By Anote Ajeluorou
Since the beginning of the year, the literary scene of Nigeria has witnessed increased and remarkable activities. In spite of the usual challenges of poor patronage, corporate support, absence of publishing infrastructure, stakeholders on the scene would seem to have redoubled their zeal to ensure that literary creativity remains upbeat. So from writers to events and prize organisers and a few publishers, there has been renewed vigour to keep the flag really flying.
Early in January, Creative Alliance floated its maiden edition of a new short story competition Literary Star Search to give fillip to the short story genre of prose fiction. The N1 million worth of prize is scheduled to be awarded to the winner early 2013 . Also, a remarkable fictional work Troubled Dust came out early in the year from the famous author of Eze Goes to School, elder Onuorah Nzekwu. It is his self-hand, fictional account of the 1967-1970 Nigeria Civil War published 42 years after the end of that dreadful war, which he lived through as a civil servant. Nzekwu stated at the launch that though late in being published, Nigeria’s current unsettled security situation may have prompted the publication so it could serve as a warning to Nigerians. Although Troubled Dust was in the running for the initial shortlist of the $100,000 worth prize for The Nigeria Prize for Literature, it did not win.
The Lagos scene of literary reading activities kept up pace as usual. Before the Adegokes-led The Lifehouse closed shop at its former place on Sinari Daranijo-Street Victoria Island, it held important literary events. Its Remember for Tomorrow series hosted readings and discussions in honour of the late poet Christopher Okigbo. It was anchored by a fellow poet who knew him at the time and drank from his rich poetic offering, Odia Ofeimun. Under the Remember for Tomorrow, chairman of Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu interrogated Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah on his book, Witness to Justice, based on his stewardship as secretary of Oputa Panel on human rights abuses during the long era of military rule and the useful lessons he drew from that historic experience. It was vintage Kukah.
Pulpfaction Book Club has continued to hold its monthly Book’n’Guage reading event at Debonair Bookshop in Yaba, Lagos; it features writers as well as singers and spoken word artists to spice up the occasion. Abuja Writers Forum has also kept the nation’s capital city alive with literary activities with its monthly reading sessions that feature a mix of readings, music and painting.
On the performance side, the International Cultural Exchange (ICE) programme led by Prof. Segun Ojewuyi and Teju Kareem-led toured Lagos, Ondo, Ogun and Oyo States in Nigeria in July with performances in Ghana as well, with the African-American play Home. Also, the Theatre@Terra series at Terra Kulture, VI, Lagos, which had been sustained almost singlehandedly by Wole Oguntokun for over five years, continued to keep stage performance alive in Lagos.
The main mover of live theatre in the country today is, however, the poet, Ofeimun, whose attention to dance drama in recent times has drawn applause in the three dance pieces he has been dishing out to stage lovers – A Feast of Return, Nigeria the Beautiful and Itoya: A Dance for Africa. These three historical dance pieces tell Africa’s story with blunt and uncompromising truthfulness, digging into the heart of the many woes the continent has suffered in its chequered history since its contact with the outside world.
Port Harcourt-based Rainbow Book Club led by Mrs. Koko Kalango won the UNESCO-promoted World Book Capital 2014 for the city of Port Harcourt in July. The historic win helped to boost the yearly Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) held last month, as it was launched with much pomp, with the Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka as arrowhead. The club also continues to hold its monthly book reading sessions. Rainbow Book Club winning the World Book Capital 2014 was boosted by President Jonathan’s book project, Bring Back the Book, which was also launched in the President’s home state, Bayelsa in July. A library named after the eminent historian and emeritus professor, Prof. A.O. Alagoa was also launched in Yenagoa.
A young Nigerian studying History in the U.K., Miss Chibundo Onuzo had the first outing of her new novel The Spider King’s Daughter at the Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt to the delight of young, aspiring writers that attended the festival. The eminent Prof. Alagoa was thrilled beyond pleasure at Onuzo’s success as a young writer with specialisation as a historian like himself!
This year also, Farafina Publisher came out with Dr. Eghosa Emasuen’s Fine Boys; its e-book edition came out late last year. A new entrant in the publishing scene is Parresia, a joint venture by Afi Omoluabi Ogosi and Richard Ali. It has since published three books – Richard Ali’s City of Memories, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s The Whispering Trees, Emmanuel Iduma’s Farad and Helon Habila’s new book, Oil on Water. Victor Ehikhamenor’s Excuse Me!!!
Enugu-based Delta Publishers also published a seminal volume, God, Sex and the Englishman, which re-examines Africa’s probable origin and cause of its many woes, a paradise lost sort of rude awakening; it would jolt many a readers into wakefulness.
In August, Fidelity Bank Plc held an evening of literary activities to bring to an end its Creative Writing Workshop, which was captioned ‘The Write way to Greatness’ held at Oceanview Restaurant, Lagos. It had the presence of Lagos literati and its cast of international guest writer facilitators led by Nigeria’s Helon Habila, author of Waiting for an Angel and Measuring Time. The event was the bank’s way of showing commitment to the cause and promotion of literature in the country. Fidelity Bank Plc’s top management echelon was on hand to give validity to literary creativity.
To also join the band of closing ceremonies was NB/Farafina Trust’s Creative Writing Workshop, sponsored by Nigeria Breweries Plc in August. It had a cast of international writers – Jeff Allen, Rob Spillman from the United States and U.S.-based Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (author of One Day I Will Write About This Place). it had home girl, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck) as lead facilitator for the workshop. The well-attended event had Onyeka Onwenu serenading the literary audience with her special music notes for which she has since gained fame. Top management cadre of Nigeria Breweries Plc also graced the occasion to appreciate literature.
The first biggest literary prize event in the year was in September when The Lumina Foundation held the prize award for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa inside The Civic Centre Banquet Hall, Lagos. It was a glittering festival occasion that had former Ghanaian President, Mr. John Kufour in attendance. Two serving governors, Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively were also in attendance, with former governor of Cross Rivers State, Mr. Donald Duke. It also attracted big wigs from the Lagos financial and corporate world. The pan-African literary prize worth $20,000, named after black Africa’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature, was won by South African journalist, Mr. Sifiso Mzobe. He beat fellow South African, Bridget Pitt, with her novel, Unseen Leopard and Nigeria’s Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, with her work Roses and Bullets. The prize has Globacom Nigeria Limited as major sponsor in its fourth edition.
A week before, the $100,000 worth The Nigeria Prize for Literature, sponsored by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) company, announced its initial shortlist of 10 authors. Reputedly the biggest literary prize on the continent but exclusively for Nigerian writers both at home and abroad, it usually holds its prize-giving ceremony in October. Belgium-based Nigerian writer, Chika Unigwe won it her novel, On Black Sisters Street. The announcement of the shortlist led to the staging of the third annual CORA Book Party, with intention to introduce the shortlisted writers and work to the reading public before the final list of three was announced.
While the Garden City Literary Festival was held in Port Harcourt in October, the Coal City Book Convention and the Committee for Relevant Art-organised (CORA) Lagos Book and Art Festival were the other major literary events that eased out the 2012 in what could be regarded as a remarkable year in writing and literary programming for which writers, readers and sponsors alike had a good time.