Thursday, January 03, 2008


2007: The Year Of The Nigerian Writer
(As published in The Guardian on Sunday 30/12/07)

2007 steps into history tomorrow, but it gave birth to fond memories in the writing community. Sour, bitter, sweet, and simply bland. The year has left a taste that would tingle into the New Year in the consciousness of many Nigerians. This year has been rather eventful for the Nigerian writer, bountiful ‘good books’, awards and more and more.
It seems rather certain that it will take a long time, for this year to go out of our memories. There is the attention on Nigerian literature, which is sure to spill into the New Year, 2008. And while we remain basking in the goodness of what came, and for the glitches of losing some writers, who were dear to our heart, we pray not for more laughter than pain in 2008.
While the events of the year may not all be captured, here are some that will remain in our memory, for a long time to come.
Prof. Niyi Osundare’s Tender Moments, his collection of love poems, Helen Oyeyemi’s second book, The Opposite House and Segun Afolabi’s first novel, Goodbye Lucille, all came out during the year.
JANUARY brought goodness, with the coming home of Half of a Yellow Sun, which has won so many awards.
FEBRUARY: So many things began in the month, as the writer, Muhammed Sule died on 12th. Helon Habila, Caine Prize winner, published his second novel, Measuring Time in the UK and later in November in Nigeria, by Cassava Republic. Tolu Ogunlesi won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenburg Poetry Prize, with his poem, Visiting the Yellow River. Abidemi Sanusi, author of Kemi’s Journal was in Nigeria for a creative writing workshop, in Lagos and Abuja.
MARCH: There was celebration of the life of Nigeria’s own Osundare, who not only celebrated his 60th birthday, but was also celebrated for escaping hurricane Katrina, which ravaged his base, New Orleans, United States of America in 2005. The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA) celebrated him at the Ojez nightclub, for his contribution to literature, and of course for his life.
APRIL was another month when writers were quite productive, and there was a good show of the winning spirit, but it was also a rather sad month when the community lost Ebereonwu the poet, playwright, movie producer/director and member of Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA) in a motor accident. Jude Dibia’s Unbridled was also released. Though no Nigerian won the Caine Prize, there were three on the shortlist for the year. The three are artist and writer, Ada Udechukwu, for her story, Night Bus, published in The Atlantic Monthly. Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit priest for his story My Parent’s Bedroom published in the New Yorker and E C Osondu for his story Jimmy Carter’s Eyes published in Agni. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim also won the BBC World’s service’s African Performance Playwriting competition 2007.
JUNE was the month that ruled it all, as “the year”. And why Ousmane
Sembene is not a Nigerian; his death was not one that Nigerian writers could ignore. Distinguished elder and statesman, Chinua Achebe was awarded the Man International Booker, a week after, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Orange Broadband Prize for 2007.
Adichie and Wainana taught a creative writing workshop sponsored by Fidelity Bank later in the year.
NOVEMBER: Just as writers were getting ready for the 9th Lagos Book and
Arts Festival (LABAF) organised by CORA, they woke up to hear the news of the death of Cyprian Ekwensi, the man who is said to have captured city life the most in Nigerian literature. The CORA organised festival, with the theme, Literacy as Democracy Dividend, was dedicated to him. He had been billed to formally open the festival, but died some five days to the event.
London-based Molara Wood got a Highly Commended Award in this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Competition for her short story, Trial by Water.
Habila toured Nigeria for his newest book, Measuring Time. He visited five states, Lagos, River, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Gombe. Chika Unigwe also came into the country to promote her novel, The Phoenix, the translation of her first book, De Feniks, her first novel. Her second book, Fara Mogana was released this year, but in Flemish; it’s going to take 2009, before English speakers know what it is about.
And Biyi Bandele now wears a shaven head. That is eventful too!

Writers on why they write

By Jumoke Verissimo

Funso Aiyejina, author, Legends of the Rockhill On why he writes:
“I write because I have a compelling urge to write. There are many people, who have compelling urge to go out there and slap somebody, but they don't go out to do it, (Laughs), so why do I do it and why do I continue to do it? Maybe because I think that any society without a literary tradition is not a human society, it is a barren society. It is a backward society. I think I have something to contribute to the literary tradition; so I write. . Secondly, I think literature has a central role to play in the shaping of the character of a people, and that if I can write one line that speaks to my people, however you define, the notion, I would have done something to satisfy myself.”

