helon habila--a beautiful mind


caine prize-winning author helon habila

i have long been a fan of helon habila's work; having now had the privilege of being in his presence over the course of several days, i have a full on writer-crush.

his creative writing workshop--which spanned two, 2-hour sessions during the festival--was a crash course geared toward the vast majority of participants with no previous writing experience at all. about five minutes in to the first hour, i realized that i had likely been in too many workshops and classes that rendered the information he imparted largely repetitive. but i fought the urge to leave and stayed for the nuggets of enlightenment that punctuated habila's lecture.

"writing is like building a table," he said. "if the leg is too long, get another one. work at it. that's why it's called craft."

given his experience as a writer and professor, habila answered so many questions about the craft and creative process that i'd never even managed to put into words. and taking a creative writing course in nigeria was a novel experience for me. it filled in all the blanks that had always been missing in courses i've taken in the states, making references to african literature that de-marginalized my perspective and experiences in a way that was deeply edifying.

after the second session, i took a picture with helon and got his autograph. then the most remarkable thing happened: we sat down for a one-on-one chat about writing. he was warm and open, giving of information and advice. just why he chose me in particular i'll never know, but it was surreal and lasted over an hour, at the end of which i felt we were practically friends.

suffice it to say that i really needed helon's advice at this particular point in my process. needed the validation that i am not completely irrelevant and invisible, laboring in my room alone for hours on end. needed someone whom i respect and admire to say--i see you, i hear you, i encourage you to keep doing what you're doing.

i'm certain that several of the festival organizers introduced themselves to me specifically because they saw me chatting with him and wondered who the hell i was to get his ear for so long (especially since i later crashed the awards gala at the governor's mansion, and was sitting at the same table with helon, adaobi nwuaubani and zainab jallo!). but i'd like to think that someday soon all this elbow-rubbing with greatness will be well earned.

you can check out helon habila's creative writing tips from the gclf workshop here. and find out more info about his fidelity bank writers' workshop in abuja here. --AL.

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