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Ben Okri

Ben Okri

Nigerian poet and novelist

Ben Okri (born 15 March 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions, and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. In 1991, Okri won the Booker Prize with his novel The Famished Road.

Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairy-tale, by love.

People are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves.

A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose it’s moorings or orientation... Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger.

I went to London because, for me, it was the home of literature. I went there because of Dickens and Shakespeare.

The acknowledged legislators of the world take the world as given. They dislike mysteries, for mysteries cannot be coded, or legislated, and wonder cannot be made into law. And so these legislators police the accepted frontiers of things.

We have fallen into this very mean description of humanity. Naturalism in fiction is too reductive in its definition of human beings.

Don't read what everyone else is reading. Check them out later, cautiously.

I was born left-handed, but I was made to use my other hand. When I was writing 'Famished Road,' which was very long, I got repetitive stress syndrome. My right wrist collapsed, so I started using my left hand. The prose I wrote with my left hand came out denser, so later on I had to change it.

We are living in enchanted time. With our spirits right.

If you are working in an office, where do you find the time to write a novel? But you can finish a short story in five pages. Furthermore, a short story is a perfect place to learn the craft

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me - unintentionally - was witnessing the courage with which he bore adversity.

I was going to be a scientist.

It is not important for me as a writer that you leave a piece of writing of mine with either an agreement or even a resonance with what I have said. What is important is that you leave with the resonance of what you have felt and what you thought in reaction to that.

I'm conscious of a series of circles working its way through my life. And at this particular moment I have come round to the beginning of my writing cycle. It begins with poetry. There's hardly a day that goes past on which I don't write poetry.

To see the madness and yet walk a perfect silver line. ... That's what the true story-teller should be: a great guide, a clear mind, who can walk a silver line in hell or madness.

To anyone who is homeless, I say, find a home.

Who knows, maybe this whole planet is an asylum, a penal realm. A place for hard cases.

I lived rough, by my wits, was homeless, lived on the streets, lived on friends' floors, was happy, was miserable.

The best writing is not about the writer, the best writing is absolutely not about the writer, it's about us, it's about the reader.

If we could be pure dancers in spirit we would never be afraid to love, and we would love with strength and wisdom.

I know that human beings are capable of anything.

A man must be able to hold his drink because drunkenness is sometimes necessary in this difficult life.

When chaos is the god of an era, clamorous music is the deity's chief instrument.

Painters ought to be mute. Speech is the enemy of expression.

I learned that life will go through changes - up and down and up again. It's what life does.

You are a mischievous one. You will cause no end of trouble. You have to travel many roads before you find the river of your destiny. This life of yours will be full of riddles. You will be protected and you will never be alone.

Ghetto-dwellers are the great fantasists. There was an extraordinary vibrancy there, an imaginative life. When you are that poor, all you've got left is your belief in the imagination.

a dream can be the highest point of a life

I was told stories, we were all told stories as kids in Nigeria. We had to tell stories that would keep one another interested, and you weren't allowed to tell stories that everybody else knew. You had to dream up new ones.

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me - unintentionally - was witnessing the courage with which he bore adversity. We had a bit of a rollercoaster life with some really challenging financial periods. He was always unshaken, completely tranquil, the same ebullient, laughing, jovial man.

The earliest storytellers were magi, seers, bards, griots, shamans. They were, it would seem, old as time, and as terrifying to gaze upon as the mysteries with which they wrestled .. (they) helped the community live though one more darkness, with eyes wide open, and with hearts set alight.

The higher the artist, the fewer the gestures. The fewer the tools, the greater the imagination. The greater the will, the greater the secret failure.

Wholeness is the enemy of the artist. We ought to be broken, ruined in some way.

Literature doesn't have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer. His Falstaff, for example, is very African in his appetite for life, his largeness of spirit. The characters of Turgenev are ghetto dwellers. Dickens characters are Nigerians.

I held you in the square And felt the evening Re-order itself around Your smile.

We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It's just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn't have expected.

What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings? The only hope is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to redream one's place in the world - a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things.

The strange thing about Africa is how past, present and future come together in a kind of rough jazz, if you like.

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.

The greatest religions convert the world through stories.

