Sunday, April 24, 2011

Demystifying verse (An Interview on 234Next Newspaper)

Writer, journalist and youth advocacy enthusiast, Jennifer Ehidiamen, took another step towards self-achievement with the release of her second collection of poems titled ‘Preserve My Saltiness’ in February. Her first, ‘In Days to Come’, was published in 2004 by the Young Poets Society, an online poetry club. Ehidiamen, who has a column in the Sunday edition of ‘The Nation’ newspaper, called ‘Dis Generation’, was awarded the LEAP Africa Nigerian Youth Leadership Award in November 2010 for her work as an outstanding youth leader. She had a 12-month stint as a fellow at the Atlas Corps in Washington DC, USA, and is currently features editor at Celebrating Progress Africa (CP Africa), an online portal which reports progressive African news. Ehidiamen talks about her craft and career pursuits.

I am from Edo State. I attended Federal Government Girls College, Benin City briefly but returned to Lagos and completed my secondary school at Ikeja High School. After completing secondary school, I had a gap-year. I was reading a lot and I wanted to know what else I could do with my life. I figured that there’s got to be more to being young so I decided to volunteer with a friend, Dayo Israel, who used to run a youth group at Ebute Metta. We arranged summer camps. While I was involved with the group, I got to know about Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS), where I later did a six-month internship. This was where I learnt how to use the media for advocacy. I also got opportunity to participate in an exchange programme organised by the British Council. Shortly afterwards, I gained admission to study journalism at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos.

Writing has always been a passion. I was a member of the press club at my secondary school. I started out reading Wole Soyinka’s poems, also J.P. Clark and Emily Dickinson. I began writing lots of poetry and I also joined online writing clubs. In 2004, I signed up to get published by an online poetry club, Young Poets Society. That encouraged me to keep writing. I also write short stories. Hopefully, that will be my next work.

It is a collection of 52 poems written over a period of three years. Some of it is raw poetry because I live the stories I tell. Aside from this, the poems deal with political, social, personal and spiritual issues. They are all written in the narrative form. I like to write in the first person narrative. The poems are like a collection of short stories. The book is targeted at young people and the young at heart. Many believe poetry is not the ‘in thing’ for this generation because it is not a celebrated genre of literature.

However, I believe one of the ways we can reverse this is to encourage schools, especially English and Literature teachers, to pay attention to it and engage their classes in critical discussion of different types of poetry. In addition, poets and writers should organise more reading sessions. I think we should also have more poetry slam and writers’ lounge. People should not conclude that poetry is a difficult genre of literature. I tell people, for every narrative poem they read, they get a combination of short story and poetry. It is very exciting to tell stories through poems.

Development journalist
I have always wanted to be a journalist. During my internship at JAAIDS, we were offering training sessions for journalists. We would bring young people living with HIV/AIDS and journalists together for sessions on how journalists can create awareness about HIV/AIDS. That was how I first learnt about development journalism. I started thinking of a column for young people. Luckily, the editor of ‘The Nation’ newspaper, then known as ‘The Comet’, approached me with an idea similar to what I had in mind about running a column for young people. That was how I started writing the column.

Giving back
Someone once told me that young Nigerians are very lazy and I refuted it. I like working with young people at the grassroots and I created an online forum for young people to interact, where they can get opportunities to develop themselves. I also reach out to youth through my column and work with some NGOs with a focus on youth development. ‘Before Graduation’ is another project we are running. It is a forum which creates opportunities for young undergraduates and secondary school students to do other things. We train them in life skills and inform them of internship opportunities.

We’ve done this at Yaba College of Technology and Obafemi Awolowo University. One World Youth Project is running a project which will connect schools from different parts of the world and we are currently trying to get University of Ibadan into the programme. We are also working on screening a documentary on social media and development journalism. The documentary, titled ‘Ten Tactics on How to Turn Information into Action’, was made by Tactical Technology based in the United Kingdom. LEAP Africa is sponsoring the screening of the documentary which is intended to train young people. Participants in the screening can mentor secondary school press clubs.

Culled from

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