Abidemi Sanusi, author, Kemi’s Journal on problem of readership in Nigeria, “I guess when compared to buying food and making ends meet, reading books is not a priority for many people but at the same time, those that do read tend to narrow their reading lists to ‘success’, commercial and religious books. Everybody wants to be a success because nobody wants to be identified with failure especially in Nigeria. This means that the bookshops are flooded with such books because there is a market for them. The religious books certainly can be better written/edited and I’m not entirely sure that some of what’s written is theologically sound; but that’s just my opinion. The danger with this is that wonderful literary works are by and large not appreciated which is a real shame. Books can empower, challenge and influence societies in more ways than one. Think of Karl Marx and Das Kapital. Marx died in 1883 and 124 years after, his books are still influencing societies around the world.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, Half of a Yellow Sun on getting published "there is an element of being lucky, but also it is not just luck. First, you have to have the talent itself. We don't make the talent ourselves. The talent is a blessing that we are fortunate to have, but then, the task you must give yourself is hardwork. So, you are blessed with talent, but, you have to do the work, and it is hardwork. You have to write, you have to edit. You have to do the work to find the publisher yourself. See, Tolu Ogunlesi. He proved that hardwork can get you published. Send it. If you get rejected, send again. That is what I did, before I was published. The element of luck comes only, when finally you get an editor who likes you, but it has to be you, trying and trying."

Mobolaji Adenubi, author, Splendid, on publishing, “has gone the way of business — commercial; not that it wasn't commercial then, but, I don't want to say that the public want to buy many books that they don't need, unless these books are required, unless it is a prescribed text book. And I think the economy has much to do with it because you don't have that much money to throw about."

Victoria Kankara author, of Hymns and Hymen, on why she writes, “I write because that is the only way I can be heard. If I don't write and get published I won't be heard, no one would know what goes on in my mind. Writing for me is a way of putting down what I have learnt from other people's experience. When I learn from other people's experience; it helps me to document my own experience.”

Tolu Ogunlesi, author, of Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony on writers and writing, “Much of it is not in our powers, as much as it lies within us. We need to be committed; we need to work hard, and we need to take ourselves more seriously, and we should never underestimate the power of networking, because I personally cannot count the number of people who have been of help to me, people who I met online…”

Ayo Arigbabu author, 3kobo Book on the creativity and posterity, “It is usually left for people coming behind to really change things, and we are seeing things changed. From 1996, we can see how the music industry has changed… like from Remedies to Mode Nine. Ty Bello, a world class photographer… you see the creativity is there, you can feel it. You can taste it on the streets.”

Akeem Lasisi author, Iremoje, on the politicising of writing by some people, "I think as writers we should concentrate on working on our own craft. It is highly inspiring that Nigerian writers based abroad have been doing well, we all love it, but we want a situation where people here get as much as we're doing. I don't want us to become like footballers, who are divided into professional and home-based."

Akin Adesokan, author, Roots in the Sky, on contemporary Nigerian literature on the global scene, “the writings by Nigerians are an interesting phenomenon right now, in the world of letters. They are an integral part of a global tendency in writing. The writers we talk often about these days are doing incredible work, whether they are published in New York or in Lagos. I know most of them personally, communicate with them, sometime I hang out with them when I see them, teach their works and so on, as I teach writers from Uganda, South Africa, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and of course the US. I wish many more of these writers are available in print. I would love to read a novel by Ike Okonta, or by Omowunmi Segun, or by the Cameroonian writer, Patrice Nganga. I think what's important is that the kind of attention Nigerian writers now command, that it translates into really ambitious works that will shatter all sorts of notions about nations, literary genres, and so on. There are good signs.”

Helon Habila, author, Measuring Time. On Nigerian writers, "I think we have achieved what nobody thought we could achieve in that short time. From the death of Abacha to the present we have seen previously unheard of writers, like myself, like Abani and Atta, and Iweala and Adichie making name for themselves not only at home but on the international stage. People are beginning to talk of Nigerian literature, not the generic African literature. We are being compared to the Indians. There are lots of reasons for this – one being that there is a desire in most people to hear African or Nigerian stories from Nigerians, and we are rising up to the challenge. And local conditions also prepared us for this."

2007 Authors Of The Year

(As published in Daily Independent, Mon, 31 Dec 2007)

By Yemi Adebisi

World literary community applauded the progress that visited giant of Africa, Nigeria, in 2007 with regards to the number of international literary awards Nigerians captured during the year.

Sources said that an American poet declared that the god of literature was a Nigerian.

The first major literary breakthrough of the year was when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian-born London-based writer, won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. She beat five other contenders for the £30,000 women-only award, including Kiran Desai, short-listed for her Booker Prize winner The Inheritance of Loss. Adichie's novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is her second work and set during the Biafran War of the 1960s. Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of people caught up in the unfolding political turmoil in West Africa, whose loyalties are acutely tested when troops advanced on the dusty university town they inhabited. The novel examines ethnic allegiances, moral responsibility, class and race.

The award ceremony took place at the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall in London's South Bank, and the judging panel included broadcaster Muriel Grey and best-selling writer, Marian Keyes. Previous recipients of the award included Zadie Smith for On Beauty (2006), Andrea Levy for Small Island (2004), and Helen Dunmore for A Spell In Winter (1996).

