Chiziterem Ndukwe-Nwoke is a 23 years old Nigerian writer, literary entrepreneur, and a graduate of Petroleum Engineering from Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria.
He is the founder of Route Africa, a non-profit non-governmental organization that gathers a collective of student writers whose primary goal is to empower each other and contribute to Africa’s literary scene worldwide.
A. Can you tell us five interesting facts about yourself?
C.N 1) I love watching movies a lot, and I love reading books a lot too, and I don’t know why when I indulge so much in one, I feel like I’m cheating on the other. Happens to me every time. 2) I’ve never attended a single class on literature in any school, ever. 3) Coke vs. Pepsi: Coke wins, always. 4) Guess I should have lead with this: My name is ‘Chiziterem’. It’s Igbo (Major indigenous Nigerian language and people) for “God Sent Me.” Three funny facts about this name: I’m very religious (Christian), so you can agree with me that this name fills me with a ginormous sense of purpose, which I keep discovering anew every day. The short form of the name is ‘Chizzy’. Sounds exactly like ‘cheesy’. The irony: I detest all forms of cheesiness. I know only two boys in the world that would boldly tell someone “My name is Chizzy”. They are me, and a high school senior of mine. 95% of persons that answer Chizzy (not necessarily Chiziterem) are female. Ouch. 5) I’m twenty-three and I have never crossed the shores of Nigeria before. One of my primary goals in life is to visit (if possible) every major city in the world and be fluent in at least 6 major popularly-spoken languages.
A. What is Route Africa, and what is your role?
C.N Route Africa is a non-profit non-governmental organization of undiscovered, unheard African writers, made up mainly of crops of students from different colleges and high schools/secondary schools, with the common goal of collectively helping each other with announcing their works, engaging in healthy contests to better their skills, tutoring and mentoring each other, and ultimately contributing to expose the African literary scene more to the world. It is very young and slowly fitting into an efficient structure laid out to cater for the writing needs of these students long after graduation. Its backbone for existence is the partnerships it has (with both individuals and corporate bodies) and those it intends to form. It is a bridge for up-and-coming African writers to the rest of the world. In Route Africa, I am the founder and chief executive officer of operations. I also coach a few members, and I am invested in driving it to its greatest heights.
A. How did Route Africa come about and what is your mission as a collective?
C.N Route Africa is an initiative that begun with the need to fill a void—one many other organizations have spotted long before now, and have indeed made significant strides at filling—and do it at the most grassroots of levels. This void is the very apparent chasm between the volume, quality, diversity of genres, and accolades of western (and Arabic and oriental) literature and that of African literature. It has taken many shapes from idea formation in early 2015 (and is, at current, shaping itself to become more) before it became what it is today. Originally called “Black Kit” (as a way to represent a kit of black pigeons in flight carrying messages from one place to another), this non-profit organization officially came into existence in May, 2016 in a gathering of twelve students of Federal University of Technology Owerri, Nigeria who shared a similar need to fill this void, and has since, given the very limited resources available to the pioneer members, and a starting fund of zero naira, made significant strides in gaining presence in over 10 institutions in Nigeria (officially recognized as a school club in two). Today, Route Africa is a community of African writers operating in African high schools and higher institutions of learning, dedicated to networking between, developing, and promoting undiscovered writing talents and wishes to never cease in announcing undiscovered African writers by way of tutelage, mentoring, and partnerships with other literary organizations, and equipping them to reach Africa and the rest of the world with their unique messages, relentlessly.
A. What are the successes you’ve accomplished and the challenges you’ve faced?
C.N In one year of operation, Route Africa has over 55 student members spanning across 12 Nigerian universities, and over 15 college graduates (most of whom are pioneer members and form its board of trustees). Out of the 12 universities, it has gained official status as a club in two (Federal University of Technology, Owerri and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka) and has university staff members playing advisory roles in both institutions. Route Africa has so far hosted six writing contests online (called our “In-House Contest”) for its members, and winners of these contests has had their stories published online by one of its partners in publicity, moofyme.com. Other organizations Route Africa has formed solid partnerships with in the past one year are The Reading Revolution in Africa Project (an African offshoot of a speed-reading campaign run by The Literacy Company and sponsored by MISSL), Afrikult., The LUMEN Press FUTO, Aristotle Photography, and Qube Technologies. The last two organizations/outfits are run by African students and have a more symbiotic relationship with Route Africa whereby Route Africa helps announce them and offer publicity since they are start-ups, and this agrees excellently with one of our core values: announcing African business start-ups. Route Africa has also found friends in a good number of well-known African and non-African writers, some of whom are the wonderful Irenosen Okojie, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Obinna Udenwe, Leah Crichton, Rachel Desiree and Ainehi Edoro. These resounding successes have not at all come without their challenges, the biggest of which is funding. Currently, Route Africa supports itself with regularly paid dues from members, sign-up fees, and sparse freewill donations from friends and patrons alike, all of which are very meagre amounts.
This has made organizing live events in real locations an uphill task (only two has ever taken place – Route Africa’s inauguration and a collaborative effort with The Reading Revolution in Africa Project to host an efficient reading skills workshop in FUTO). The importance of having events like seminars, literary workshops, book festivals, local outreach programmes, or even face to face mentoring sessions cannot be overemphasized, and core as they are to her agenda, having these become reality still requires the intervention of some form of angel investor or well-planned crowd-funding projects. Other challenges are embedded in one specific characteristic of Route Africa’s existence—its newness and apparent obscurity. These challenges range from difficulties in recruiting new members, explaining what exactly our aim is, forming new partnerships, but most of all, managing people, because at the end, we are a business and our raw materials are the undiscovered writers we recruit. They are, as well, our processing engine, and as well our primary finished products, so inadequacies in handling members on a psychological or educational (because, indeed, Route Africa is mostly literary novices helping other literary novices) level pose a threat to their interests in remaining with the organizations or even adopting its vision as their own.
A. In two years’ time, what do you hope Route Africa would have achieved?
C.N I would really hope, firstly, that Route Africa does not, because of pressure from difficulties surrounding it, and the need for financial backbone, become something it was never intended to be. I hope it maintains its integrity, and remains that one organization that unknown writer from the many slums and inaccessible villages in Africa can count on to get his/her story out there to the rest of the world. This means that I hope that in two years’ time Route Africa must have spread its reach to African nations around Nigeria, especially the non-English speaking nations, and prioritize the schools and institutions where the underprivileged go to above the ones that are well-to-do. Also, in two years’ time, let money not be much of an issue, and let whatever intervention that would cause this be borne and initiated as a funding project by Route Africa or her members so there can be some surety to its longevity and control.
There are so many other things because, truly, Route Africa is a multipronged organization that seeks to accomplish so much a step at a time, but one more that is of note is the maintaining and building of broader and additional networks with similar and complementary players in this game of literary education and enlightenment with focus in Africa. Course has already been set within to see this through; all one can do is hope and pray that other individuals and organizations see the sheer determination and willpower of members towards achieving success and not resist partnering up.
If you are interested in finding out more, check out Route Africa contact details and links below.
Twitter: http://twitter.com/routeafrica_ (@RouteAfrica_)
Wattpad: http://wattpad.com/user/Meet_Africa (@Meet_Africa)