Monday, 17 September 2012

Young Blood Is A Story That Happens Everywhere In Africa’s Cities, Says Award-winning Author, Mzobe

Two Saturdays ago in Lagos, South Africa’s Sifiso Mzobe walked away with the coveted US$20,000 of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. A journalist, Mzobe is the second South African to have won the prize after Dr. Kopano Matlwa (Coconut) jointly won with Nigeria’s Dr. Wale Okediran (Tenants of the House) two years ago. In this online interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, the newly crowned literary laureate, Mzobe, expresses his delight at winning the prize and being able to shake hands with the iconic Prof. Wole Soyinka, the man for whom the pan-African prize is named. Excerpts:

What special feelings does winning the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa engender in you?
  I am deeply honoured, humbled and grateful.  It gave me a deeper appreciation for the written word as to how far and wide it can travel.

What has changed in your life and work since winning the prize?
  Getting known in the continent has been the major change. I mean I am answering questions in a Nigerian publication, for example.

What is changing in your life since? Do you have new friends, relations, etc?
  Yes, I have made new friends. Quite a lot of friends in the few days I was in Lagos.

What is likely to change in your life and work?
  I hope my work can reach a wider audience.  I’d like to travel and see more countries in our beautiful continent.

The success of your story typifies the ascendancy African writing has witnessed in recent years. How would you describe what is happening to African fiction?
  There has been a welcomed boom in African literature. This is to be expected as a younger generation grew up reading masters like Soyinka, Achebe and Mda.They carved the path, made us realise it is alright to have stories to tell. Our cities are growing and rapidly changing making for favourable writing conditions.

What is the nature of fiction publishing in South Africa? How are writers treated in terms of royalties, promotion, etc? Was it hard finding a publisher for your book?
  Fiction does not outsell non-fiction but it is surviving. It is out there; our writers are breaking into the international scene, and naturally more will follow. With democracy barriers are broken hence these stories, country finding our feet on the social mingling aspect. The promotion aspect could be better, of course. It was hard finding a publisher, it took a while but I just persevered and kept rewriting. 

How would you describe the writing environment in you country?
  Our book market is small so it is hard. It has to be supplemented. I hope this can change because writing is time consuming yet time is the chief maker of good prose. If writers were given the time to just write, we’d have a clearer reflection of ourselves.

What reception did you get back home in South Africa?
  The win has been well received. The media supports literature so interviews have come in thick and fast. And, all the congratulations from friends, family, the works.

What was your impression of the award event in Lagos?
  It was a lovely event. Top class in all regards. I got to shake Wole Soyinka’s hand, and shared a joke with the great man. It was a wonderful evening!

How would you describe the work of the organisers of the prize, The Lumina Foundation in promoting literature on the continent?
  The Lumina Foundation is a beacon in the continent. They provide a platform for the exchange of culture, among many things. We need more of their ilk.

What specific issue (s) does Young Blood address? What relevance to modern African societies?
  Young Blood addresses crime from inside a car theft syndicate. The tale of a lost black male, showing how and why he gets lost. Navigating a world bent on adding barriers. It a story that happens everywhere in the cities of Africa.

What's next, then, for you as a writer? Any work coming soon?
  I’m working on the second book. It’s a detective story of the rare kind begging to be finished.

