Writings of the general word's body

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Abolition 200


Free Event


Bristol, the West & the World


@ The New Room, John Wesley's Chapel, Broadmead, Bristol


Sunday 1 July


@ 3pm

~ ~ ~



  • Abolitionism & African Revolt in the Translatlantic Slave Trade - Dr Edson Burton
  • Sincerity & Abolitionism in Hannah More & John Newton - Dr Kerry Sinanan
  • Bristol & the Slave Trade: An Overview - Madge Dresser
  • Kobina Sekyi and Kofi Annan: National & Internationalists - Dr James Gibbs
  • Abolishing Contemporary Forms of Slavery - Dr Christien van den Anker
  • Roundtable: Local Action/Wider Concern - Oxfam, African Initiatives et al

According to organiser James Gibbs, "Literary elements will include reference to the work of Kobina Sekyi, whose Blinkards was given a rehearsed reading at the Drill Hall and was scheduled for performance as part of the Ghana@50 drama programme in Accra."

  • With thanks to JG for the info
Association of Nigerian Authors

ANA Oyo State Chapter

in celebration of

Featuring readings, skits, jokes, live music, munching etc

Host: Adeola Dax Kumapayi

Educare Trust Exhibition Centre
, Goshen Superstores Building, beside Coca-Cola, Sango, Ibadan.
Saturday June 30, 2007

4:00 P.M

Ebika Anthony

Monday, June 25, 2007

Million Writers Vote

EC Osondu in Million Writers' Vote

Caine Short-listed E.C Osondu - is the only African writer left in the final shortlist of 10, for the 2007 Million Writers Award. Osondu is on the list for his short story, A Letter From Home.

The search/vote is under way to find the best Online short story. Voting continues till June 30.

Vote here.

Yellow-Yellow Reading

Kaine Agary - author's photo collage courtesty of Bella Naija
Kaine Agary

Author of Yellow-Yellow
Reads as part of the Poetry Potter series

Venue: National Library Hall
Opposite Casino Cinema
Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos.
Date: Saturday 30th June @ 2pm

Admission is free.

Jude Dibia reads

Reads from his books and short stories
@ Terra Kulture
Victoria Island, Lagos
Saturday 30 June
2 to 6pm
Q&A follows the readings
Plus book signings.

New Reads

A new short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, On Monday Last Week, is in the new issue of Granta. Kamara has come to join her husband in the US and she babysits Josh while waiting for her Green Card. Josh's mother is an artist who never comes out of her basement studio. Three months pass, and Tracy the artist comes upstairs suddenly.

An excerpt...
And now three months have passed. Three months of babysitting Josh. Three months of listening to Neil’s worries, of carrying out Neil’s anxiety-driven instructions, of growing a pitying affection for Neil. Three months of not seeing Tracy. At first Kamara was curious about this woman with dreadlocks and skin the colour of peanut butter who was barefoot in the wedding photo on the shelf in the den. Kamara wondered if and when Tracy left the basement. Sometimes she heard sounds down there, a door slamming shut or a brief burst of loud music. She wondered if Tracy ever saw her child. When she tried to get Josh to talk about his mother, he said, ‘Mummy’s very busy with her work. She’ll get mad if we bother her.’… Tracy’s existence became inconsequential, a background reality like the wheezing on the phone line when she called her mother in Nigeria. Until the Monday of last week.

-Read it in Granta 98

A very enjoyable edition this is. There's a photo essay of the Port Glasgow area of Scotland that's depressing to see, even before you read outgoing editor Ian Jack's accompanying piece about the region's history. Timely for the imminent smoking ban in the UK, there's a short story by Jackie Kay, "The Last of the Smokers" - in which two old friends mull over lost loves and consider whether to give up smoking. And above, a wonderfully honest personal sexual history by the 90-year-old Diana Athill, tracing her romantic companions from the beginning, to the last two men she consorted with. The very last, Sam, had served in the government of "the Redeemer" - Kwame Nkrumah.

African Vanities

I was going to come to the July issue of Vanity Fair sooner or later. I have already given away my first copy and bought a second – that’s how compulsive it is.

There’s this image of Tsotsi actress Terry Pheto for a start. Isn’t it wonderful when the VF eye-candy is African (presumably with real mammaries)?

