Writings of the general word's body

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sade Adeniran reads for Black History Month

Sade Adeniran reads from her debut novel, Imagine This, as part of Black History Month. An Evening with Sade Adeniran is at the Harlesden Library, London NW10 at 7pm to 8.30pm on Thursday 4th October.

There'll be a reading, Q & A as well as book signing.
The event is free.

Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo performed on 28th September (see article from Friday, above) at London's Barbican Centre as part of the Passage of Music season - and following the release of her latest CD, Djin Djin. I wasn't at the Barbican but I did see Kidjo in concert at the South Bank centre in London (after her last CD, Oyaya!) in early 2005 and reproduced below is my piece on the show, published 2 years ago in the Lagos Guardian.

A Musical Journey With Angelique Kidjo
By Molara Wood

Angelique Kidjo's career has marked her out as a musical adventuress who is never afraid to push the limits of her sound. Singing in English, French, Yoruba, Fon and lately in Spanish, her music embraces the cultural crossroads of her native Benin Republic in particular, and West Africa as a whole, but travels wider in its appeal.

Her latest album, Oyaya! is the final instalment of a trilogy that saw Kidjo taking her artistic explorations further geographically and historically, celebrating the African roots of music from around the world. In the first part of the trilogy, Oremi, the singer focused on music from the United States. The second, Black Ivory Soul, drew on the African influences in the music of Brazil. With Oyaya! the attention turns to the link between Africa and the musical traditions of Latin America and the Caribbean Diaspora, with 13 new songs in a variety of languages, sounds and styles. It features a mix of modern and traditional instruments including the balafon and kora. The album's release took Angelique Kidjo on a promotional tour of Europe and America, stopping in London recently for a concert in the city's South Bank.

After an evocative supporting performance by poet and singer Zena Edwards, Kidjo finally emerged in front of an audience that appeared to have come a long way with her as a singer. Very few, it seemed, were new converts to her music. Clad in a pale tunic and orange trousers, she launched straight into the singing, dancing all through in her inimitable style. On the second song, Kidjo was beset by what is now euphemistically known as a "wardrobe malfunction." The monitor pack on her waistband was not working properly and in turn affected her ear-plugs. A technician came onstage to fix the problem but only raised unintended comedy, fiddling under the star's tunic as she sang. But like a true performer, the Paris-based singer soldiered on with the errant electronic device, which remained a cause of concern for most of the show.

An energetic performer, Angelique Kidjo enjoys dancing as much as singing, frequently breaking into catapulting dance moves. It was wonderful to watch, but after a few songs, the act was wearing thin. Perhaps because her lone dancing was out of step somewhat with Latin sound, which requires 'two to tango'. The show became so 'samey' that by the time she sang Congoleo - easily the most outstanding track on the new album - it hit a lower note than might have been expected. Much needed freshness came when Kidjo moved to establish a rapport with her audience on Bala Bala, a Cuban influenced cha-cha-cha. "Good evening London, how you guys doin'?" She spoke about the new album, the title of which she said means 'joy' in Yoruba. Some Nigerians, to whom the word 'joy' would vary slightly in Yoruba from its Benin variety, looked momentarily bemused.

According to Kidjo, she embarked on the musical trilogy when, with Oremi in 1997, she started following the trail of African slaves into the New World through music. "If any positive thing came from slavery, it was the music." Without slavery, she suggested, there would be no Country music, Bluegrass, Rock 'n Roll, or much of what passes for music in the world today. The trail can be heard in music from as far away as Cuba and Colombia, added the singer, telling the audience to prepare for a musical journey. "You're gonna be sitting here without a ticket and I'm gonna take you on a trip."

First stop was Cuba, with the first track from the new album, Seyin Djro, which got many people off their seats to dance. With the front of the stage filling up, the security personnel moved to push the dancers back. If they thought this would please the singer, they were in for a shock. Kidjo aligned herself firmly with concert-goers, and barked at security men: "Hey! Leave them there to dance." Then the music moved on to Haiti with Dje Dje L'Aye, which she said was her way of asking people to enjoy life at an easy pace.

Angelique Kidjo took the audience back in time to the first part of the trilogy, with her gutsy cover of Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. She once called 'Voodoo Chile', the first single from Oremi, a tribute "from an African voodoo child to an American voodoo child." On the South Bank stage, a guitarist gave a poor man's imitation of Hendrix, but on the album, Kidjo had kept her tribute pure and guitarless - in recognition of the fact that no one can play the instrument like the man himself. Then it was back to Cuba with another new song, the salsa and bata-drums- infused rhythm of Conga Habanera.

