Thanks to a generous donation we were able to offer an additional full Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award to one of our finalists from this year’s application process. Meet Nigeria’s Michael Agugom!
Michael Agugom is a graduate of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, where he received a B.A. in English Language and Literature. He served as TV Presenter/Reporter with the largest TV network in Africa. His fiction has been published in Capra Review, Referential Magazine, Courtship of Wind, Hypertext Magazine, Queer Africa 2: New Stories (Ma Thoko’s Books), and forthcoming in the Cantabrigian Magazine. The anthology, Queer Arica 2: New Stories, that features his story Tar has just been shortlisted for the LAMBDA Award. His short story Ibinabo is currently on the longlist of the Short Story Day Africa Prize 2017.
How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?
I habitually skim through websites and blogs offering news and writing opportunities for writers, especially emerging writers. A few years back while doing that I came across Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award on the website of PEN South Africa. Then I read about the retreat and about Megan Ross, the first African and/or first-ever recipient of the award. I knew that moment that this was what I needed, especially the writing workshops. But the following year, due to some traumatic experience I suffered, I missed out on a chance to apply. So last year I had no reason not to apply. When I received the email informing me I hadn’t won but was among the 21 finalists, I was heartbroken: I really wanted to participate in this year’s retreat because of its theme and the esteemed faculty members that would be handling the sub-themes—sub-themes that are completely relevant to my present writing projects. I remember my good friend and founding-editor of Capra Review, who has been very supportive of my writing, write me, encouraging me not to give up, that at least I made finalist which should count for something. I got over it and made up my mind to apply again during the next call for application. So it was a delightful surprise to receive another email months later saying the judges were really impressed with my application and that I have been selected to participate in the retreat if I still wanted to. The ecstatic feeling from that news is still fresh on my mind—I’m still relishing it.
Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat? If yes, how did the experience benefit your writing?
This would be my first. And I’m glad and grateful for the opportunity.
What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?
The opportunity to participate in a writing workshop with an assemblage of renowned writers is one I would give up sleep for, trust me! I’m always open to fresh ideas and creative writing experiences that can improve my writing. This retreat offers those and more.
Experiencing a country and her culture for the first time is, I believe, refreshing, inspiring and enlightening. Iceland is going to be a beautiful adventure for me. I’m looking forward to the cultural tours and learning more about Iceland, especially her literature.
What and/or who do you find inspiring?
Human struggles inspire me—all forms of human struggles. The everyday struggles to fix what was broken yesterday and in the process break another today, trigger stories in me. Toni Morrison and Chinua Achebe are the writers in my mind at moments like this. The first time I read Sula it was like listening to my mother tell me a story. Toni Morrison comes across to me as an Igbo mother. This is the same way Achebe makes me feel reading Things Fall Apart. The orality of their storytelling and how they weave the characters in their stories and put them through the everyday struggles of mankind inspire me.
How has writing influenced your life?
Writing for me is freeing. My stories are questions—questions threatening to break my backbone with their weight. My stories are my way of asking the world: why this way, why not this other way? Writing is my way of emptying myself of fears. The things I am too timid to express verbally, I say them through stories.
Writing has taught to listen to the unspoken emotions of those around me: the things they can’t find words to express or too afraid to express. I listen more now to understand, patiently; and not really to counter.
Importantly, writing has helped me to appreciate language. My multilingual ability plays a significant role in how I write. It has helped me to appreciate the beauty and burden of imagining a story in say Igbo, my indigenous language, and writing the same story in English.
Writing has made me very sensitive.
What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?
My biggest challenge right now stems naturally from the kind of project I’m working on. I’m researching the practice of online fraud, especially among teenage boys being dropping out of school and being apprenticed to practitioners of this crime. The fear and threats to life that come from writing against a crime that is justified and encouraged by many impedes my writing. I’m also concerned about how to handle facts while writing a creative non-fiction book (lyrical essays mostly) without the facts making the book into a boring economic textbook. My challenges, however, are what keeps me going on.
Any final comments you would like to share?
One that comes to my mind right now is the advice I was given as an undergrad by one of my professors: if you want to be read seriously, write seriously. And I would also like to add that: and for you to write seriously, you must read seriously.
About the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award: This year is the third year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in its entirety by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 11 to 15, 2018 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received over 700 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high.