year, two German students wrote their undergraduate dissertations at University of Hamberg on “Sodangi.” The play, as a manuscript, won a brozen prize in 2009. Gladly, an academic paper in Arabic was also written on this same play by two scholarly lecturers of the Kaduna State University recently. To your second part of the question, l would say, my journey as a writer, which started while still in Niger State College of Education, around 1998, is quite eventful and rewarding experience. As readers may wish to know, I am a writer who is also into editing, transcription, translation and publishing. I am the Executive Director of Whetstone Arts and Translation Services, a firm l founded about six years ago and thereabouts. As someone with passion for literary criticism and activism, I also dabble into running literary columns. I edited the literary columns of “The Viewfinder”, “The Bright” and “The STECH” magazines, among others. Presently, l edit Al-Qalam, the literary column run by the “Platform” magazine based in Kaduna State. In 2019, l founded and still curate ‘All Poets Network.’ In terms of literary achievements, l would say, I am a multiple award-winning poet and playwright. Talking about my experience on literary administration; let me say l was the immediate past Vice Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors Kano State Branch. I have also served in many ANA ad-hoc and standing committees both at the state and national levels. With regards to literary harvest, I have achieved modest successes having published dozens of my literary works and academic writings in refutable anthologies and highly acclaimed international journals in Nigeria, UK, US, India, Germany, Canada and Poland.
So far so good because I have authored: “The Song of San Kano,” “Letter to my Students,” “Sodangi,” “Emir Muhammad Sanusi II the Toast of Kanawa,” “Barde Barbushe,” “Sana’a Sa’a,” “Kundin Hirarrakin Bukar Usman,” “Falsafar Bukar Usman,” “The Amigo Sisters” and “Justice, Fairness & the Quest for Egalitarian Societies.” My forthcoming books include: “Songs for Bukar Usman,” “Conversation with Bukar Usman.” “Fati the Nupe Girl,” “Sanata Hankaka” and “Zuciyar Mutum Gonarsa.” I am also co-editing “Corona Blues” with Ismail Bala and “Annobar Korona” with Dr. Umma Aliyu Musa.
As a teacher and writer, l have great interest in promoting creative writing among students of secondary schools, especially in Kano, hence l have established the Pyramid Press Club at GTC Ungogo in 2003 and The Arts, Culture & Media Club at Girls Science College, Garko in 2010. More so, I am noted as a promoter of Teen Authors writings in Kano. I have been organizing dozens of workshops to students of both public and private secondary schools in Kano. So far, my solo effort has yielded three Teen Authors secondary schools students’ anthologies in Kano namely: “A Citadel of Excellence,” “The Bird’s Evidence” and “A Wise Whisper.” Currently, I am the Chairman of Arewa Teen Authorship Scheme appointed by the Northern Nigerian Writers’ Summit.
Zakiyyah: You’re a bilingual writer; how many books have you written in Hausa and English? How easy or difficult is it to shuttle between English and Hausa in your literary productions?
Khalid: So far, l have published five Hausa titles and over half a dozen titles in English. As a student of English and Hausa Languages during my NCE program, and as a native Hausa speaker, shuttling between writing in English and Hausa comes to me without much stress or difficulty. But, l must emphasise, usually writing in Hausa despite being my native language poses more demand on me. Why? It is because it’s easier to speak in Hausa than to write. One needs to acquaint oneself with Hausa orthography to effectively and proficiently write a readable Hausa.
Zakiyyah: You’re also known to be a mentor to teen authors just like we do at the Hill-Top Arts Foundation. How has the experience been? Do you publish teen authors as it is done at the Hill-Top Art Centre?
Khalid: As a writer and teacher, l always derive indescribable joy being with young people especially creative-minded ones. Therefore, as a teacher my first project in most of the school I taught and still teach was/ is to create Writers’ Clubs. As a result of this sustained effort I have mentored my students to publish: “A Citadel of Excellence” in 2004 and “The Bird’s Evidence” in 2005 at Government Technical College, Ungogo, Kano. And in 2013 l have also mentored students of Girls Science College Garko to publish: “A Wise Whisper.” Currently, we are looking for sponsorship to publish the first ever Hausa short stories anthology written by all female secondary school students.
Zakiyyah: You have some literary platforms that you’ve created. I know of All Poets Network (APNET) which I am a member. What gave rise to this, why only poets? What do you set out to achieve with these platforms? Which ones are the other platforms?