The making of an African literary prize through corporate support

By Anote Ajeluorou

A week ago at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, a Pan-African award for writers on the continent, went to South African journalist, Sifiso Mzobe for his first novel, Young Blood. The large Banquet Hall was filled to capacity, with such distinguished audience as two sitting governors, Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively, a former governor, Donald Duke of Cross Rivers State and the former President of Ghana, John Kufour. The award night also played host to eminent personalities in the Lagos business and financial industries.
  For The Lumina Foundation, organisers of the prize, managed by award-winning author, painter and philanthropist, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise, and chairman of her board, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, nothing could be more fulfilling than gathering Lagos business and financial communities under one roof to talk and celebrate art and literature. Indeed, it is the way it should be; it is the way it is in other climes where the humanizing values of art and culture are appreciated. It is a culture that needs to grow in this clime as well as there are abundant human resources in working in the art and culture sector, with literature blazing a significant trail.
  The coming on board of telecommunication giant Globacom Nigeria Ltd as major sponsor enjoyed praise from dignitaries, even from Africa’s first Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka. But it was just Globacom, other corporate bodies had support The Lumina Foundation since its started the prize over sic years ago. According to Dr. Promise, “The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa has been sponsored by some of Africa’s best brands. Not only does this give us a solid platform to advance the cause of African literature, but also offers us a brilliant showcase of African corporate success and social engagement.
  “Among such brands is Globacom, led by its chairman, Mr. Michael Adenuga, Jr. (CON). In endorsing this prize, Mr. Adenuga expressed the hope that it would be the inspiration for many more recognised and acknowledged Africans in the tradition of Wole Soyinka, a man he much admires.  In partnering with us, Globacom has matched our enthusiasm with uncommon zeal, bringing with them their business expertise and their commitment to excellence, celebrating Africa in its diversity and promoting the nurturing of talent and artistic grace.
  “I have personally enjoyed working with the Globacom team, particularly for their indomitable spirit and dedication to the task at hand. For recognizing the importance of this project in building great minds, for readily agreeing to be a part of it as our major sponsor, for giving us immense support both financially and otherwise, we thank Globacom most sincerely”.
  But there are other corporate organisations that have played supportive roles since the Wole SoyinkaPrize for Literature in Africa came into being. Dr. Promise took time to acknowledge them, as should fittingly be, when she said, “We are grateful also to Macmillan Nigerian Publishers. When we began this prize in 2006, when all we had was ‘The Dream’, they trusted our ability to attain our expressed goals. They donated the prize trophy to cater for six editions of this prize.
  “South African Petroleum Limited (SAPETRO) has proved to be a safe harbor in often stormy weather: They graciously donated the prize money for five editions of the award, an endowment which has immensely eased our anxieties in this regard. But for their encouragement and inspiration as we forge ahead with the business of providing constructive support for flourishing African creativity.
  “We thank also Zenith Bank Plc. Our gratitude is also deeply expressed to Ecobank Plc and Ecobank Foundation, both of whom have been faithful companions from the first day of this journey. They helped us start our Mobile Library scheme by donating the bus that houses the library. They have also sponsored Phone-In TV reading programmes for the Wole Soyinka Reading Clubs, thus sustaining an enhancement of a reading culture”.
  Other companies worth mentioning include First Bank Nigeria Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, Tanus Communications Limited, Oracle Books Limited and Bookcraft Limited.
  Also, chairman of The Lumina Foundation Board of Trustees, Mrs. Emanuel played up the political card that is often missing in art and culture event with the usual absence of political personages. At this event, two serving governors were in attendance including an African former head of state, Kufour of Ghana. Emauel said, “I want to express our gratitude to former President John Agyekum Kufour of Ghana, who kindly agreed to chair this occasion; I say to you ‘AKWAABA!’
  “We are honored also to have as host the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a governor whose stewardship is a source of great pride to Lagosians: ‘Eko O Ni Baje O!’.  We are also pleased to receive as our guest Of honor Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Governor of Ogun State, the state of origin of our Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka. I must express our sincere gratitude to them all for finding the time in their undoubtedly busy schedules to participate in our event.  I venture to say that their literary passion may have played a deciding factor in this regard”.
  Indeed, it is time the literary passion of their Excellencies became inflamed to such an extent that they begin to do what is right to the arts through generous support by way of endowments and sponsorship to stimulate the self-supporting self-starting culture sector of the economy!
  With Dr. Promise already angling to have a writers’ residency programme and cafĂ© to cater for the interest of writers, it is hoped that these governors and others across Nigeria would respond to requests for assistance so she could realise her dream, perhaps the second for the upliftment Nigeria and Africa’s creative minds deserve.
  Fashola also responded engagingly on the night when he said, “It delights us to no end to host this kind of event in Lagos. Literature and the arts truly define who we are. Our heritage in Tumbuktu is being threatened. This is not good. This state treasures arts and literature. We are the treasure trove of literature”.
  Amosun was no less enthusiastic in the evening’s fever, when he noted, “Wole Soyinka has shown the awesome power of the pen; he has put Nigeria on the world map. There is power in the pen, in literature and the arts. We need to promote literature for the reawakening of reading culture in Nigeria”.

ON the performance side for the evening, the masked musician, Lagbaja serenaded the audience with his old tunes that easily distinguished him from the crowd. Starting from among the audience, he blew on his saxophone till he went up stage and thrilled. But this was not before Footprints of David, the children’s arm of Segun Adefila-led Crown Troupe of Africa had performed. The all-female choral group, Nerfettiti first sang the National Anthem before Footprints of David and then Crown Troupe did a skit on reading and politics without direction and its effect on the general populace with the result that education usually misses direction.
  When Mzobe was eventually declared winner of the prize, Footprints of David again stepped forward with Zulu costume to do a Zulu Victoria dance in honour of the South African winner. Lagbaja agan ended the evening with his music and those with a heart for it danced, including the organiser, Dr. Promise, her chairman, Emanuel and other dignitaries, to bring the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2012 to an end.

Africa should focus more on empowering its people through arts, says John Kufour

Former President of Ghana, John Kufour was in Lagos last week to chair the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, where he spoke glowingly about the excellent character of Africa’s first black Nobel Laureate in Literature and the need to replicate such men of ideas, character and culture on the continent as a way of repositioning Africa from the margins of history to mainstream globalisation. He also had excellent words for The Lumina Foundation for instituting the prize named after Soyinka to throw up Africa’s best writers and reward them for the excellence of their writing. ANOTE AJELUOROU recaps the interview. Excerpts:

YOU spoke glowingly about The Lumina Foundation and what it is doing to promote writing and writers. And, it seems it is something you’d like to see replicated all over the continent, isn’t it?
I meant that the subject matter, Wole Soyinka, that Africa should have quite a few of them dotting all over the place for culture, literacy and all that.

Now, in spite of ICT penetration in the last few years, African art and culture has been its strongest points. Yet it is the least promoted by African leaders. Why is this so?
  But the rest of the world said we didn’t have culture!

But is Africa promoting its culture enough to engage the interest of the rest of the world?
  I believe now the world is looking, especially when we have the likes of Wole Soyinka. If the rest of the world is not interested, they wouldn’t have given him the Nobel Laureate for Literature. This means the rest of the world is looking. Then Nollywood is working, isn’t it? Now, the whole continent is watching Nollywood films; so, too, is the rest of the world – Europe, America. So, it’s good.

