Monday, September 03, 2018

The start of Amos Tutuola's writing career

So this is Tutuola's recollection from the introduction to The Palm-Wine Drinkard from the omnibus I read. It's so astounding I feel the need to share it (I don't know whether the ellipses are the editor's or Tutuola's own; I suspect the former because I get the impression that this is a transcription of an oral interview, but the book provides no source. They're not mine, anyway).

Well, it happened that since I was young and I was in the infant school which we call nowadays primary, each time I went to my village I learnt many tales and I was much interested in it so that later when I could read and write I wrote many of these down. And as much as I had great interest in these, I took myself to be one of the best taletellers in the school for the other children. Later, having left the school, one day I bought one magazine. I was working then. I had joined the army and left the army. I was engaged as a messenger by the Department of Labor. One day I got one magazine published by the Government of Nigeria Information Service. It carried all the festivals, Oya, Ogun everything. It was a quarterly magazine, so I bought the magazine and started to read it. It contained very lovely portraits of the gods. When I bought the magazine I read it to a page where books which were published were advertised. Well . . . I had read some of those books when I was at school. Then I saw that one of the books which were advertised here was about our tales, our Yoruba tales. "But eh! By the way, when I was at school I was a good taleteller! Why, could I not write my own? Ooh, I am very good at this thing." The following day I took up my pen and paper and I started to write The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Well, I wrote the script of Palm-Wine and kept it in the house. I didn't know where to send it to.

Again, the following quarter I bought another magazine of the same type. Fortunately when I read it, I got to where it advertised "Manuscripts Wanted" overseas. Well then! Immediately I sent my story to the advertiser. When my script got to them they wrote me in about two weeks saying that they did not accept manuscripts which were not concerned with religion, Christian religion. But, they would not return my manuscript. They would find a publisher for me because the story was so strange to them that they would not be happy if they returned it to me. By that I should be patient with them to help me find a publisher. Then a year later I got a letter from Faber & Faber that they got my manuscript from Lutheran World Press.  Faber & Faber said that the story . . . uh they were wondering whether I found the story fallen down from somebody because it is very strange to them. They wondered because they were surprised to see such a story . . . they wanted to know whether I had made it up or got it from somebody else . . . and they would be happy if I would leave the story for them to do to it as they want. I reply that I don't know anything about book publishing and so on, so I leave everything for you to do as you see is good. . . . Then after about six months now they publish the book in 1952 and sent a copy to me.  That is how I started to write.

Did he get paid properly for the novel? Who knows. But JEEZ, looking at all this, it seems like a friggin' MIRACLE that he ever got published at all. A lucky break AND HOW.


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