Khalid: No doubt, l am the founder and curator of All Poets Network (APNET), a platform created to promote thrilling poetry and poetic productions without borders. Membership goes beyond poets residing in Nigeria. We have poets from other sister African nations and other part of the world. We are all united by our love for poetry. APNET is formed not just to produce poetry for poets. No! Our vision is to give voices to unheard poets and to deploy poetry for development and transformation of human society. At APNET, we believe poetry is the soul of society and a bridge of unity which if properly popularized and wisely deployed it could serve as soothing balm against intolerance and division in our immediate societies. My other literary and non-literary platforms are: Muryar Adabi, Arewa Literacy Network and Sirrin Arziki da Nasara.
Zakiyyah: Let’s move into Corona issues. Could you give an overview of the effects of corona pandemic on the literary art in Nigeria in terms of productions, festivals, publishing and conferences?
Khalid: Corona virus, without doubt, has significantly changed the way we live the world over. It has fundamentally affected literary activities such as literary readings, conventions, conferences and many other activities due to the ban on all physical gatherings. But mark you; man is a specie whose innovative creation pushes him some time to think outside the box. In view of that, Corona could be said to have also positively affected how we live as it opened myriad of new windows. Today, we are using different innovative ways such as virtual platforms that aid creative activities online. For instance, with Facebook, WhatsApp or Zoom creative minds hold conferences or readings. Sure, creative industry and creative minded persons, not only connect easily using this technology driven platforms, but they continue their activities unabated.
Zakiyyah: APNET called for a Corona anthology, I sent in my works too. What is the significance of the anthology to the development of Nigerian literature? When shall we get to see it?
Khalid: APNET with the support from CITAD and funding from MacArthur Foundation and International Institute for Education is producing one of the most unique and very rich anthologies of Nigerian poetry on the subject of Corona virus pandemic. It is a public knowledge the world has never gone through devastating and most trying time where mutual distrust and suspicion is the order of the day. Out of the fear of this unpredictable virus, family file and businesses have been shattered. At APNET, we felt coming up with this anthology is one sure way not just to document the event but to give poets the voice to fight back and to raise hope as well as reassure the world that the human spirit especially that of poets is so powerful not to submit to the deadly disease sheepishly. This goes on to tell you that APNET is an innovative community of poets driven to use the vehicle of poetry in promoting public awareness on issues relating to health, peace, democracy, gender, security, youth empowerment and societal development, not only within Nigeria, but across the world and this is just one project out of many to come soon and the anthology you are referring to which we entitled, “Corona Blues” would hit bookstores latest by the third week of November, 2020.
Zakiyyah: You are also curating another anthology for Northern Nigerian Women writers which Prof. Albishak and Prof. Razinat are editing. Why are you so bothered about anthologies? How many anthologies have you curated in your literary journey? Why Northern Nigerian Women writers?
Khalid: It is true that APNET in collaboration with the editors is working hard to publish another anthology entitled, “I am a Woman.” The goal of this project is to produce the first ever all female Northern Nigerian poetry anthology laced with critical notes and annotations. This is very vital because there is glaring paucity of texts on female poetry by or on northern Nigerian female poets to study in English in Nigerian universities and beyond. This without doubt is unacceptable. Hence, the anthology is going to be a ground-breaking effort. Why northern Nigerian women? It is because northern Nigerian female poets and women issues generally speaking matter. And poetry written in English in northern Nigeria has gained roots. With dozens of talented female poets in the region producing quality poetry, this anthology is long overdue.
Talking about how many anthologies l have curated, l would say so far at APNET, l have been curating three anthologies in less than a year of APNET’s formation. With “Corona Blues,” which Ismail Bala and myself serving editors already in the press, l am now shifting attention to “Annobar Korona” an anthology of poetry and short stories on the pandemic in Hausa. We are hoping to produce another anthology on “Nigeria@60” before the year winded. We have since received dozens of submissions from poets across Nigeria. This tells you that APNET is widely accepted and recognized across Nigeria and beyond as the most vibrant and ambitious commune of poets within Nigerian borders.
Zakiyyah: You are a translator and you have an outfit that translates. What is the experience like? Is it for commissioned works or free translations of books?