When you were president, how much of culture would you say you promoted in your country, Ghana?
 Uhm, quite a lot! I would say culture and education should come hand in hand; I believe the people are defined by their culture. As often observed, we Africans are known for our culture right from time. It’s just that we didn’t read and we didn’t write it down. So, it was like handed down folklore and a lot of it became like legend. So, with the introduction of Western education, somehow, they were made to look down on our own stories. Now, this is why Soyinka again comes in; when we began having our own writers, they captured some of the cultures in their writings. So now others know that Africa, too, is part of the international, global culture.
  So, I, as president, appreciated culture. Some of our ministries covered culture. We have something called FESTAC in Ghana, where various tribes display our traditional cultures and festivals.

Ghana has some of Africa’s best writers like Koffi Awoonor, Ayi Kwei Amah, Ama Ata Aidoo, etc. Which of them would you say is your favourite?
  I respect all of them (laughs). I respect all of them!

It’s often said that leaders are readers…
Perhaps, you’re talking about political leaders…

But how much do the leaders read when most of them uphold the culture of impunity, corruption and sundry atrocities against their own people?
That is no culture. Impunity is no culture. Impunity is contempt, disrespect. Corruption is taking what is not yours. So, those are no culture. Impunity means bullying.

If you were to advise leaders on how to promote African culture, what would you be telling them?
That they should encourage their educational institutions to research into our traditional practices. I’m sure universities here in Nigeria are focusing on culture. In Ghana, too, we have the same thing. I believe our governments should support and sponsor research work into culture.

Between African leaders and writers/culture workers, there is always a conflict of interest. How can a better working relationship be forged between the two to work towards the same goal of developing the continent?
Dictators tend to suspect people who do not tow their lines. Anybody who is open-minded and observes or criticises objectively is suspect to a dictator who wants to monopolise power. The dictator abhors anything that would challenge his hold on power. Wole Soyinka criticised what was going on because what was going on didn’t sit well with him. They couldn’t accommodate him and they dragged him into prison. Later on when there was a tyrant here, who was killing people and imprisoning people, he spoke out and they wanted to kill him. And if he didn’t run into exile, anything could have happened to him.

You mentioned in your speech the plundering of Africa by colonisers. How they took away valuable artefacts such as the Ashante Golden Stool in Ghana and Idia mask in Nigeria and others. What would you advise African governments to do to repatriate these objects?
Those artefacts, as you call them, that could be traced, we should lay claim to them. And they shouldn’t be where they shouldn’t be, but here on the continent. Reparation is a big and complex issue, and I wouldn’t want Africa to beat about the bush. We should focus on our development now where we are, where we found ourselves. Fortunately, nature has endowed us with abundant natural resources; we should harness them for our development. Let us focus on educating our people. I believe that is where real empowerment comes from, education through which we can develop our people. That is the only way we can take command of our natural resources to make our lives better and make our way forward into the mainstream of globalisation, which is on; we have to keep up with it.
  If we want to fight battles, we may be left on the margins of globalisation. We don’t want that; we want to go into the centre and we can’t go into the centre without empowering the people that comes with education. We have to entice our entrepreneurs to use best practices; the market forces are so powerful.

You also lamented Soyinka’s use of the English language and not his native Yoruba…
No! I wasn’t lamenting. I was rather praising him for being smart not to have used Yoruba. If he had written in Yoruba the other people in the world wouldn’t have read him because Yoruba is not an international language. But this man uses other people’s language and proves to be a super master in it. At the end, they acknowledged him; they are forced to give him the topmost literary award. So, I was rather saying that a Yoruba man who hadn’t written in Yoruba got acknowledged, but has used other people’s language to let see that, even though he isn’t a native of that language, he has command of that language, and language is a very powerful tool. In Ghana, we have a proverb that says, ‘The dumb dreams, but how does he communicate? Suppose he can communicate it, he could change society with the strength of his dreams!’
  So, Soyinka has used other people’s language to communicate ideas, people who came and said we didn’t have culture, we didn’t have religion. That was what I was trying to say; not that he hadn’t written in Yoruba. Perhaps, he has written in Yoruba, I don’t know. But he wrote in other people’s language, Shakespeare’s language and caught the attention of the whole world. Suppose he wrote only in Yoruba, I don’t know the kind of attention he would have got.

What kind of books did you read when you were in office, and now that you’re out, what do you read?
  I’m still a politician, and I read!

You’re aware that the cultural heritage materials in Timbuktu, Mali are being destroyed by fundamentalists. How do you react to such news?
Such a thing shouldn’t be happening in Africa! It is a continent that is in the process of recovering itself. Africa is so big, with diverse parts; the whole of it has been so abused and exploited by outsiders. Thankfully over the past few years, all parts of the continent are coming together; now, we have more things uniting us together and we’re forging unity. So, we’ve come together as African Union. Now, we have people behaving like this, making it seem as if we shouldn’t appreciate our past. Whether it is religion or tribe or whatever, we don’t destroy things that have been there for centuries. Those give materials evidence that, even centuries back, how our forebears, our ancestors used to think, as the monuments give evidence to. Now, they go and destroy them. For what? It’s very sad to carry on like that.
  Isn’t this why other people say we do not have culture? Now, they may seem justified with such acts. Those people doing those things, I don’t think they are thinking right.

