Creativity beyond geography: A conversation with Sa’id Sa’ad

Sa’id Sa’ad is a Nigerian storyteller, poet and spoken word artist from Maiduguri. He is the 2018 Peace Panel Short Story Prize winner and the winner of the Nigerian Film Co-operation essay prize in 2018. Also, he co-authored the poetry collection Reunion.

His works ranging from fiction, non-fiction and poetry, have appeared in Bookends review, Ibua Journal, Nzuri Journal, Kalahari Review and elsewhere. His radio dramas Halima’s Nut and On Kalumdari’s Hill were produced in 4 Sub-Saharan African countries (Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon) and translated into four languages. He was YELF’s August 2021 artist of the month.

My conversation with Sa’id takes us through his creative journey, and the experiences and challenges he encountered growing up as a writer and storyteller in an environment where war and violence were the order of the day.

How did your journey start as a writer? What were the challenges you faced?

My journey as a writer began when I was twelve. I handwrote the content of a book verbatim and presented it to my father. I didn’t understand what writing meant then. I just found myself writing the book, and, at that age, I knew that what I intended to do was to write a book. Well, challenges are always attached to great things, so it is inevitable. There were multiple challenges. For example, about 3 hours of intense debate with my father to convince him that my dream was to become a writer and not be the doctor he wanted me to be. And that decision caused me a lot in the coming years. This experience is just one of the many challenges.

What about the creative community in Borno?

The creative community in Borno is booming. It always amazes me when people think there are no communities of writers and creatives in places like Borno simply because the state has gone through years of insurgencies. Many young people in Borno are picking up pens and sharpening their crayons to tell their own stories. Creativity is not geographical. You can find it anywhere. The best of it can come from the least expected places.

Recently, you organised a poetry theatre production event tagged #EatYourHeartOut. What inspired you to come up with it? What was the creative process like?

Dike Chukwumerije inspired me to come up with the #EatYourHeartOut Poetry Theatre. I was very particular with shifting people’s attention away from war and conflicts toward love told creatively. That was the drive, and it achieved the aim. Though the creative process was tricky, a very strong team of smart people made it successful.

Could you remember the first time you went on stage to perform a poem? How did you feel?

Wow, interesting! I love this question. The first time I performed poetry in public was at a student function at the University of Maiduguri. The feeling was smooth and exciting, and I looked up to and rehearsed for the moment for weeks. It is still my largest performance because I performed to more than a thousand audience.

Tell me about some of your challenging experiences. How did you navigate them, and what one thing do you know now that you wish you had known earlier to make your journey easier?

Challenges are inevitable, like I said. I don’t want people, especially creatives, to attempt to escape from them. I always advise them to enjoy challenges. It’s worth it. However, if there is something I wish I knew earlier in my journey as a writer is that writing is extremely difficult. It doesn’t matter how talented or smart you are. Writing is a very demanding career; if you agree to do it, be ready to be messed up. Still, you need to summon some hope to carry along.

What steps or decisions that you taken which have contributed immensely to your growth and development as a writer and storyteller?

One of the steps I took which have helped in my growth as a writer is Courage. Having the courage to tell myself that I am a writer at first. Having the courage to submit my work. To knock on doors for help and build healthy relationships. It’s one thing to know people, and it’s another thing to build a healthy career relationship with the people you know.

What relevance do you want your works to have in society?

Like humans, every form of art has its destiny and destination for relevance. However, I am very much intentional about telling my own stories. I mean, stories of people like me, people around me and people I know the most. If that is what it means to be relevant, then I want my work to do that. And additionally, I want my work to go beyond pages.

In your short story “It All Began With Little Whispers”, you carried your readers along because of your experience with the first Boko Haram terrorists attack. As a teenager growing up in Maiduguri, how do you find yourself writing this with different sounds of fear beating in your heart?

You see, before being a writer, we are humans first. And every human being has life and fear. Of course, it was a terrifying experience, but it was something that I learned to accommodate. Thinking about death – as a teenager – rather than thinking about football. Of course, in the early days of my writing, I always avoided writing about my experiences, but with time, I also learned to write about them. My short story My Narrow Escape From The Gloom, the first story I wrote on the subject, won the Peace Panel Short Story Prize in 2018. So you see, it’s all about time.

As a performance poet who has graced many stages across the country, what expression do people have on their faces when they see you for the first time on stage and hear that you hail from Maiduguri?

Well, I think I had a funny experience somewhere. I was invited to perform in a different state, so someone walked to me after the performance and said, ‘Are you sure you are coming from Maiduguri? Because you are too polished to be coming from there.’ Well, a lot of times, I find this insulting, but it is the actual reality. There is always a second eye when you say you come from the north and your tongue speaks fluently. There are always these questions that come with being from Maiduguri. Somehow, I feel I am an ambassador of where I am coming from, so good or bad, I represent it.

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