Nuruddin Farah, the headliner of the 2018 Ake Arts and Book Festival was interviewed by Kunle Ajibade a veteran journalist, editor and author. They discussed what it means to be a feminist, his published works, writing process and what it means to be a writer. The session was an avenue to get to know the Somalian novelist better, and for younger generations of writers to learn important writing lessons.
The hilarious, thought-provoking session started with his journey as a young writer. On his early writing and dealing with the imposter syndrome that came with it, he said, “I don’t know if my early writing survived. My first two stories created anxiety in me. My second story was translated into Greek. My first was translated into Italian and Arabic and I became self-conscious. In my second year in university, I was about 21, I was interested in writing and almost never in exams and studying. I wrote a novel to avoid studying. They failed me. Since my teacher knew my class participation, I was given a second opportunity to pass.”
On his influences as a writer, he says, “I suppose when you are a young writer and want to impress your readers and critics, you mention the big names. But I doubt very much if they had much influence. Writing is like preparing the earth to bear fruit. Except you copy, inspiration comes through hard work.”
He explains to the audience that Fiction is never far from the truth; it tells a version of the truth.
On his interest in subjugation and the ways in which women are dominated, he spoke about his novel which became a “misogynist bible”. “A Naked Needle, my second novel became a misogynist bible,” he said “contrary to my intention and so I wrote a letter to my publisher for it to be taken out of circulation. We agreed to let it sell out and not do a second reprint. Now if you want to buy it you have to pay $750. You have to be a rich misogynist.”
Highlighting the importance of looking at things from the outside, and the creativity that comes with this, he narrated the troubles he had in Somalia. “I got in trouble with the state and was given 30 years in prison if I returned to Somalia. So I chose voluntary exile. Exile allows you the possibility of seeing things from a distance and evaluating things for what they are.”
On dictatorship, Mr Nuruddin Farah said that he does not see a dictator as someone who comes out of the blue or as someone who we are unprepared for. “I see many dictators in many households,” he said “and that’s because we tolerate the father or mother tyrant. We enable them to invest their authority.”
Answering a question from an Audience member on the job of the writer with reference to social issues and perception of their work, he said, “It’s a matter of interpretation. I don’t think much. Men who beat their wives would tell me they enjoyed my book. I didn’t want to be responsible in part for the violence done to women.”
Nuruddin Farah ended the session by advising writers that reading good books can help with writing good books.