Crowning Mzobe as Africa’s literary king

By Anote Ajeluorou

Continent-wide biggest literary award, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa had its 2012 winner decorated last Saturday in a glittering ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. The event had players from Lagos business and financial industries in attendance including two executive governors.
  Former Ghanaian President Mr. John Kufour, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States and former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke witnessed the crowning of Africa’s literary laureate.
  The Dr. Ogochukwu Promise-led Lumina Foundation, organisers of the prize, did not leave anything to spare to make the fourth edition of the prize sponsored by telecommunication company, Globacom Nigeria Ltd a success.
  A South African journalist Sifiso Mzobe won the US$20,000 prize with his first novel Young Blood. His work beat Nigeria’s Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets and fellow South Africa’s Bridget Pitt’s Unseen Leopard. With his winning Mzobe has joined four other laureates of the prize designed to generate excellence in book-writing and literature on the African continent.
  And Mzobe declared after receiving the prize, “I know it’s a difficult task in a continent with so many voices. I thank the Lumina Foundation for encouraging literature in Africa. We have so many stories in Africa waiting to be told. I thank Soyinka for his courageous life and example of bravery and tenacity. He inspires people like me to go into writing. In Africa, we will continue making changes!”
  Other previous winners of the biennial prize include Sefi Atta (Everything Good Will Come - 2006), Nnedi Okoroafor (Zara the Windseeker – 2008) and 2010 joint winners, South Africa’s Dr. Kopano Matlwa (Coconut) and Nigeria’s Dr. Wale Okediran (Tenants of the House).
  Of the five judges, only two – Nigeria’s Prof. Olu Obafemi and South Africa’s Liesl Louw – were present to announce the winner. Three others – North Africa’s Eid Shabbir, West Africa’s Dr. Awo Asiedu and Jonathan Moshal – did not make it.

CHAIRMAN, Board of Trustees of The Lumina Foundation, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, welcomed dignitaries and restated reasons for instituting the prize to include “appreciating and promoting great African authors and according them the recognition they deserve among renowned authors worldwide and to celebrate awesome create works in all their cerebral grace, liberating qualities, and honour and recognition they bring to a myriad of people of diverse cultures and languages”.
  She also expressed the hope that “The Wole Soyinka Prize for literature in Africa will continue to stimulate intellectual discourse on literature in all our exchange programmes. We are thankful that the prize is steadily growing in prominence: It is notable also that our judges are distinguished literary intellectuals from five different Anglophone and Francophone African countries.
  “Through The Lumina Foundation, the prize provides administrative support for a wide range of knowledge-based and charity-driven projects such as the Mobile Library Scheme that extends the gift of books to the less privileged, specifically children in various localities.  At the moment, we operate in targeted Lagos districts such as Ijora, Bariga, Ojuelegba, Ajegunle, Ketu, Okoko-maiko and Mushin. Our scheme will over time be extended to other states and other countries as the resources within our disposal permit. Till date, we have formed 63 Wole Soyinka Reading Clubs in 63 schools across Nigeria. We have established 84 Libraries in homes, offices and schools, through which we encourage people to read at least a book a week.
  “We have commenced Monthly Readings of works by excellent writers, each event facilitated by our friends in the media”.
  On his part, Soyinka commended The Lumina Foundation for instituting the prize. He said he was not part of the organisation process or its board but said it had his full support. “I give 100 per cent support to the work of this organisation in promoting literature and in restoring the reading of books, especially when books are being threatened; libraries in Timbuktu are also being threatened by the primitivists in Mali; it’s a time to be more aggressive in promoting books.
  “Also, thugs have taken to bombing telecommunications masts in Nigeria; I sympathise with the telecommunication companies., especially the monopoly of NITEL, which has been broken. This is to tell government that the battle line has been drawn. This nation is at war!”
  Soyinka also commended Globacom Nigeria Ltd for support the prize instituted in his name.
  Globacom chairman, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jr., who was represented by the company's National Sales Coordinator, Mr. David Maaji, commended the organisers of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for keeping the flag flying very high since the prize was established in 2005 as a biennial award for the best literary work produced by an African, adding that it has, within its short life span, carved a niche for itself in the literary circle by recognising and encouraging professionalism and excellence. He stated that "the association between Globacom and the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka was premised on the similarity of our aspirations and characteristics in terms of developing a strong, virile African society".
  He further said the company’s involvement in the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was a further demonstration of Globacom’s irrevocable commitment to giving value to our subscribers as well as contributing to the intellectual development of the communities where we have our footprints”.
  Also, chairman of the literary prize award night and former Ghanaian President, Mr. Kufour, praised Africa’s first Nobel Laureate as an excellent fellow who set the pace for other giant strides the continent has made in the last few decades to reposition it in a better footing in the comity of nations.
  In a paper titled ‘The Pursuit of Excellence: The Wole Soyinka Example’, Kufour traced the historical woes Africa had suffered in the hands of outsiders and its steady steps towards self-discovery and recovery. “Africa, which until this dramatic achievement (Soyinka’s winning the Nobel Laureate in 1986) had been on the margins of the literary world, suddenly attained centre-stage. Commentators were stopped in their tracks and they began to look at Africa again as a possible reservoir of great possibilities”.
  Kufour said Soyinka’s sterling achievement was to initiate a sort of renaissance that was to happen to Africa in the coming years following his being crowned Africa’s literary king. According to him, “Africa, in all its diverse spheres of developments, is yearning for champions like Soyinka… He transcends the entire areas of society right down to the grassroots. This is what makes him the leader, influencer and examplar of society not exclusive to Africa. He is, indeed, inter-generational and a global citizen.
  “And Africa, the rising giant, needs such achievers to hasten its awakening and full maturation within the global society”.
  The Ghanaian former President also commended The Lumina Foundation for organising a continent-wide literary prize to reward the best writers. He enjoined the prize winner to be proud for being adjudged the best and acknowledged for following in the footsteps of Africa’s literary colossus – Wole Soyinka!
 Fashola and Amosun also commended The Lumina Foundation for the prize initiative and pledged their support.
  CEO of The Lumina Foundation Dr. Promise expressed heartfelt gratitude to guests, sponsors, and judges for making the prize a reality.