The concert had a magical, show-stopping moment with Angelique Kidjo's heartrending performance of the song, Malaika, which appeared on her 1991 album, Logozo. It was her mother's favourite song, said the diva, who has been singing Malaika since the age of nine. Kidjo and her acoustic guitar player occupied the only pool of light in the darkened concert hall, as she brought everything to a standstill with her rendition. It seemed like nothing could surpass the performance, but Kidjo still had an ace up her sleeve.

She ran through more new songs, including the eco-friendly Le Monde Comme Un Bebe; and the bolero N'Yin Wan Nou We. The Jamaican ska, Mutoto Kwanza (meaning 'children first' in Swahili), was inspired by the singer's encounter with orphans in Tanzania. She went to the country in her role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and had asked the children if she could write a song about them. They agreed but did not want a sad song and told her: "make it danceable." A similarly uplifting story, this time from Cuba, was behind the track Djovamin Yi, dedicated to the memory of Celia Cruz. Kidjo had asked the many poor musicians she met in Havana how they coped with the US embargo on their country. "We manage," was the dignified response.

Touching on the second part of her trilogy in song with Afirika, Kidjo said: "It's true in Africa we have a lot of problems. But we also have a lot of joy, otherwise I wouldn’t be here." Declaring, "I'm banning stress out of my life," she whipped up the audience into singing the song's refrain, "Ase Mama Afirika", and marched off the stage. Concert-goers did not have long to wonder where she had disappeared to, as she soon surfaced among them, raising excitement levels through the roof. And so it stayed for the next twenty minutes as Kidjo worked her way through the audience, shaking and hugging as many people as possible - singing to Africa.

The star returned to the stage but spirits stayed high with the meringue number, Oulala. The Grammy Award nominated hit, Agolo, from Kidjo’s 1994 album Aye, followed. With Tumba, co-written with Carlos Brazil in the country that shares his name, Angelique Kidjo began her long goodbye to the audience. "If you feel like sitting down, fine. But better if can stand and dance because it is your song." And fed up at last with the monitor pack and ear-plugs, the singer yanked the devices off.

She took her bow and exited the stage but the audience, on its feet and clapping, wanted more. And sure enough, Kidjo reappeared to sing Love Can Never Be A Jail. A bouquet of flowers and another exit later, she re-emerged, teasing the audience: "So, we all agree this is the last song? We'll see." But Guantanamo ("not the jail", she informed) was not the last song; that honour fell to Macumba. And then it was truly over.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blood in the streets?

I am currently reading Biyi Bandele's novel, 'Burma Boy'. I asked my son to fetch me the book from the room some days ago and the child corrected my pronounciation. "BURMA - it's got an 'R' in it!" Insult upon injury, I thought as I rolled my eyes at him...

But seriously, these peaceful Burmese monks marching in their thousands for 7 days now in defiance of a repressive military regime - have given me my greatest inspiration this year. Herein lies my image of 2007. I keep looking at this river of red and I think of poppies. Or blood. A river of blood? The military junta has imposed a curfew and banned gatherings of more than 5 people. What happens now? Will the blood of revered monks be shed? Will this red river of humanity turn into blood?

"You can't have a massacre on YouTube" - said Tim Marshall on Sky News tonight.

Or can you?

Monday, September 24, 2007

New Read

I once wrote a despairing piece titled 'Do Nigerians Read?' In an extract from Teju Cole's forthcoming book, Every Day is for the Thief, the author gives what may pass for an answer...

"Of course, Nigerians read. There are the readers of newspapers, such as the gentleman next to me. Magazines of various kinds are popular, as are religious books. But to see an adult reading a challenging work of literary fiction on Lagos public transportation: that’s a sight rare as hen’s teeth. The Nigerian literacy rate is low, estimated at fifty-seven percent. But, worse, actual literary habits are inculcated in very few of the so-called literate. I meet only a small number of readers, and those few read tabloids, romance novels by Mills and Boon, or tracts that promise “victorious living” according to certain spiritual principles. It is a hostile environment for the life of the mind. Once we pass the fly-over at Ojota, the rush-hour congestion eases. The speed we are gathering on the road means the journey is surprisingly cool. The breeze through the open window is constant. The man next to me folds away his newspaper and begins to nod. Everyone else stares into space. The reader, of whom I can see only scarf and shoulders, reads."

