Interrogating the Learning Process: A Dialogue with Anthony Ukwuoma

INTERROGATING THE LEARNING PROCESS

A DIALOGUE WITH ANTHONY UKWUOMA

Anthony Chibueze Ukwuoma is a budding writer from Orlu in South Eastern Nigeria. His works have appeared in Praxis Magazine and Stripes Magazine, where he is also an editor. He currently lives in Owerri. He is a mechanical engineering student, combining studies with writing. He loves watching football, sitcoms and nature shows. He believes in telling human stories, regardless of genre and form. 

Edith Knight Magak

BY EDITH MAGAK

This conversation took place between the cool and spacious Kenya National Library in Buruburu, Nairobi, Kenya and the noisy off-campus students’ hostel in the serene city of Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria, via WhatsApp.

Edith: Reading your essay, Nee Uwe Nwa m, Joseph, in The Good Teacher Anthology, I totally identified with the part where you wrote how you could remember the poem your teacher taught you in nursery school, as opposed to when you write about the university that “After each semester examination, I forget almost everything I had learnt.”

Anthony: Yes, I find it strange that I can remember a poem from nursery school, and lyrics of Eminem’s songs, but cannot remember what I wrote in my previous semester exam.

Edith: The same rings true for me; I remember songs and poems from nursery school but can hardly remember the units I learnt in university, despite acing the end of semester examinations. Why do you think this happens? Is it the system? Is the problem with us as learners? The teachers? Or is this a great deep dark mystery? 

You mention having to watch a video from memory coach Jim Kwik to help you learn. Is it because we do not know how? Then, does that mean that our nursery school teachers were better educators?

Anthony: In nursery school, the teacher also plays the role of a mother; she comforts her pupils, she sings her lessons to the pupils, she laughs with them. So it does not seem like work to either the kids or the teacher.

As we go higher in the classes, learning becomes tedious and boring, you notice that the fun is no longer there. Sometimes it is because teachers expect more from students, and this creates a gap between the students and the teacher. This gap requires extra work from the students to bridge, and in most cases, the students do not find it interesting to do this work. Then there is the problem of individual brilliance, and ability to assimilate and focus. 

As the students progress with classes, they meet teachers with greater expectations. Of course, the secondary school teachers shouldn’t be blamed for teaching their students based on the assumption that the students have a basic understanding of what they are being taught. Some students will easily understand, some will have to re-learn the basics, some will get confused and find it boring. The teacher then moves on as they have to cover the syllabus before the term ends. So you discover that students with a shaky foundation will not do as well as the students who were taught by better teachers in primary school. Similarly, students who are academically faster perform better than those who are gifted differently. Hence, it is the faster students that make it seem like the system is effective. Jim Kwik teaches that, “Information combined with emotion creates memory.” Hence, I believe that we forget some of the things we learned because we did not find the learning process interesting.

Edith: You are right. In nursery school, it does not seem like learning is hard, in fact it is more like play because there is so much fun involved in it. But as we progress, as you rightly say, more is expected from us and in such little time we have to keep up. In that process, some of us fall behind, and now it is not fun anymore.

I remember in high school I never understood chemistry, so I always fell behind. In fact, every time I think about my worst memories in high school, it is those moments in the laboratory doing titration and waiting for colors to change in the test tubes while writing weird formulas. Other students seemed to understand and flow along well, so it felt to me like I just was not clever enough. 

Anthony: I think that the environment also affects the students’ education. Of course, this may not be true for everyone. When I was in JSS2, my younger siblings, Obinna and Chidimma, would come back from school, singing what they had learnt at school. For instance, it was from their lips that I first heard of the first twenty elements on the periodic table, and the books that make up the Bible. They were in primary 3 and primary 4, and they could recite these facts and poems. Of course, I learned from them, and till today, I can recite all the things they learned from school and sang at home. Indeed, the knowledge I gained from them made it easier for me to learn some of my subjects.

I agree with Jim Kwik when he says that “learning is state dependent”.  How the students feel during the learning process matters.

However, the illustration I gave above applies to a system that is functioning the way it was intended to, not minding the fault in the system. Now, imagine when students are following a faulty system.

