Be Your Own Binyavanga


"Don’t be a fucking victim. The continent is for you to make. That whole thing of the publishers don’t, I don’t . . . can you link me up with publishers abroad? And I am like, tell me the name of one publisher abroad. You can’t be living in the age of Google and cheap internet where you can find out the resources available to you as a young African writer through the social network and other avenues, waiting for your father to make the policy or arrangements for you is immoral. In fact it is evil. It’s your job to make it." -- Binyavanga Wainaina

I really love this quote. It articulates exactly what troubles me when people ask me to help them find out about  __X__ in __Y__, particularly when X has something to do with film, literature, or the arts, and Y is the United States.

I'm not as much annoyed by the question as baffled that so many folks don't take the initiative to empower themselves with the information available free online. Every university course, publishing house, and film studio of repute has a web presence. If you like, think of Google as the Divine and the search bar as a miracle delivery service. Type: I'd like to make feature films in Accra with grant money. Hit return.

The universe awaits you.

But let's take it a little further: Is the idea that, because I'm a writer/director living in New York (and sometimes Nigeria), I must know everything about film and literature in the U.S. (and Nigeria)? How rational is that thought? In fact, I could be one of those writer/directors who lives under a rock and thinks of those who market themselves as art whores. Maybe I don't trust agents or producers, so I don't go out of my way to meet any. Maybe I think money is the root of all evil, so I just write a blog and give my work away for free.

Think about it: do you really want to entrust your future success to a madwoman? Why not trust yourself?

What I'm trying to say is, as a person who'd like to be a successful writer/director, I have had to take responsibility for my knowledge, craft, and participation in my industry of choice. I don't believe there is someone who can give or take my career away, some all powerful person who has all the connections and holds the purse strings. I empower myself to be that person. That's the only way you can make it in any business.

I cannot say I have not been guilty of wanting a mentor to tell me all the answers, give me every contact in her address book, and grease the wheels of my career--and the fact that none has materialized has not lessened the desire. But I realize I've paid myself in advance by getting up the courage to network, make those introductions myself, and start becoming more comfortable talking about my work.

And while I usually try to answer the people who ask my advice, and will continue to do so, more and more I'd like to start challenging those folks to find out for themselves (although this trial-by-fire has always struck me as harsh when I've heard it from well-seasoned film and literature veterans). Your initiative is really an outward demonstration of your commitment to any endeavor. Without it, you will squander any amount of opportunities thrown your way.

So if you really don't have the guts to get up early and write, go to the festival or conference, or send that agent a rough draft of your feature script, take a step back, regroup, and figure out what you'd rather be doing. Because the artist's path is a long road that nobody else can walk for you.

Some books that helped me figure this out:

Be Your Own Mentor by Sheila Wellington
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

--Peace and love, AL.

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