By Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
In an era when the digital landscape is a vital part of young people’s lives, the question arises: should we have unrestricted freedom on the internet, or is there a need to navigate the book industry with awareness?
In this write-up, I will discuss the attitudes that characterize contemporary young Gambian writers and the existing literature of The Gambia. I will shed light on the nuances of book consumption, and address both the empowerment and potential risks young Gambian writers exhibit in their career.
I would like everyone to gain insights into fostering responsible book usage, be equipped with the tools to evaluate information critically, and promote a balanced literary presence. The purpose of this writing is to provide an enriching discourse that aims to equip the younger generation with the knowledge they need to navigate the literary landscape effectively.
Let me get started by saying that unlike any other young writer, I was once so eager, so inquisitive, and very impatient while growing up in Brikama as a young writer. To some extent, whenever I give my book to someone to edit or proofread, I think they don’t want me to shine in my career or they are being envious of what I write. To demonstrate by example, I recount a day in my life when I wrote ‘Don’t Judge the Book by the Cover’ at the age of 14, and wanted to launch the book on my 15th birthday. Michael Hamadi Secka edited the book, and I got so impatient that it took him over 10 months plus to provide feedback on my book. I felt bad and unhappy with him.. But some years later, when I grew up, and looked at my own writings — I knew he was helping me. And when I started editing and proofreading books written by different young people, I realized how difficult writing is. Most young writers might not appreciate the work of editors or proofreaders simply because they want their books to be out soon, but writing is beyond that. In developed countries like Nigeria and Ghana, and by right, acting according to the tenets of the book industry; anyone who edits your book should have his or her name clearly written on the front cover of your book. Most of us, and people like me, do not want my name to be included in any book I edited simply because of two things: one: it can bring about hatred and competitions, and two: it can cause copyright disputes and literary prostitution.
But let me hasten to say that there are only three types of writing (s) coming out of the Gambia every year. I think this should change. All of us cannot be doing the same thing every time. Some of us should start becoming sport writers, medical writers, professional writers, agricultural writers, etc.
These are the three genres of literature existing in The Gambia:
2. Prose, and;
Poetry is the most popular genre or form of literature produced by Gambian writers, young or old. It accounts for over 60% of our literature and now takes the form of spoken word poetry, which, as you may know, every young person who thinks of becoming a writer or a poet jumps into without any career goals or guidance. We should note with rapt attention that there is a great difference between “a poet” and “a spoken word poet”. They are not the same!
Prose (fiction) accounts for 40% of literary production emanating from the Gambia. Most Gambian writers write fiction (imaginative writing), which can be categorized into a short story, a novella, erotica, children’s literature, novels, etc. Sadly, most of us write very much sought after and beautiful books we don’t even know where exactly in literature they belong because of ignorance. The very reason we should read hard.
Drama is the least form of writing coming from the Gambia. It accounts for only 15% of our literature, and hardly any Gambian writer (s) write or publish drama books or plays due to its complicity and literary dispensation. I think this form of literature should be highly encouraged by our authories so that young people will start writing drama books.
Let’s now discuss the attitudes of our young writers. Our attitudes can be divided into three, and they are as follows:
1. Those who write for fame and attention: most young Gambian writers never seek guidance, get mentors, consult experienced people, make research, or just read a lot and become knowledgeable before venturing into writing. For example, Chinua Achebe cannot publish Things Fall Apart and made name globally through that book, and I just from nowhere and title my book Things Fall Apart by Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe. Who is going to buy that book? Tell me who is going to read it? That book will never sell or make name for me because of its title and redundancy. Most of us jump into writing to be famous and gain public attention. This is a very bad attitude that young people who are thinking of going far in their career should totally avoid.
2. Those who write for money: most of us jump and publish books to be rich and make money faster, not knowing how complicated writing is or can be. Money is good and important, but having wisdom and knowledge of your subject matter (or your craft) –and being well-equipped, is what young people like us should think of/ about– and be doing first. Not going on TV and radios and start talking about/or talking on subjects we have no knowledge or expertise about. In fact, most of us young people will start going to school (s) to teach people how to write. Let me ask you a question: have you ever seen Dr. Barry, Nana Grey-Johnson, Momodou Sabally, even Dayo Foster who was shortlisted by the British Government’s Miles Morland Writing Fellowship going round schools to teach people how to write or inspire others to write? Obviously, no. It seems knowledgeable people always keep quiet and do not involve in things most of us are doing (including myself, too).
That is why people like me (ML), totally refuse to go to schools to teach people how to write because people who are more knowledgeable than me and, in fact, who have earned more recognition for their writing, choose not to do it. However, this does not mean that no one should go to schools and inspire young ones, but this is my own take on why I am not doing it in particular until I feel like I’m knowledgeable enough to do so.
3. Those who write for wisdom or knowledge: some of us write not because we saw Modou Lamin Kijera get shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which is, of course, the highest literary prize in the world — but because it is our destiny. Young people in this category will ask questions, look for mentors, seek advice, find out, read, work very hard, and be silently working hard on their craft. Some are new writers coming up, and others might be already established, or, are in their mid-career.
I would like to advise people in this category to always seek guidance and advice from elders and subscribe to newspaper columns to hone their skills in writing. The newspapers help a lot and are the ideal platform to display all your writings. Do you know why? One: your work will be edited by an experienced editor and proofread before coming out, and two: your story or writing will be copyrighted, read widely, and have longevity. An example of a young writer in this category who has my respect and the relevance and admiration of all Gambians is Talib Gibran Hydara. He is always writing and publishing his writings in the local newspapers. People like Momodou Jarju, Batou Saidy, Kebba Mamburay, Adam Nyang, etc., are all doing the same thing.
In conclusion, I would like to urge all young Gambian writers, including myself, to read very hard, as if you’re on your final exams. If you want to be a successful writer, look for mentors. Let’s make enough research, learn the basics of writing, and have a mastery of the English Language before we think of publishing books and making names in the book industry.
I remember starting to review books in the year 2019 for the first time in my life after 3 years of learning how to make a book review at a book launch and learning how a book launch is done and everything surrounding books and writers. People like Dr. Barry, Hassoum Ceesay, Momodou Sabally, and others will take me along when they are reviewing books at events and ask me to read their reviews and show me how it is done. This is a good start for all of us to do the same thing. Thanks to them for being able to review, launch, or help other young people launch their books.
Finally, the writing industry has one self-discipline teaching: as you grow up, you become quieter and want to learn and read more. It forces you to want to change everything you wrote and already published to make it better.
Disclaimer: This writing does not refer to any young or old Gambian writer, dead or alive.