Yesterday in class, our lecturer said, “This is a ‘Help Yourself’ Institution”. Obviously, this is an indication that the system that my university is operating on is faulty. My lecturer blamed it on the state government, who are unable to fund the university. Therefore, I cannot just say it’s the system, or the teachers, or the learners.

Firstly, the system as it is does not benefit all the students. In order to solve this problem, the government has a role to play. Parents also have a role to play.  It would seem that the Nigerian government has failed schools, and schools have failed students and teachers.

Edith: I see what you are saying; that the environment and even individuals, learners and teachers, contribute to this. But importantly, the system does not always benefit all students. 

Speaking of systems, from your essay I noticed that your education was under a religious umbrella, to call it that. All the way from nursery school, where you talk of learning in a Catholic church compound, and then transferring to St. Maria Goretti where your teacher was a Reverend Sister. In junior high and senior high you were taught by Reverend Fathers.  How do you think this influenced your education as opposed to, let’s say, if you had gone to a community school, where your mother taught?

Anthony: The community school where my mother taught was just outside my school gates. They did not have perimeter walls like we did. They enjoyed a certain amount of freedom which wemy classmates and Iyearned for then. 

They played longer, left school when it pleased them, wore their uniforms and the sandals however they wanted, did not have to wear socks and did not stay behind for lessons or preps after dismissal time. 

This freedom that I think they enjoyed might be because their teachers were tired of bothering themselves about disciplining the students. The teachers did not have their employer as the school principal, who had the power to sack them or deduct money from their salaries. Or perhaps, the teachers in public schools were demoralized because their salaries and wages were often owed to them. Or perhaps they were understaffed.

Ever since I have known my mother, she has taken the teaching profession seriously. She talks about her students at home. They love her. Sometimes they offer her fruits as gifts.

Edith: You’ve actually reminded me of how I used to pluck what I thought were flowers, and take them to my English teacher. But now that I look back, I realize with horror that those were weeds. But she always so graciously kept them on her desk. Please, go on.

Anthony: My mother always taught primary 4 or Primary 5 students. She was always among the junior teachers in any school she was transferred to teach. She would say that the senior teachers, the teachers who were employed before her, preferred teaching in the nursery classes or foundation classes. They felt that teaching the younger children would be relatively easy. My mother would make remarks about her Primary 5 or 6 students, indicating that they had a very poor background.

In Catholic schools, they do not just teach the students the subjects in the standard syllabus. We had subjects like Christian Doctrine and Moral Instructions at assembly every Thursday; we celebrated Mass every Wednesday, prayed every morning on the assembly ground, sometimes in Latin. On a few occasions, we proceeded to the cathedral while praying the rosary. I was taught to be Catholic, to be holy, to respect people, to fear God, to fear hell. 

I’ve often wondered how schooling in the same compound for over 12 years affected me (St. Maria Goretti and St. Joseph’s shared the same compound). I have not really imagined how my life would have turned out if I had gone to a public school. I think that my school and my mother’s school were at different ends of the spectrum.

Edith: Your school experience makes me think of my high school. I went to a girl’s boarding school which was Catholic, and I was shocked. I mean, after eight years in a public primary school, which was fairly cool, you know, as long as you did your homework, were not late to class, and wore your uniform, everything was breezy. But in high school, now there was mass every Wednesday and Sunday. During Lent we could not eat meat, we prayed the rosary every morning, and had to go to confession. I even almost converted to Catholicism towards the end of high school because it was a denomination I was familiar with. 

But for you, the experience was certainly much longer, so do you still practice Catholicism? And I am very curious to know if at any point you ever thought about becoming a priest.

I believe that we forget some of the things we learned because we did not find the learning process interesting.

Anthony: I was born into a Catholic home. My parents attended morning mass almost daily. I would attend catechism and block rosary. After my primary school, I applied for admission into a seminary school. I wanted to attend seminary school at the time, but in retrospect I am grateful that I didn’t. I remember arguing with my non-Catholic friends at school that Catholicism is the ultimate religion. I have now had to unlearn many things that I misunderstood because of ignorance.