It may be that what you could be haunts you. It is real. It is a weight you have to carry around. Each failure to become, to be, is a weight. Each state you could inhabit is a burden as heavy as any physical weight, but more so, because it weighs on your soul. It is the ghost of your possibilities hanging around your neck, an invisible albatros, potentials unknowingly murdered.

We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the Living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe. We feared the heartlessness of human beings, all of whom are born blind, few of whom ever learn to see.

Don't despair too much if you see beautiful things destroyed, if you see them perish. Because the best things are always growing in secret.

There is a kind of expressed love which is easy to subvert. When a figure is loved for their deeds, their conquests, their heroism, their goodness, their love of the people, these are easy enough to destroy... But there is a kind of love which is felt for apparently no reason... A love, inspired, it seems, by the gods, which it is impossible to fight, distort, destroy, or weaken. In fact, the attempts to destroy such loves only strengthen them. And to do nothing allows them to continue to grow at their natural pace, inexoribly, till this love becomes a wide and silent adoration.

Magic becomes art when it has nothing to hide.

Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.

An inner darkness is darker than an outer darkness.

When you stop inventing reality then you see things as they really are.

The law is simple. Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully the first time.

The worst realities of our age are manufactured realities. It is therefore our task, as creative participants in the universe, to re dream our world. The fact of possessing imagination means that everything can be re dreamed. Each reality can have it

I'm fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history. Nobody has an absolute reality.

It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of your mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.

One human life is deeper than the ocean. Strange fishes and sea-monsters and mighty plants live in the rock-bed of our spirits. The whole of human history is an undiscovered continent deep in our souls. There are dolphins, plants that dream, magic birds inside us. The sky is inside us. The earth is in us.

What you see is what you make. What you see in a people is what you eventually create in them.

Destiny plans a different route and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn't have expected.

Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or lose its orientations. even in silence we are living our stories

We can redream this world and make the dream come real. Human beings are gods hidden from themselves.

Yes, the highest things are beyond words. That is probably why all art aspires to the condition of wordlessness. When literature works on you, it does so in silence, in your dreams, in your wordless moments. Good words enter you and become moods, become the quiet fabric of your being. Like music, like painting, literature too wants to transcend its primary condition and become something higher. Art wants to move into silence, into the emotional and spiritual conditions of the world. Statues become melodies, melodies become yearnings, yearnings become actions.

There ought to be three traditions in the art of humanity: the realistic, the visionary and the wild.

Reading, therefore, is a co-production between writer and reader. The simplicity of this tool is astounding. So little, yet out of it whole worlds, eras, characters, continents, people never encountered before, people you wouldn’t care to sit next to in a train, people that don’t exist, places you’ve never visited, enigmatic fates, all come to life in the mind, painted into existence by the reader’s creative powers. In this way the creativity of the writer calls up the creativity of the reader. Reading is never passive.

Reading, like writing, is a creative act. If readers only bring a narrow range of themselves to the book, then they'll only see their narrow range reflected in it.

The Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri says that ‘In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.’

We can still astonish the gods in humanity And be the stuff of future legends, If we but dare to be real, And have the courage to see That this is the time to dream The best dream of them all.

This earth that we live on is full of stories in the same way that, for a fish, the ocean is full of ocean. Some people say when we are born we're born into stories. I say we're also born from stories.

Creativity is the art of the impossible

Our time here is magic! It's the only space you have to realize whatever it is that is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is great, whatever is potential, whatever is rare, whatever is unique, in. It's the only space.

To sustain your belief through situations that completely undermine it is quite something.

Maybe there are only three kinds of stories: those we live, those we tell, and those that help our souls fly upwards to a greater life.

The road will never swallow you. The river of destiny will always overcome evil. May you understand your fate. Suffering will never destroy you, but will make you stronger. Success will never confuse you of scatter your spirit, but will make you fly higher into the good sunlight. Your life will always surprise you.

Don't neglect the gold in your own back yard.

A man's greatest battles are the ones he fights within himself.

If we are true, if we can love, if we have vision, if we can have courage, we can, we should, we ought to, we will.

I am not fighting for success, just to get more beauty out of myself and share it with more people.

Stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves, and you change the individuals and nations.

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