Interview by LIBRETTO
Libretto had a discussion with award winning Nigerian writer and publisher, Servio Gbadamosi. Gbadamosi is the head of Winepress Publishing and its parent company. Noirledge Limited, a robust independent publishing house that has in the past 10 years, helped mainstream a generation of new voices in Nigerian writing. Gbadamosi’s poetry collection. A Tributary in Servitude, released in February, 2015 won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. In this interview he shares his thoughts on writing and publishing, and what it feels like to be on both sides.
LIBRETTO: Hello Servio, I am so happy to have you here. What prompted you to become a writer? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
S.G: I am delighted to be here with you.
I started writing as an undergraduate of the Olabisi Onabanjo University. I had applied to the Mass Communication program because I believed in the power of words and information to change and shape our world. Radio was an essential part of my childhood. My mother made sure that one was always on, despite the irregular power supply. It drew me first to music and then to the news. Somehow, I developed a feeling that the newscasters I listened to on radio knew everything about the world and possessed the ability to tell same beautifully. And I wanted to be just like them—possessing a well-rounded knowledge of the world and the ability to tell it beautifully.
So, I had always known that I would write and be around books and writers. This is why I spent more time in libraries around the university, reading lots of literary and historical texts. I owe a lot to my literature teacher back in secondary school though. He was a kind, warm and friendly man who did his best to ensure that his students enjoyed literature as well as he did. Fond memories of his teachings would later on inspire me to start writing poetry early in my university days. That should be sometime in June, 2003.
Now, I am not sure there was ever a time I made a deliberate decision to become a writer. Writing found me. I stumbled into it, found out I loved it and I have not been able to break free from it ever since.
LIBRETTO: What is your best writing genre? Apart from writing, what other profession would you have chosen?
S.G: Poetry is my favourite genre. Creative Nonfiction comes second. I would choose reading and writing these over the others any day, anytime.
Besides writing, I really love teaching, as well as working with and being around creatives and cultural practitioners. I have found that I have a natural knack for Arts Administration, which is why I have decided to pursue my passion in these fields. I have invested time and resources into learning the ropes in the business of publishing and book distribution over time and the results have been rewarding.
LIBRETTO: How did Winepress become a Publishing home for writers? What does it take to get published through your firm?
S.G: I started thinking seriously about starting a career in publishing sometime in 2007. I had completed my first poetry manuscript and sent it out to a number of publishing firms for consideration. As it was the case for a lot of first-time authors then, I met with disappointment and I was alarmed that some publishers would not even take a look at the manuscript simply because it was not an academic text that could make it to the prescribed reading list in schools around the country. In talking with other writers in the literary and arts groups I belonged to in school and online, I discovered that this was a problem common to us all.
There and then, I decided to be one of the people that will help solve this problem by working with and giving hope to writers across the country through the platform of an independent publishing company. I envisioned that our books would be published in the best quality possible and sold at a price that readers would be able to afford. I have been at work on this dream for more than ten years now and I have been blessed with the support of like-minded friends along the way. That led first to the establishment of House of Hits, then WriteHouse Collective and now Winepress Publishing and its parent company, Noirledge Limited.
As I said in a recent interview with The Guardian Newspapers, Winepress and Noirledge are independent publishers and we do not have as deep pockets as the major publishing conglomerates. What we do therefore is to carefully select our authors based on our understanding of the market and the company’s role in it. We are particularly interested in younger writers who are unafraid to tell their stories in rich engaging ways.
LIBRETTO: How can the reading culture be encouraged in Nigeria?
S.G: I believe the issue of reading in Nigeria, and Africa for that matter, goes beyond ‘encouraging’. A lot of factors come into play as far as the reading culture is concerned. However, I think one of the things we can do is to see to the establishment of more libraries in out communities and to also ensure that these libraries have the right digital facilities.
LIBRETTO: What can you say to upcoming young contemporary writers who wish to achieve more in writing? Also, as someone who has been in this industry for years, can you share your views on how you think someone can benefit financially and otherwise from writing and publishing?
S.G: They should keep writing and reading. It is in the doing that we become. If they are not in a hurry to be heard and take time to horn their skills, it is just a matter of time before the world starts paying attention to them and their writings. Eventually, the benefits also come in.
LIBRETTO: Who are your favouritewriters? And which books have impacted your writing the most? If you do not mind, you can share with us some of your favourite excerpts/lines from the book(s).
S.G: Niyi Osundare, Jay Wright, Derek Walcott, Abdellatif Laabi, Tchicaya U’Tamsi, Syl Cheney Coker, Paul Muldoon and many more.
LIBRETTO: What does your family think of your writing?
S.G: Well, they understand me and they have been very supportive through the years.
LIBRETTO: So, what are you working on next? What should we look forward to?
S.G: There is a poetry collection and a couple of creative nonfiction pieces in the works. It is still an ongoing project and so, you would have to wait, I guess.
LIBRETTO: Thank you for your time and your benevolence, Servio Gbadamosi.
S.G: Thank you LIBRETTO
Servio Gbadamosi heads Winepress Publishing and its parent company, Noirledge Limited, a robust independent publishing house that has in the past 10 years, helped mainstream a generation of new voices in Nigerian writing. A 2016 recipient of the Ebedi International Writers Residency fellowship where he co-wrote the chapbook, A Half-Formed Thing with fellow residents, Ehi’zogie Iyeoman and Ikechukwu Nwaogu, Gbadamosi’s poetry collection, A Tributary in Servitude, released in February, 2015 won the 2015 Association of Nigerian Authors’ Prize for Poetry, and also emerged runner-up of the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.