Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Focus of ThisYear's festival Is On Women, Says Kalango

The fifth edition of the popular Garden City Literary Festival, GCLF begins tomorrow in the capital city of Rivers State, Port Harcourt. Koko Kalango, the main force behind the birth and nurturing of the festival in an online chat with ANOTE AJELUOROU throws light on what to expect in the weeklong festival

GCLF starts tomorrow. How prepared is Port Harcourt city for the festival? How would you describe the build-up to this moment?

  We have been working night and day to ensure we deliver a great Garden City Literary Festival 2012. This year’s outing is special for several reasons: This is our 5th litfest; this year we are looking at a very topical subject, Women in Literature, and this year our beloved city of Port Harcourt was nominated UNESCO World Book Capital 2014!
  On this occasion we are also presenting our book; Nigerian Literature, a Coat of Many Colours, which is a Coffee Table book of 50 prominent Nigerian authors and their works. We are grateful that the foreward to this book is written by no less than President Jonathan and the introduction by our infatigable literary connoissuer, Governor Rotimi Amaechi. We hope this work will be an invaluable contribution to Nigeria’s literary heritage, as is this festival.

Could you remind those intending participants of the festival the literary figures expected to attend and their specific significance to the proposed festival theme?
  The writers of the city such as Chief Elechi Amadi and Pa Gabriel Okara would be joining us to welcome their counterparts from around Nigeria and even abroad. Elechi Amadi would be taking a Master Class at the Festival and we round off with a special Jazz and Poetry Evening where Pa Gabriel Okara will be Guest of honour. This year our keynote address will be delivered by Veronique Tadjo, the Ivorian scholar and playwright. Other writers attending include the Ugandan author and Caine Prize winner Doreen Baigana and from Nigeria we have two of our bright upcoming authors; Chibundu Onuzo, author of The Spider King’s Daughter, and Noo Saro-wiwa, author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria.

Apart from the usual workshops, seminars, what other ingredients make this year’s festival different from past editions?
  This year we have a special session on the morning of Thursday 18 Oct at the Hotel Presidential where we would be formally presenting PH to the world as UNESCO World Book City for 2014. Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka will be delivering the keynote address on that occasion. He would be talking on our theme for 2014 which is ‘Books – Window to our World of Possibilities’. We have invited the UNESCO Director General, Ms Irina Bokova, as Guest of Honour. Our host is His Excellency Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State.
  We are also coming out with a historic book on Nigerian authors, which would be publicly presented on this occasion.
As always, we have workshops in fiction, non-fiction, poetry. We have more workshops for children. A child author, Polly Alakija who has written for Macmillan International will be here to take the children in writing workshops. As you know children have always been an integral part of our festival. This year we are also featuring a dance drama called Evil Blade that speaks up against female genital mutilation. This is in line with our general focus on women. It is written by the late Amatu Braide of the University of Port Harcourt. Indeed GCLF 2012 year promises to be exciting!

What informed the theme for this year’s festival? What do you expect participants to take away from the theme?
   The theme for this year was actually suggested by Governor Amaechi at the opening ceremony last year. Under this year’s topic  – Women in Literature, we would be looking at areas such as women who are involved in the literary world. This includes writers, publishers, agents, promoters, academics and critics. Women working in this field have raised the profile of women by their works. In the African context, where females are often considered second-class citizens, the achievements of these women are particularly laudable because they have successfully broken through the bonds of traditional constraint.  While African literature is still largely male-dominated, there are some outstanding female voices, some of which will be joining us in PH this week.
The second way in which to consider our theme is the portrayal of women in literature.  Here we would look at the traditional perspective when men were the main source of writing and women were often categorised into stereotypical, often one-dimensional roles  - the wife, the mother, the virgin, the harlot. Rarely were we given a rounded view of the multi-faceted beings that women are and rarely did they capture all the suffering, endurance and fortitude of the African woman. Here, we would look at how things have changed over the years and how we now get a real interpretation of the female experience through the writings of women.
Then thirdly we would also look at What Women Write about.  We would be asking questions such as does being a female writer mean one must cover ‘female’ issues?   While it is good that women write about issues that are typically experienced by women such as domestic violence and motherhood, women are equally affected by world issues like the economy, environmental change, politics and war and the writer’s role as a social commentator means female writers should give their perspectives on what goes on around them. Successful examples of this include Aminatta Forna’s reflections on war and Chimamanda Adichie’s latest collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, which covers a wealth of topics.

Nice work, Rainbow Book Club winning the UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 for Port Harcourt! What plans are there to make this win impact the book life of Port Harcourt citizens?
  Port Harcourt being the World Book Capital 2014 is sure to transform the book life of the citizens. For a year from 23 April 2014 we will run several programmes promoting books and reading. Libraries and book clubs will be set up to provide more access to books and more opportunities for discussion around books. Writers will converge monthly for readings, etc. We expect a spiral effect on the book industry, as there should emerge more bookshops, publishing houses, libraries and a heightened interest in reading. We expect that year to be a complimentary effort to the initiatives in education that this administration has set in place so that citizenry of PH will be transformed into a reading population.

Would participants get a glimpse of the World Book Capital from the festival this year? Are there specific programmes to herald it?

  Indeed they will. We have a stand at our book fair where we would give out information and we can answer questions. As we have said, the Thursday morning session at the Hotel Presidential is dedicated to the PH WBCC nomination announcement. Those wishing to learn more may also visit our website (

Clearly, Rivers State deserves to be book capital in Nigeria with the support government has given to the festival. Rivers State government has done well, has it?

   The literature friendly Governor of Rivers State has certainly created an enabling environment for literary expression. The Garden City Literary Festival is actually the idea of Governor Chibuike Amaechi. When the Governor came into office in 2008 he called me and gave me this assignment. The Governor also takes time out on Children’s Day (which happens to be his birthday) every year to read to children in a public school.  As you are probably aware, education is a key area that this administration is concentrating on, this indeed makes our work easier.

Last year, governor Amaechi mulled over how to make the festival self-sustaining even beyond his tenure in government. Just how has the self-sustaining drive gone?
  Indeed from the very beginning the Governor expressed his desire for the festival to be institutionalised and I can tell you that that process is almost complete. Before GCLF 2013, by God’s grace, the festival will be fully institutionalised.

Any other issues you might want to address…

I would like to say that the nomination of PH as UNESCO World Book Capital is a victory not just for Port Harcourt or Nigeria but for the continent of Africa as we are the first city in Africa to win by public bid.
  We have won because of the ‘labours of our heroes past’. The great authors Nigeria has produced, the works of the various literary groups, the efforts of other players in the book industry (publishers, booksellers, scholars) all added to help us win this nomination and we are grateful to them all. We would all need to work together to ensure PH World Book Capital is the greatest UNESCO has had and will ever have!

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