ON the performance side, the masked musician, Lagbaja serenaded with his old tunes that easily distinguished him from the crowd. Starting from among the audience, he blew on his saxophone till he went up stage and thrilled. But his was not before Footprints of David, the children’s arm of Segun Adefila-led Crown Troupe of Africa had performed. The all-female choral group, Nerfettiti first sang the National Anthem before Footprints of David and them Crown Troupe did a skit on reading, politics without direction and its effect on the general populace and education.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The race for Africa’s biggest literary prize begins

By Anote Ajeluorou

A literary shortlist always creates excitement, shock, surprise and even hisses. The US$100,000 worth The Nigerian Prize for Literature just released elicits no less emotions, at least for those familiar with some or all of the works.
  On the shortlist are Ngozi Achebe Onaedo with The Blacksmith’s Daughter, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo with Sarah House, Jude Dibia with Blackbird, Vincent Egbuson with Zhero, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani with I Do Not Come to You by Chance. Others are Onuorah Nzekwu with Troubled Dust, Olusola Olugbesan with Only Canvass, Lola Shoneyin with The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, E.E. Sule with Sterile Sky and Chika Unigwe with On Black Sister’s Street.
  Some of the works that elicits excitement include Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance, an extremely hilarious novel about the 419 scam of the late 1990 and early 2000. Nwaubani’s wit and ability to thresh up the minds of these scammers stand her work out. Not least darkly hilarious is Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives that explores a festering harem racked by the inability of the husband to father a child because of infertility.
  On the other hand, Onuorah Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street are works that stand out in their own terms. Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust was published some 42 odd years after it was written; it stirs up raw emotions about the Nigerian Civil War fought in the late 60s and serves as a reminder that the warpath should never be an option because of the dire consequences. The co-author of Eze Goes to School has a work that can strongly contend for the prize just like any other.
  Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street opens the raw wound of female trafficking for prostitution purposes still rampant in some part of the country as a means of escaping the economic hardship in Nigeria. The Belgium-based writer’s work explores the dark world of the criminal ring that profits from this obnoxious trade in feminine flesh and the lives of the victims.
  Apart from Dibia’s Blackbird, which deals with two families and the intertwining relationships, the other works also present their own peculiar surprises and expectations. As they say, the die is cast, and let the judging begin!
  Members of the panel of judges for this year’s prize include Prof. J.O.J. Agbaja, Prof. Angela Miri, prof. Sophia Ogwude, and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye, with Prof. Francis Abiola Irele, Provost of the Colleges of Humanities at Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University, jury panel chairman. He said it took hours of intensive scrutiny by the panel to produce the shortlist. A closer scrutiny will produce the shortlist of three before the final award in October.

TOMORROW also, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa will announce its winner in a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. Former President if Ghana, Mr. John Kuffour will deliver a keynote address while Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively will be in attendance.
 The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa is worth US$20,000, making it the second biggest literary prize on the continent to reward writer’s creativity and diligence in projecting Africa’s culture and humanity.
  These two prizes are a boost for the continent’s writers who, otherwise, profit very little from their writings in an environment with little or no infrastructure for effective book distribution or royalties from publishers. Indeed, since the two prizes are domiciled in Nigeria, the country’s writers now have an honourable expectation from their works and can go on crafting stories that can truly stir the human heart.

In-Short… discovering, promoting talent in film production

By Anote Ajeluorou

Now in its second edition, the Victor Okhai-led In-Short International Film Festival 2012 has announced entries for participants wishing to compete and showcase their short films from across the globe. While the entry closes late September, the festival will be held in Lagos from October 11-13 at Silverbird Galleria, Nigeria Film Corporation office, Lagos and The City Mall, Onikan, Lagos.
  There will also be workshops and seminars to teach film techniques to interested participants and the public.
  Okhai, who is also the president of International Institute of Film and Broadcast Academy, Lagos, stated recently that the festival was a developmental platform to discover and project hidden talents among young filmmakers from across the world. Working in partnership with the German Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Okhai restated the desire of the festival to provide a platform for experimental films, animation, documentary, long musical videos (like R. Kelly’s In the Closet or Michael Jackson’s Thriller), fiction films and mid-range movies for TV, which can find a platform of expression in the In-Short festival.
  He stated, “What we are is uniquely and positively different”, and said the future of Nigerian moviemaking tradition did not lie with the current crop of filmmakers, who popularised the sector, but with a new generation of filmmakers yet to be given the opportunity to express themselves. He added, “The pioneers have tried; they have sustained the industry but it needs to be taken to the future.
  “The future of Nollywood is for those not in the core of Nollywood at the moment. There are no opportunities for them yet. The real sponsors won’t look at the new generation of moviemakers because they don’t know them enough to give them a chance at financial leverage. A lot of these talents abound; most of their works are musical videos and commercials in international TV channels, corporate films shot for corporate bodies. What they are doing can compete with what their peers are doing globally. These talents range from bankers, lawyers and other professionals. What they need is the platform being offered by In-Short International Film Festival so they can express themselves better. They need events such as this for self-expression.
  “The festival is a platform where young people with great ideas can showcase talent. Short films are easier to make; most famous filmmakers started from short films; they are like call cards. If you go to You-Tube or Vimeo, you will appreciate talents in short films. At a festival like In-Short, people will come and discover young talents in short films and possibly give them a chance”.
  Apart from showcasing talents, participants stand a chance to compete with filmmakers from across the globe in several categories. In last year’s first edition, Nigeria’s Folasakin Wajomo won in the Best Screen category with Not Today (10 minutes/fiction); Best Sound went to Mohammed Musulimi’s 500 Dollars (8 minutes/fiction); Best Editing also went to Nigeria’s Tope Ogun’s Yong Smoker (10 minutes/fiction); Best International Short Film went to Kenya’s Ziporrah Nyanyuri’s Zebu and the Photo Fish (13 minutes/fiction).
  Other winners were Best Actor in Nigeria’s Benedict Aromeh’s Director in Direc-toh (30 minutes/documentary), Best Actress in Chika Anadu’s Ava in AVA (9 minutes/fiction), Best Documentary went to Bimbo Ogunsanya’s Unique Fingers (14 minutes), Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Film went to Imoh Umoren’s All Sorts of Trouble (22 minutes/fiction).

