Translation Holds The Ace For Indigenous Literature – Imam



Khalid lmam, a passionate teacher, translator, editor, literary columnist and a multiple award-winning playwright has published in UK, US, India and Germany

Khalid lmam, a passionate teacher, translator, editor, literary columnist and a multiple award-winning playwright has published in UK, US, India and Germany. He is a bilingual author of nine books, some of which are available on He has served on many Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) committees, both at national and state levels.

He is the founder and executive director of Whetstone Arts & Translation Services. “Justice, Fairness and the Quest for Egalitarian Societies” book published in Germany is one of his most recent books. In this exclusive interview with Daily Stream’s literary editor, ZAHARADDEEN IBRAHIM KALLAH, lmam opens up on a wide range of issues.

When did you start writing?

Well, I could precisely say I began to take creative writings seriously in 2001, the year Ibrahim Sheme, the then literary editor of the Weekly Trust newspaper published some of my love poems in April. I am still indebted to him for featuring me as the Poet of the Week in his then authoritative and popular weekly literary column: the Bookshelf. That singular publication, I must say, gave me the entire boost and motivation I needed to keep writing. Prior to that, I was one of the few enthusiastic student-writers who were active members of the Press Club at the Niger State College of Education, Minna; the club that gave me the first literary farmland to experiment sowing my creative seeds as an apprentice journalist- cum- poet. I still remember serving as Vice President II of that famed Press College with nostalgia.

Unlike some notable writers who are famous either as novelists, poets or playwrights, you are known with prose, poetry and drama. Which one is your favorite genre?

All the three. Yes, I think, if I must be very honest with you, I couldn’t figure out dropping any of the three. Well, should I say poetry? No, I deem. I write more of prose… and you know what? Writing plays often feed my pocket fat. You see my point? Anyway, I couldn’t help stressing that all the three: poetry, prose and play, I often refer to them as the “P – tripod” of literature, are my favourites.

Frankly, I really don’t think the answer to your question is all that simple, because I often do not put myself into the shoes of a polygamous hubby who might hardly find any difficulty having a favorite among his wives. This is to say not all the times one’s passions are like one’s wives which people may not be shocked in finding out that their husband prefers one over the others.

So, to sum it all, like a good husband, I frankly give all my polygamous literary wives: poetry, prose and play (not excluding my real monogamous wife) the required attention and love each deserves. True, each enjoys taking a greater part of my attention, and gladly, I have substantial works produced in each of these three genres, and happily again, many of these literary pieces I wrote were published.

Among your many books, which is your favorite?

Do you give birth to children and hate any? Well, if you press on knowing which of my books is my most favorite, I should ask you which of your fingers do you like most? As you search for your answer, let me quickly say, I have a best of friends in each of my unique books. My attachment with my numerous books is healthy like the affinity one may derive from one’s children. You see, as far as I know, none of my children is not my favorite! Sure, three of my books standout, namely: The Song of San Kano, The Amigo Sisters and Sodangi. These books beamed me to the reading public as well as put money in my pocket more than all the rest. Yet, would one say that it was publicity and money drive that made me write? No, is my usual answer. Hence, l don’t discriminate among my books. To me, each book is unique and gives me an amazing and different life and fulfilment. To drive my point home, two of my recent books were published outside the shores of Nigeria. The excitements of the book, Justice, Fairness and the Quest for Egalitarian Societies, which was published in Berlin, Germany and the book Emir Muhammad Sanusi II, the Toast of Kanawa, published by, were different, for launching me into the global stage. In another respect and quite pleasing to me is that Sodangi, The Song of San Kano and Emir Muhammad Sanusi I: the Toast of Kanawa are presently being studied by some Master’s and PhD students who are writing their dissertations on them at Bayero University, Kano and University of Ibadan, respectively. This is not to forget that undergraduates of Nasarawa State University, Keffi and Federal University, Dutse and students from schools under the Kano State Science and Technical Schools Board have been using other titles as supplementary reading texts. You see, each book of mine has its unique way of bringing blessing to me.

Do you have role models in writing?

Honestly, I don’t. True, no specific writer has ever inspired me to start writing. At the risk of sounding immodest, I could quickly admit that one good thing with me is I possess a heart I could simply describe as brave, ambitious, if not too adventurous. And my stubborn spirit is usually fearless, restless and loves confronting challenges and discovering new grounds. Therefore, one may say two memorable and demanding circumstances of life, during my National Certificate of Education (NCE) years at the College of Education (COE) Minna, then a sophomore student, pushed me to discover the writer in me. Please, don’t ask me what were the circumstances? (Laughed). Having said that, I think, what also helped me aside my stubborn spirit and ambitious drive was my nature as a veracious reader. Sure, the reading of countless awesome fictional works honed me into a writer I am today.

Still on the question whether I have models, I could say I have a chain of authors and academics I am always indebted to. Indeed, the likes of our pre-eminent Hausa novelists, Abubakar Imam, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi, Mariama Ba, Roald Dahl (a multi-talented children fiction writer), and the poetry of Akilu Aliyu, Mudi Sipikin, Sa’adu Zungur, Professor Niyi Osundare and Dr. Abubakar Othman of University of Maiduguri helped in enriching me greatly. Equally, I have immensely benefitted from the weekly journalistic articles of the likes of Albashir, Adamu Adamu, Albishak (MON), Mohammed Haruna, Ahmed Sharif and the occasional scholarly interventions crafted by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Muhammad Sanusi II and Emir of Kano) not forgetting the humorous writings of Bala Muhammad ( Saturday Columnist, Daily Trust).The critical books and academic essays of the Kenyan professor Ali A. Mazrui, Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman (the famed ABU radical historian and erudite scholar), Patrick Wilmot, Professor Ibrahim Bello- Kano (our own IBK of BUK), Isma’il Bala and many other writers and scholars too numerous to mention were oases I have never stopped visiting till today to quench my thirst. Without doubt, these brilliant gems remain my whetstones as a writer and researcher.

