Toni Kan is an award winning poet, essayist and short story writer. He is one of Nigeria’s most anthologised poets and short story writers. Author of the critically acclaimed book of short stories, ‘Nights of the Creaking Bed‘, novella ‘Ballad of Rage’, and poetry collection ‘When a Dream Lingers Too Long’, he discusses creative alchemy, epiphanies in foreign lavatories, and infidelity in Las Gidi.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
Wasiu Karimu. He is the unseen hero of a new short story I just wrote. He is inventive, aspirational and very Nigerian.
What is the first thing you remember writing?
Love letters, what else? Yeah. I guess I’d say poetry. I think, I am at heart, a poet.
Where/when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
In the loo of this lovely house in Nairobi, Kenya. I opened a copy of True Love and there on page 7, I think were two of my book reviews. It was a relief because I was already assuming all the ladies in Kenya were liars because every time I said my name in company some lady or the other would say, I know you. I was beginning to wonder until that eureka moment. Pity I couldn’t pull an Archimedes and dash out. There was the little issue of… .ok, next question.
Sula by Toni Morrison and the first five books written by Jim Crace.
Name one author that you consider overrated.
Man, you wan put me for trouble? I know a few but let’s not go there.
Achebe or Soyinka?
Depends on my mood. I’m a slut like that.
Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?
Nobel what? I want to be read, man.
Write one classic or have a sustained career of good books?
A classic. Salinger ‘em all and then not go quietly into the good night.
Best perk of being a writer?
The money, in my case, which is funny. But I make cool money just writing. And then it opens doors. You walk into a place and chances are someone has heard your name or read your piece. Makes life a lot easy especially in a country like Nigeria where much depends on who you know or who knows you. You can’t put a price on that.
Worst thing about being a writer?
Being a writer. It’s tough.
Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.
Worst review must be some guy who reviewed my book almost 3 years after it was published. Bloody slow reader! Has no business reviewing anything. Best? Every single review I ever got. They all add up, bad or good. I am always grateful to the reviewer who bothers. Do you know how many books I get and never bother to review?
One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?
Don’t be so crazy about being a literary writer. Just be a writer. That way you can write anything and make a good living. God has given me this gift and I would be an utter idiot to not use it to feed my family.
Rate yourself on a scale of one to ten for spelling/punctuation.
Spelling – 7. Punctuation – 8. My punctuation used to be bad, but once my dad read my essay and after I saw all the red marks, I learnt my lesson.
What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven’t read?
None. I have read all the books I want to read. And i get a steady supply from a good friend of mine.
What is your guilty reading?
Don’t know what that means. I read everything with joy.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
Sitting down before my laptop.
And the most pleasurable?
Sitting down before my laptop.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
A poor grasp of language. A writer should be an alchemist, and what is alchemy but language?
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
My dead big brother.
Las Gidi – my homage to Lagos and infidelity; my new book of short stories.