Naija Uncovered

I sometimes buy Nigerian ‘Soft Sell’ magazines. Soft porn in words if not necessarily in images, is what they are. If you want to know the low-down-dirty about Nigerian ‘high’ society and the desperately aspirational, it’s on the pages of these magazines you'll find it. They specialise in lurid headlines backed by salaciously vague details. There is room for everything – from sexual deviations to financial misappropriations to the fashionably clueless celebrated as trend-setters to the macabre. Some seriously criminal things are presented as tittle-tattle and the responsible reader is left wondering, 'Shouldn't the police be interested in this?' - see the headline about an Army Captain who allegedly bathed his children in acid ('Hey, I am the law!' the Army Captain would no doubt retort).

Which politicians have taken blood oaths at which shrines, which society ‘Madam’ or ‘Big Girl’ or ‘Big Boy’ (Big Girl/Boy can mean anything from hotshot businessman/woman to banker-sluts - *Naija is the only country in the world where young women become 'celebrities' just because they work in a bank; go figure!* - to glorified prostitute to drug baron/mule to kept man/woman to 419 Fraudster/scammer) fought this Big Boy/Girl over which Big Girl/Boy. Confused? Yeah, it can get like that. Nothing is off limits: ritual murders, which tycoon sleeps with his daughter, the lot. The weird and deviously wonderful. Even would-be Imam/Pastor-celebrities get whole pages to peddle their faiths.

All done in a fawning way that does not actually offend or alienate any ‘celebrity’. Soft Sells love celebrities and the bogusly rich. They are masters of the crude innuendo. Awash with insinuations, often blatantly so. Whenever I want Naija uncovered in all its vainglory, I go to the nearest stockists and get a couple of Soft Sells. Browsing through them on the London Underground, I think how bemused my co-passengers must be at these oddly shaped publications with lurid (sometimes gory) headlines and colours. If I'm feeling shy I fold the cover page away. The Soft Sells are a genre to themselves, and they mushroom by the week... so people must be reading, including occasionally me.

So recently I got 2 Soft Sells, Global Excellence and City People (the latter is arguably the market leader in Soft Sells; lots of women buy just so they can pick out what 'celebrity' style they'll get that Ankara cloth made into for next week's owambe, a serious business that's not to be trifled with). And here are a few picks from the mags...

Take this half page devoted to someone I would call an ‘aspirant celeb’, a lady by the name of Naomi David Gowing who is also known as ‘Lady Blue’. It is rumoured that some social climbers actually pay to have similar profiles written up about them, which explains why you'll suddenly see a whole page on which the 'biggest' lace seller in some market talks about her life and 'success'. Back to Gowing who is said to be a “fashionista and leading fashion merchant” (how it must infuriate true fashionistas to be lumped in the same category as Lady Blue). She relocated from Ghana because, according to her, “Nigerians are more fashion conscious than Ghanaians”. She has a boutique (every self-respecting 'Big Girl' has a boutique, though often the money to fuel expensive lifestyles comes from other, less visible means). Gowing once represented Ghana in an international modelling competition and trained with the ‘Super Modelling School’ in Accra. Or so she claims. There are whispers apparently that ‘Lady Blue’ is a lesbian. The lady replies, “So what?! I can’t answer that. I am not a Lesbian. People are just going about saying what they don’t know. I am married, I am happy, I have a child, so where does Lesbianism come in here? It is mischievous of people to call me names just because they see me hang out with my good friends... Now write this in capital letters, I am not a Lesbian!”

So there you have it. For a woman who proudly goes round with the nickname ‘Lady Blue’, I’d have thought lesbianism need not be the burning question Gowing should have to answer. Judging by her looks, the question I’d have liked to ask is, ‘Lady Blue, how come you look like a porn star?’

And it’s not all about Afrobeat co-heir Femi Kuti’s music when it comes to the Soft Sells. One did a piece on the musician’s ‘new release’ – a baby. Or several, if City People is to be believed. Femi Kuti had 2 kids by 2 different women in recent months. Not surprisingly, Fela’s son doesn’t want to talk about it. “I don’t talk to anybody anymore. I just do my thing and get on with my life... I just do my own thing and God blesses me.” And God blessed Femi with a third baby by a third woman. This latest mother comes with some pedigree. She is Bola Ajala, daughter of Adebisi Ajala, the man immortalised in song by Commander Ebenezer Obey. Remember how it goes?