Born 1977 in Aba, Nigeria, Chimamanda was educated in the university town of Nsukka. She has a Masters degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University, United States of America. She is a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, where she teaches introductory fiction.

Nigerian novelist and celebrated literary icon, poet and literary critic, Chinua Achebe, also won the 2007 Man Booker International Prize. The £60,000 prize is awarded once every two years to a living author, whose work "has contributed to an achievement in fiction on the world stage". This is the second time the award has been won after Ismail KadarĂˆ in 2005.

Achebe is probably best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) and the Booker Prize short-listed Anthills of the Savannah (1987).

One of Chinua Achebe’s many achievements in his acclaimed first novel, Things Fall Apart is his relentless unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria’s independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence.

One of the greatest and controversial episodes of the year in Nigeria’s literary community was this year’s Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) literary award won by both Mabel Segun and Akachi Adimora. The Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), and the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held a workshop for stakeholders in the art sector for a review of The Nigeria Prize for Literature on Wednesday, August 29 at Ocean View Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos.

It was organised to assess the impact of the literary prize on the sector. Guest speakers at the event included Mr. Mbanefo, who represented NLNG, and President of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran. The panel were Dr. Wumi Raji (poet, literary critic), Toni Kan (writer, literary enthusiast), Chike Ofili (poet), and Nike Adesuyi (poet, fiction writer). Others were Folu Agoi (poet, chairman, ANA Lagos), Ropo Ewenla (actor, poet, literary enthusiast), and Grace Daniel, chairperson, Women Writers Association (WRITA). The forum was where argument over the continuous sanctity of the award was revisited.

The organisers decried the invitation of former Nigeria’s head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, to give a keynote address at the presentation.

Contrary to what literary critics felt about Babangida’s invitation, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, spokesman for NLNG, declared that the intention was not politically motivated. Things really fell apart at the meeting because many stakeholders were indifferent to this arrangement, which they declared did not glorify the award.

Members of the ANA therefore, were told to boycott the ceremony by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. He called a press conference where he declared that Babangida was not qualified to chair an intellectual gathering in Nigeria, having bastardised the economy, encouraged corruption and destroyed the legacy of sustenance of the future of the Nigerian youth.

Despite all threats on pages of newspapers by Soyinka and Babangida, the event took place in Lagos and Babangida attended, though some Nigerian authors including Wale Okediran boycotted the event.

It would be recalled that the NLNG Literature Prize was born in 2003. Siene Allwell-Brown, general manager, external relations of NLNG, announced reason for the prize as, "Our vision is to ensure that no scientist or writer is viewed with scorn and that those who aim at excellence in these fields will live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in their future."

There have been lots of reactions to this development since presentation of the controversial award. Some people felt the organisers had lost their focus and have allowed politics to sweep away their golden gesture.

Speaking in an interview with Daily Independent, Helon Habila, 2001 Caine Prize winner Nigerian writer based abroad, declared that the organisers of NLNG have missed their priority and the presentation was an arranged stuff of competition. "I don’t know what is happening with this prize. Well, I am not qualified to contest so I am not interested. I think it’s what I call compromise. Maybe because they are old, they might feel threatened by younger writers. They are happier to give the prize to these established figures. They are happier to give this year’s award to Mabel Segun, who is 100 years old or thereabout. I really want to see younger people winning because it would encourage them and they need the money. Mabel Segun, for instance, does not need further encouragement. It’s her career. She doesn’t need the money as much as someone younger may probably do. I think they need to rethink what they are doing. There is a lot of unhappiness and dissatisfactions. Most ANA guys are not happy about this development. May be Soyinka’s prize countered that since he gave it to Sefi Ata, a younger writer."

After ANA concluded this year’s convention at Owerri, where the same set of people were asked to continue the literary politics in Nigeria, the worst news came to the literary family. World literary legend and most published African writer, Pa Cyprian Odiatu Duaka Ekwensi died on Sunday, November 4, at the age of 86 years. His funeral activities commenced in Lagos last Thursday while final burial rites would be performed at Enugu in January. Ekwensi, a pharmacist and author of global recognition, has up to date authored nine novels between 1954 and 1987, among which is the popular Jagua Nana and Beautiful Feathers; 14 novellas between 1947 and 1988; 13 short story collections for young people between 1951 and 2001, making up to 36 books.

His last book, Cash On Delivery (COD), An Anthology of the Recent Writings of the African Novelist, reviewed by Prof. Femi Osofisan, which was launched September 21, 2006, to commemorate his birthday, had to do with his early life and experiences. The book, according to the reviewer, contained five stories of varying length, written at different times over a period of more than 30 years. In this book, Ekwensi recollected Remembrance Day of November 11, when people were dressed in Flanders poppies, and May 24, when students ate rice, meat and stew in school and sang British anthem on colonial Empire Day. The Obasanjo administration awarded him the national honour of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR).

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