African Authors to Inspire: Elechi Amadi

Last week saw the passing of African literary great Elechi Amadi, author of several plays and novels including The Concubine (Heinemann African Writers Series, 1966), which has become a classic text.  Nigerian author Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who chose ‘The Concubine’ as one of his ‘African Books to Inspire’ at the 2015 Africa Writes festival, reflects here on the influence of Elechi Amadi upon his own literary development.

Owerri. 2007.

I was still a scrawny, budding writer trying to build a name for himself, when I saw Elechi Amadi for the first time at the first convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors I attended.

He was imposing, standing tall like the reputation he had built in my mind. He was being mobbed by people, many going up to shake his hand and to pose for photos with him. I bided my time and when I saw an opening, walked up to him and politely asked for a photo.

He looked down at me and said, “Sorry, I don’t take photos with people I don’t know.”

I left, my pride hanging like a wet flag.

But the temple of adoration I had built for Elechi Amadi, since I first read The Concubine as a teenager in Jos, could not be washed away by a snub like that. The book, like the veneration I have for him, has endured, nestling deep in my heart where it can’t be reached by a bashed pride. Ekweueme and Ihouma were not just characters on a page, they were people who thrived in the fictional world Amadi had cultivated in my mind.

So I made excuses for the snub. He was tired, I mean, he had been grinning into cameras with people who he had never met all day long, he was old, he just needed to rest. But the biggest excuse I made for him was that he was Elechi Amadi, he had earned the right to. And that was enough.

I saw him several times after that, and even though I saw by his interactions with other admirers, that he was by no means a snob, I was content to admire him from a distance. I bought copies of his books to be sure there is always an Elechi Amadi on my shelf, or to gift them to friends, to extend the world he had created into other minds.

When he launched his science fiction novel in 2013, I was curious to see what the man who earned praise for writing about pre-colonial Africa, who was almost 80, would write about science fiction.

He may not have known me, but I consoled myself that he got to know my writing before he died. He was one of the judges for the Africa 39 project and when my name popped up on that list, I thought well, Elechi Amadi read my story and probably liked it. And that was enough for me.

 Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is the author of Season of Crimson Blossoms (Cassava Republic Press, 2016). He was included in the Africa39 anthology of the most promising sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40. His short story ‘The Whispering Trees’ was shortlisted for the Caine Prize of African Writing in 2013. He lives in Abuja, Nigeria where he works as an arts editor for a national newspaper.

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