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Cameroonian Writers Can Bring Change – Makuchi 

Interviewed By Walter Wilson Nana

Prof. Juliana Nfah-Abbenyi alias Makuchi is one of the few English-speaking Cameroonian writers to publish with a recognisable international publisher. In this exclusive interview, she discusses the relevance of Cameroonian writers to be part of the democratic process of the country. Excerpts:

What brings you to Cameroon?

I came visiting my family and to support the EduArt vision in Cameroon by Dr. Joyce Ashutantang. She asked me to do a workshop with emerging writers and those ready to publish. I am glad for the invitation given to me and I did it with all my heart.

What did you tell the budding writers?

We talked about the reasons for writing, for those who are not writing yet, why do they want to write? We had an open conversation. If you do not know why and what to write, then a workshop on writing will not be helpful. We talked about other things like editing, revising your work, how to receive criticisms of your work – are you defensive about it?

Or, are you grateful that someone took off time, read your work and is ready to give you feedback. We discussed the issues that go with the craft of writing and how to proceed with them. People have to learn that editing, a critique and revision are very good things in the process of writing.

You are amongst the Cameroonian intelligentsia in the Diaspora, but not known at home. Where have you been?

I have been around the world. I began my varsity studies at the University of Yaounde, where I had a Doctorat d’Etat, then I taught at Government High School, GHS, Limbe, and later moved to Canada in 1988 and subsequently to the US. I studied Comparative Literature at the University of Magill in Montreal. I have been in the US since 1994 and teaching in universities.

What’s your specialty?

I am into post-colonial literatures, gender and creative writings. I have published three books; "Gender In African Women’s Writings: Identity, Sexuality & Difference"; this is a well-known and groundbreaking book. For the first time an African critic used gender as a category of analysis to look at African literature. No other book existed before the aforementioned. It is published by Indiana University Press.

The next is "Your Madness Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon". It is a book of short stories set in Cameroon and covers many topics; economy, women and gender issues, HIV/AIDS. My third book is "The Sacred Door and Other Stories" with a foreword by Isidore Okpweho. In my teaching career across the US, I have been using folk tales to teach my students.

People will ask me if I have a book of mine, hence, I was motivated to do "The Sacred Door and Other Stories", which was published two years ago and it has been used in high schools and universities across the US. I also have many articles, short stories published in books, journals and other creative magazines. I am a full professor at the state University of North Carolina and a Park Faculty Fellow for the 2013 Class.

Are your books known in Cameroon?

Some varsity dons in Cameroon; University of Yaounde I, University of Buea, know about my books, especially those who teach in the English, Women and Gender Studies and those in the Humanities Departments.  However, they are not available in local bookstores. My books are not sold here, I understand they are expensive and I cannot sell them myself.

How do you intend to bring the books down to the man in the street in Cameroon?

It is not how I intend to bring the books to Cameroon, but how collaboration can be sealed between the publisher in the US and another publisher in Cameroon. The US publisher has the copyrights for the books. That gives room for co-publication, which happens and it is authorised. They will need a partner publisher in Cameroon to facilitate distribution and sales of my books. It is not me to do that.

How should other Cameroonian writers break the ground to be published internationally?

That’s a difficult question. Breaking into the publishing industry differs with people. In the US, a writer must have an agent who goes out to source for and propose your work to publishers. That is your intermediary who sells your work(s) to publishers.

I do not have an agent. I have never had one. Mine happened in the sense that I kept writing, went to a conference for African-American Association of Writers in the late nineties and walked up to some publishers and told them I write fiction and I would love that you see and read my works.

I met a senior editor of Ohio University Press and told her, you publish a lot of African works but I have not seen your organisation publish fiction. Will you be able to look at my works and do something now on fiction? She said yes and gave me her contact details and asked me to send my works. I sent them, and now they have a series on publishing African writers. Many African writers have come after me at the Ohio University Press.

Before now, they have never published fiction from an African writer. Now, they publish a lot of African writers, especially in the area of scholarly books.  So, Cameroonians should keep on writing. One writes because it is something they love. We all want to be published but there are people who might not be published, but it is no reason to stop writing. Writing itself is pleasurable.

What’s your appreciation of what is currently being published in Cameroon?

I have not read the most recent works that have come out, but I will say there is so much richness in what Cameroonians write about, in tune and happenings within the Cameroonian society. Cameroonians are very involved in wanting to effect change, which I think is a great thing. We do need that. We need our writers to create other realities for us to aspire to.

Many of the writers want to see a better society, a democratic society where the simplest things must not be difficult to achieve. It is fiction, but it gives an avenue that we can look at and say we can get there. People are looking at the nation in a holistic manner and not as English-speaking Cameroonians.

That is how we can generate the change we need. English-speaking Cameroonians are not an isolated item in the country; they are part and parcel of the nation. That is what I like in our fiction now. It is part of nation building.

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