A Conversation With The Writers Of Ghana (1)
ON 11 May 2019, I had the occasion to address the congress of the Ghana Association of Writers. I was in two minds when I received the invitation from the [then] president of the Association, Nana Akwasi Gyan-Appenteng. For I knew the message I would give them would not necessarily be a pleasant one.
And I do love to entertain! I write amusing stories in some of my columns (as anyone who has read “Under The Neem Tree” (New African) or Ghana Plaba (Drum Magazine) can testify. And, of course, writers in particular would remember the humour in my novel, The Gab Boys, and expect the writer of things that had made them laugh to be a cheerful fellow who wouldn’t come to bore them with things they might not particularly want to think about.
But what about duty? Would it not be remiss of me to ignore an invitation that would enable me, personally (as against in print) to share my thoughts on serious issues of the day? Who could tell whether there were people in the audience who would remember my words decades after I’d spoken them? Hadn’t I, as a young writer, been influenced a lot by what I’d heard in conversations (often intimate) with other writers?
I’d heard [unwritten] stories and advice from writers, more experienced in life than me: Efua Sutherland, Cecile McHardy, Michael Dei-Annang, Joe De Graft, Andrew Amankwaa Opoku, Mrs K K Apeadu, Mrs Spio-Grabrah, Geeormbeyie Adali Morty and others – all founding members of the then Ghana Society of Writers! No – I had to go.
So, for the first time, my feet touched the ground of “PAWA House.” I was right to go. A blind writer called Mr Essel (I think) told me about a talk I’d given to a group of young writers at Achimota School many years ago! I’d forgotten all about that speech. But he remembered it and quoted profusely from it. Very gratifying. Others who had either read my stuff or seen me on TV were happy to “touch flesh” with me.
I was so touched that against my better judgement, I told them about how the Ghana Society of Writers had started in 1956-57, and went on to lament how it became hijacked by the late Atukwei Okai, who had carried out a “coup” against us, the original members, with the help of some hecklers h he had brought to our meetings , no doubt from “Rent-a-crowd”! People who had never written a word in their lives! And probably read even less! Brought to disrupt a writers’ meeting by – an aspiring writer! Laughable, but we all promptly ceased to be members of the newly-renamed Ghana Association of Writers!
Okay, that was a peroration. I then told my listeners about the real origins of their organisation: how Efua Sutherland and her husband Bill (an African-American), Geeormbeyie Adali-Mortty, Willis Bell (an American photographer/film-writer) Bonito Olympio and others now forgotten, used to gather, of an evening, in the modest, wooden bungalow occupied by Efua Sutherland and her husband in the Airport Residential Ares of Accra, to converse about writing.
We would tell each other about books we had read; what we were writing ourselves or, more important, trying to write; what was going on in the world that had attracted our notice. We became friends and even loved one another! We just talked to each other freely, and offered any help we could, to each other. There were no signs of envy or even competition among us, for we were all pre-occupied with producing the best work that we could produce, and so, very humbly listened attentively – and politely – to what everyone else had to say. Where can one find such a crowd in today’s Ghanaian society of certified egomaniacs?
I told the gathering that as someone who had only had formal education up to the middle school level (Standard Seven), I was fascinated to sit at the feet of these people, many of whom could have shut me up by flaunting their University degrees – but didn’t! I must have said many daft things at our meetings, but so “posh” were their attitudes that showing me up was alien to their nature. Yes – Ghana had its quota of real ladies and gentlemen in those days. And Efua Sutherland gave us Coca Cola to drink (while, in the mean time, she and Cecil McHardy – sophisticated and desirable as you like – steadfastly turned us into secondary smokers!)
Were the writers in Ghana today conversing with one another? I wondered. If so, what were they conversing about? I had been given a topic to speak on! You invite a writer and give him a topic? Why not converse with him? Ah, a formal meeting demands a formal topic, no? A Structured meeting has its demands, no? Writers demolish formality, don’t they?
Well, never mind: the topic given to me was: “The role of the Writer In National Development.” I set about destroying it by first deconstructing it.
“Let’s first take the word “role”, I said. Who assigns a “role” to writers? Who could do that? Writing is done privately for private reasons, although, paradoxically, it is done for public consumption. “It’s such a complex enterprise that it’s futile to try and prescribe perimeters for it. Who was I to tell other writers – if they were real writers – what their “role” should be in the society in which they live and work? Each individual writer has to define – or find – for himself or herself, what “role” was best suited to him or her,” I said.
Next word of importance in the topic came the word “national”. Well, it must be discussed in relation to its root, “nation”. We presume we have a “nation” called Ghana. But do we in fact have such a “nation”? Sixty-two years after we obtained our independence, eight people had just been taken to court on treason charges. They wanted to secede from Ghana! After sixty-two years! Hadn’t we “settled” the Togo/Volta Region issue (that’s exercising them) by a United Nations-organised plebiscite in 1956?
(TO BE CONTINUED)