My play’s a call to nationhood, patriotism, says Odoe

By Anote Ajeluorou

She isn’t one of the known, seasoned playwrights. But Ifechi Jane Odoe has something urgent to tell Nigerians about the country’s inability to attain true nationhood, its rickety superstructure, the slippery value system, the culture of political impunity and corruption. More importantly, Odoe is seeking urgent ways out of Nigeria’s chronic miasma so it could attain its true potential, especially with a vibrant population that can easily be put to work to realise dreamed of greatness. She encapsulated these thoughts in a conversation she held with art writers in Lagos last week

Nigeria’s inability to attain true nationhood has often been blamed on lack of patriotism on the part of its citizenry. With a political elite manifestly corrupt and always seeking ways to subvert the system for personal gains, and a followership that is often gullible, docile and also corrupt or inclined to cheering on corrupt leaders, Nigeria’s road to true nationhood seems a hard one. What is to be done to steer the ship of state to safety?
  These issues form the thrust of Odoe’s first play Edge of the Brink, a title that is suggestive of imminent danger, a foretold coming to an end of all things, a collapse waiting to happen. Odoe’s wish is “That we learn social lessons from Edge of the Brink as a people, as black people, for it to help us reason as a people, that we can do things better. It’s a call to duty, to patriotism and nationhood; that we need a little push to get us to our destination. When you see Nigerians abroad, they are very confident, energetic, forward-looking people. Why should we be different back home? Indeed, we can start doing better things after reading the book”.
  Tracing the life of four young men from the rural areas to urban cities, how they suffered in their early years through school and then moving on to the big stage and misusing the opportunities power thrust at them and wasting the commonwealth on self-aggrandisement, Odoe’s proposition is somewhat short of a bloody revolution. And seeing that the country of the play’s setting may not be so different from Nigeria, she says, “I’m not proposing that kind of bloody revolution for Nigeria. Nature has a way of forcing things to happen one way or the other. Nevertheless, we are now getting to a point where such proposition can happen because we’re building up to a situation of social tension. We may get to where society will not be able to hold any more. We may only be postponing the evil day. In any case, revolution can also be ideological and not necessarily a bloody one”.
  Odoe’s passion for Nigeria’s social re-engineering is infectious. It is this passion that informed her writing the book as a commentary for change. Nigeria’s one week revolution in January, ‘Occupy Nigeria’ may still be fresh in her mind. But Odoe is also thinking of ‘value revolution’ that should sweep through the country, starting from the ‘self’ and then onto the family unit, two important organs of social cohesion. She cautions, “We need to look at ourselves and decide what we really need to do. We need to say, ‘enough is enough to all the nonsense! Edge of the Brink is a summary of what we need in Nigeria. It takes the grace of God to live in Nigeria in terms of water supply, electricity, education.
  “Every Nigerian you see is much stressed compared to nationals of other countries. We’re just existing, we’re just surviving as a people; it should not be so. The question for most people is, ‘how do I live to the next day?”
  Odoe, also a mother, is not at ease with the way children have latched onto the various social media (facebook, twitter, badoo, linkedin, etc) to define their lifestyles as against what obtained while she was growing up. She says books, reading and the art of cookery defined her growing up era, things parent emphasised and inculcated in their children, wholesome pastime now lost to this generation of social media compulsively sold to its vicious aspects, with the gruesome murder of Cynthia Osokogwu still fresh in the memory of many Nigerians.
  “We have to look at our value system as a society,” she urges. “The family plays a very huge role in bringing children up. Parents have to hold their children well as values from home affect their lifestyles. Edge of the Brink is a reflection of what we are so as to be able to change our ways. And, I’m using drama as a kind of melodrama for me to bring out what we are and to say, ‘is this really us?’. I want it performed so we can see its effect on people.”
  Also a poet, Odoe is willing to work with producers to put Edge of the Brink on stage for its full dramatic realisation. For now Edge of the Brink can only be obtained on or as e-book, and she says her publisher, Authorhouse is willing to partner any local publisher to get hard copies of the book for Nigerians.
  On the challenges of writing the play, Odoe, formerly a journalist with The Guardian, says it took her a year before she published the book because she wanted Edge of the Brink to come out fine. She also states that Edge of the Brink is a snippet of what is to come from her as a writer.