A few days ago, I was arguing with my roommate about religion and the fact that human beings, no matter how ordained they are, can make mistakes, and people are so blinded by belief that they see their religious leaders as Jesus himself. I realized that I would have been on his side of the argument a few years ago. I still practice Catholicism, but not as I used to practice it a few years ago. 

Yes, I once wanted to be a priest and people called me a seminarian because of the way I behaved. Stories of the saints touched me, St. Anthony and many others. I think most people see priests as saints, not as human beings who can make errors. I want to be seen as human; mud and god. I do not want to be believed because of what I am, but because I’m telling the truth. I want to be criticized, encouraged and corrected. Priests are expected to be perfect. I did not think about all that then. Now, I just want to live and do the things that feel ordinary to me.

Edith: Wow! This is interesting. I knew there was going to be a ‘deep story’ there. So, tell me, at first you wanted to get into seminary, but didn’t. 

Anthony: I think I was just a boynine or ten years old.

Edith: And then, as you write, “My decision to be a science student is influenced by the opinion of those around me. I am led to believe that those who study science will have more career opportunities than their counterparts in arts.”

It is astonishing how prevalent this thought is, right? That the sciences are ‘better’ than arts. Even here in Kenya, many people have bought into that idea. I am always baffled every time I hear this. Is that why you got into engineering? 

Anthony: My elder brother did not choose science. He’s a graduate now, he studied economics. As I recall, my father wasn’t thrilled with his decision, although my father studied an arts-related course in school. I believe my father wants the best for his children. I knew I had the freedom to choose whichever field I wanted to study, but I think that influenced my choice, given that I never really knew what I wanted to be in the future. I have four other siblings and they all went into the sciences. 

I remember my best friend from junior secondary, who said he would go into arts because he did not like botanical names and long scientific words. I agreed with him. But when I thought about all the fancy professions that people valued; medical doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, most of these esteemed professions were in the sciences, except law. My grandma said that lawyers are terrible people, liars. Perhaps I could have been a banker, but the same way you did not ‘get’ chemistry in school, I didn’t seem to get business-related subjects, so banking was a no for me.

I went into science in my SS2. I found science subjects such as physics and geography intriguing; they offered explanations to the things that I saw as mystery or magic. It fascinated me. Although I was not the best physics student, I was passionate about learning it. So, I started dreaming. I wanted to build aircrafts and rockets, go to space and change the world. I wanted to understand how things worked. I wanted to build things and make life simple. So, I Googled mechanical engineering, and I had goosebumps. I watched A Day into the Life of a Mechanical Engineer on YouTube and believed I was born to be a mechanical engineer, nothing else.

I chose mechanical engineering. But when I got into the university, I was disappointed; the university was not how I envisioned it.

Edith: There used to be this program on TV years ago called Boy Meets World, where the ‘boy’ as he grew up, noticed and then had to face the reality of life’s challenges, and maybe the disillusionment is also wearing off for you, now that you have to reckon with reality. When I was younger, like all the children in my class, I read Gifted Hands and Think Big by Ben Carson. That year, and for years after, we all wanted to be neurosurgeons (laughs). Long story short, my school alumni is yet to have a neurosurgeon. 

Anthony: Yes, I agree with you. A lot of my classmates then wanted to be doctors after reading Ben Carson’s books, and watching the movie made about him. But now, some of them who are lucky are studying pharmacy or optometry in the university because of how difficult it is to get admission to study the course of their choice in the institution of their choice. I am sure they must have adapted to their situations. I can say the same for my elder sister, who applied to study medicine in university. She is a graduate of Zoology, a course she eventually came to love and appreciate. In my case, when I encountered physicists like Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla and Michael Faraday in secondary school, I was intrigued by their works and their brilliance, such that at one point I dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize in physics (laughs).

Also, TV shows on Discovery Channel also inspired a lot of childhood dreams for me. But as you rightly said, we dream as children and grow up to reckon with reality.

