Intimate Portraits: A Selection of Five Essays


Image by Kristi Bonney

There has been a remarkable and continuous upsurge in the creative non-fiction genre coming out of Nigeria in recent times arguably giving us some of the best literary works this year.

Catapult, one of the literary platforms telling the stories of extraordinary writers, published in the course of the year essays by five writers who we are proud to say are alumni of the Farafina creative writing workshop; a testament to the beauty that comes out year in year out after each year’s rigorous experience.

These essays are some of the most intense, thought provoking personal essays we have come across. The writers have immersed us in their intimate writings, from which we share excerpts below.

We Need to Talk about Snails by Tola Rotimi – (class of 2014)

“The day I confessed to being a witch I had no idea what I was doing.”
A couple of months ago, while researching examples of prose poems to share with my creative writing class, I came upon the poem “Snails” by the French poet Francis Ponge. They are heroes, Ponge says of snails, beings whose existence alone is a work of art. In a dream later that night, I was back in Lagos, in the marsh surroundings of my childhood church, foraging under the cover of night, wading through wet grass as tall as little boys’ chins. I was alone then not alone, my younger brothers were away then suddenly appearing.

We were children again, the three of us. All the world was in slow motion…

Read the full essay here.


How to Gossip about African Writing in Geneva by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo (class of 2014)

“…In the early months of 2016, I visited Switzerland. At the airport, hungry or eager to see this old country new to my eyes, I bought a bunch of bananas for a few Swiss francs. I yelped inside after converting to naira. Back in Lagos, on any given day, you could find me haggling with a lady selling better bananas under the Computer Village bridge. If the bargaining process is a battle of wills, ours was attended by jokes and mock horror from the start. Some days I win and have for trophy a black bag laden with a bunch or two. Other days I feel I have parted with too much for unworthy loot. On a few occasions, nobody wins: She doesn’t make the sale; I leave empty-handed.”

Read the full essay here.

The Things We Never Say: A Family History by Amara Nicole Okolo (class of 2015)

“I first experienced love in the arms of my mother on a Sunday morning. I stood beside the rose bushes, watching my father slowly drive out of the garage. One year, seven months. She came from behind, plucked a lone pink rose from the bushes, still dripping with dew, and tucked it in the hair around my right ear. Then she circled her hands over my shoulders and chest in a warm hug.

Twenty-eight years later, my mother will die on a hospital bed, her left hand clasping mine.”

Read the full essay here.

Ógbuágu: The Lion’s Killer Depression by Keside Anosike (class of 2014)

“In Igbo, Ogbuagu literally translates to “a lion’s killer.” It doesn’t entirely suggest cruelty, but bravery. It is the highest title that can be given to a person in Igbo land, and reserved only for the strong, the brave—those who walk into a lion’s den without saying goodbye to the people they left at home.

I began to know my mother in my early adult life. Before then, what I knew of her was in a stream of memory so thin it was difficult to distinguish it from imagination. Her body in a wedding dress, laying eyes closed in something metallic on four wheels, right in the center of our living room in Mbieri…”

Read the full essay here.


Don’t Let It Bury You by Eloghosa Osunde (class of 2015)

I know the sound of my mother’s voice better than I know anything else. As a child, I didn’t like the way the soft and smooth of it could explode into a growl in sudden seconds, shouting and overheating the house, sending my small anxious heart darting through my body, displaced. I never liked how it fractioned my breathing and slowed my movements into a drag. But I liked that it always prepared me for trouble, at least. I like that it helped me get ready.

Read the full essay here.

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