“Ajala travel all over di world...”

And Femi Kuti is ‘travelling’ too, it seems.

Staying with music, fans of contemporary Yoruba music will recall the vinyl-war between Fuji greats Ayinde Barrister and Ayinla Kollington over Waka queen Salawa Abeni. One of them married her, while the other claimed to have ‘eaten her yam first’ – if you get the analogy.

“Awa la ko j’esu awe o, o dudu kanrin...”

Now who will wade in with words of wisdom in the eternal rivalry between Barrister and Kollington? Why, it’s none other than Salawa Abeni herself. She said, “They should stop the bad habits synonymous with them. I mean, they should stop that rubbish of releasing abusive songs. If they are not ashamed, we are ashamed.” And considering what these two old rascals have laid down on record about Salawa Abeni herself, one can see why she of all people will want them to shut their traps.

To more sober, or sobering, news. There is a piece on the political scandal swirling around the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, a woman who gives a new meaning to the Yoruba term “etekete”. Though she’s only been in the post a short while, Etteh is alleged to have squandered 5 million dollars of public money to redecorate official houses that were virtually new, acquire a fleet of official cars and lay on an extravagant birthday party for herself and friends in the US. The shit’s hit the fan and she’s been heckled “Ole! Ole!” (thief! thief!) on the floor of the house. 'Honourable' male members in majestic agbadas have fought like motor-park thugs in the house over her. What a woman. Madam Speaker is now said to suffer sleepless nights. What kind of low-rent scoundrel celebs are these? Sleepless nights? Someone please tell Mrs Etteh that self respecting troubled celebrities check into rehab rather than suffer “sleepless nights”.

And with all that wasted cash I hope the woman at least got her Elvis-sideburns waxed off in some exorbitant beauty spa. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Monarchs aren’t exempt from the Soft Sell treatment, as the fetchingly youthful Dein of Agbor has found. Years on the throne of his fathers, and he remains unmarried, somewhat controversially, according to City People. Apparently His Royal Highness must marry a virgin, and they aren’t easy to come by these days. What interested me about this piece is how, in the UK, such an article would function as a way of introducing certain strains of speculation into the persona’s continued unmarried status...

Monarchs aren’t exempt, neither are Nobel Laureates, and there’s an expose on the “four wives” of Soyinka...

Now let’s get downright dirty... The cover of Global Excellence promises a piece (hardly worth reading) in which Nollywood “screen stars” talk about the kind of man they’d like to marry. One of the ‘marrying kind’ it appears, is Cossy Orjiakor, a poor man’s Pamela Anderson who shamelessly paraded her massive jugglers of breasts in Nollywood flicks before the industry and the public tired of her. And with the picture on the cover of the mag, it’s no wonder. To think the woman actually walked around Lagos dressed like this! The image is reproduced here. Take a look at her orange-nippled breasts straining against that cheap white netting and hurl.

But it is the advert for a “Sugar Mummy” published in Global Excellence that really takes the cake. Please note that the ad came with the rough rectangle drawn around “a nice dick”. Some talk about their great personalities and some shout about their nice... whaaat?!

The Super-Mamas who want to hire this guy must not only be HIV free, they are politely asked not to 'flash'. Which reminds me that ‘flashing’ means different things in the UK and Nigeria. In Naija, flashing is ringing someone so they can see your number then you cut the line; this tells the receiver that you want them to use their own credit to call you back. In the UK, ‘flashing’ is a lot more sinister or saucier, depending where you stand. It means exposing your sexual bits to someone, usually a stranger, in public. Come to think of it, this advertiser wouldn’t mind the Sugar Mummies ‘flashing’ in the UK sense...

As for the ad, it has to be seen to be believed (or maybe I’m shocked by this only because I don’t live in weird and wonderful Naija) and so I’ve reproduced it here. Of course I’ve blacked out his mobile number and email address. I’m not trying to get the loser any clients.

His name is Nero. Nero of the “nice dick” - and what do you suppose he fiddles with?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Watch Prince Live Tonight!

