Maryam Idris Gatawa is one of the budding writers that are gaining their feet in the literary world. The Abuja-born poet holds BSc Economics from Bayero University, Kano. She is a Human Rights activist and one of the founders of an NGO that aims at helping the needy and the less-privileged people in the society.
Maryam published several of her poems on Facebook and other social media groups. The attention she received made her readers to clamour for her poems, and this led to her connection with a larger group of poets and writers. In this interview with ZAHARADDEEN IBRAHIM KALLAH, she explains how she was buried in a tiny world before she stepped out into a big literary world.
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Maryam Idris Gatawa. I was born in Garki, Abuja. My parents hail from a small village in the outskirts of Sokoto State, Gatawa. I attended my primary school in Kano and secondary school in Abuja. I got admission into Bayero University, Kano in 2007, and graduated with a degree in Economics in 2011.
As an economist, a writer and a prolific poet, I am a passionate lover of Art. You are not wrong if you call me a human activist. I have a special concern on making the lives of orphans tear-free. Reading and writing give me great joy.
I currently live in Kano, where I’m the finance director of a small NGO we’ve founded along with my colleagues, which aims at helping the needy and the less-privileged. I have written so many essays and articles, one of which was published in Leadership Newspaper. I have two of my Islamic poems published in Leadership Newspaper, two in African Writer Magazine and recently another one in PIN Quarterly Journal. I wrote one short story, or should I say a poetic short story. I am working on a book now.
What inspired you to start writing?
I read, then I started writing. Reading and writing have been my hobbies even before I could understand what a hobby meant. I started reading even when I couldn’t comprehend anything. I can remember when I was in Nursery 3, I didn’t know how to read then, so on my way back home, I would pick any written material I could find on the road and brought it to my sister to read them for me. At first, she would take her time and read them. Other times, she won’t. And sometimes, she would throw them away as they kept piling up waiting for her. And some of these materials were invitation cards, some were exam scripts (laughter).
That was how it started. And when I knew how to read, I became enthusiastic about any written materials, provided that it’s ABC dancing on the white papers. Typical of a Hausa home, I was enrolled into Islamiyya School along with my sisters before my father got a Malam who later would come home and teach us Islamic studies. So, I became a multi-lingual writer. I could read and write in English and Arabic. I could also read and write in Hausa, since Hausa novels were readily available for the fact that my sisters took great delight in reading them. Since then, I became an insatiable reader. I read everything I can lay my hands on. Books like Chike And The River, Without A Silver Spoon, Raliya, The Sugar Girl, Eze Goes To School, Bari Wa Biba and Iliya Dan Mai Karfi were my favorite books.
I kept reading them over and over. I would rummage through the pages of all English text books, from Book One to Book Six for passages. I would read them even before we read them at class. Because of the setting of my home, all of us went to school, so I had the privilege of reading books that were far beyond my age and comprehension at that time. I was in Primary 4 to 5 when I read How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. I had to battle with the big grammars in them. Sometimes, I would run to my dictionary and check. I read my brothers’ academic project even when I couldn’t grasp anything. One of my sisters is a math’s guru, without anything to read, I would get her mathematics books and read them. Sometimes, she didn’t even know, despite the fact that math wasn’t my favorite subject. I could remember in JSS-2, our teacher wrote on the board for the first time, the topic BODMAS and asked if anybody knew what it meant. I quickly jumped up and answered. He was dead shocked and I could still see that surprised face he had on, as well as the applauses at me ringing still in my ears.
My Father was a voracious reader of newspapers. He brought them from work and read them. After that, he would pile them up under his bed. So, I became curious. I’m a very curious person, even now. Sometimes, I would slip into his room while he was away and pick some papers and find a place to hide and read them. That was how I became interested in the happenings of the nation. I would wake up early morning and turned on our television set just to watch morning shows or early morning updates. And as I grew older, my father would give me the papers himself after he finished reading.
Because I read a lot, I began to develop interest in writing. I began to do so by writing short passages about myself, about my cat, about my favorite food. Then, I started to express in writing what’s inside and outside me. What I like and what I don’t. I realized the joy in writing, in coughing out words on paper and how easily they inspire my readers. I became encouraged, since then. I’ve been writing till now. But for writing poems, I started it in March this year.
What time of the day do you write?