Edith: What comes out so strongly in your story, and that is a truth I’ve also seen, is that when the illusion wears off, we still have teachers who inspire us by their actions, teachers that make us hold on to our dreams. You write, 

“The teachers in my school are paid below minimum wage. They are victims of the exploitations of mission schools, which claim to be doing God’s work. The management of these mission schools does not consider God when they accept tuition from their students; they only remember him on their staff payroll. I am inspired by the stories of Mr Eririogu and Mr Elechi. Even though I know their struggle, I want to be like them. I want to learn what they know.”

Later on, you write“We are told that our lecturers are not paid well and that sometimes their salaries are delayed. But it is Professor Anyaku’s story that touches me the most. He is an adjunct professor whose salary they have not paid in months. The government stopped paying adjunct lecturers, he tells us. Other adjunct lecturers in my department no longer come to teach us, but Professor Anyaku continues to come from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, to teach us Metallurgy.”

You also talk about teachers like Mrs Augustina, Ms Mephus, Fr Longi, Mr Isiohia, teachers who you refer to when you say “it is the individual efforts of some teachers to ensure that we thrive that strengthens my faith in classroom education.”

How do you think your learning/education would have shaped out if you did not have teachers like the ones you mentioned?

Anthony: It is difficult to imagine what could have kept me in school if I did not have the teachers I had; teachers in whose hands I was like clay, their words gave me magnitude, their examples influenced my direction. I know people who quit school at a very early stage to learn some trade. I also know people who did not do very well when they were in school. These individuals grew up to become parents. They sent their children to school as infants, but not truly because they believed in school, but because of what people might say. Eventually, their children  dropped out of  school. I see such children a lot in my hometown, Orlu. You find them hawking drinks or fruits, or wandering about the village. I know one of them; he assists his mother in her restaurant and it seems that his mother is not bothered that her ten-year-old son does not go to school. Of course, reading and writing are not the only things children learn at school. When the parents of such children fail to give them necessary attention, the children may learn certain things their own way.

Hence, you discover that some parents have a poor impression of school; perhaps they never had good teachers. Another factor is that people find it difficult to be inspired by struggling teachers. My course mates would say things like, “Look at your lecturer’s car and dressing, then look at Peter, he does not come to school every day, but look at his car, look at his shoes…” 

There is this popular saying among Nigerian students, “School na scam.” They argue that school has failed them. I know my course mates who no longer come to class, they have either travelled abroad, or have chosen to “find money”. It is important to consider that these people had big dreams at one point in their lives. Now, the dream is to stay out of poverty.

If I did not have the teachers I had and still have, I would be more demoralized to learn. I would have developed another dream that did not require me to stay in the class. That would be ironic because my grandmother is always voicing her agony of having not gone to school. She would tell me that in her next life, she would go to school, she would be a prodigy, a scholar. I would laugh; I mean, it is not the 1940’s anymore. Then, people’s lives were changed with just elementary school education. Now you see people with advanced degrees regretting the fact that they did not do something else with their lives.  So, I would say to myself, if school is still like this in my next life, I would not go to school. I would invite a few good teachers to my home and befriend them.

Edith: I’m thinking about your last statement. Many people in my circle here in Nairobi, in the last couple of years, have gone the homeschooling way. Homeschooling as a concept has really caught on here. But that is still a small minority compared to the millions of children, especially in rural areas who do not have that privilege. Do you think the future of education is homeschooling, or maybe virtual learning? Or will we always have schools?

Anthony: I think that learning is different for everyone. What works for me might not work for you. The idea of homeschooling is good. The intent of school is great. What is important is that a child gets educated in a way that benefits them.

Bereft of proper education, we would be worse than animals, wallowing in ignorance. We’d have more ambitious men who spread falsehood about their made-up gods and their made-up will, conspiracy theorists and war seekers, leaders who abuse power, and people who do not know their rights. We would have zombies.

When I say education, the school building should not come to one’s mind. Books, learners and teachers should come to one’s mind; teaching, learning, understanding and practicing should come to one’s mind.

I think the future of education is having more good teachers; teachers who are passionate about teaching, teachers who are accorded the respect they deserve by the government and society. We need honest and successful teachers who derive joy from seeing their students succeed, not the teacher who enters the classroom to threaten the students with failure instead of spending their time teaching.