The Africa issue is not the first edition concerning which I’ve had to buy a replacement copy. It happened with the famous Demi Moore cover back in the early nineties; someone took away my copy and I went right out and bought another, which I kept for good 5 years until storage issues meant it had to go. I still wish I’d kept it. Some like to call the Demi Pregnancy nude cover ‘infamous’ but I’ve never agreed. The actress has found lots of (expensive) ways to keep looking young/ish since but in my view, she has never looked as supremely woman – and beautiful - as she did on that VF cover. It was an important statement, one that has been imitated countless times since – all pale (or if you consider model Oluchi on the cover of True Love West Africa – dark) imitations. Demi did it first and did it best. Yasmin Le Bon & all others didn’t quite pull it off, though they tried. As for the Oluchi pregnant bare-bellied TL cover,
my friend Sisioge lamented: “Ah-ah, what’s the point? Must we Africans do everything Oyinbos do?” Search me, I shrugged.

Anyway, so I had my Africa Issue VF replaced. I’m flipping through the pages and enjoying and to Africanise the English, ‘I am seriously annoying too’. I have been in discussion on this issue several places elsewhere. My point of contention – or one of them – is that the seemingly well-meaning ‘connections’ concept of the lavish never-before-done 20 separate covers featuring mostly people who are not African – is a massive cop-out. Usually when VF does themed editions, they have several people who fit that theme on the cover. So a music issue will have hot musicians like Beyonce, Beck, the usual suspects - in a group photo. Same goes for the Hollywood issue. With the Africa issue, VF could have put Mandela (surely one of the most recognisable humans on earth) on its cover. Or several Africans.

But no. What we have is a whole bunch of people whose connections with Africa are tenuous at best. So, Jay Z went to ‘Africa’ for the first time in 2006 (that qualifies him for a cover with George Clooney) and there he found 1.1 billion people who “don’t have clean drinking water.” What the- ?

Chris Rock also 'went to Africa' once to see Mandela and so contributes an embarrassing piece of rank juvenilia - utterly pointless.

Not many would quibble with the ‘Africanness’ of Muhammad Ali or Maya Angelou – but ‘Mother Malawi Madonna' and many others just take the biscuit. George Bush(!) shares a cover with Desmond Tutu; and it's no wonder the holy one looks like he’s reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Of the 20 or so cover men & women, only 3 or 4 are African in any real sense – none of whom are ever posed together. 'Mitigate the African', is what I see. It appears that VF could not trust its American/Western readership to buy an African on his/her own on the cover – or a whole bunch of Africans for that matter, so they are not only outnumbered, they are spliced up nicely with all manners of stand-in Africans. That’s what I see. ‘Connections’ or ‘Conversations’ are mere euphemisms.

But that’s not the worst of what’s wrong with Africa VF. I’ve argued elsewhere also (and wrongly) that this is not the first guest-edited edition of VF, maintaining that Tom Ford’s cover from last year (with nude Scarlett Johansson & Keira Knightley) was also guest edited. On seeing the “1st guest ed.” small print in this current issue, I’ve gone to dig out my Tom Ford cover, only to see that the designer did not edit the issue, merely took charge of the 164 page portfolio. So there goes that mistake.

But yes, the esteemed first ever VF guest editor, the only man capable of bringing us the magazine’s first ever Africa issue, to present the vast mother continent to the world – is none other than Bono. Lots and lots of argument have gone on about this also. There is really not much I want to say about it at this point but to refer blog readers
to this post on Sokari Ekine’s blog – and an article to which she refers, “Welcome to the People’s Republic of Bono.”

After the Demi Moore cover, I remember a reader wrote in, in one of the subsequent editions’ Letters page something along the lines of, “Vanity really is fair when you put a naked pregnant woman on the cover.” And so, the facts of all the above do not detract much from the fact that the Africa bumper issue (since when is VF never a bumper issue?) is a thumping good read. It presaged the award of the Man International Booker to Achebe (oh, and the Orange prize to Adichie, who VF says parted the literary waves like Cleopatra); also the death of Ousmane Sembene, presenting a photo-study of the next generation of African filmmakers it says are Sembene’s “offspring”. The inclusion of Danny Glover (husband of Asake; negotiator of film rights to Sembene’s ‘God’s Bits of Wood’ as well as co-producer & cameo star of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako) among the 'offspring' – is proper.

It’s disappointing that Youssou N’Dour, asked for
his selection of the best West African music for VF readers – stays firmly within the Mali/Senegal axis. As if there weren’t some 15 countries in West Africa, all with vibrant music! N'Dour chose 15 tracks in all, 2 of them his own. Vanity upon Vanity.

There’s a lot to read and look at. The music festival in the desert,
a piece on Kenya by Binyavanga Wainaina; a portfolio of African movers and shakers; and “The Continental Shelf” – on the rising stars of African literature, including some of the aforementioned names.

No one ever said Vanity wasn’t Fair.

