By Anote Ajeluorou
The first quarter of the year just came to an end. For some Nigerian writers, the past year is yet to be properly set aside like discarded plates after a sumptuous meal, as its literary hangover still persists. Three writers state their challenges in the first quarter and prospects for the coming months for the entire literary landscape
PROF. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo teaches English at the University of Lagos. She is a gender expert, essayist, theorist and award-winning novelist and poet:
Last year was a good year for Nigerian literature. More books came out and some debut authors also emerged. Some established writers also brought new titles – Prof. Niyi Osundare’s City Without People: The Katrina Poems, for instance. The Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria LNG was awarded in 2011 to a winner, who became richer by $100,000. That's good for our literature and a plus for children's literature. It's hoped the 2012 edition will be equally good and that better produced and edited books will be submitted for the prize.
Jalaa Writers' Collective stormed the publishing scene with four titles that have been well received. It is hoped other such purposeful book companies will emerge to give writers excellent opportunities to publish. Well, I had a major 518-paged novel based on the Nigerian Civil War entitled Roses and Bullets, which has been receiving accolades both at home and abroad. It was published by Jalaa Writers’ Collective. That was a real high point for me. There are some positive reviews and the novel is already being used in some institutions.
The low point for me so far could be the fact that I have not had time to continue writing my next work because I have been busy at work and with other non-literary projects. I need to make out time to continue to write. I almost envy people who are able to write full-time!
Indeed, writers need to continue to write and empower themselves. As a writer, you are first and foremost your own sponsor and encourager. The donkey work must be done by you. Write well and self-edit before looking for help or submitting your work for more editing. Nigerian writers need local literary agents and good editors - this is urgent and imperative. Many young or new writers need the services of editors and literary agents. In fact, we all do.
Well, I expect to be able to complete a new work or at least get my next work to an advanced stage before the year runs out. I hope to interact more with other writers and to make a difference in the life of a minimum of one writer. I hope to attend writers’ meetings and enjoy reading a number of books I acquired but haven’t had time to read.
I have a number of children’s books I have nearly completed and hope will be published this year. I am writing more poetry as well. I will be speaking to students of some schools in Lagos on the subject of creative writing. And I have a number of doctoral thesis to examine as well.
DR. Wale Okediran is a medical doctor-turn-award-winning writer, who also became a legislator in Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives. He has also established a writers’ residence in hometown called Ebedi International Residency Programme, which has hosted many writers, thus giving both local and international writers opportunity to complete on-going works:
The usual lukewarm attitude of government to literary activities is a continuing source of worry. Apart from the Niger State Government that organised a literary event, most other states, particularly the FCT, have all failed to support literature.
Despite poor government support, many writers still publish works.
Government, the private sector and philanthropists should be ready to give more support to literature this year. Also, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) must improve its activities this year.
I am hopeful that things will be better this year in the literary front if writers can do more advocacy work in the areas of fund-raising and literary awareness, especially among students and children.
I am working on the biographies of some notable Nigerians who cut across the political and business fields. It is my hope that Nigerians will be able to learn a great deal from these personalities on how best to run the country. In addition, I hope to publish my collection of political and social short stories, Keepers of the Tribe while continuing with members of the Board of Directors of the Ebedi International Residency Programme in Iseyin, Oyo State, to provide a conducive atmosphere for writers to polish their work.
This year by God's grace, I also hope to work with a coalition of writers, artists and musicians to resuscitate the Bill on the Endowment for the Arts and push it for passage by the National Assembly. It is my hope that this Bill, when eventually passed into law, will assist artists in their various professional callings.
PROF. Mark Nwagwu is a university scholar and teacher in the biological sciences, whose grandchild fired his passion in creative writing; he has a collection of poems and two novels to his credit:
We should all read Prof. Osofisan’s University Lectures, The City As Muse: Ibadan and the Efflorescence of Nigerian Literature to revel in the growth of Nigerian literature at Ibadan, and the emergence of a new generation of writers, after that of the founding fathers, notably Achebe, Soyinka, Clark, and Okigbo. The new generation, at Ibadan, would have Osofisan and Osundare in the vanguard. But now Nigerian literature has grown in Lagos and overseas. Again I go to The Guardian, which in its issue of Dec. 18, 2011, published a list of the favourite books of some writers, editors and publishing professionals, and they all gave their reasons for loving those book.
Of course, one cannot pass The Nigerian Prize for Literature won by Adeleke Adeyemi. The judges praised Adeyemi’s book for celebrating ‘ingenuity, hard-work, faith, creativity and self-reliance.’ I do not know Adeyemi but his picture speaks of a genial, kind and thoughtful person at peace with himself, and his world. There is another author, Ayodele Olofintuade, who will receive honourable mention, for her book, Eno’s Story.
I’m happy to say I know the author (Olofintuade) and she worked on my book of poems, Helen Not-of-Troy when she was at BookBuilders, Ibadan. I owe a lot to her and I pray I get a good chance, one day, to publicly acknowledge what she has done for me, and she is an immensely pleasant person, individualistic, yes and wonderful to be with. She was there also when My Eyes Dance was published.
In any case, the past year has been a most glorious year for me. I now teach at Paul University, Awka, where I head a department and am struggling to give the Biological Sciences department a good head start, and to be in league with heavy-hitting biological sciences’ curricula elsewhere.
The high points were really exhilarating, like the public presentation of my book, My Eyes Dance, in memory of our daughter, Mrs. Onyema Fern Eseka.
My book, My Eyes Dance received favourable reviews, especially from Dr. Ayobami Kehinde, who said, “My Eyes Dance is a powerfully imagined novel that has an affinity with the cultural and ecological works of Garcia Marqez, Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Okara, Wole Soyinka and the likes. In this novel, the customs and religion of an Igbo community are philosophically described with a view to creating a sense of nostalgia for a way of life that is worthy of exportation to the Western world. This novel lends itself to a bewildering amalgam of interpretive possibilities – humanism, feminism, post-colonial formalism, semiotics, onomastics, eco-criticism, psychoanalysis, existentialism, and the like.”
I read Prof. David Okpako’s book, Kpeha’s Song with great pleasure and an engaging sense of nostalgia for a past we may never see. It is not so much that this past was glorious, for we had biting poverty and diseases to battle but it is a past in which life itself had meaning in little, ordinary things like a song, dance, the streams ivhori with its autochthonous foliage and character. We had poetry all around us and we celebrated our lives in total fusion with our environment. We were not separated from our surroundings. In fact, we basked in them and expressed ourselves in terms of their existence, the forest, moonlight, playing in the sand, in the stream, in the woods.
A poignant moment for me was seeing Afigo Okpewho receiving the NNOM honours on behalf of her father, Prof. Isidore Okpewho, (a writer and scholar of immense proportion) who could not come. It pained me a lot that Isidore was not there himself. He is a dear friend of many years and one I’m very fond of. I pray we can see him again, soon. He gave me his book, Call Me by my Rightful Name. The man is simply an unusual, superior personality.