By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigeria’s pride of place in Africa’s literary landscape appears confirmed. The country’s leading position became evident again in Africa’s coveted literary prize, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, worth USD$20,000, as eight Nigerian writers made the longlist. The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature was instituted in honour of black Africa’s first winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and managed by the Dr. Ogochukwu Promise-led The Lumina Foundation.
Nigeria has since inception of the prize in 2005 won virtually every year, with the exception of 2010, when the prize produced joint winners – Nigeria’s (Dr. Wale Okediran, with Tenants of the House and South Africa’s Dr. Kopano Matlwa, with Coconut). In 2008, it was Nigeria’s Nnedi Okoroafor, with Zarah the Wind Seeker while Sefi Atta won the maiden edition with her work, Everything Good Will Come. The prize is in its fourth edition.
Nigerian writers in the longlist include Tanure Ojaide (The Beauty I have Seen), Toyin Adewale-Gabriel (Bitter Chocolate), Hyginus Ekwuazi (That Other Country), Belgium-based Chika Unigwe (On Black Sister’s Street) and Dike Ogu Chukwumerije (The African-American). Others are Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (Roses and Bullets), Odili Ujubuonu (Pride of the Spider Clan) and Olushola Olugbesan (Only a Canvass).
Others in the longlist from the rest of Africa are Kgebetli Moele (The Book of the Dead), Bridget Pit (The Unseen Leopard), Sifiso Mzobe (Young Blood), Marie Heese (The Colour of Power), H.J. Golakai (Lazarus Effect), Sue Rabie (Fallout) and Arja Salafranca (The Thin Line). The other candidates are from Liberia, South Africa, Mali, Uganda, The Gambia nd Kenya.
While announcing the longlist, chairman, Board of Trustees of The Lumina Foundation, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, said the panel of judges for the 2012 edition “are made up of distinguished intellectuals from South Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and South Africa”, and said they were already working hard to have a shortlist of authors announced later this month. The prize will be given early September.
To chair the high profile award dinner in September will be former Ghanaian President, Mr. John Kufour; he will also deliver the keynote address. Governors of Ogun and Lagos States, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun and Mr. Raji Fashola, will also be in attendance.
A total of 402 writers applied for this year’s edition from 26 African countries as against 336 in 2010 in the biennial award. The prize is managed by the Dr. Ogochukwu Promise-led The Lumina Foundation, a foundation at the forefront of promoting literature, books and reading.
Emanuel said the goals and aims behind the institution of the prize include propagating the dynamics of self enhancement, celebrating excellence, patriotism, integrity, heroism, intellectualism and selfless service epitomized by the man, Wole Soyinka, generating excellent books (both in content and packaging) authored by Africans, fostering global harmony through the provision of opportunities for appreciation of cross cultural perspectives, extensively promote the authors and their works, according them the recognition they deserve among renowned authors across the world.
Others are to celebrate awesome creative pieces in all their cerebral grace, liberating qualities, the honour and recognition they bring to a myriad of people, of diverse cultures and languages, providing informative entertainment and create avenues for literary performances, making the winning works and shortlisted works available and affordable, and generally improving the reading culture and the quality of the books we read.
A major feature for this fourth edition is the coming on board of telecommunication company, Globacom Nigeria Limited, as major sponsor of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Globacom’s gesture towards the core arts through this sponsorship is a departure from what has come to be regarded as a corporate social responsibility-given, where corporations in Globacom’s rating focus only on the showy, flashy side of the creative industry, especially Nigeria’s music and movie, otherwise known as Nollywood, sections of the art that have caused much blushes in their portraiture of Africa’s core values.
Director, Events and Sponsorship for the telecom company, Mr. Bode Opeseitan, had remarked that Globacom was delighted to be part of the Syinka prize, “Which seeks to encourage capacity building in literary works, especially within the African continent. Our involvement in this project is a further demonstration of our commitment to giving value to our subscribers as well as contributing to the intellectual development of the communities where we operate”.
He commended the giant strides The Lumina Foundation had made since instituting the prize, and stressed that the partnership with the Soyinka prize “is therefore geared towards providing informative entertainment and create avenues for literary performances, in addition to improving the reading culture and the quality of the books produced across Africa.
“We believe that successful partnership between the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and Globacom will see the emergence of more Soyinkas and others in the nearest future, thus fulfilling the objective of the project, which is to discover, recognize and reward the best literary works produced by Africans”.
On the partnership with Globacom, Emanuel enthused that the company’s support “admirably demonstrates corporate citizenship, a Nigerian ethos and an African outlook. Together, in appreciating the authors, we appreciate ourselves better as Africans.
“In exploring the themes, issues and topics raised by these artists, we ennoble and educate ourselves, and make ourselves better heard. Together, we can continue to uphold the essential goals of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa: African Voices, African Views, for African Issues”.
Also, a major shift in the prize format will be its rotation amongst the genres from 2014, with prose fiction (full length novel or collection of short stories by a single author). Thereafter, drama will take its turn in 2016, poetry in 2018 and essays (on political and human right issues) in 2020.
Also responding to the new partnership between the Soyinka prize and the telecom company was journalist, culture activist and writer, Mr. Ben Tomoloju, who referred to Soyinka as his mentor. He commended the synergy between the two in celebrating Africa’s literary icon, Soyinka, whom he said embodies professional excellence. He also commended the company for the promotion of “our collective vision as a people”.
He noted that writers had been concerned about the distress of literature tradition from the 1980s, and said a lot of razzmatazz accompanied other art forms like music and movies, while literature was often left out of sponsorship radar. Tomoloju further added that even Nollywood stood to benefit from a virile literary tradition that had active corporate support so as to develop the sloppy scripts from the movie industry, declaring that developing good literature amounted to developing good society.
On her part, CEO, The Lumina Foundation, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise, was full of gratitude for the partnership with Globacom, saying, “When we approached Globacom for the sponsorship of this prestigious prize, they matched our enthusiasm with uncommon zeal, bringing with them their intent on recognising excellence, celebrating our rich African values and promoting ideas that nurture talents, artistic grace and foster world peace.
“For not hesitating to partner with us in making the 2012 edition of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, for being generous and efficient, we thank you immensely. I know that together we shall take this Prize to greater heights”.
Promise stated that the 15 novels would be actively promoted in a reading session every Tuesday at 4pm at 19 University of Lagos Road, Akoka, Lagos. The initiative is designed to endear the works to the public before the award proper in September.
She also expressed gratitude to other sponsors like Macmillan Nigerian Publishers, Zenith, Ecobank Nigeria Plc, Tanus Books, Bookcraft and Oracle Books that had been with the prize from inception.