Ousmane Sembène, 1923 - 2007

Ousmane Sembène On Literature & film...
Me myself, I prefer literature. But in our time, literature is a luxury."
On African Leaders...
"... the most alienated individuals I have ever seen. Our First Ladies, I call them: Duty-Free Ladies; they only use European perfumes."
On Himself...
"I don't know my life. I've travelled a lot and this is the life that I have lived, but that doesn't mean that I know myself."
"I am a man of contradictions and equivocations. I have always said I would sleep with the devil to get my films made."

Achebe, the 'Man International Booker'

"Chinua Achebe... is the dignified elder statesman of African letters. Long considered a favourite for the Nobel Prize in Literature, the revered Nigerian author is snubbed year after year... This despite being the most translated African writer in the world, as well as the author of Things Fall Apart (1958), widely considered to be one of the finest novels of the 20th cnetury... The rap on Achebe, a self-described "cultural nationalist," is that his groundbreaking essay "An Image of Africa," which elegantly slams Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness for dehumanizing Africans and Africa... has made him no friends on the Nobel committee." - Vanity Fair Africa issue.

No sooner had I read the above, and news broke of the award of the 2007 Man International Booker to Achebe, who will not now attend the award ceremony due to ill health. The £60,000 award, coming only a week after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange prize, sent the Nigerian literary community in euphoria - and has been hailed as a long overdue "vindication" by critics.

Drama: Kongi's Harvest

A Season of Soyinka Plays
Every Sunday in July
Terra Kulture
Tiamiyu Savage V.I, Lagos
*Kicks off with a play by Wole Oguntokun
(Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?),
then continues with works by the man himself.
  • 1 July: Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka? - written by Wole Oguntokun
  • 8 July: The Lion and the Jewel - directed by Tunji Sotimirin
  • 15 July: Death and the King's Horseman - directed by Segun Adefila
  • 22 July: Camwood on the Leaves - directed by Lekan Balogun
  • 29 July: The Jero Plays (Trials of Brother Jero & Jero's Metamorphosis) directed by Wole Oguntokun

'Sir' Salman Steps Across Empire Lines

I don't suppose the photo helps, since it's pretty hard for most people to empathise with a man who has the gorgeous Padma Lakshmi for a wife. The above readers' page from the London Metro gives a cross section of (mostly negative) reactions to the decision to give a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. It's dismayed some observers to see how the author of Satanic Verses can still inspire effigy burning in parts of the Muslim world. What the UK government's decision has demonstrated for me, however, is not just the hatred by Islamists - but the resentment of the author in British society itself. If Rushdie were not who he was, with his baggage of fragmented identities, he would have been declared the greatest living British author long before now. Instead we have many people complaining about how all he has ever done for Britain is cost the taxpayer 10 million for his protection from the fatwa. The dead-eyed, empty-souled phillistinism of it, to say Rushdie has given nothing to Britain!

"Smoked Salmon" has been one of the more tongue-in-cheek paper headlines on the inflamed Muslim anger in the wake of the knighthood. "Was knighthood for Salman a foolish decision?" asks the Metro.

Seems to me, that the question really is this: Was Salman Rushdie's acceptance of the knighthood a foolish thing? And this is not so that he doesn't play into the hands of the fundamentalists. It is simply that Rushdie is one of the rocks upon which Postcolonial Literary theory is built. You don't write landmark essays like 'The Empire Writes Back to the Centre" & books like Imaginary Homelands and then go and accept the knighthood, tempting though it might be to be called 'Sir Salman'. What, the empire comes to the centre to become a knight now?

As it happens, Satanic Verses is the only Rushdie book I was never able to finish, because I got mid-way and didn't for the life of me know what the hell it was about. I got lost between the fictive real and the fictive imaginary. I allow this failed attempt was some 15 years ago. I wanted to try again last year and went to my bookshelf only to find that someone had secretly made off with my copy.

Salman Rushdie could have saved the fundamentalists, the UK government, we his devoted readers - and himself - unnecessary headache by refusing to become a 'Sir'.

When the offer came, the author might have done well to recall
Keith Richards' outrage at Mick Jagger's acceptance of the same 'honour'. The Rolling Stones, come to think of it, had in their anti-establishment days released an album titled Their Satanic Majesties Request. "I told Mick it's a paltry honour... It's not what the Stones is about, is it?" said Richards. "I don't want to step out onstage with someone wearing a coronet and sporting the old ermine."

Richards recently admitted to snorting his father's ashes up his nose (aren't we supposed to be offended by this? I asked when the reports came out) - though he later back-tracked. He was pretty sensible in his indictment of Jagger's decision to accept the knighthood though. "Ludicrous."

