Ben Okri on the Paradox of Creativity

Before Ben Okri won the Man Booker Prize.

Before he was awarded an Order of the British Empire.

Before a quote of his was put on London’s Memorial Gates (“Our future is greater than our past”).

Before all that, he was a 17 or 18 year old kid in Lagos, Nigeria. And he began writing poetry.

“I wrote a hundred poems in about three months,” he told an interviewer from Vanity Fair. “Reread them, thought they were all terrible.”

He threw out 95 of them, kept five.

And – echoing a theme author Junot Díaz spoke of – Mr. Okri said, “It was in the process of destroying 95 poems that I actually began to discover something of my voice.”

Because we can’t be too precious, Mr. Okri believed. We must have the courage to create abundantly. Then, as the old advice goes, kill your darlings – eliminate anything that, no matter how poetic, doesn’t push our voice, our work forward.

And then he shared with the Vanity Fair interviewer a beautiful and ageless paradox about art making.

For me, Mr. Okri said, “creativity has always been bound up in destruction.”

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