Stories by Anote Ajeluorou
Set at the foot of a hill in ancient, serene Ebedi town, the Dr. Wale Okediran-inspired residency for writers has continued to be a haven for writers from across the African continent. From Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe and, of course, Nigeria, Ebedi International Writers Residency has hosted some of the finest, young literary minds defining and shaping a continent’s writing culture.
So far, such writers as Doreen Baingana (Tropical Fish), Dul Johnson (Why Women Won’t Make it to Heaven), Igoni Barrett (From the Cave of Rotten Teeth), Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy), Barbara Oketa, Ayodele Olufintuade (Eno’s Story) and many more have drank from the serene, inspiring well of Ebedi. Each year there are no less than three sessions with no less than three writers admitted into the residency, solely financed by Okediran, with provision of feeding and board in a four to eight weeks’ stay.
With three writers – Ghanaian Macdell Kofi Joshua Sackey and Nigerians’ Chiaka Ukachukwu Obasi and Taofeek Olayiwola – who recently had a six weeks’ stay at Ebedi, the profile of the only writers’ residency resort in West Africa keeps rising and gaining acceptance among writers. But just like their counterparts that had tasted the serene and salubrious ambience of Ebedi, these three writers are not happy that the noble objectives of Ebedi as conceived by Okediran, medical doctor-turned-writer and politician, are yet to penetrate the thinking of various governments and corporate Nigeria so as to come to its aid and boost it.
For them, Ebedi International Writers Residency programme is an incubation ground for literary creativity not unlike the many talent hunt and reality TV shows enjoying massive monetary endorsement from corporate Nigeria and showing on various TV stations, gulping several millions of naira to sustain them annually.
Although tucked away in the quiet of Ebedi town in Oyo State, these three writers still found it odd that the beauty and value of this unique writers’ resort was yet to be discovered and properly harnessed as part of nurturing the creative endeavours of young Nigerian, nay Africans in the hallowed field of writing, clearly the continent’s most successful creative cultural engagement and export to the outside world, with four Nobel Prizes to show for it!
For Olayiwola, who writes in Yoruba, Ebedi residency, which started in 2010, ought to have had corporate financial support by now so its burden didn’t rest solely on its founder Okediran alone. That way, he stated, the gains of the residency would be deepened and its impact far fetched among African writers. With another literary prize, Etisalat Literature Prize newly opened to first time published authors of African origin, the nurturing, incubating workroom Ebedi provides would go a long way in getting the creativity of the continent’s writers soaring.
“So far the programme has been on self-sponsorship”, Olayiwola lamented, “People should come and support it. Various governments’ empowerment programmes for youth should also be extended to Ebedi International Writers Residency programme, as a way of promoting creativity. The value of Ebedi to literary creativity is limitless. Government and companies should support this project.”
Obasi, a dramatist, also called on government and corporate bodies to support Ebedi, as part of a wider support for cultural expression in the country and the continent. He particularly called on corporate bodies that regularly sponsor musical shows and other entertainment talent-hunt projects to look the way of writers as well, particularly Ebedi.
Sackey, who was apparently excited at what Ebedi offers writers, also called for international collaboration to make Ebedi even better to continue to nurture the aspirations of the continent’s writers.
For these three writers and several others like them, who have passed through Ebedi, whereas writing is sometimes viewed as a reclusive and intellectual engagement, it still has ennobling society as its central, and support for it could no longer be denied it by those with the means to do so, whether government or companies.
AND, at the closing ceremony last Saturday that attended these three writers’ stay at Ebedi, which involved active participation of local school students of Ebedi Community Grammar School, poetry reading and recitation, singing and dancing and a quiz contest, was held. This was part of activities of community service for residents; it required resident writers to interact and impart useful, creative skills to the school’s students.
A literature schoolteacher Prince Femi Olalere commended Okediran for his vision in setting up the residency to encourage creativity and for consistently spending his money to sustain it thus far. He also thanked the residents for imparting the students, further noting, “We thank the residents for grooming the students in different creative areas like dancing, singing and writing. I want to say that the students have learnt a lot from the resident writers’ mentorship. Indeed, they are privileged to be learning from the resident writers. It’s my hope that the students would make use of what they have learnt from the writers to improve their lives”.
Rasaq Ibrahim recited a visionary poem, ‘I have a dream’; a 3-woman act staged a skit on drunkenness and Maryam Adewole and Deborah Rowland read poems in Yoruba.
All three writers (Sackey, Olayiwola and Obasi) testified to the conducive ambience Ebedi International Writers Residency offers writers in helping them continue and complete ongoing works, and the hospitality the community also offered them in their short stay. Obasi, who just completed work on Fatherland, said, “I will remember most the hospitality of Ebedi people. Okediran and his people have shown us brotherly love. I’ve had no distraction to write. It’s been wonderful spending some weeks here. It’s the right place Okediran has set up. It’s hard to see a full time writer without the distractions of workaday life; the environment here is serene. I have enjoyed it so far”.
“I’m greatly encouraged by the camaraderie radiating in this community,” Olayiwola reminisced. “Within the last three weeks that I got here, I did a great deal. I’ve never had it so serene, so cool, so friendly as Ebedi. I’ve had a wonderful experience. The serenity has really helped me a lot; it’s as if we have lived here all our lives!”
The Ghanaian was probably more effusive, when he noted, “I’m going to miss the ambience, the serenity; this place is conducive for writing; it’s a fine place to cogitate and write! I’ve completed two books – on poetry and children’s story. I’m inspired by nature”.