I feel like telling 'Sir Salman' the same.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In London, 21st June

In Ali, I tried to capture the innocence of the African soldiers, set apart from an ideology that forced them to fight a war about which they knew nothing. But Ali is not angry; he is a boy excited by the prospect of war and a new country. Isolated by his youth and keen to impress, he allowed me to explore the humour that surrounds a group of young men and the horror that comes with being African Chindit soldiers in Burma.

The story I wanted to tell is not just the story of my father. It is the story of every African soldier who fought, of everybody who was touched, however unknowingly, by the exploits of the Chindits.

- Biyi Bandele on his new novel, Burma Boy. Read more on his Myspace page.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Letter

Dear Chimamanda,

The news of the award of the 2007 Orange BroadBand Prize for Fiction for your book, Half Of A Yellow Sun was received with joy by Nigerian Writers at home and abroad. This coming after your meteoric rise in literary circles in recent years has further confirmed our long-held belief in your excellent literary skills. With this award, you have become a beacon of hope to many Nigerian writers especially those who are still struggling in obscurity in spite of their commendable literary profiles.

May I on behalf of members of The Association Of Nigerian Authors extend a warm and hearty congratulations to you on this feat. We are sure that this is just the beginning of many more laurels in your literary career.

With very best wishes.

Wale Okediran
ANA President.

In Praise of...

In Praise of Chimamanda Adichie's 2007 Orange Prize

By Obiwu

The winning of the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new novel, Half of a Yellow Sun 2006), is a matter for serious reflection.

Now we will have to address the significance of Adichie in contemporary Nigerian literary praxis. We will have to ask why Nigerian literature has been in the doldrums since Wole Soyinka's Nobel Prize in 1986 and Ben Okri's Booker Prize in 1991. What made the writing of the third generation's Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Christopher Okigbo as globally commanding as the writing of the first generation's Olaudah Equiano? What made the writing of the second generation as weak as the writing of the fourth generation and much of the fifth generation?

Adichie has rediscovered the magic of great art and serious discourse. She has eschewed pretentiousness and self-flagellation; she has taken the bull by the horn, called a spade a spade, mocked national injustice and travesty, and given hope to the faint in spirit. She has not asked for charity and has not hidden her disgust for the debasing mess of porridge in which many self-adulating "writers" have stewed themselves.

Adichie prides herself as a child who was raised in the faculty house at Nsukka which was previously occupied by Achebe and Michael J. C. Echeruo. She has carved her art as "the branch of a giant fennel" which was the fountain of Achebe, Soyinka, and Okigbo's discursive thriller. Like the three elders she has drawn her subjects on a historical national dilemma. Her direct model in Africa is none other than Nadine Gordimer.

As Achebe says of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, Adichie has washed her hands and dined with elders. I toast Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's winning of the 2007 Orange Prize in honour of the one who "came almost fully made." I toast for the re-centering of serious discourse in Nigerian and African literature. I toast for the global acclaim of Half of a Yellow Sun and the emergence of Biafran Babies literature!


Monday, June 18, 2007

An Orange Revolution - in words & images

Chimamanda's Night of Glory
By Molara Wood

As widely predicted, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie triumphed at the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction on Wednesday night, winning the award for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.

Going to the Royal Festival Hall venue of this year's ceremony, one could be forgiven for missing one's way. The prestigious centre of the arts on the banks of the River Thames had been closed for some time, and scaffolding was still up around the building and doorways were sealed. Guests had to walk around the building. But once they got to the functioning entrance, it was splendour all the way. The Royal Festival Hall would be officially re-opened to the art-going public in just two days, but the Orange Prize Ceremony allowed a magnificent preview.

Two Olympic style flames burned on either side of the expansive orange carpet that led from the sidewalk into the venue, up the wide stairways and all the way to the Ballroom in the belly of the Royal Festival Hall, where it was all going to happen. It was already teeming with people, with more arriving by the minute. Made up mostly of writers and book lovers, it was at least a more representative crowd than the Shortlist Readings, which took place the night before in the Purcell Room, part of the same South Bank Complex that includes the Royal Festival Hall.