Update - Stills from Prince's performance, shown live on television earlier tonight. Prince, his band and 'robotic' twin-sisters dancers performed Chaka Khan's 'I Feel For You' and the Purple one's 'Controversy'.

Dear Blog Reader,

Wherever you are, you can watch Prince at his Final Live performance from London's 02 Arena tonight on Sky News @ 8.30pm to 9.30pm (UK time - check times in your local area). It is the last day of Prince's momentous 21-day residency in London. He has banned film crews and photographers from the concerts. Tonight's free Sky New live stream promises to include songs that Prince has vowed never to perform on stage again.

What live on Sky News - television and online.

Monday, September 17, 2007

View from hotel balcony - Dakar, Senegal, 11 July 2007

Munayem Mayenin was in Saturday's Weekend Magazine. Poet, founder of Poetsletter Magazine and organiser of the London Poetry Festival, Mayenin was talking about snakes and happiness.

"I find joy in my children. My own father died when I was 15. I was shattered, blown away. I became a stone. One should cry to resolve a death, but I couldn't cry for 25 years. I didn't write a word about my father. There are so many different ways to deal with pain, and after 25 years I wrote about the way we buried my father. When I wrote that poem I cried as if I was standing at his grave, watching the coffin go in. His death was resolved. It was quite a long poem."

Still on Black Beauty

Sunday, September 16, 2007


9th Lagos Book & Arts Festival
Theme: Literacy As Democracy Dividend

November 9-11, 2007
National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos

Key Literary Events

Panel Discussions. Diaologues. Conversations. Artshouse Parties

Artshouse Parties

(a.)Opening Reception-50 Years Of Things Fall Apart Groundbreaking ceremony for the series of worldwide events starting January 2008: 10am, Friday, November 9, 2007

(b.)Book Presentation-A Voyage Around Wole Soyinka, by Gerd Meuer


12 Noon on Friday, November 9, 2007

  • Theme: Constructing a Nation: 40 Years after the first shot in Biafra.
Reviews, readings and discussions of Civil War Literature; Novels, Drama and Non Fiction Works including Ekwensi’s Divided We Stand, Chimamanda Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun, Dulue Mbachu’s War Games, Olusegun Obasanjo’s My Command, Eddie Iroh’s Toads Of War, Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset At Dawn and Rasheed Gbadamosi’s Echoes From The Lagoon.

    Theme: Challenges of Liberal Democracy In Africa
    William Mervin Gumede, author of Thabo Mbeki and The Battle For The Soul of the ANC spars with Dare Babarinsa, author of House Of War

    Theme: MENDing the damage: Literature and the Niger Delta Crisis
    A panel discussion on Literatures borne out of the Niger Delta crisis Discussants include Oronto Douglas(Where Vultures Feast), Ken Wiwa (In The Shadow Of A Saint), Ahmed Yerima (Hard Ground), Nicholas Shaxson (Poisoned Wells), and Kaine Agary(Yellow Yellow)

  • Arthouse Parties-Part 2 2-3PM Saturday, November 10,2007. Music, Wine and Dance For Fatai Rolling Dollar at 80, Femi Asekun at 75, Tunde Oloyede at 60, Yemi Ogunbiyi at 60. Bandstand: Fata Rolling Dollar, Seyi Solagbade, Adunni Nefretiti

    Theme: Writing In: Tales from the Diaspora
    THE EMERGING Nigerian literature outside the borders of Nigeria Features discussions of Segun Afolabi”s Caine award winning short story Monday Morning, Biyi Bandele’s The Street, Chimamanda Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck , Diana Evans’26A, Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl and Diran Adebayo’s Some Kind Of Black

    *The Myth and Realities Of A Golden Age Of Book Reading.
    Chair: *Uncle Steve Rhodes Panelists: *Rasheed Gbadamosi,*Mobolaji Adenubi, *Akin Adesokan*Dulue Mbachu.

* Not yet confirmed.

Review of the NLNG Prize

"The reason we are here today is to see that theNLNG continues the prize, in particular the Literature award."

