By Anote Ajeluorou
The historical novel that mines the mind of the past so as to unearth Africa’s ways of life and preserve them for posterity has become for Odili Ujubuonu the lost diamond that must be found. His trilogy on the narratives of Aro people has set him apart in exploring the historical past in fictive mode to bring it close to modern African audience lost to their past
Chinua Achebe’s pacesetting novel Things Fall Apart is Odili Ujubuonu’s leading light on Africa’s past that still needs illuminating in all spheres. Africa’s historical brush with the West eventually came to redefine a new way of living for Africa. After its loss of paradise, only a restorative reconstruction through fictive narration could future generations come to know a continent and its people so blighted by external forces and internal in cohesiveness.
It is this restorative reconstruction that has come to define Ujubuonu’s fiction starting from Pregnancy of the Gods through Treasures of the Wind and recently, Pride of the Spider Clan. Also and advertising expert, Ujubuonu said animatedly in a recent conversation, “My motivation is that I’m a product of two cultures made up of modern African cities, a collapsed culture of the remnant of colonialism and that of the mind of the village.
“Unfortunately, the African city is neither London, Ogbomoso nor Ozoro, but that of a man who wants to be like the Londoner glimpsed only from magazines. Things Fall Apart and such books are no longer available. So, I wanted to seek that as a path, as if I could conquer that past. If you want to be an African you have to live in the mind of the past – how our ancestors lived, the challenges they faced, how they over came them and the things they did”.
Ujubuonu, who, having lived in the city, has had to research all his novels, however, contended that Africa’s development had its moment of arrested development as a result of colonial intervention, which forced alien education that cut short competition with the white man.
Jalaa Writers’ Collective
Also a strong member of Jalaa Writers’ Collective, under which he published his recent work, Ujubuonu restated the body’s mission of redefining the nation’s publishing landscape through quality works that would further give writers publishing opportunities outside the traditional publishers that have failed to live up to expectation. Jalaa Writers’ Collective is therefore a response by some Nigerian writers to the challenges of publishing in an otherwise harsh environment.
For him and his other colleagues – Igoni Barratt (who initiated the idea of a writers’ collective), Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo (Roses and Bullets), Jude Dibia (Blackbird), Uche Peter Umez (The Runaway Hero) and Bimbola Adelakun amongst others, the goal of the collective is how to use the power of 10 to solve the problem of one. Through this arrangement, all the writers in the collective jointly work on each book before it is published. With this arrangement, they aim to solve the problem of editing that has come to plague local publishing in recent years.
While many publishers on the local scene have found a printing haven in Asian countries, Ujubuonu enthused that Jalaa is perhaps the only group still printing its books in Nigeria, a testimony to its resilience and willingness to empower local printers.
In measuring the success rate of the collective, Ujubuonu said while it is yet too early to say after two years of existence and one and a half years of its first published work, Jalaa Writers’ Collective could be said to have made success in giving expression to the vibrancy of Nigerian authors in defining a new path to follow and give writers a new leash of life.
Ujubuonu gave the collective a pass mark, saying, “Jalaa has been very, very successful. We’re not as loud as the others; we’re sort of conservative, but a whole lot is happening in Jalaa. Some of us are working on our second books in the collective although others are yet to publish; some works are in the offing. Some books in the collective have been reprinted to tell you how successful we have been.
“The idea is that Jalaa prevents a writer from being self-published, but a writer is allowed to print what he can afford. Till date Dibia’s Blackbird has done very well followed by Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets. So, too my work, Pride of the Spider Clan and Umez’s The Runaway Hero. In short, virtually all the books are doing well.
“Although we haven’t exceeded our expectations, we have met our expectations, not so much in terms of books’ sales but book outing”.
On how Jalaa books are being distributed, Ujubuonu stated that one area of vacancy in Nigeria where young men and women could venture into for self-employment is book distribution, where honesty to relate to publishers may be the only requirement needed. He said the Campus Ambassador outlet, where Jalaa uses students to sell its books has paid off immeasurably and advised other students to pick up the gauntlet and be self-reliant. Magazine Circulation is another distributor Jalaa uses to spread its books around.
Jalaa’s challenge, just like other publishers, is in the area of return of money of books sold by booksellers. The issue of damaged or missing pages still plagues books from the body. However, Ujubuonu was quick to point out that Jalaa was retooling after its first outing so as to come out better and stronger, with fewer errors like missing pages.
Part of the retooling is a new office it is renovating in Surulere. “We’re reorganising, retooling Jalaa to bring more control to meet objective, meet with quality delivery from script to finish. We just reactivated the website to bring in e-commerce model, to ensure delivery is done on time. Our books can be bought on Amazon”.
Ujubuonu stated that the first phase of Jalaa is gradually coming to an end when only members’ books would be published before it is thrown open to all writers with good stuffs. He noted that this could happen towards the end of 2013. According to him, in this first phase, “We wanted to take all the risks, establish the brand and put the destiny of our publishing in our hands before it can eventually be opened to everybody”.
As has often been stated, artists are not usually good at doing business. So, how are writers in the Jalaa collective overcoming this major business obstacle? How much staying power do they have to weather the storm of business environment as slippery as publishing in Nigeria? Ujubuonu’s response is as philosophical as it is metaphoric, “The art is a consuming fire; only the artist ignores the heat, that sees the business of art or art as business, and they are very few!”