The Shortlist Readings of Tuesday 5th June saw a sold out audience made up of mostly middle class white women. And very few men. As for the blacks, there were only five; four women and one man. The reading went well, but the night ended on a sour note for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who finished signing autographs only to find that her bag had been stolen. The author lost her personal effects and, painfully, a notebook in which she had written preparatory notes for her next novel.
But when Chimamanda arrived at the Orange ceremony, nothing in her bearing betrayed the upsetting loss of the night before. Wearing a cream dress with a bold red midriff sash made from the same material as her headwrap, she looked every inch a winner. It was a long road from the 2004 Orange Prize, for which Chimamanda was short-listed, for the first time, for her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus. She was relatively unknown then, and left empty handed as Andrea Levy scooped the prize. Much has happened since, and Chimamanda is now a bonafide literary celebrity in her own right on the international stage. And in the run up to this year's prize, British bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes made her the odds-on favourite to win. Chimamanda, still only 29, was the woman to beat.
As the ceremony began, Orange Prize co-founder and honorary director Kate Mosse, took the stage to declare that this year's was one of the best-selling shortlists ever. The paperback edition of Half of a Yellow Sun alone has sold 187,000 copies in Britain since its release in January. With a line-up including Kiran Desai (short-listed for her Booker Prize winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss) and Xiaolu Guo (for 'A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers'), Mosse told the gathering that this was also the most international shortlist ever, "with representatives from every continent."

Flying the flag for the whole of Africa, Chimamanda watched as the preliminary awards were announced. A trio of shortlisted authors, Guo, Rachel Cusk (Arlington Park) and Joanne Harris (The Observations) kept each other company nearby. Desai, wearing a stunning Indian sari, was further away in the gathering. Completing the shortlist of six was Anne Tyler (for Digging to America) who was not present. According to the chair of the judging panel Muriel Gray, Tyler is "notoriously reclusive and never leaves Baltimore." Representatives stood in for Tyler at the reading and at the award ceremony.
The Orange Award for New Writers came first, and it went to Karen Connelly for another war novel, "The Lizard Cage", set in Burma. As she read a prepared speech, I leaned over and asked Chimamanda if she too would read from a note on winning. The author replied that she had no speech prepared. "Being favourite is the kiss of death," she said. "I will not be surprised if I do not win."

We didn't have long to wait, because Muriel Gray was soon back on the stage to announce the big prize. "There is absolutely nothing controversial about this year's shortlist," she declared, informing that the judges (including seasoned profiler of African writers, Maya Jaggi) were unanimous in their choice of winner.

Then Chimamanda's name was called out, to sensational reactions in the Royal Festival Hall Ballroom. The author went on the stage to accept the limited edition winner's bronze statuette known as the "Bessie" drawing laughs when she declared herself happy to take home "this little thing with its cute breasts." She mentioned that, "Writing is the only thing I really care about," and added that she had to go and make a call to her family in Nigeria. Chimamanda's editor, Mitzi Angel, later described the author's onstage performance as "poised" and "controlled" - adding that, "She does the same in her writing. She is always thinking, and she cares deeply about her country. She will become one of the most important writers in the world."

In the razzle and dazzle of cheers and press photographs that immediately followed, Kiran Desai was the only shortlisted writer who got the chance to congratulate the new Orange prize winner before she was whisked away from the gathering for media formalities. Others would have to wait until her return, but the Nigerian writers who had come to support their own, were allowed to accompany her through a series of behind-the-scenes interviews and photo-calls. The Nigerian party comprised scholar/writer Wale Adebanwi, journalist Tolu Somolu and myself; all three of us were at the Orange ceremony three years before, when Chimamanda first appeared on the shortlist.

Poet Odia Ofeimun, fresh from his participation at the 12th International Poetry Festival in Cuba, had stopped over in London to attend the Orange ceremony. He said of Chimamanda's win, "It is a confirmation of what the world always knew, that good literature comes from Nigeria. She is a very good representation of the best that comes out of the country." Ofeimun added that, "There is this wise old woman's way to her youthfulness, which makes it imperative that we listen to her. The great thing is that she is very young and has a huge future ahead."

Adebanwi, who interviewed Adichie on the publications of both her books, said, "I am very excited because I knew it was only a matter of time for Chimamanda to win a big prize." He observed that, "She's got the capacity to tell the traditional African story by the moonlight with a refreshing modernity that is extremely powerful. We should be proud of her." Adebanwi felt that the theft of Chimamanda's handbag was strangely prescient. "Maybe losing her bag was an indication of a new story. What was taken away yesterday has been returned in a wonderful way today."

Chimamanda herself had seen the bag's loss as a bad omen. "I was thinking: this is not good." Winning the prize however, made her "very happy." She had come off the stage before realising that she didn't thank some people publicly, especially her editor Mitzi Angel. "Writing is something you do alone," Chimamanda said, "and it takes other people to help make things happen. I've been very fortunate to have Mitzi who understands my work."

The feeling is mutual for Mitzi, who never doubted that Chimamanda would reach the heights. "I feel very privileged to be publishing her." Asked if it had been a risky venture taking on a then little known Nigerian female writer, the editor replied, "I don't think of it in terms of risk. If someone's a good writer, it will become obvious to everyone. To me, Chimamanda was ahead of her game."