I write mostly at night. I’m a night owl, who prowl for words. I find the silence appealing, the moon my company and in the dark night. I prick holes into it with my pen as I write on paper. Then, at dawn, after my morning prayers, I find words falling like rain. My muse is terribly a disturbing whisperer during that time. I have no choice than to write.
You were recently discovered as one of the great female poets in Kano, where have you been before your connection with these poets?
Let’s say I was in my tiny world, buried in books and writing. Actually, it was March, this year that I began to take my writings very serious, especially that I started writing poems, and I would share them on my Facebook page. I became surprised at the feedbacks, the likes and the comments from my readers. And from nowhere, I found myself thrown into different literary groups and pages. I met learned and great writers, and I realized that I can do wonders with my pen, and so I became very serious about writing. That was how I took a step from my tiny world into the big one. And the connection was made.
Do you belong to any of the writers’ associations?
Yes, ANA for one, as a member. Even though I’ve joined them recently, I’ve learnt greatly and became encouraged and motivated. It is a forum that helped me to realize my talent as a writer and how to uncage it. Then, of recent, I was chosen to be one of the representatives of Poets In Nigeria (PIN) Kano Connect Center. A forum that links poets for greatness.
Apart from poetry and a poetic short story, are you writing in any other genre?
Well, I love poetry. That’s where my special interest lies. I read all the genres, but I do not write in all. From March to date, I’ve written close to hundred poems, but only one poetic short story. As for plays, I’m yet to write one. I’m taking it slow, especially now that the poet in me is in the lead. But I’m working on a book. I just started writing it. I can’t say when it’s going to be ready, but I know it’s an attempt to see how I can waltz in all the genres.
Do you publish book in your favorite genre, poetry?
No. But, I’m working on an anthology of my poems. Watch out, soon.
Have you tried to send your works to any publisher?
No. I’ll opt for self-publishing.
Are you satisfied with the role of publishing houses in Nigeria?
To be honest, publishing houses are not helping matters with upcoming writers. They are more inclined to published and famous writers which should be the reverse. That’s why many writers are resorting to self-publishing. There are so many good young writers with forgotten manuscripts long submitted to publishing houses. They hardly encourage young writers.
How do you consider the works of contemporary female writers in Nigeria?
Excellent. Actually, most of these female writers are the source of my inspiration. I read works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinelo Okparanta and Helen Oyeyemi and the rest, and I used to tell myself if they can attain that peak, I can also achieve that. I can do it.
What contribution do you think female writers have offered in the development of Nigerian literature?
Well, I think the most important contribution is bringing to limelight, the efforts of female writers in Nigeria. Writing on themes of politics, family, religion, also exploring ethnicity and what it means to different people in their various excellent literary pieces had been able to assert themselves as writers, both on national and international scale. Efforts of those female writers and their achievements have inspired a lot of young writers like me to start writing. This is a plus to Nigerian Literature.
Are you writing in your mother tongue?
Yes, I write a lot in my mother tongue, especially on social networks. I believe writing is much more than an art for amusement. It’s a way to inspire. I love to inspire people with my words. I love it when my pen gushes out positivity from its tip. My goal is to enlighten minds. And because I write to stir the humanity in us, I believe in the power of words to change or right wrongs. So, I write these not only in English but also in Hausa Language, my mother tongue.
What can you say about female Hausa writers that have taken over the market of Hausa Literature?
Well, writing is writing, irrespective of which language it is done. The goal is to pass across a message to the readers. It takes creativity and guts to write. I know many people who wish to write but fail to, simply because they couldn’t put pen to paper. To be able to do that, it’s something in its right. So, these Hausa writers are great in their own domain; just that I’ll encourage them to write also in English Language, even if nothing, for a larger audience.
What advice do you have for the young people who aspire to become writers?
I will advise them to put their pens to paper; unless they do so, they wouldn’t know the wonders they can do with the writer inside them. Let them tap from the writer in them, and vent it on the paper. Let their pens gush out words, positive words. Let them not apologize for doing so.
Can you tell your readers the exact time to expect the anthology of poems you are working?
Well, the idea is appealing to me. In fact, these days, I’ve been thinking of sending the best among my poems to the publishers. For now, let’s just say, it’s on the way; an anthology of my poems by next year, God’s willing.