I May Turn To Science Fiction Next, Says Kenyan Writer, Wainaina

The Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina is the author of the memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place. He teaches creative writing and is the director of the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Literature and Languages at Bard College in the U.S. He was in Lagos recently to help teach fiction to young writers from all over Africa in the NB/Farafina Trust Creative Writers Workshop, which ended with a literary event at the Grand Ballroom of Eko Hotel and Suites. He took time to speak with ANOTE AJELUOROU on some issues regarding literary engagement on the continent. Excerpts:

What is the state of writing in Kenya at the moment?
  I think these are the most exciting times since the 1990s. There’s a lot of new, independent publishing going on; online writing is very vibrant, dynamic and fast-changing. A lot of writers are now writing poetry, writing fiction, writing for TV and films and a lot of things. There are online publishers like Kwani? and many others going on.

How has your memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place been received in Kenya?
  Good! I think we sold close to 500 copies the first day at the launch. It has actually been wonderful; I’m very, very happy. I can’t be happier.

Tell us something about your directorship at the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Literature and Languages at Bard College,U.S.?
  It’s wonderful. We’re in the middle of a project called Pilgrimages, where we’re taking 13 African writers to 13 cities to write 13 books. It’s going to come in a series in a couple of years. I’ll be writing about Accra, Ghana; so many different writers are writing about other cities. The idea came from the African World Cup that was held in South Africa in 2010; we just want to celebrate our cities and for Africans to be able to say, ‘I know my place’, especially when we meet in a place like London or Paris.
  We can cay that the books are compatriots as they explain these cities both to those who reside in them and others coming to them.

Ngugu wa Thiong’o is the most prominent writer to have come out of Kenya. What is your relationship with him?
  Oh, lovely, lovely! Oh gosh; I’m mean, I became an Ngugu fan very early. I can’t even begin to explain how much he has affected me. You can’t imagine how very profound his influence on me is. And, his works tower very high, and continues to dominate.

And you are from a minority tribe…
  No, no; I’m Kikuyu, too, like Ngugu. But Kikuyu is not a majority either. You can’t even plan down one agenda along clan lines in Kenya; there are different clans, of course. The numbers are there, but not a majority.

In your book, you talked about the violence that erupted in the last election. How much has Kenyans learnt from that horrific experience?
  On the question of the violence that happened in Kenya, we hope that it is something that will not happen again. It shook us from our complete complacency. It’s sad that such experience happens often in Africa. The issue is that there’s a lot of bad politics and corruption and laxity in the polity, especially among the political elite in Africa. The violence raised the stakes for us. So, it was bad, but it was good for us in the long run.
  So, it will make us to grow stronger and help us to learn to accommodate one another in the future.

Most of the literary voices on the African continent are coming from outside the continent. Writers like you, Chimamanda Adichie and many others reside abroad. Is this a good development?
  The thing is that people make a mistake because they don’t know where you are. I think Chimamanda resides more here in Nigeria; I spend most of my time in Kenya; in fact, six months of the year and I travel all over the continent. We come back a lot; I retain my Kenyan passport; I don’t have a Green Card. I don’t have an American passport. We propagate African literature wherever we are, in Africa and wherever.
  What has happened is that many people are returning and finding their way and are giving back. And what is more important; let’s not talk about the writers that are out there. There is an exciting new generation of writers that have come out of Africa in the last few years, who are homegrown talents that are going international.

So, what’s next after One Day I Will Write About This Place?
  I don’t now; it could be anything, maybe science fiction. I’ll surprise you. Science fiction because I like to try new things; I love doing new things. So, look out!

IN January 2007, Wainaina was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a "Young Global Leader" - an award given to people for "their potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world." He subsequently declined the award. In his rejection letter, he wrote: "I assume that most, like me, are tempted to go anyway because we will get to be 'validated' and glow with the kind of self-congratulation that can only be bestowed by very globally visible and significant people, and we are also tempted to go and talk to spectacularly bright and accomplished people – our 'peers'. We will achieve Global Institutional Credibility for our work, as we have been anointed by an institution that many countries and presidents bow down to.
  “The problem here is that I am a writer. And although, like many, I go to sleep at night fantasizing about fame, fortune and credibility, the thing that is most valuable in my trade is to try, all the time, to keep myself loose, independent and would be an act of great fraudulence for me to accept the trite idea that I am 'going to significantly impact world affairs”.