The author's publicist, Michelle Kane, had a strong feeling that she would win. "She is an extraordinary voice. It was time for her to be recognised and it was shown tonight. And she won it!"
And won it, she did. Asked what she thought her Orange triumph means, Chimamanda replied, "I hope it will open more doors, not just for Nigerian writers, but for African writers. I hope African writers will see this and think that they can do it too. I remember when I was looking for a graduate programme in the US, and I saw that Edwidge Danticat had been at the same place; I immediately felt that since she had been there, I would be fine too."

The Orange Prize recognises excellence in women's writing, and the author's mind went to her fellow Nigerian female writers. "We are taking over from the men!" she declared.

We the Nigerians present had unrestricted access as Chimamanda gave radio and television interviews. She answered questions and posed for photographs while we sent frantic text messages to writers and artists in Nigeria to communicate the news. Kate Mosse came in with the winner's £30,000 cheque, a part of the ceremony that had been accidentally missed out on the stage. And so we were among the few witnesses to the belated presentation of the cheque, which made it all the more special.

Prize-winning Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah phoned through on my mobile and became the first to congratulate the new Orange winner by telephone. And there was still that phone call to the Adichie family to be made. But first, it was back to the ceremony in the Ballroom. Among those waiting to congratulate Chimamanda and talk with her, were: Zadie Smith (2006 Orange winner), Andrea Levy (2004 winner), Jackie Kay, Margaret Busby and John Agard. There was a wonderful evening ahead and - as many predicted on the night - a great future. In the end, it seemed clear that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Orange Prize triumph had never really been in doubt.

  • Words & images © MW

The News After the Night Before

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ngugi Casts Literary Spells

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o gives the keynote speech during the 'Word From Africa' event at the British Museum on Saturday 2nd June. He called for the 'liberation' of African languages.

Chimamanda wins the Orange!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wins the Orange Prize for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. It was her second time on the shortlist.
Chair of the panel of judges, Muriel Gray, watches moments after the annoucement. Also shortlisted were Kiran Desai, Rachel Cusk, Xiaolu Guo, Jane Harris and Anne Tyler.
Adichie kisses the 'Bessie' the Orange Prize's bronze statuette.
Adichie takes a congratulatory call from Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah. In the background are Odia Ofeimun & Tolu Somolu.
Kate Mosse of the Orange Prize organisation gives the new prize winner her cheque for £30,000
  • More Orange Prize photos at the next blog update.
  • Images © MW

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Way We Were

L-R: Ike Anya’s brother, Ike himself, Cyril Nri, Chimamanda, her (then heavily pregnant) sis-in-law Tinuke Adichie, Wale Adebanwi & myself.
It was 8 June 2004, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the only debut novelist & the youngest writer on the Orange shortlist - for her book, Purple Hibiscus. 3 years on, and she’s hotly tipped for the prize, this time for Half of a Yellow Sun. How will the story end this time? All will be revealed on Wednesday 6 June when this year’s winner is announced.

Orange Prize: the 1st time round... in words & pictures

Binyavanga Wainaina & Ike Anya

Wale Adebanwi, Chimamanda & her brother, Chuks. Adichie is up for the Orange Prize for the 2nd time for 'Half of a Yellow Sun' - award to be announced in London on Wednesday 6 June 2007.

Middle, Turner prize winning artist Grayson Perry who came as his alter ego… a little girl.

Chimamanda’s Day @ the Orange Prize

Caribbean-British Writer Andrea Levy was declared the winner of this year's Orange Prize for fiction on June 8 for her novel Small Island. Nigeria's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had been shortlisted for her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus.

As the day drew near, my search for a copy of Purple Hibiscus became more and more frantic, as I would enter every bookstore only to be told they'd just sold their last copy. In a last ditch effort, I headed for the Index Bookshop in Brixton, which specialises in black writing - and got lucky. And so it was that on the day of the Award ceremony, I had only read 20 or so pages of one of the most talked about books of this year.

Newspaper columnist Wale Adebanwi and I took the London Underground to Waterloo and from there made our way on foot to the South Bank. We came across writer Ike Anya and his brother by the National Theatre; and our band of four went looking for the venue - a gigantic white tent called The Room By The River. The inside was decked out to resemble a Victorian landscaped garden for the ceremony. Hosts and hostesses dressed like Victorians wafted around, tempting guests with cocktails and canapes.

