Okoro: The lore of karmalu converges cultures
Azubuike Eyes Okoro is a writer and pubic relations consultant. He is an author and cartoonist. His first book, the Lore of Karmalu, is an amalgam of the literary genres. He speaks with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR.
Who is Azubuike Eyes Okoro? Where was he born and when?
I was born in Enugu State in 1977. My late father worked for different newspaper companies all his life. This exposure to the media helped to mould me. I have been an indigene of all ‘Igbo states’ in Nigeria, because I happened to be part of all the new states that were created. My family moved each time. For this reason, I am more Igbo than any Igbo in this country. I studied drama at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
When did you discover that you could string beautiful words together?
I always had it. I started reading early. My daddy gave me a novel to read while I was in primary 4. But my talent growing up was drawing. I could draw anything on paperback then. I used to help my entire class with their drawing assignments. I would write a few words on the things that I drew. By SS 1, I could write stories. I wrote stories in my exercise books and shared them with friends. The stories were good enough to have been stolen by my friends who never returned my exercise books after reading the stories.
As a writer, what has dominated your focus?
What has dominated my focus as a writer has been mythology, folklore and science. Mythology and science is a path that led me to the true nature of mankind based on the stories that they (mankind) created vis a vis the stories that created them (mythology).
Are you a socially committed writer or somebody, who writes for arts sake?
I’m somebody who writes for the sake of arts. I wouldn’t have even been able to do otherwise. Arts is my guiding light in this path. I walk a road less paved… the narrow way. I believe that if I keep at it, I would find something or something would find me. If I find gold on this path; people would come along and it would not be a narrow way anymore.
What was the challenge of getting your first work out?
The challenge of getting my first book out was publishing. Then, self-publishing wasn’t as viable as it is today. I had the challenge of presenting my work to a traditional book publisher for consideration. It was rigorous and so time consuming. People won’t even read your work when they have never heard of you. This should be the hardest part for any writer wanting to publish.
Writing in Nigeria comes with a great challenge: publishing and marketing. Did Karmalu face same?
Writing and publishing a book in Nigeria comes with a great challenge. Poverty is the biggest. Most perceive the arts as bourgeois, something meant for the high class. Most Nigerians see book reading as a luxury they can’t afford, as they are caught up in the daily struggle of survival. Someone who was meant to buy my book for his kids told me that she would rather use the money to buy garri. Nobody wants to support a book. Business men in Nigeria would rather sponsor dance, music and entertainment than literary work. The theme of Karmalu was outlandish; it was hard for me to pitch for support. My breakthrough came when the Ebonyi State government under the Martin Elechi administration called me and gave me a prestigious state recognition for my work with the book.
Let’s go to your first novel, Karmalu, what motivated it? Does it have a cross cultural borrowing from Greek or Roman literature or even African Literature?
The lore of Karmalu was conceptualised to converge cultures. There are some human concepts that transcend culture and race. Those fundamental things that make us human. The emotions and fears that we all as humans share. Ideas like justice are universal. I reinterpreted the Igbo myth and deity of thunder and justice called Kamalu. I put a poetic twist to it that made it similar to the oriental concept of Karma. That’s how Karmalu was born.
I entered into an international debate on corruption that had people from Canada, Australia, the US, India, Germany, South Africa, Japan etc. The discussants clearly noted that Africa, especially Nigeria, is rooted in corruption. They even insinuated that it has to do with our culture. I brought Karmalu to the table and not only won the argument but got them to support my writing a book on it.
The book is based on the Igbo worldview but for transcendence borrows from Buddhism, Judaism, Greek mythology and popular culture.
Aside from writing, what do you do? 9-5 job or what?
Besides being a writer, I work as a public relations consultant. I have just concluded my plan of touring schools to talk to them about folklore and the Nigerian narrative. I topic I discussed on WazobiaMax TV recently.
Has writing been able to pay your bills?
Writing has not been able to pay my bills being the reason why I do a 9 to 5. But all that would soon change as I have taken the Karmalu concept beyond just a book but as a social movement and advocacy campaign. I also have a cartoon version of it coming out soon.
Why are writers finding it difficult to live with just income from writing?
Except a writer is a ‘bestseller’ , income from book sales will hardly pay your bills and sustain you till your next book comes out. The reason is that people don’t really have time for reading anymore. Even digital copies face the same challenges. Just as with Kindle, you are distracted by messages and prompters that come to your device. The world is changing. Writers should find a way to tell their stories beyond just writing. There is an online app now that breaks down whole books into short audio and interactive modules. This app boasts of making it possible for you to read a book like Fredrick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal in three hours.
What genre of literature do you feel more comfortable: prose, drama or poetry?
I’m most comfortable with drama; which I have a degree in. Prose and poetry are beautiful and come in handy all the time. My book, The Lore of Karmalu was written in prose, drama and poetry. I was trying to prove a point with it. This combination style makes it so easy to read. It is a style I call my own. A lot of critics have spoken about it. I intend to write more in that style to make it popular.
What was your parent’s reaction when they discovered you wanted to be a writer?
My parents supported my inclination to the arts. All my parents wanted was my happiness. They are really wonderful. My late dad would have been proud even though he might have had a problem with the theme of my book not agreeing with his religious convictions.