How long have you been writing and what was your first big break – the moment when you realized that this is something you were really good at?
The very first time I realized I was good at writing? Well, there are two levels of being good. The first is when you are convinced, on your own, that you are good, with no external validation or affirmation. This is almost worthless conviction because how can you really know you are good if you haven’t been tried and tested? The second level is, of course, when you come up against a certain set of standards or come before qualified judges and you pass their test. In writing the judges are called editors and critics.
My first time was in my first year at university. I had, of course, written short stories and poems, but had nothing published as yet. I have a friend, David Njoku, who was like a walking encyclopedia on popular culture at the time. He could tell you what song was number one at what time for how long, etc, etc. So, one day we sat down and I began casually asking him questions about rap music, what song sold the highest copies, what rap song won the first Grammy, and by the we finished I had a long essay on rap music. I took it to the office of the local newspaper and gave it to the editor who took it and waved me away. He said he would read it when he had time and get back to me. He said it was not likely they’d publish it that week. It was a Friday. I walked out, feeling a bit deflated. I was waiting for a taxi when I heard an excited voice calling me. I turned, it was the editor. He was waving my essay excitedly. He had read the first page and he had already decided he was publishing it the next day. That was external validation par excellence.