The place was filled with the literati and the arty, with all manners of people in-between. Pottery artist Grayson Perry, winner of the 2003 Turner Prize, had turned up as his female alter-ego, Claire. He wore a baby-doll dress, a wig with a pink bow in it, full make-up and high-heeled shoes. Holding an oriental-style ladies' fan, he looked serenely about him as I plotted ways of getting close enough to take his picture. Exasperated by my timidity, Wale snatched the camera from me, went close to the gender-bending artist, and clicked.

Huge banners bearing images of the shortlisted books signposted corners of the garden dedicated to each of the six authors. We familiarised ourselves with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's corner, where four copies of Purple Hibiscus - once so elusive to me - now lay invitingly open on two garden benches.

Chimamanda soon arrived, looking like a Hollywood starlet in a glamorous gold dress. Wale and I were meeting her for the first time, though he had recently done an extensive interview with her for a Nigerian newspaper. She and Ike come a long way. She was relieved to see us, saying: "I'm very happy that my people are here." Ike and I wielded our cameras like weapons, clicking away as a dizzying array of people came up to greet Chimamanda, who bore it all with good grace.

Purple Hibiscus is already out in the Dutch language; other translations are in the pipeline, including French and German. The writer is working closely with those in charge of the translations to ensure that no meaning is lost, especially on the Igbo words used in the book. Of this year's shortlisted authors, Chimamanda is the youngest and the only first time novelist. She also received the most notice in the British press but told us she didn't think she'd win. The shortlist was a formidable field including Booker Prize winner and author of 11 books, Margaret Attwood.

A female writer in a tight, short dress made a beeline for Chimamanda. She needed no introduction since her name - Kathy Lette - had been emblazoned across the chest area of her dress. Lower down, the dress screamed the title of her new book, Dead Sexy, published that very day, or so she told us. Lette was a walking billboard for her book, which I quickly concluded had no chance of ever being shortlisted for any prize. She fussed all over Chimamanda, telling her that Purple Hibiscus would be the night's winner, and floated off. "See?" Wale said. "That lady just said you will win." Chimamanda replied in broken English: "You think say dat one sabi wetin e dey talk?"

Wale and I were struck by how 'grounded' Chimamanda was. Tolu Somolu of the online magazine Gisters had attended the Orange Prize writers' Reading event at the British Library the night before. She said of Chimamanda's performance: "She really captured the imagination", adding that the writer is "confident, articulate and modest with it too."

Chimamanda's brother Chuks and his wife Tinuke were in our group, as well as Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, winner of the 2002 Caine Prize. Nigerian Chika Unigwe is on this year's Caine shortlist along with two Ugandans, a Kenyan and a Zimbabwean. Wainaina is rooting for either Uganda or Kenya: "My mother is Ugandan so either way, I'm happy." But he is not complacent about Nigeria's literary muscle, saying: "Nigerians are juggernauts. They can wipe us out just like that."

After winning the Caine Prize, Wainaina set up a website (Kwani?) for short story writing. This has been "wonderful", according to Ike who informed me that the website produced not just last year's winner, but two of this year's shortlisted writers. Ike went on to talk about forthcoming novels by Unigwe and Sefi Atta, declaring that: "Nigerian women are coming."

"I am Kate Mosse", a glamorous lady on the stage was saying as the ceremony began proper. "What is Kate Moss the supermodel doing presenting a literary prize?" I asked no one in particular. We moved closer to the stage and saw that this was indeed a different Kate Mosse. She went on to talk about the Orange Prize, and its recently announced prize for New Fiction to be given out from next year.

Shortlisted author Gillian Slovo - daughter of anti- apartheid hero Joe - was nearby. She and other competing writers were to mount the stage in turns following an audio-visual response on each book by artist Martin Farrell. This was to be in alphabetical order, in which case Chimamanda should have gone first. But someone must have mistaken her middle name, Ngozi, for part of her surname - and so it was that found she herself fourth in line.

Ike became uneasy as the audio-visual responses commenced, saying: "If they put some useless jungle drumming in Chimamanda's own, I will vex." When it was finally relayed on two giant screens, we were not quite sure what it was but since there was no drumming, Ike seemed satisfied. "It is the dream of every judging panel that they find an astonishing new voice and I think we have found one", head of the panel of judges Sandy Toksvig said of Chimamanda, who went up to be presented with a bouquet of flowers.

Ike was telling me: "That Chimamanda even made it onto the shortlist... this tiny girl among experienced middle-aged writers... It is such a major achievement."

Noise erupted as Andrea Levy was declared the winner. As she gave her speech, Wale nudged me to take a picture, asking mischievously: "Won't you take her? Or are we angry?" 'We' were not, so my camera clicked once more.

