Neema Komba wears many hats: businesswoman, poet, fiction writer and activist. Neema came to the spotlight in 2015 when she won the 2014 Etisalat Prize for flash fiction. In this interview with Sabinews, she talks about life after winning and her entrepreneurial endeavours.
Sabinews: Were you expecting to win the Etisalat Prize for flash fiction?
Neema Komba: No, not at all. I couldn’t believe that the story had been shortlisted, let alone win. It was my first attempt to write a story in 12 years. Going against Chinua and Justin was such a privilege; I mean both stories were so amazing and stylistically very different. In the end I was very grateful to have won, and to have carried the flag for my country.
Sabinews: Has the euphoria of winning worn off yet?
Hahaha yes, to a big extent. I think that lasted a couple of weeks, and then reality set in, that to those whom much is given, much is expected. I freaked myself out imagining the kind of expectations people must have. I also had to fight those horrible feelings of inadequacy in the imaginary world of perfect writers. When to be or not to be is no longer the question, how to be can be a damn difficult question to answer. I am still figuring it out though. I was overwhelmed before, but I am now enjoying the process of discovering what I can become. But the prize money is definitely finished.
Sabinews: How did winning the prize affect you relationship with other writers? Did you become a celebrity of sorts?
Winning the prize was just amazing. However, it hasn’t really affected my relationship with other writers, rather it helped me meet even more writers. I mean, I have rubbed shoulders with Songeziwe, Chinelo, and Nadia, and met other awesome writers like Remi Raji and Odia Ofeimun. I saw Wole Soyinka from afar, people I never dreamt I could meet in this life.
Before the prize, when I wrote mainly poetry, I knew some awesome poets mainly from East Africa, and a few from the US. Now I know even more awesome writers and I feel very blessed.
I didn’t become a celebrity though. I take the bus, and no one recognizes me, which is great. I get to silently sit, observe life happening around me.
Sabinews: What are you currently working on and can you tell us a little about it?
Oh my. I was fortunate that my proposal passed the first few stages to be featured in the creative non-fiction anthology for Africa, to be edited by Ellah Wakatama. I am now revising my draft and hoping that it goes through the final check. I am writing about a magical rock called Mbuji, a hidden mystical treasure found in the South of Tanzania, with taboos and tales that offer a special insight into the life and beliefs of the Matengo people that live around the rock.
I have also been working on another non-fiction, a life story of a woman pice; a teacher, who has been fighting cancer for the past 12 years, and is still fighting till today. I am humbled that she chose me to tell her story. Of course, a few short stories, poems whenever possible, articles, generally just writing.
Sabinews: Do you see yourself winning the Etisalat Prize for Literature, for a full length novel, in the future?
Wouldn’t that be amazing? I can hope for that, but first I have to write a full length novel. I respect novelists, I really do. To have that kind of imagination and discipline is just amazing. I am currently learning, exploring different genres, reading as much as I can and growing in my craft. When I write my first novel, I hope it will be amazing.
Sabinews: There are people that do not consider flash fiction as serious literature. What would you say if you came face to face with such people?
I suppose I will have to ask them what serious literature is before I can say anything to them. People are entitled to their opinions, and I would be happy to listen to them and hear their arguments before I agree or disagree with them.
Sabinews: Did you always know you were going to write?
Not always. I started writing when I was 12 years old. This is the time I vividly remember writing. I didn’t know where I was going with it, I just wrote. I can’t not write.
[Read: Etisalat is putting their money where their mouth is -Uche Okonkwo]
Sabinews: Which book has had the most influence on you as a writer?
There isn’t just one book that has influenced me. There are a lot of books over the years that have shaped me, so many books that I love – in different genres. As a child, I used to love stories from the book of Kings in the Bible, but The Torn Veil by Danquah Mabel had such an effect on me when I was 14 or 15. I was in form two at Kifungilo Girls Secondary School when I first read it. It wasn’t the main reading for my class, but the teacher told us to read it if we wanted. It was the first time I fell in love with literature. The story made me stop and think about the kind of power literature had, the kind of power I had as a writer and how I was going to use it. For me, that was such an intense realization. It gave me a deep dissatisfaction with my own creations; I wanted to write such powerful stuff that would just leap from the page and tug at people’s heartstrings. I still wish to write that way even today.
But since then, I have loved many books from many writers and they have influenced my writing in many different ways.
Sabinews: In an earlier interview with us, you said you would invest your prize money in your soap business. How is that working out?
I did put most of the prize money in the business. I am still trying to get Ira fresh, my soap brand, off the ground. Challenges of a small business are never ending but I am hopeful, that one day this baby grows, stands, walks, runs, flies.
Sabinews: If the means was available would you give up your business to write full time?
I like to believe that I don’t have to be just one thing. I have never been able to fit in just one box. Just a poet. Just a fiction writer. Just an accountant. Just a businesswoman. I believe I can excel in business as well as in writing if I work hard at both.
I love to write more than anything in the world. It gives me tremendous joy to be able to write. But I also love transforming ideas into things. Like my soap business- it has its own kind of high. I didn’t get into business just to earn money – because in the beginning there is no money in it. It is just as risky as writing. I love manufacturing. I love creating opportunities. I love knowing that what I do makes or will make a difference in the economy, and the lives of people. Besides Amimeita Ventures Limited, my manufacturing company, which became operational in 2013, I also started La Poetista in 2012, which gives a platform for poets and other artists to showcase their work. Through La Poetista we organize open mics for poets, the Woman Scream festival for Tanzania, which is part of a worldwide poetry movement to fight against violence against women; and also recently the Dar Poetry Festival, a grass root movement to grow the art of poetry, in collaboration with Megan Fernandes, and other literary and art organizations.
I have two sides; very efficient and organized on one hand and then very reckless, lazy and disorganized on the other hand. I am neither this nor that. I am a nice blend of both.
[Related: Winning the Etisalat prize gave me faith as a writer – Songiziwe Mahlangu]
[Related: Etisalat boosted my confidence as a writer – Chinelo Okparanta]
[Related: Will this man win the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature?]
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Cool. Keep it up Neema