John Cheever, an American novelist, and short story writer wrote that “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss —you can’t do it alone.” If Cheever’s analogy is anything to go by, then Maukeni Padiki Kodjo is one of the writers in Ghana who gets the most kisses. For her, it is not as much about the number of readers she has as it is about the loyalty of these readers to her. It was, therefore, no surprise at all when last week Saturday a good number of people who patronize her award-winning blog, www.kenikodjo.com, gathered at the Workshed at Spintex in Accra to network, discuss their favorite stories from the writer, take pictures, nibble, sip and have a good time. At the end of the event, one thing was confirmed. Keni Kodjo has the best readers in the world!
As a writer and blogger, I know firsthand the importance of having loyal readers and I must confess that witnessing the KeniKodjo Meet Up is the most enviable thing I have seen in my short stint with writing. The best form of reader engagements I have seen in Ghana is the book reading events organized by Nana Awere Damoah and Kofi Akpabli. There many other movements and activities taking place across the country, especially reading clinics for children, which are also serving the purpose of improving the reading attitudes of Ghanaians. After what I witnessed on Saturday, I dare say that the KeniKojo Meet Up pushed reader engagement in Ghana up by one more notch.
In the following read, I will attempt to share with you the joy and excitement that characterized the event. Though I believe in my ability to give you a vivid description, I am quick to admit that I am not sure I will do as much justice to it as I would want to.
First, a bit about Maukeni. She was adjudged the best blogger of the year at the Ghana Blogging and Social Media Awards earlier this year organized by Blogging Ghana. Currently, she juggles blogging and writing, working and law school. Her most recent serial which was the most discussed of her writings at the event, Know Thy Man, attracted many readers of varied demographics who could not wait for Wednesdays for the installments. Visit her blog and you will find interesting interactions with Keni on how her readers identify with the characters and suggestions about how the story should continue. Other serials and short stories by her that kept her readers spellbound include Capital High, The Help, The Girl in a Relationship, and Soliloquy among others.
Ask Me Anything
Before the event, Keni wrote a post on Facebook that said she might regret adding this segment of the programme. After the segment, however, she confessed that she was disappointed in the readers. I think the love her readers had for her made them go soft on her with the questions. With questions ranging from whether she had a boyfriend to why she killed a character in Know Thy Man, Maukeni answered them graciously to the satisfaction of the audience. Some other questions that were asked included; what the defining moment was for her with regards to writing, how difficult it was for her to keep her purity ring, what was there for her after law school – as to whether she would stop writing or not, and whether she had a book or a stage project in mind. I am not sure you want me to write all the responses here for you. You should have been there to find out.
This was the most exciting part of the night! Participants broke into three groups and named them Team Kelewele, after one of Keni’s favorite delicacies, Team Ghana Jollof, in solidarity with Ghana in the Jollof Wars and Team Kenkey, for a reason I am yet to find out. It was absolutely fascinating to see readers answer questions about stories written by Keni and the characters in them. To have people remember quotes from stories that date as far back as last year was even more admirable. But what made this segment very exciting was the friendly hostility that came with it. In the end, Team Ghana Jollof took the day! Neither the calmness of Team Kelewele nor the presence of George (a real life character in the Know Thy Man series) could match the combined strength of all the glass wearing people who were in Team Ghana Jollof. “What’s our name?!!!” And oh! Before the trivia ended, there was a kenkey in our Jollof.
What Would You Have Done? – Based on the Know Thy Man series
This segment saw readers now take characters one by one and analyze their roles in the series. The discussion included how decisions of the characters translate into personal life, how they would have acted if they were the characters in the story and more especially, if they were Keni, how they would have woven and spun the story. It was an enlightening time as the discussion bordered around love, relationships, marriage, divorce, domestic abuses, and faith. It was so good a time; we had to be begged to bring the discussion to an end.
Keni predicted that September would be lit! And in doing so, she attributed it to three wonderful events that were set to take place in September. The recent past Tickling Di Sebiticalis with Nana Awere Damoah and Kofi Akpabli, The KeniKodjo Meet Up and the upcoming play by Kobina Ansah, My Wife-In-Law! She did not know lit would not be enough to describe her September until she was interrupted during her vote of thanks that her boyfriend whom she affectionately calls CPR had a surprise for her. We waited; she was on tenterhooks and tadaa… A humongous birthday cake! We sang the happy birthday song for her; we took pictures with the cake and helped her eat it all.
Photo shoot, Networking and Nibbling Time
Honestly, being that I was not much of an ardent follower of Keni’s blog and my partner in crime, Kossi, bailed on me last-minute about attending the event, I did not think I will have as much fun as I did. I encouraged myself to stay to the end because I was bent on writing this review but my plan was that as soon as the closing prayer was said, I would disappear. Just on my way out, Keni intercepted me and said, “You are going nowhere ooo”. I did not have an option but to stay and I do not regret doing so at all.
I had the pleasure of talking some of the ladies around (This is to spite Kossi) and took so many pictures that Gerald, the photographer was annoyed. The formula used to distribute the nibbles too was so good that it helped in bonding – two people had to share a plate. The tale of the conversation I had with Florence is one that I will tell on another day.
By and large, I had a great time. Not only because it was fun but also because it was an enlightening period. I learned a lot. And the words of Mary Gaitskill says it better that I can ever put it. “Writing is… being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.”
This is the power of a good readership. I think that for some time now, there has been a lot of talk about how writers have the responsibility of churning our good materials to whip up the reading interest in a nation. The readers of the KeniKodjo blog have proven that the otherwise is true – in that, if we have a group of people who have the passion for reading and can engage writers, they will change the face of literature in a nation. I believe this is why Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world”
The days of undermining the power of books, reading and writing have come to an end! There is a reading revolution! Catch the fever now and let’s all come together and make Ghana a Reading nation. “Books can truly change our lives: the lives of those who read them, the lives of those who write them. Readers and writers alike discover things they never knew about the world and about themselves”. As someone who has been more of a writer than a reader for some time now, I left the event saying “Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” This is why I say Lit is not enough to describe the KeniKodjo Meet Up.