You have been known for coaching and mentoring students to take to creative writings, what have you accomplished in that direction?

You see, most times, accomplishments are not like sacks of grain which one can easily measure with a cup or weigh on a scale. That notwithstanding, my greatest joy as far as popularizing the mentoring of secondary school student-writers in Kano is concerned is not only on the anthologies we were able to publish or the awards some of the outstanding teen authors one have been mentoring since 2003 have won, but the acceptability the scheme is presently enjoying among some forward-looking school owners and secondary school students in Kano. These successes could be attributed to the regular workshops we have been organizing in select public and private schools over the years. As I speak to you, it may interest you to know that l frequently receive a deluge of requests from individual would-be writers mostly in their teens asking for mentorship, and some of them live outside Kano.

What need to be done to engage more young people into creative writing?

Emphasis should be paid on schools sensitization visits, especially to talk about the benefits of creative writings to students or youth groups. More creative writing workshops need to be organized in schools, organizing literary readings and regular literary contests would also help in entrenching the culture of creative writings among our youths. Supporting those who embrace creativity with grants to publish their good manuscripts should be encouraged by our wealthy people, government and private concerns.

In most cases, students who were trained on creative writings abandoned it soon after passing out from school, how could such problems be addressed?

I think, this sweeping conclusion is not valid, neither is it based on any scientific proof or reliable statistics. True, not many of the students who tasted the apple of creative writings dropped it after graduating from college. I have many students whom l have trained that are still on my neck with demands to edit their new works or with request to join the workshops we have been organizing for their juniors still in schools. And apart from writing poems or short stories, now that the social media platforms (such as the Facebook and Whatsapp) encourage discussions and debates, I make bold to say I usually read with utmost delight, the informed and well-crafted contributions of many of the student-writers we trained. If you wish to know, a good number of them are even resorting to philosophy via contributing life-changing quotations in the social media. I dare say, if not for the fear of infringing on their rights to privacy, I could have gone ahead to mention some of them. But, I must add that some of the brave males among them are now respected social media political analysts, change advocates and rights activists.

It was believed that literary movement cannot flourish without sponsors, what can you say about that?

I don’t believe that claim paints the current reality of literary activism in Nigeria. On the contrary, one must say; interest, without emphasizing, is usually the fuel in the engine of literary movements in Nigeria, and literary production in this clime of ours and many other sister African countries thrives on the back of writers undying passion and zeal to publish, but one cannot as well deny the fact that where there is availability of sponsorship the functionality of our literary movements are energized and better organized.

You are into translation, why the campaign of translating indigenous literature into other languages of the world failed to succeed?

The answer is simple: the paucity of competent and professional translators in our local book industry is the major problem. Again, aside from our failure to brace up to the fast changing world of online translation using translation software tools, translation offers writers ocean of opportunities, which sadly here, we seem to ignore largely due to lack of sufficient exposure or paucity of knowledge.

How can we promote translation?

I believe one of the myriads of ways to promote translation especially at home, and if you like, on the global stage is to prioritize translation through the provision of awesome incentives that would radically encourage the few available professional translators among us to wake up and begin an aggressive translation of our canonized novels and poems published in Hausa and other languages for use in our schools and for onward transmission to the global readers. This can be achieved easily by commissioning identified good translators to do the work or by organizing translation competitions to fish out hidden talents. For instance, one can put a prize for the best translated script of say Abubakar Imam’s Ruwan Bagaja or Sa’adu Zungur’s poem: Arewa Janhuriyya ko Mulukiyya. With pragmatic moves such as this, I am pretty sure many local translation experts would give it a shot.

Do you believe that professional translation of books written in our indigenous languages hold the future of not only our indigenous literature, but our local publishing houses?

Vincent Kling, winner of the 2013 Schlegel-Tieck Prize on translation rightly stresses that translation is the path for literature (not written in the dominant international languages of global academic discourse, business and politics). Despite the skepticism of “those who argue for the intrinsic untranslatability of literature…” As he further notes, “No translator’s dream is worth much unless it’s a nightmare as well. The craft requires compromise, meaning necessary loss.” So, in my view, the fear of losing originality that seems to shield some writers away from subjecting their literary works through the rigors of translation is flawed. Therefore, I strongly hold the opinion that the only bright future for our indigenous literature to be on the global stage is in translation. Its benefits, especially to those writing in Hausa and other languages, are countless. Literature and translation are intrinsically linked. It is the absence of translation that is killing our indigenous literature here. If our indigenous literature is to be like a lucent moon beaming globally, translation is the gateway for both our indigenous writers and publishing firms. For instance, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, was translated into over fifty languages across the world, wasn’t that a staggering accomplishment? Again, if not for translation, we couldn’t have tasted the honey of dozens of books we read today. I have no doubt, translation holds the ace for our indigenous literature to grow and hoist its flag on the global literary stage.




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