Edith: I like what you say here: “When I say education, the school building shouldn’t come to one’s mind. Books, learners and teachers should come to one’s mind; teaching, learning, understanding and practicing should come to one’s mind.”

In your essay you talk about teachers who have instructed you in the craft of writing, outside the walls of a classroom. You mention the people you have met along the way, like Darlington Anuonye and Onyedikachi Ottih. 

If you were to compare the structures of the lessons you have received from your teachers; teachers in the school system, and teachers you have had outside of it, are there differences in their methods of instruction?

Anthony: Some teachers in the school system have a habit of threatening their students with failure. I’ve attended several lectures where the lecturer spent a reasonable amount of time telling us about the stress and frustration he went through to obtain his PhD, and then telling us how the exam will be tough for us, and then spending the little time left of the two hours to lecture us on two broad topics.

I was speaking with a friend from a different institution who was complaining about this issue. According to her, some lecturers seem to want them to fail. I agree with her, some teachers enjoy it when their students fail.

In their defense, the lecturers would say that it is easier to assess all their students’ scripts if the majority performed woefully, than to mark the scripts of a class full of smart students. I think this is a problem that can be solved by reducing the load of these teachers, by employing more teachers who are not only qualified, but will affect the students positively. I also feel it is a form of vengeance or grudge, in the sense that the lecturers’ teachers probably frustrated them, hence they tend to uphold the tradition. 

I think that one of the things good teachers have in common is the burning desire to see their students succeed in school and in life. If I were a teacher, my joy would be tied to my students’ success and happiness. This desire to see their students grow is one of the major factors that distinguish the good teachers from the rest.

The teachers I have had outside the classroom, beginning with my parents, grandmothers, siblings and relatives, to my friends and acquaintances, may not possess advanced degrees yet, but they are good teachers. They do not threaten me with failure, and then test me for knowledge they didn’t pass comprehensively. Teachers who are only interested in tests and exams are likely to turn the few brilliant students into inhumane beings, because the information they are passing is stripped of human emotions. You might end up with someone who wants to wipe off a third of the world because they were taught in school that overpopulation is unhealthy.

Outside the classroom, I’ve met teachers who teach with kindness. I’ve met teachers who continually show me, by their words and actions, that they want to see me succeed. I’ve met teachers who believe that it is okay to try things, and it is okay to fail, but what is important is learning from every opportunity and growing. I am not saying I do not have a few teachers in school who are like that. I am saying there should be more of them in schools. That would be a start.

Edith: These are insightful thoughts you share here. And I’m amazed at how brilliant you are with words, not just from your essay Nee Uwe Nwa m, Joseph but even from our conversations here

Anthony: Thanks. I feel flattered. And I must say the essay would not have been excellent if not for the editor’s encouragement and rigorI mean, that guy must be a perfectionist! I had to rewrite the essay a couple of times, rework and then edit it. Since I was helping Darlington Chibueze with the editing, it was easier to see what we could make better in other writer’s essays. Honestly, at some point I was frustrated, but I am glad my essay turned out fine.

Edith: How did you get into writing, or even more broadly, storytelling? After all, we tell stories in our writing. And that is why I could not believe that this was your first published non-fiction piece. It is excellent! Have you always been a storyteller? 

Anthony: Growing up, I was that child who was always afraid to talk. Whenever I spoke, I felt I had spoken too long, I would keep quiet. I felt like what I had to say was irrelevant and boring. I felt this way, especially when I was not around my siblings or my close friends. 

I always tried to adapt to the way things were; when someone mistreated me, I would not have the courage to protest. When I liked a girl, I would imagine our marriage, without even saying hi to the girl. But what I often did then was to write some sort of letter to the person I wished to engage in a conversation. After writing the essay, I would read it and then hide it somewhere and hope no-one ever reads it. 