Chimamanda had taken it very well and told me: "Being on the shortlist was an honour. I just felt so lucky. I'm looking forward to doing more things and climbing higher." Ike was also upbeat, telling her: "Next stop the Nobel!"

A 30-piece band began to play as the congratulations, commiserations and partying began in earnest. Nigerian actor Cyril Nri, a star on long-running British television drama The Bill, had reviewed Purple Hibiscus for the Orange Prize website. He now shared with us the book's effect on him. Having left Nri village in 1968, the actor found that "there were lots of bits in the book that brought back memories... lots of things that touched" him. Not least is the theme of Catholicism in Chimamanda's book. Referring to the family in novel, Cyril said: "I felt the silences in the house."

Martin R Kenyon of The Council For Education In The Commonwealth is another admirer of Chimamanda's talent. He first met the writer when she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2002, and helped change all the American spelling in Purple Hibiscus into the English style.

He expressed the belief that she would have won the new prize starting next year, and suggested that Purple Hibiscus has the "feeling" of Turgenev, a 19th century Russian writer.

The ambition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing declares itself from the first line of Purple Hibiscus, with its allusion to Chinua Achebe. "He is the most important writer for me", declared Chimamanda, who sees herself as "writing in the tradition he started." Arguing that Achebe has "done his bit", she now wants to do "something different but in a sense similar." She believes the author of Things Fall Apart "wrote on his own terms, not apologising for what he was doing. I want to do the same." In her view, "African writers sometimes are apologetic, working in a way they think is expected of them." Clearly not an option for Chimamanda.

She is looking forward to Readings being organised for her in Nigeria by the online magazine Farafina, as an opportunity "to make my people know me." She also wants Purple Hibiscus published in Nigeria, and West Africa as a whole in a "cheap enough" version by local publishers who will "do the book well."

Chimamanda's UK publishers, Fourth Estate, invited her 'friends' to a trendy Pizza eatery nearby. As we made our way across from The Room On The River, Jason Cowley of The Observer, a UK newspaper, was asking if I thought Chimamanda would grow in the same regard as Buchi Emecheta. My answer was an emphatic "No".

Chimamanda's hero, Achebe, pillories in Home And Exile "a much advertised author living in London" who had described her fellow Nigerian and African writers as "stilted". She, however, was different because the African in her had been "diluted" - even her publishers no longer put her books in the African section. Achebe is damning: "The psychology of the dispossessed can be truly frightening." He does not name her, but all clues point to only one person. As I understand it, this is the kind of "apologetic" writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has vowed never to become.

Over pizza and lasagne in the restaurant, her editor, Mitzi, reflected on the Orange Prize result, saying: We were disappointed that she didn't win but we don't mind because we know she's a star." Fourth Estate will also publish the writer's next book, which is to be about the Nigerian civil war. Chimamanda bared her mind on the war: "It lives with me... all of us who have family members who are divided by the war." She feels it is necessary to write about it, "to bear witness."

Jason Cowley and Binyavanga Wainaina were discussing the US elections and the latter was arguing for Bush's re-election. I said loudly across the table to him: "I am rabidly Anti-Bush!" I had spoken too soon, as Wainaina turned out to be even more Anti-Bush than I. He was telling Cowley: "Remember we (Kenyans) got bombed twice." He continued: "I want the American public to know that their lack of interest in politics has repercussions. Their support for Bush has repercussions, and the only way they will learn is to vote him back in."

Formerly the Literary Editor of the New Statesman, Jason Cowley was a Caine Prize judge in 2001, and again in 2002 "when we awarded the prize to this Anti-American here", he said jokingly of Wainaina.

Chimamanda and I talked some more, about her recent photo-shoot for Vogue magazine for which she wore a Chanel top and Jimmy Choo shoes; and the beads in her hair that are fast becoming a signature look. She explained: "I like beads, I like that it makes people think African... my hair is natural. Being a devotee of natural tresses myself, I was elated. But Ike Anya and Wale Adebanwi were clearly mystified by the way the conversation was going. "The advantages of being a woman interviewer", I taunted them.

I finally hugged Chimamanda goodnight at 11pm, so Wale could hop on an 11.30 coach back to Cambridge. He was to catch a flight to Lagos at seven the next morning yet squeezed in the Orange Prize ceremony. I had been away from home, and children, for over 12 hours. Ike - still with Chimamanda's party in the restaurant - was in the thick of medical exams. But Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was worth it. As the Americans would say: "She is good people."

Cyril Nri, Tolu Somolu, Adichie & Ronnie Ajoku

Jason Cowley & others heading to dinner after the Orange Prize, 8 June 2004.