On Wednesday 29th August 2007, The Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) held a Stakeholders' Workshop at the Oceanview Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos. The purpose to review the prize at the end of its fourth stage. Participants included artistes, culture enthusiasts and workers, writers and corporate executivers. The Theme of the workshop was "The Social Environment of Business: Cultural Promotion As Corporate Social Responsibility (The Nigeria Prize Experience)". Papers were presented at the workshop, and there was a panel discussion moderated CORA's Deji Toye, a wrtier. Panelists included: Mobolaji Adenubi; Wunmi Raji, a writer and lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University; Toni Kan, writer and Bank executive; Nike Adesuyi, Poet, Literature activist; Grace Daniel, ex-chairperson Women Writers of Nigeria,WRITA; Folu Agoi, Chairman ANA Lagos; ChikeOfili, poet, Journalist and Marketing Specialist and Ropo Ewenla, member CORA and a Culture Activist.

Some Contentious Issues about the Nigeria Prize For Literature

The Name of the Prize - At the onset of the award, the name of the prize was NLNG Literature Prize. However the decision by the NLNG to register the name of the Prize as The Nigeria Prize for Literature generated some controversy in certain quarters. While two former ANA Presidents, Professor Femi Osofisan and Professor Olu Obafemi did not see anything wrong in this move, another former ANA President, Odia Ofeimun kicked against the decision. In his well publicized article 'The NLNG Literature Prize Controversy; Before The Nigerian Prize', Ofeimun referred to the decision to register the prize as "selling national patrimony for a mess of pottage". As he put it, "Even if we are all now in the age of liberalization, privatization and deregulation, our identities have not yet been so privatized, liberalized and deregulated to the point where we must celebrate a private company's right to use the state apparatus outside the dictates of market forces to over-ride the capacity of other companies to compete with it." In saying this, Ofeimun emphasized his belief that any organization that has excelled in the promotion of a country's literary prize could be chosen by that country as its prime definer of that country's interest. This however in his view should be done after 'the proof' of such excellence and not 'by a crude resort to legislation outside due process'. In looking at both sides of the argument, it seems to me that what the critics of the Legislation of the Literature Prize as epitomized by Odia Ofeimun wanted was an input by all Literary Stakeholders before the final legislation. This to me will be akin to the Public Hearing that is usually conducted by the National Assembly before a bill is passed into law. My take on this issue is that since members of the advisory council on the prize represented to a fairly good margin a cross section of the Literary sector in the country, one cannot accuse the Gas Company of having not consulted this very important sector of the Nigerian public. Secondly, before a company or name is registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja, there are certain procedures that must be closely followed. One of these is the placement of a notice of intention in two national newspapers for a certain period of time in order to allow any criticism against such a move. It is also expected that the names of the Board of Directors and other officials of the proposed Prize body should also be listed. Once this is done as I expected it must have been done by the NLNG and no opposition was raised against the registeration exercise, then, the Gas Company can be said to have followed due process in registering the prize. Not being an act of parliament, registeration of names of companies and organizations are not expected to involve anything more than the aforementioned.

Limiting Contestants to Writers Based in Nigeria - Another contentious issue about the prize was the decision of the organizers to limit the prize to writers resident in Nigeria. A sizeable number of Nigerian writers and critics have advocated the inclusion of foreign based writers in the competition. While such arguments may have their merit, it is an established fact the world over that many Literary Prizes are instituted and administered for specific groups as such, the NLNG cannot be faulted for adopting its present stance.For example, a cursory look through the Writers and Artists Year book in 2006 showed that out of the 180 prizes advertised for that year, more than 150 (about two thirds) were for specific writers writing in specific countries. An important prize such as the Orange Prize for fiction is awarded for a full-length novel written in English by a woman of any nationality and first listed in the UK while the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize is given to an English Language writer of any nationality under the age of 35 years. The Somerset Maughan Awards are also for writers under the age of 35 who are British subjects by birth and ordinarily resident in the UK and Northern Ireland. This same specificity exists in the Literature, Marketing and Places, the American version of Writers and Artists year book. Closer home, the Olaudah Equino Prize recently inaugurated in the US is meant forNigerian writers based [abroad / outside Africa]. If part of the aims of the NLNG to endow the Nigeria Literature Prize is to encourage and improve the local content of Nigerian literature, why must be the prize be opened to writers who are not based in the country?

