Anthony Kan Onwordi, popularly known as Toni Kan, is an award-winning Nigerian writer, editor and public relations executive. He is author of the collection of short stories, Nights of a Creaking Bed and Carnivorous City. In this interview with Tony Okuyeme, he talks about his writing career, Nollywood, live theatre and way forward.
Night of the Creaking Bed is arguably your most talkedabout books. If you were to revisit it or even do a sequel, what are the things you would have done differently or expunged from the book?
Toni Kan: Nothing, the book is done. I will not do a sequel.
So what inspired the writing of Nights of a Creaking Bed?
Toni Kan: ‘Nights of a Creaking Bed’ is the, I guess, only Nigerian book that has not gone out of print for 10 years. This is the 10th year in print, which is for me a big deal. I am not sure if there is any Nigerian book that has been in print for 10 years. So, that for me is a big deal. And last year, the publishers decided to do a new print, they added two more stories. It was launched in London. I guess it is something that will define my career. People like it, people are reading it.
So, as I said, it is a finished book, but for this new edition we added two more stories just to ensure that there is something new in it.
As for the inspiration, I was new in Lagos, trying to figure out how Lagos was. IF you live in Lagos you will know it…
Carnivorous City, what is the idea behind it?
Toni Kan: The book took me about 15 years to write, not the physical writing but thing about it. I wanted to write a definitive Lagos novel. In my research I found out that novels about Lagos are usually about either the mainland or about the island, I had read People of the City by Cyprian Ekwensi, Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta, and I have also read Alpha Song by Maik Nwosu, and to an extent, Chris Abani’s GraceLand; and they all talked about Lagos, which are all about the poor, the ghettoes. I wanted to write a novel that would have its setting on both parts of Lagos – mainland and Island. None of them could write a story that captured both the Island and mainland. Lagos is those two parts. I wanted to write a story that would merge those two areas.
In 2002, I wrote a novel titled The Fourth Cousin, about 100 pages. I entered it for an award at HeinrichBoll Foundation, and I won an award. I was supposed to go and finish the book while in Germany, but by the time I got to Germany, I realised that I was doing the thing they were doing, it was about the mainland. So I just dumped the story – I still have it – and I wrote Ballad of Rage which was shortlisted for the NLNG Prize for Literature. So, from 2002 I was thinking about this story to write, and it came out in 2006. You can imagine the time it took. One day I was drinking with my friend from Kenya, we were in Ikoyi, and I saw these Yahoo Yahoo boys boys walked in with blood shot eyes and sagging trousers. I just thought that these were boys that grew up, maybe, in Mushin or Bariga, and who are now living in Ikoyi. So, I felt that is the story I want to write. They know how to navigate the mainland and also the Island. That is how the story came.
I thought it would be nice to have a character that makes money from the mainland but lives on the island. And I wanted to do a story that would also be universal; you know the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible. So, that was how the story came.
What is your opinion of the Nigerian movie industry Nollywood, especially last year?
Toni Kan: Nollywood did better last year. I saw Lion Heart; I saw ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’, they are very good films. Up North was very good; Mokalik was very good. A few other ones made money… Then Netflix came calling…
The important thing is that the stories are going out, people are seeing Nollywood beyond just DSTV and NTA. It is going to the whole world, and it is a good thing. We should focus more on the biz now, the show is okay.
Everybody, whether it is Nollywood or music or writing, we should focus more on the business. The show is okay.
How was the arts and culture, especially literature and Nollywood, in 2019?
Toni Kan: I think it was a good year for the arts; in many areas things picked up. In the past five years things have been leaning more towards fiction, novels. Many young writers became globally recognized; there have been more awards, and so many events happening around fiction and non-fiction genres.
Also, there is more drama, the stage is coming alive. It used to be, but then there was a lull, and it is back again. In fact, there has been so much happening in the live theatre sector. There is rebirth in that area.
Poetry used to be the mainstay for many writers but it has taken a back seat. Now poets, apart from Dami Ajayi, there is no serious poet now in contention; most people are now spoken word poets. But when it comes to the written word, Dami Ajayi is the one holding up that space. So, things are changing; things are happening. But the whole focus is more on the fiction and non-fiction.
Also, we had the Quramo Prize, LABAF, the Quramo Festival happening for the first time, there was also Art X… so the space is opening up, and I think that as the space opens up and people do these things, two years or six years, the corporate sector will come in. So from there we move from the show to the biz. But for now it is just a labour of love and passion.
What are your expectations this year?
Toni Kan: We are in 2020, Ake Festival will happen; Quramo Prize will happen; NLNG Prize this year is on fiction, we have LABAF; we have Lagos Fringe Festival; Felabration is there… We also have festivals in the film industry, in the theatre industry, spoken word industry, and so on. So, the space is really growing.
This year, I am sure from October to December we won’t rest, there will be a lot happening to engage us. It is good. If you are a culture person you won’t lack what to do and where to go. Before, we had go abroad to attend festivals but now we have them, the world is coming to see us.
People are doing great things, putting their money, their time, and hopefully, the corporate sector will come in to give their support and they can sustain it.
What should your teeming fans expect from you this year?
Toni Kan: In the past five or six years, my partner Peju Akande and I, we have published a book every year. We’ve done biographies of a lot of people in Nigeria. We are doing for a king and a CEO this year. We’ve produced a book every year for the past six years. So we are working, and we will keep working. We have three book we are working on which will be published this year – two biographies and one book for Goethe Institut. So, I am very busy; I write; that is what I do; I like to write. The three books are coming out this year
How do you unwind?
Toni Kan: I have fun a lot. I wake up early, I walk and then I go and have fun. I try to have fun; I try to network. People often wonder how I find time to do this job? My answer is I enjoy it, and I get paid for it.
First published !