The Speech That Didn’t Happen. The Win!

Reader Dear,

I thought you might have learnt somewhere, but might still want me too to tell you about the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize and how it was won by a certain Sheilla Nelson. Or an Aisha Nelson.

I am the same, the said Nelson – whether Sheilla or Aisha, whether Aishetu or Aisha. (One day I will talk about my name(s) properly, fully.)

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Picture mine: A copy of the unpublished anthology I submitted for the prize.

Bits and bigger about the biennial prize are known: from the earlier official announcement in 2018, from related social media posts  by various people including my Facebook post days after the awards ceremony, and from a blog post by James Murua.

In a later Facebook post related to a stage adaptation of Osiris Rising, I will mention how the novel’s writer, Onukpa Ayi Kwei Armah, inspired – and more – the titular short story of  my unpublished anthology, Lens and Other Stories

This is the work I submitted for the prize – a soft-bound book. A manuscript.

Perhaps, the only new thing about the 2018 (Fiction) edition of the Prize was that its awards ceremony was grafted into the Academic Directorate of the University of Ghana’s second day of what has come to be called “Vice Chancellor’s Ceremony in Honour of Academic Award Winners” – for the 2017/2018 Academic Year. This awards ceremony is done on two consecutive days, usually a Thursday and Friday, for the Sciences and Humanities respectively. I received the prize on the second day, it being administered by the Department of English, which is a part of the Faculty of Humanities.

All of this arrangement, it was unlike the maiden/2016 (Poetry) edition of the prize, which was held as a separate and full event at the Kempinski Hotel in Accra. This edition was won by one Sarpong Kumankoma (Agyei Sarpong Amos).

The rest of the details of the edition for which I was adjudged winner? Nothing so new. Everything quite personal:

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Picture mine: The brochure for day 1 (Sciences) and day 2 (Humanities) of the awards ceremony.

1.   Like how I had been at The Balme Library and other places on the University of Ghana campus quite more than a few times to put finishing touches on and to print the manuscript – per the submission requirements – and finally, to submit the package at said Department of English.

And how months later, the next year, I got a WhatsApp message one afternoon (when I was still not fully peeled from the hold of a nap) to come pick up a letter and sign my acceptance of the prize and of attending the awards ceremony at the Great Hall of same university.

Dates include July 4 and 17, 2018; and February 22 and March 1, 2019.

2.   How I was joined by my long time and academic friend Agnes Quansah, my friend and writer friend Agnes Gyening, and my past-student-turned-friend Vanessa Aduama, for the awards night.

3.   The surprise but understandable story about how Sheilla Nelson came to be the name on the award certificate, even though I had submitted for the prize as Aisha Nelson.

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Picture mine: The prize certificate given me.

(I have already said to tell the story about my name(s) later, remember?)

4.   How earlier versions of more than half of the 10 short stories in Lens and Other Stories have been variously and previously published and sometimes, re-published here at Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun) .

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Picture mine: The outfit I nearly wore for the awards night.

5.   The funny little story about how I came to decide what to wear for the awards night and the later funnier story about how I put away that beautiful red dress (something decidedly unconventional, stylishly formal, and girlishly diva) and settled on what I ended up wearing (something shyly conventional and formal, something accidentally mature and chic).

How in the end, it all turned out to be a hearty, event-full and love-filled evening which could neither be undone nor even touched by the rains that poured, and by the fact that my three friends were meeting each other for the first time, me being the mutual one…

6.   The speech I had written a day before the awards night, in ready, in case I am asked to give any. Because that should be expected. The poem, I had added to the speech, in case I am asked to do a reading of (some or any of) my writing. Also.

Choosing a poem and not anything prose – prose, which would have been in perfect keeping with the genre of that year’s edition of the prize. Choosing, again, a poem because of its typical brevity, its more organic, self-contained qualities. And choosing the particular poem I chose because I had it written, already, years earlier, in honour of the man in whose honour the prize is.