Composition of the Advisory Panel - At the initial stages of the prize, some stakeholders in the Literary and Arts sectors were involved with the planning and subsequent execution of the prize. However, as time went on, some of these early collaborators soon left the fold under certain circumstances. This development has generated the assumption in certain quarters that the prize has been hijacked by the Gas Company. However, since some notable Nigerian writers, critics and teachers of literature such as Professor Ayo Banjo, Prof Charles Nnolim, Prof Theo Vincent, Abubakar Gimba, and Prof Zaynab Alkali, among others are still involved in the annual selection of the winners, it is obvious that the prize is still worthy of its name

The Panel of Judges - Just as it is done by the some organizers of some Literary Prizes such as the Nobel Prize for Literature among others, the name of the judges in the Nigeria Literature Prize are still being kept secret. This has been done in order to protect the judges from being influenced by the contestants. Again, this decision has generated some degree of controversy. It is my humble belief that in order to maintain the confidence of writers in the prize, that the names of the judges be made public. This way, their competence and abilitywill not be in any doubt while their noble pedigree is a good antidote against protection....

The Aborted Reading Tour - At the inception of the Nigeria Literature Prize in 2004, about thirteen writers on the 'Long List" were taken on a reading tour of the country. Apart from the publicity that the tour gave to the competition, the tour also enabled members of the public to become more interested in Literature. In a country with a perceived poor reading culture, the tour improved to some extent the interest of the public in Literature. Unfortunately, this aspect ofthe competition has since been discontinued. It is hoped that with proper repackaging, the reading tour if reconvened, will go a long way in improving the overall success of the prize. It is also important to mention the issue of the Poor Reading Culture in the country. Literary observers have given several factors for this development. These include, high cost of books, disconnect between the writers and the reading culture as well as competition between reading and other recreational pursuits among our youths such as football, home video and the internet. In the last few years the ANA as our own contribution to stem this ugly development a few years ago organized some Literary Campaigns all over the country. The project which involved reading sessions among secondary school students in the country as well as donation of books to school libraries unfortunately could not be sustained due to financial constraints. It is hoped that more stakeholders will continue to assist the government in this onerous duty of improving the reading culture in the country through the provision of books to schools and community libraries as well as organization of Literary campaigns all over thecountry.

Prize Endowment - Having gone so far in running what has come to become one of the most successful Literature Prizes in the country, it will be advisable for the NLNG to put aside enough funds as a form of endowment for the continuation of the Prize. Apart from the fact that this will generate some additional funds with which to run the prize over the years, it will also insulate it from the vagaries of Company Managements which may not be very interested in continuing with the whole exercise.

Conclusion - It is obvious that the Nigeria Literature Prize as being organized by the NLNG despite the teething problems and a few shortcomings is a welcome development to our Literary milieu. As James TarTsaaior of the Centre for General Studies, Lagos State University put it in the June 2005 edition of The Ker Review, "In a fundamental sense, the institution ofthe NLNG Literature Prize constitutes a veritable testament of committed corporate citizenship on the part of the Gas Company and represents a rite of affirmation for the efflorescence of NigerianLiterature." It is the belief of Tsaaior and I agree that The Nigeria Literature Prize has come to challenge, stimulate and enrich the literary enclave and to send the imagination roaming wild on the vast landscape of our literature. As stated earlier, even though the main essence of writing is not to win Prizes, the NLNG Prize has come has "transformed the lean fortunes of Nigerian Literature just like an oasis in the Nigerian Literary desert. More importantly however, is the fact that the Prize has been able to identify some of the problems militating against good Literature in the country. It has also inspired the birth of a new wave ofLiterary Prizes in the country such as the Soyinka Prize, the Utomi Prize and the Olaudah Equiano Prize among others. The organizers of the Prize have also been able to stimulate authorship, reward creativity and bring Nigerian writers to public attention. In its bid to improve the quality of writing, editing, proof reading and publishing in the country, it is hoped that the NLNG along with other stakeholders in the writing profession bring to the attention of government and other industrialists the urgent need tomake the publishing industry viable and pro-creative writers. This way, the well identified self-publishing craze which has been identified as one of the causes of the poor quality of many of the entries for theLiterature Prize will be substantially tackled. The NLNG can also collaborate with other stakeholders especially the Association of Nigerian Authors in the organization of regular Writing Workshops which will also assist in improving the skills of Nigerian writers.
*Excerpt ends.

Monday, September 03, 2007

New Reads

My story Gani's Fall is in the new issue of Per Contra. A husband takes a tumble in the backyard and the wife thinks back to how it all started. She is caught unawares by a whole batch of in-laws who have come on a surprise visit. But is that all there is to it?