I was not always into reading books. I loved watching TV, movies, cartoons, wrestling and sports. My father loved watching the news. I found the news boring, I felt like it did not concern me. The good thing was that my father also loved watching wrestling, so it was not always the news when he was around.  But when I started reading books, I realized that while the TV portrayed human characters, they couldn’t capture for a child the true human condition. We were only interested in the action, Rambo’s guns and arrows, Van Dam’s kicks and punches, Jet Li’s invincibility, Jackie Chan’s humor and victory, John Cena and Umaga’s rivalry. In the movies we watched, you had the Ato; the protagonist, and Boz, the antagonist. What I got from the movies was that the main character was good, and had to triumph, while the antagonist was bad, a villain, and therefore had to be defeated. We also watched funny Nollywood movies. The characters in movies seemed like a higher class of beings, a people you have to pretend so hard to imitate, to relate to.

When I started reading literature, I discovered that those boring news on the TV were in fact my business because they were about human beings or animals or nature. I realized that there was more to movies than the last fight, the climax. The more I read, the more I realized that life was not just about angels and demons; that good people do evil things when it suits them, and the people we know as evil are capable of doing good when it aligns with their desires. So, at some point, I decided it was time to take writing seriously because I felt I had stories to tell. I felt I could get my voice heard through my writing without even having to speak. 

I was advised to start with writing short stories. I think I had always wanted to write a book. I wrote my first short story last year. It is still unpublished. I have added a few more to that list of unpublished short stories. I hope they get published in the future. I am still learning more about writing and storytelling. So, basically, I felt I had to tell my stories when I started reading more of others’. I am learning how to write through reading. I also have friends like Darlington and Onyii who teach me about the craft. I feel I am fortunate to know them.

Edith: And even as we angle towards the end of the interview, I want to move away from the story to the craft. You wrote this essay in the first person narrative, which is unusual because it’s a difficult tense to pull off for most writers and yet you used it so well. It made the story come alive in that it was intimate; I felt like I was right there at the distinct moments in the narration. What made you write in this style? And have you always written in first person present tense?

Anthony: I started writing the essay in a second person narrative. I was obsessed with writing in second person pronouns then. I think it is probably because I had just read Paulinus Ifeanyi Ekpunobi’s The Testimony and To Love Someone Like You. The stories are rendered in second person, and I found them moving. I also wrote a short story in the second person narrative, it is still unpublished.

That was before I fully understood that the writer has to do what is best for the writing, and what is best is not always what is most convenient for the writer or what the writer wants to do. After rewriting the essay differently, I felt it was ready to be sent to the editor.

Honestly, at one point, I felt like just forgetting about the essay and moving on with something else. But I knew my story mattered. I was there when the editor, Darlington Chibueze, was reading my essay for the first time. He read the first sentence; looked at me and smiled. I knew that he was impressed. When he was done, he made some editorial comments on the essay. 

Writing the essay was easy compared to the reworking and rewriting following the editorial suggestions. He saw a lot of things I could not see in the story, the things that could be made better.

I have a few unpublished stories written in first person present tense. Maybe when I return to the story for publication, I might change the perspective of narration and tense.

It is all about what is best for the story, what could help the reader connect more to the story.

Edith: Ah, interesting. I have only ever written one story in second person, and like you, I was intrigued by the tense then. The writing is challenging but really interesting. Thankfully, that story of mine was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, so maybe one day I’ll try second person again. I have never tried first person present tense hough… But I really enjoyed the way you creatively weaved it in the narrative. 

Anthony: Thanks. I am glad you enjoyed the story. As a writer, getting positive feedback from readers means so much to me. Even for my yet-to-be-published stories, I am always elated when I get feedback from a close friend with whom I have shared the story.

Edith: Do you always write with the reader in mind, in a way that accommodates them, or do you let the story determine the shape of the narration?

Anthony: I am fascinated by sci-fi TV series and movies. So, some time ago, I wrote a short sci-fi story; I wrote it in the way I’d enjoy it. I sent the story to a few friends and none of them really understood it. The language eluded them. I realized that, even though I wrote what interested me, I had not considered how my readers would see the story. Of course, the problem with the few readers was not the genre, it was the elusive language, and the level of clarity. There were some things that were obvious to me as the writer, and as a sci-fi “nerd” which a regular reader is likely to miss.

I have not had time to rework the story, but I believe that it is a story human beings can relate to. A friend who read the story called me an alien. (Laughs).