7.   Both speech and poem.

Because I had no way of knowing the awards ceremony was not going to be what I had it imagined to be, a gathering of people involved in, with interest in the prize – writers and academics and people in the circles of these, the prize runners-up and other participants, the friends and perhaps families and others of all these. Until I arrived. Because I wanted to not have to be under the gaze of lights and eyes twice. And for long. Because I did not want to be taken unawares, unprepared for a speech and such during the fun and buzz and such of the ceremony. A ceremony I had no idea changes had been made to…

8.   Now, said speech:

*    *    *

Speech for Awards Ceremony of the 2018 Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize (Fiction) – by Aisha Nelson.

I am highly honoured, quietly but very excited to have won this second and fiction edition of the Professor Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize.

Somewhere and sometime in the past, I have told the story of how I never remember setting out as a writer. But here I am now. Again. Much of that story was not about me.  Much of that story is not about me.

And from today, much of that story will not be about only me. I have mentioned with great gratitude and fondness, the late Ms. Wobson, my senior high school English teacher who first saw and said I am a writer one time in class; Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, who also went too early and sadly.

I have written more than a story and a song about and for the gift of fathers and teachers and friends and believers including Dr. Mawuli Adjei, Professor Kofi Anyidoho, Dr. Martin Egblewogbe, Kwabena Agyare Yeboah, Jonathan Bill Doe, Agnes Quansah, Agnes Gyening. And Kojo – because he insisted I mention his name too.

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Picture by Vanessa Aduama: My (other) friends and meAgnes Quansah and her son on the left, and Agnes Gyening on the right.

I can talk forever about the Giver of all good and beauty-full Gifts, Ataa Naa Nyɔŋmɔ.

I can talk long about my late Grandmother, Mary Ansaba Botchway; Mother, Naa Amanuah Ankrah; my late Father, Ali Nelson. And my nephew, Kofi Poku Odum – who nearly joined me here.

 And right now, I want to share a poem, a poem I was to contribute – a few years ago – to an anthology in honour of the man in whose name and legacy we are gathered here, Professor Kofi Awoonor. Onukpa Kofi (Nyidevu) Awoonor.

 

No Praise – for Onukpa Kofi Nyidevu Awoonor.

I

Grand-e-mother said someone’s one can be more
than another’s ten. One Child.
So here, take corn, salt, take
Pepper. Take that which sates and has character.

Where I come from, they say one can be the killer
of cow for feeding the whole town. (Wo)Man.
Oh smile. laugh. even in death (read SLEEP).
Shine. live and sing. now and on. and again.

Where I come from, they say he does
not age (together) with his claws. The Old Leopard.
So here, take dew, wine, take
Water. Take that which fills and extends…

 

II

fate got it
Wrong. And it’s not fate’s first time. It bit. It
chewed. And it will forever be left
With the swallowing, the eating proper.

fate forgot
One time too many that even in death (read SLEEP), some
Leopards, with one stone of a leap, kill that two-bird of
a death, of a cow, with one leap of
A life, of a life that shames both age and grave.

 

III

praise is
ugly in mouths still munching the pay to praise. praise is
sickly when the one it is poured on needs to look askance,
to look behind to see if it is not for another the praise is…

Praise
will not be forced, will not be poured, not be willed.
Praise is comely on Its own self. So here, take no praise.

Be. Take. You.—-Praise. Are. You…

 

Thank you.

*     *    *

Love,

AishaWrites, 
AishaWinsToo.

Tuesday, 11th June 2019;
Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

 

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 1)

The Onukpa Kobena Eyi Acquah love story is told. And the poetry for Onukpa Kofi Awoonor is…

The love poems for Onukpa Mawuli Adzei (also Adjei) and two or three others abide. And so does that story about Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond, the story about how I Never Remember Setting Out as a Writer…

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Picture of Prof. Atukwei OkaiImage may be protected by copyright.