Proposing literary community, friendship to broaden literary space

By AnoteAjeluorou

PERHAPS the most radical outcome of the NB/Farafina Trust’s Creative Writers Workshop that came to a close last Friday with a Farafina Literary Eevening was Kenyan writer’s proposition of a literary community and friendship as a means of broadening the literary space. It had arisen from a conversation one of the facilitators, Binyavanga Wainaina (author of One day I Will Write about this Place), had with workshop coordinator, Chimamanda Adichie. Adichie had amplified it at the closing conversation with the three facilitators (the others being Rob Spillman and Jeff Allen from U.S).
Wainaina had affirmed that it was important that writers formed communities of two or more people to support each other in the creative process. He noted that the importance of literary friendship was to make writing breathe in any given country. He charged the workshop participants to use the opportunity wisely, saying that the current generation had unbelievable opportunities, which he said did not reside in oil and gas but the need to be committed to writing fully.
Spillman also agreed, saying writing transcended boundaries and impregnable borders and that only through writing communities could writing and the messages embedded in writing spread to a wider audience. Allen recounted how contact with other writers like Adichie came about through such writing community when he previously traveled to Kenya for a workshop.
Also, the ever-persistent question of how to stimulate interest in reading also came up for the four accomplished writers. Wainaina put it down to failure of many educational systems, where emphasis was not on reading for the pleasure of fun of it but only for examination purposes. He also blamed poor politicking for the reading woe, saying, “Something has been stolen from us, something political and spiritual. Somebody has stolen something from us”, and stressed the need to regain whatever it was that has been stolen from the populace to correct the anomaly.
  While agreeing with Wainaina on the educational front, Adichie would not be so persimistic about itbut said although some sort of reading was going on, she wasn’t sure the sort of things being read. “I’m not persimistic”, she said. “I think that people are reading more today than 10 years ago. Social media really good but time spent in them should be spent reading. Like Binyavanga said, the educational system has failed. People read but what are they reading? Literature is important; it’s about having fun, learning, and thinking deep. Do parents read themselves to encourage their children to read? It’s okay for all of us to bemoan lack of reading but we must start reading.”
  On what constitute the African story, Adichie discounted such a thing as African story, saying a story should have sufficient human elements of the good and bad, including the dreams, hopes and aspirations of human beings fully expressed. She further noted that the story should be less about the subject as how it is done to realise that person as a full human being. Spillman said the story should be about the human person, and added, “I don’t read to have preconceptions reinforced. I ask for the stories behind the headlines”. Allen said writers were always obligated to the truth about the story. And, such truth, Adichie added, was “important as writing required emotional truth and honesty, ability to offend”, when necessary.
  Allen expressed the view that Nigerians have abundant energy, drive and ambition, saying, “I really had a fantastic time” although he had to visit the Nigerian Embassy in New York five times to get a visa. Spillman commented on the energy he noticed, adding, “I love the energy and the creativity everywhere, although slightly dysfunctional. You wonder how these things work, but they do work”.
Wainaina, who has been part of the workshop since inception, said, “Every time I come renewed. There are a few places I’ve been where there is a battle between good and evil but the good is winning. There’s something extremely powerful about here (Nigeria)”.

EARLIER, Farafina CEO, Muktar Bakare said the 20 participants for fourth edition of the workshop were drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroun, U.K. and the U.S. thus making it the most broad-based workshop so far. He said the workshop was giving opportunities for aspiring writers to find their own voices in their craft. He expressed his optimism about the future of creative writing in Africa with the quality of writers the workshop was training. He expressed gratitude to Nigeria Breweries Plc for the support, saying the company was acting in the true sense of culture patrons all over the world in supporting creativity.
  Bakare paid glowing tributes to the four workshop facilitators, whose individual talents he said was gradually creating global recognition for it. He described Kenyan Wainaina as “a force of nature, a great bridge-builder; he picks talents across Africa and introduces them to the world”. He said Allen has continued to open doors for African writers all over the world while Spillman “was committed to the creation of literature from across cultures, especially his quest in always asking for new things and always looking for opportunities from the best we have”.
  For the home girl, Adichie, Bakare didn’t say much as her dedication to the promotion of local talent has become legendary. He only charged the workshop participants to “Please, do read, and write, too!”
  On his part, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde, said, “It is always a great pleasure for me to be part of this gathering of distinguished men and women of letters… Four years ago, Nigerian Breweries began a partnership with Farafina Trust to sponsor the Creative Writers Workshop. It is a partnership founded on our desire to encourage the development of literary writing skills in Nigeria as part of our strategic corporate initiatives towards talent development and youth empowerment. Nigerian Breweries remains at the forefront of providing this kind of enduring platforms to nurture Nigeria’s abundant talents”.
  Vervelde also stated that the underlying vision for the workshop and other CSR activities of the Nigeria Breweries Plc was “to harness these talents. This country has amazing talents; it’s about the development of these energetic, rough diamonds that we want to do. Adichie is the spiritual leader of the workshop, and we cannot thank her enough”.
  He expressed the hope that the workshop experience would help the participants to improve their talents and develop as writers, adding, “We hope that in a few years we will have the class of Ben Okri, Wole Soyinka and other great Nigerian writers”.
  Adichie, too, expressed her appreciation for the sponsorship from Nigeria Breweries Plc, especially to its CEO, Vervelde, whom she described as “having a warm humility about him and a genuine interest in developing talents in Nigeria”. She also saluted his brother, Key Adichie, who manages the NB/Farafina Trust, organisers of the creative writing workshop, saying, “My brother with whom I grew up reading books” and her parents, for their faith in her early in life, when they allowed her to switch from medicine to literature.
  On the workshop, Adichie said, “We had a wonderful group this year; I just love to teach writing”. While reading the citation of each of the 20 participants present, Adichie was full of warm words for them, spelling out their individual strengths as exposed in their workshop pieces and their respective qualities and traits while at the workshop.
  On their experiences coming to Nigeria to teach creative writing, Spillman said, “When you’re in the U.S., you have an impression of Nigeria, but it has been impressive coming here. My home is really in stories in literature. From my parentage, I’m a normad. I couldn’t happier with the students because they did what was expected of them”.
  Allen was pleased to be in Nigeria for the second time, adding, “It’s been an amazing experience. I enjoyed working with all the writers; very fantastic”. He read from a new book he is working on due out next year.
  Three participant writers stood out from the crowd among the 21 writers. While two of them – Richard Alli (author of A City of Memories) and Yetunde Omotosho (South Africa-based author of Bom Boy and daughter of renowned writer, scholar and critic, Prof. Kole Omotosho) are published authors, the other is Kano-based journalist with Abdulaziz Ahmed Abdulaziz, with Blueprint newspaper.
  To spice up the evening was songstress, Onyaka Onwenu, who was praised to the high heavens by the duo of Bakare and Adichie. She pelted the literary audience with melodies from her evergreen repertoire. And they danced and sang along with her inside the Grand Ballroom of Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos.