By Anote Ajeluorou
Precisely 12 days from today, the Advisory Board for The Nigerian Prize for Literature will announce the winner of 2013 edition of the prize in the poetry category. Here, two of the poets in the race to the prize worth $100,000 spoke about their hopes and expectations and how to make prize systems more rewarding for writers and sponsors alike. Dr. Ogochukwu Promise is an award-winning writer. Prose, poetry and painting are areas where she has incomparable skills. She is the founder of Lumina Foundation, which organisers the biennial Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Her poetry collection for the prize is Wild Letters. Tade Ipadeola is Ibadan-based lawyer, an ward-winning poet, essayist and is President, PEN Centre Nigeria. His book in the race is The Sahara Testament. The third poet in the shortlist is Amu Nnadi (Through the Window of a Sandcastle)
How do you feel being on the shortlist of three?
I feel good. Happy.
In what ways do you think your poetry reflects, addresses current concerns?
I think this question can best be answered by my readers. But what I try to do through my poetry is to draw attention to things that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if viewing them from varied perspectives might add value to people’s lives. I would be delighted if my poetry offers alternative destinies, bandages wounds, accelerates healing and upholds happiness.
You see, over here and around the world, things have gone quite awry. So many things have moved far, far away from the ideal. When you think of all the things that plague us, all the astounding political issues that weigh us down, our own depravity at various levels, and the fact that there seems to be no end in sight, it bothers us all, right? What to do? It is not as if people are not worrying about it all, or how to fix things. But sometimes one doesn’t even know where to start. There are many who find it all rather overwhelming and wonder indeed how to go about reordering things.
What I tried to do in this particular collection, Wild Letters, is to try and identify the good in us, the God in us. I feel that what is necessary is an attitudinal change. If we use the GOOD in us, the God in us, the BIGGER Man in us, that GOODNESS in us, in whatever we do in life, in our relationship with other people, in caring for the welfare of others; if we use that GOODNESS in us wisely, we just might be able to change the situation. You see, it is difficult to be truly selfless, to choose to do RIGHT over WRONG, to UNAPOLOGETICALLY GIVE CARE, to truly LOVE in its finest quality. Yes, it is tough, but it is achievable, if we consistently and happily give it a good shot.
You asked Diaspora poets and other Nigerians abroad at the Book Party to return home and join the rebuilding. Does this shortlist mean a vindication of your representation to those writers abroad?
I was taking the opportunity to encourage them to explore new ground and look beyond the obvious challenges. That way even our difficult circumstances become vibrant material for creative work. True vindication comes from a strong thriving industry rather than the recognition of one or two significant authors.
As a literature prize organiser yourself, with Etisalat also joining the prize fray for writers on the continent, do you feel a sense of fulfillment? Are our writers getting the best deal for their writing?
Fulfillment assumes the journey is over. The journey is not yet over; I am still growing as an artist. I am not yet fulfilled.
It is heart-warming to realize that corporate bodies in Nigeria are supporting the arts as it is done in the Western world. Definitely, the more support given to the arts, the more exposed the abundant talents we have here will be.
Some persons would be surprised that as a prize-organiser, you also entered for The Nigeria Prize for Literature. Did it give you headache deciding whether it was appropriate or not?
As someone who organises awards to recognise writing talents, I feel it is actually appropriate if I facilitate the evaluation of others, to put myself under the same lenses alongside my peers and colleagues. It is a validation of the merit behind every creative work that requires he who seeks to judge, be open to judgment.
What are your hopes and fears as the countdown begins to October 9, when the winner will be announced?
In what better ways perhaps can literary prize systems on the national and continental levels be made stronger to better serve the interests of writers?
I think they should establish support and recognition for industrial areas of writing. You know, establish industrial awards for practitioners in literature, venture capital, publishing and licensing. These will go a long way to helping writers realise their dreams.
Asence of infrastructure still constitutes a problem on the local and African levels, with books not moving across easily. What can prize-organisers do either singularly or collectively in this regard? Is there possibility of collaboration among prize-organisers both local and continent-wide?
You know, I think that one of the best ways to go would be to virtualize the distribution of books, explore markets to e-books and in fact collaboration is the right way to make this work because it is not possible to do it individually.
What might you do your money when you win it?
Something that will give me great pride and satisfaction.