But there is more. There has always been a not-exactly-little more to that story. And this is how I come to talk of a memory, a poem, and a not-so-little more.

Particularly a poem for, about, and singularly inspired by Prof. Atukwei Okai, as he is better known as.

*

When I first heard of the passing of Prof. Atukwei Okai, I was shocked and still reeling from the sadness of the passing of Greats gone ahead – Greats like Prof. Kofi Awoonor, a few years earlier; Kojo Laing, a year or so afterwards; Efo Kodjo Mawugbe and Peggy Oppong (pseudonym for Magaret Sarfo), more years earlier; and Dr. Kobena Eyi Acquah, whose passing was some days, maybe even weeks, before Prof. Atukwei Okai’s.

My earliest memory of Onukpa Atukwei Okai was a meeting that happened during my senior high school years, at a time some of my earliest poetry and short fiction were getting published in Graphic Communications Group’s, The Mirror.

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Photo mine: Some of my earliest publications, in The Mirror. Highlighted parts show my name. Handwritten parts are Madam Star‘s: one, my senior high school address on an envelope; the other,  feedback after her reading one of my published work in the The Mirror  a short story, A Friend in Need.

Around that same time, I became friends with one Daniel Asumadu Ndo, who had first written to me, after seeing one of my work –  A True Home, a poem–    in The Mirror.

Mainly through post-mailed letters from Mawuli School to Mfantsiman Girls Senior High School and back and again, Daniel and I dreamed and prayed, planned and worked, and ultimately, published the first installment of what was meant to be a series of The Mfawuli Mail, a pamphlet of episodic life-in-senior-high-school stories revolving around a set of stock characters.

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Photo mine: My personal copy of The Mfawuli Mail, printed and mailed to me by Daniel. Around the copy are one of many letters and envelopes of some of posted letters from Daniel.

That first installment – copies of which we posted to be placed in the libraries of selected senior high schools  in Ghana – will later also be the only installment.

Because Daniel and I  were more than half-way through our senior high school years.

Because we – especially Daniel – were funding this fine dream ourselves, from our student pocket monies.

Because, and even worse, we lost touch for more than five years after we completed senior high school.

Daniel and I got in touch again after he heard me on radio. I was a featured guest on one of Writers Project of Ghana’s Sunday evening literary radio programme, Writers Project on Citi.

But long before we will be re-connected and while our senior high school years lasted, it was Daniel who first mentioned the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and Pan-Africa Association of Writers (PAWA) – PAWA House, specifically – to me.

It was Daniel who had encouraged and persisted in making sure I went and inquired at the place, to find out how I could get what he believed would be a big start to my becoming established in this writing thing, something same Daniel was very confident I had a clear, clean knack for.

It was not easy finding the place. PAWA House. Nor was finding my way back home. Not the first time, at least. And I had to use different routes for my latter going-s and returning-s. There not being a clear sign board or anything of the sort about and around the premises on which both the GAW and PAWA offices stood did not help.

I remember standing right behind the back wall of the premises and asking person after passing person, asking people who were confident they knew everywhere in these parts, people who proved to know everywhere but the place I mentioned and claimed was a part of these parts they were sure they knew more than just well. What did help was that I had been told that PAWA House is quite opposite Accra Girls Senior High School from across the main road, so I was sure not to stray past the school, despite all the advice and (mis)directions I received.

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Photo mine: Parts of my GAW membership application, a photocopy.

I don’t remember well how I finally found the place, nor how I found too that the premises’ entrance was not where I had expected to find it – it was not facing the main road.

The first person I saw after going through the gate was an elderly security man.

This kind man would later know so much about me and my going-s and coming-s – which was once or not many times during school vacations – to PAWA House that, he could tell me if the person I had come looking for was around and available. Or not.