I always try not to allow my personal feelings, ideals, or sentiments to influence my characters’ decisions, or the shape of my story. My personality impacted the first story I wrote. I thought it was about good and bad, and then the good character triumphs. I was wrong. It is about humanity. About life. I am a big fan of George RR Martin.

In an interview, he was asked why it appears that he loves killing off his characters, putting them through uncomfortable situations. The legendary writer responded by saying that it is all part of life. Art needs to reflect life. “All men must die.” 

I do not write my stories once. But always in my draft, I try to ensure that the characters are not me, or like the devil or like an angel. I make sure that the characters’ choices shape the story. Not mine. I try to tell the human story through these characters. The human condition is not just about good and evil. The environments of the characters, the experiences, desires, education, formal or informal, etc. all influence the characters’ mind. And the characters’ mind is not something I ignore in constructing the first draft. It may not all be accurate, but in the subsequent versions of the story, I make the changes. Then I employ language that would be clear to my readers, some aesthetics. 

The first version of my essay, Nee Uwe Nwa m, Joseph, was voluminous, about 3000 words. I had to remove some parts, so it would not bore the readers. 

So, I do not decide the shape of narration to employ before writing my stories; I try to do what is best for the story, and that requires a lot of patience and determination. I also consider the readers while editing my stories, and not before writing them.

Edith: Wow! You put so much thought into your writing process. Now I want to read more from you. Do we expect to see more of your work out here soon? I will be particularly interested in reading that Sci-fi you mentioned. 

I know you are balancing school and writing, but is there a site where our readers can read your previous works? 

My last question is this: What are your immediate aspirations with your writing?

Anthony: Thank you. Yes, I hope to get some of my writings published soon. Unfortunately, I do not have any links. I am only a budding writer with rejection mails.  But I’ve learnt that rejection mails don’t mean that my writing is terrible. I’m learning so much about writing and storytelling, I am sure my writing skills have improved so much in the past few months. I have been writing any chance I get, sometimes it’s the little things that inspire me. 

Writing has helped me to pay attention to the people around me. I now notice a lot of things that eluded me. I get ideas every day on stories to write, recently, mostly non-fiction.

I have only had one short story published, in Stripes magazine, in their FRUITS issue. The story is titled, Your Fruit Is Ripe. I was very excited when I got an email that my story was a good fit for their issue. It was a time when I was very eager to get published, I was only beginning.  Nowadays, I am no longer in a haste to submit my writings. 

Stripes Magazine loved my story, so they contacted me to be an editor for their issue, WAIL. I am still working with them. Submissions are currently open for their upcoming Issue, Nowhere Near Home. I look forward to working on it. I am a big dreamer. I hope to get better at writing. I look forward to having more readers. Reading literature has helped me to be able to feel and understand other people. As the brilliant writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie would say, “When we read human stories, we become alive in bodies not our own.” I may not be able to change the world, but through my writing, I hope to make my readers feel more, to be more human.

Edith: Even established writers get rejection emails. I think it is part of the package. 

Thank you so much for speaking with me Anthony. It was an absolute pleasure. Your extensive thoughts and takes on various subjects have been very illuminating. This has been a very interesting conversation. I can’t wait to read all your brilliant future works, and I’ll be looking forward to speaking with you again in the near future.

Anthony: Thank you for having me, and for the compliments. I enjoyed the conversation. I used to fear conversations, but with you, it feels like conversing with another me. I look forward to speaking with you in the near future as well.

 

This dialogue was edited by our Editor, Wambua Paul Muindi.

Edith Knight Magak

Edith Magak is a creative writer and a 2020 Writing Fellow at African Liberty. Prior publication credits include Brittle PaperJalada AfricaMeeting of Minds UKJellyfish Review, among others. She lives and writes in Nairobi, Kenya. Find her on Twitter @oedithknight

EDITH MAGAK

INTERVIEWER

One thought on “Interrogating the Learning Process: A Dialogue with Anthony Ukwuoma

  • November 5, 2021 at 6:12 am
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    Beautiful interview. Go Anthony, greater heights.

    Reply

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