Guest Author - Philip U. Effiong (Monty)

My guest today is Philip U. Effiong whose father of the same name was the second in command on the Biafran side during the Nigerian Civil War. After teaching in the university for over ten years, this Philip worked as an Oracle Programmer and then as a full-time writer and editorial consultant from late 1998 to 2006. He is still writing but also started teaching at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2006. His areas of specialty are literature, writing, drama, and cultural studies. Ater spending almost five years in Nigeria (January 2001-December 2005) his family relocated to and currently resides in Fairfax, Virginia, USA. I read one of Philip's books titled Monty and will be posting a review soon. Enjoy our interview, and welcome to the beginning of a great week.

What inspired you to want to become a writer?

I enjoyed the folktales my mother told me when I was a child. Later, I was further exposed to the narrative tradition as a student of English and literature at Nigeria’s University of Calabar. Captivated by the power of images and creative storytelling, whether fact or fiction, I was soon motivated to start writing my own stories and analytical essays.

Why did you write Monty, was it in any way autobiographical?

Monty is largely informed by my recollections of refugee camp situations during the Nigeria-Biafra war. However, the goal is not to present a war or refugee camp story, but to demonstrate that the impact of war continues even after the guns stop blazing. Sections of the text are definitely a recreation of personal experiences.

The character of Monty is an intriguing one, where did the idea come from?

Even though Monty is a byproduct of refugee camp situations (as already stated), the character is designed to function as a universal delineation of what it must feel like to be an outsider (which can be engendered by origins, physical appearance, belief systems or mental attributes). This is in addition to portraying how the horrors of war can continue to manifest in various ways even after the ceasefire takes place. The name of the character suggests his rescue on a Monday.

Please tell us why you think people should read Monty.

People should read Monty because it tells a good story about the unconquerable human survival spirit. It also reiterates the well-known, even if clich├ęd message that we should treat others as we expect to be treated, in spite of our several differences. At the background of the plot is the presence of an overwhelming, invisible war-centered influence, which constantly reminds us of the horrors of war and the fact that it is an aberration to human dignity and existence.

Have you achieved your aim of writing and publishing Monty?

I think so, but I guess a greater understanding of the reactions of readers will help me in this regard. I am, however, thinking of revising the work and releasing a second edition.

Do you have any other books published? What are your goals for future projects?

I have published a text on African-American drama titled, In Search of a Model for African American Drama. I have also completed a number of manuscripts and continue to research possible publication opportunities. They include: Memoirs of a Housegirl (fiction), Morning Song and Mildew (fiction), Give Me Words, I’ll Fly (fiction), Biafran Boy (memoir) and Do you know WHO I AM: Nigeria’s Cult of Bigmanism (collection of satirical essays). I also engage in critical writing on literature as well as on historical and sociopolitical issues as they relate to Africa and the African Diaspora. I hope to continue to explore the above genres and to also explore new media writing that mainly focuses on documentaries that cover unique stories in Africa.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

I enjoy the fulfillment of knowing that I have released something that I carried on the inside for many years. I am also inspired by the continued encouragement that I receive from some readers.

If you could jump in to a book, and live in that world.. which would it be?

I would gladly live in the world created by Okot p’Bitek in Song of Lawino; I thoroughly appreciate the ability to address serious issues with humor as well as the message of standing one’s ground (some would call it resistance).

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

The Passport of Mallam Ilia by Cyprian Ekwensi

Is there a song you could list as the theme song for your book or any of your characters?

“Sorrow, Tears & Blood” by Fela Kuti

What's one piece of advice you would give other upcoming authors?

Trust yourself with the belief that your Creator has endowed you with unlimited creative talent.

What is your favorite Quote as a writer?

“Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”

Who are your favorite authors of all time?

There are many of them: Elechi Amadi, James Ene Henshaw, Chinua Achebe, Roger Mais, Maya Angelou, Jacques Romain, Samuel Selvon, Christopher Okigbo, Derek Walcott, Ola Rotimi, John P. Clark, Ntozake Shange, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Wole Soyinka, Lorraine Hansberry, Ama Ata Aidoo, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Harriet Jacobs, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Ayi Kwei Armah, August Strindberg, Ferdinand Oyono, James Welch, Flora Nwapa, Charles Chesnutt, John Munonye, Langston Hughes, Bienvenido Santos, Sophie Treadwell, Diane Glancy, Griselda Gambaro, Athol Fugard…the list goes on.

What's the best writing advice anyone has ever given you?

Continue writing; never give up.

How do you react to a bad review?

I learn from it if it is constructive, but refuse to dwell too much on negativity.

If you could have a signed copy of any novel what would it be and why?

Elechi Amadi’s The Great Ponds; it is one of those great classics that has not received the attention it deserves.

Which authors have influenced you most and how?

I have been greatly inspired by Ntozake Shange, Christopher Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo and Richard Wright because of their ability to evoke stirring images, their departure from conventional narrative patterns and their fearlessness in addressing salient issues.