Whatever be the case, and being always bent on not wasting my coming-s, I would thank my elderly man friend and then go in, into the reception of the GAW end of the PAWA House offices.

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Photo mine: One of many scribblings of Mr. Ankrah, while our many conversations lasted.

I found a friend in another elderly man I came to know and call Mr. Ankrah. He was an administrator or similar at the GAW end of the offices.

The days I went to PAWA House and I did not (get to) see Onukpa Atukwei Okai – because he was the General Secretary of PAWA; because he had many commitments – Mr. Ankrah always gave me a seat and talked long and full with me, encouraging and educating me, until well into the day, sometimes even dusk.

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Photo mine: A copy of GAW’s commemorative brochure. Kobena Eyi Acquah, the then GAW President, wrote its Introductory Note!

Another person who was of fewer words, who was not as often available to indulge painfully-naïve-and-shy-wannabe-writer-me was Dr. Rex Quartey, the GAW General Secretary at the time.

He was the one to finally receive and file my GAW application form, the same to issue and sign the receipt for the form. Dr. Quartey also gave me a very past – November 1991 – GAW commemorative brochure.

I found about Dr. Quartey’s passing by accident, many years after, long after his burial, such that, it was too late for me to pay any last – I can only hope this suffices – respects to him, anything honourable in memory of him. Dr. Rex Quartey.

About Mr Ankrah again. (Did I say he had my mother’s maiden surname? Well.) He also was the one who told me more about GAW than I could have asked. He had given given me the GAW membership form to fill, and he personally initiated the administrative work after I returned the form to Dr. Quartey.

Mr. Ankrah also told me about Bill Marshall and the approachable brilliance of his novel, The Oyster Man.

It was also Mr Ankrah who told me about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, and greatly helped in making my meeting with her happen.

But – no – And for reasons I can only guess, even as at today, it was Onukpa Atukwei Okai who first mentioned and advised with certain urgency that I meet Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Forgive me. For the digression, for my mentioning and talking long and large about other people, when it is Onukpa Atukwei Okai I have said to write about and for, when it was Onukpa Atukukwei Okai I mean to ‘remember’…

What I mean to say, to achieve, with this apparent digression is that, that my story about my ‘…never remembering setting out as a writer’, my story about Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond’s far-too-brief yet far-more-generous an influence on my writer-life story.

That story.

None of it would have happened if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not mentioned me to Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond.

Yes, none of said story would have come to acquire the place and weight in my being a writer, if Onukpa Atukwei Okai had not, at least, initiated what would be my first and only meeting – not letterwith Awula-nukpa Star Nyaniba Hammond.

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Photo mine: The envelope and the second and last page of Madam Star’s first and only letter to me. ”You must always develop your own style“, she says.

And for people who know the beauty-full and meaning-full gravity of that my meeting with Madam Star on writer me, they can, at least begin to imagine the twice urgent and sheer import(ance) of that one deed by Onukpa Atukwei Okai – his mentioning and advising that I meet Madam Star, and who knows? maybe too his making phone calls and arrangements and such to make that meeting happen.

Now, so far, this is the story behind that my Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond story. And even though this story is perhaps too late in coming, maybe too late in getting told, I am grateful that I get to tell it now, that I tell it at all.

And this, all this, is what I choose to remember and to miss Onukpa Atukwei Okai for.

And all this is but one half of this story…

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Onukpa Atukwei Okai performing… – Image may be protected by copyright.

*

Love,

 AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

 Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

Love: AishaWrites.