Khalid: Sure, l run a translation outfit as the Executive Director. Whetstone Arts and Translation Services is the registered name of my translation firm. Our major works are translating, editing and transcribing of commissioned works and so far so good, as far as patronage is concerned. From inception to date, we have been handling translation jobs from many leading NGOs operating in our catchment area. We have worked with CHAI, M4D, Mafita and Adams Smith, etc. We have also handled works from private individuals who could pay our modest fees.
Khalid: You had dealings with International Writers’ Programs outside the country. Tell us about it. How many are they?
Khalid: In 2017, l attended a Study Abroad In Lebanon (SAIL) program in Lebanon facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Foundation, Notre Dem University and Cedar Institute. The program offered us as writers the opportunity to study world history through the eyes of Lebanon. At Cedar Institute writers are given residency opportunity and the opportunity to translate some of the Lebanese Writers’ works to one of the major African languages. I recalled Kahlil Gibran Museum in collaboration with Cedar Institute wanted me to translate some of Gibran’s works to Hausa. But due to the pressure of my Master’s program at that time l could not accept the offer which required me to return to Cedar Institute to stay for six months or a year handling the translation job. Now that l am done with my Master’s program, we have resumed talk before the recent crisis rocking the country reared its ugly face in the last few months. Beside ADEA organized conference facilitated by USAID which l had the opportunity to attend at African Development Bank in Abidjan is another writers’ and publishers’ program l participated. It was about writing African books for children in their mother tongues. Writing in African languages is believed to be the only sure way to speedy literacy in Africa as well as position Africa on the pathway of development. Only a literate society could dream of any positive development.
Zakiyyah: Currently, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) has been factionalised, what is the way out?
Khalid: It is sad that the crisis in ANA at the moment has polarized the association into factions. I think the association can still come out of this crisis if the interest of ANA is placed first before any other primordial ones by the major actors and their supporters. Dialogue is the only option to resolve the lingering impasse. Concerned stakeholders need to reach out to both camps. The cheerful thing is that both camps still believed they are members of ANA, not a separate association. Highly respected elders not in support of any camps have to be invited to intervene. Writers like former President Obasanjo or Professor Soyinka or the likes of Dr. Bukar Usman can play a peace mediatory role if they are invited to rescue ANA from this seemingly endless crisis that for the first-time polarized ANA into camps.
Zakiyyah: What is the place of Hausa literature in Nigeria, Africa and the world?
Khalid: Hausa literature occupies the most significant place, especially in northern Nigeria and West Africa. At the global stage, Hausa Literature is being taught in universities in Europe and recently China. Being the second largest African language, Hausa Literature is gradually becoming visible like the sun with more African languages departments teaching Hausa in Europe and some part of Asia coming on stream.
Zakiyyah: Give a brief assessment of government’s support in Nigeria to creative writing?
Khalid: Government support to the creative industry especially to those who are writing books leaves much to be desired. Both government and private sectors are not doing enough to support creative writing. More grant and endowment to support writers and publishing in Nigeria are in dire need to wet the dry throats of creative writing and writers.
Zakiyyah: What words do I need to hear from you as a young writer?
Khalid: My words for young writers like you are simple: read, read and read good books. Read quality writings of good writers especially those who are not afraid to experiment.
Zakiyyah: What should we do to encourage reading habit in Nigeria?
Khalid: Encouraging reading culture, especially among the students of lower level of education in Nigeria or among our teeming youth, could be achieved through sustained organization of book reading quizzes via inter colleges competitions or on the social media outlets. It could be also promoted through organizing book chats and establishment of reading clubs in schools, colleges and university campuses is another way of promoting reading culture in Nigeria. Creation of online reading platforms and radio reading clubs and so on are viable options we can use to inculcate reading habits in Nigeria.
Zakiyyah: Thank you sir.
Khalid: It is a great pleasure speaking with you.
Zakiyyah Dzukogi is a 16-year-old teen author and a member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. Her first work is a book of verses titled My Book of Poems, published when she was 10 years old. Her new unpublished poetry collection titled CARVED won the 2nd position in the maiden edition of the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors, during HIASFEST 2020. Also, she was the winner of the December 2019 edition of Splendors of Dawn Poetry Contest. Her works have featured in the Nigeria Review, INNSAEI Journal, and Konyashamrumi. She has also featured in many Zoom panels discussing poetry. She aspires to be a Professor of Literature. Email: email@example.com, Instagram: zakiyyahdzukogi, Facebook: Zakiyyah Dzukogi, Twitter: ZDzukogi.