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do know that I have not only been a loner, but also, always been a thinker – as in the philosophical, reflective, and yes, the daydreaming sense. The first time I remember telling someone, an elderly person, what I would like to be in future and I mentioned Writer, I was told that no one makes a serious job, a meaningful career, out of being that. ‘Beside, writers are too weird a people. And I don’t like the way they dress. And other things,’ my aunt’s husband had added. I knew little at the time to decide what to make of his words about Writers and their ways…

I never remember setting out as a Writer. I do remember that quite early in my first year in high school, I was to write a story on a theme similar to ‘Ball in the Soup’, a story in our English Language textbook. Our Teacher had a few of us students read the stories we had come up with. Then she called me – and I had not even raised my hand, to be called – to read mine. It so much looked like one of those pranks Teachers sometimes like to play on students who are rather too quiet (but not necessarily passive) in class, just to get such students too to talk. The Opening of my story, everything In Between and The Ending made nothing, if not nonsense, of all that our Teacher had taught us about what makes for proper, well-crafted stories.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could not have meant to be rebellious or something of the sort to all the tips – or were they tricks? – which my Teacher had taught, and very well so. I just wrote my story the way it came to me, and that, I read to both Teacher and classmates.

I never remember setting out as a writer, so I could have expected my Teacher to be disappointed with what I read. My teacher waited too long to give the remarks about my story. There was something ominous and everything intentional – reflective, even – about the wait. While I had read and when I had finished with the reading, my classmates had been far too silent than could be true of them. They seemed to be both afraid and eager to hear what rebuke, whether harsh or hushed, that our Teacher would give me. Theirs was one worrisome wait. In an already thin voiced which had waned shrill with sheer wonderment, the rebuke came…

‘I tell you! There are writers in this class’, was all that my English Language Teacher had said. Miss Wobson is her name, and the last time I searched for her, she is late…

I never remember setting out as a writer, so during those same years, when I met Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond, I was more surprised than elated when she gladly offered to mentor me. And I did not ask, just as it never would have occurred to me to ask… She had only read one short story of mine which had appeared in Graphic Communications Group’s The Mirror. Her first letter to me – I was in boarding school by then – was more praise and love than recommendations and encouragement. That letter was to be my first and only from her. After several writing and calling back, all without any response whatsoever, I later learnt Madam Hammond passed away…

I never remember setting out as a writer and even now, and for a long time to come – and maybe forever, I will remain careful to call myself a writer. Too.

One day, I will tell of Ali Nelson and Naa Amanuah Ankrah and Ansaba Botchway.
One day, I will also tell of Prof. Kofi Anyidoho and Dr. Mawuli Adjei (Mawuli Adzei).
One day, I will tell of Adza Gloria (as I used to call her) and one Mrs. Ruth Benny-Wood. Too.

One day, I will tell of more others and properly tell this story of how it became that AishaWrites.

Until then, it just happens that Love is, that AishaWrites.

Until then and in in keeping with the name and spirit of this blog, Nu kɛ Hulu (Water and Sun), here are two poems, the latter of which was first published in the Kalahari Review.

with heads up

They went as fast as they came
leaving behind stuffed air for reasons
around all the dreams we wove
They went as fast as they came
leaving behind tired knots for cords
on the songs we strung and sang together

the dreams turned into walls
and echoed the ugliness of
the love-turned-hate songs
For a long lost memorial,
the love-turned-hate songs
smeared, smudged on the blanched walls and all

They went as fast as they could
leaving behind fine feathers for trails
to some place without a name
They went as fast as they could
to build fancy, fairy castles
with strange elements and stranger people

the feathers became wings
and fanned time, age and more time on
their haste-turned- castles
For a sorry, soul-less thing,
the haste-turned-castles
stood, drooped under the wasteful wings

They went
as fast as they came
as far as they could
leaving me with plenty room
for everything,
and all the Sun
for all things…

Thursday, 26th April 2007

…at the scent of water

not water
not dew
at the scent of water

let the frayed stump spew green
let the foul egg vomit a being

let that which was birthed to die
find life
let that which died before birth
know life

at the scent of water
not dew
not water

Friday, 19th June 2009

Do remember
to share the Love,
to spread this Love and
to leave a comment.

Do have
a merry Christmas,
a happier new year and
a fruitful, fulfilling life.

Love,

AishaWrites.