Excerpt - T
he room quieted down and the gully between Baba's brows deepened. He removed his cap and began to pray. That I would not bury my children, that I would live long, that I would remain the first in my husband’s house. I held out my hands in supplication and said ‘amen’ at every pause.

The in-laws nodded reverentially. To my left on the lone raffia chair, Baba’s younger brother, a man with powdery white hair and quiet ways, chanted softly, "May it be so," assenting to the prayer.

“What will you eat?” I asked, my eyes sweeping across the faces, when Baba was done pronouncing blessings. They maintained a studied conviviality, but I could see they had a serious reason for coming here.

Baba took a shot of the Schnapps in his glass and winced as the drink burned down his throat. “God bless you, Sariatu,” he replied. “Food can wait.”

~ * ~

Petina Gappah is also in the same issue of Per Contra, with her short story, The Annexe Shuffle. A young woman is incarcerated on a mental ward on the orders of her father and must get her life back on track in order to resume her law degree course.

Excerpt - In her room on P corridor at Swinton, she announces to no one in particular: ‘I am going to keep a journal. I am going to write down everything that happens to me. Today I ate my banana,’ she says, ‘so I will write that down.’
‘I ate my banana,’ she writes.

Only it comes out ‘I hate my banana,’ and, seeing this, she laughs hysterically. Then she sees that this is not so funny, this is, in fact, a sign that everything is against her, she can’t even trust her own pen, her own hand, her own thoughts, her very actions betray her, everything is against her, everything is wrong, so wrong, nothing will ever be right again.
She dissolves into tears.

It is as she cries that the Dean of Students and the Warden enter her room to take her back to the Annexe. ‘I know my rights,’ she says through her tears. ‘I am a law student.’


In anticipation of the eagerly awaited second issue of African Writing, here's a little retropective of its debut - the publication's report of Monica Arac de Nyeko's Caine Prize win back in July.

Zadie on Zora

Zadie Smith wrote about Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God in Saturday's Review, ahead of the publication of a new Virago Modern Classic edition (Hurston remains on the ascendant; I have a 2003 Virago Modern Classic of the same book. It's to be a VM classic for the repeated time, it seems). Smith contends with the potential limitations of critical perspectives on Hurston, which insist that only a black woman can fully identify with her writings. Smith seems bent on departing from the path taken by Hurston champions like Alice Walker, talks all around it, and then concludes that in fact, her own very personal reaction to Their Eyes Were Watching God - is precisely because, like many have argued in the past concerning Hurston, "She is my sister and I love her."

Excerpt - In the high style, one's loves never seem partial or personal, or even like "loves", because white novelists are not white novelists but simply "novelists", and white characters are not white characters but simply "human", and criticism of both is not partial or personal but a matter of aesthetics. Such critics will always sound like the neutral universal, and the black women who have championed Their Eyes Were Watching God in the past, and the one doing so now, will seem like black women talking about a black book.

It feels important to distance myself from that idea. But by doing so, I misrepresent a vital aspect of my response to this book, one that is entirely personal, as any response to a novel shall be. Fact is, I am a black woman (I think this was the point my mother was trying to make) and a sliver of this book goes straight in to my soul, I suspect, for that reason. And though it is, to me, a vulgar absurdity to say, "Unless you are a black woman, you will never fully comprehend this novel", it is also disingenuous to claim that many black women do not respond to this book in a particularly powerful manner that would seem "extra-literary". Those aspects of Their Eyes Were Watching God that plumb so profoundly the ancient build-up of cultural residue that is, for convenience sake, called "Blackness" (as, say, Kafka's The Trial plumbs that ancient build-up of cultural residue that is called "Jewishness") are the parts that my own "Blackness", as far as it goes, cannot help but respond to personally. At 14 I couldn't find words (or words I liked) for the marvellous feeling of recognition that came with these characters who had my hair, my eyes, my skin, even the ancestors of the rhythm of my speech. (While working in Florida, Janie and Tea Cake befriend the "Saws", workers from the Caribbean.) These forms of identification are so natural to white readers - Of course Rabbit Angstrom is like me! Of course Madame Bovary is like me! - that they believe themselves above personal identification, or at least that they are identifying only at the highest, metaphysical levels. His soul is like my soul. He is human; I am human. White readers often believe they are colour-blind. That is, until they read books featuring non-white characters. (I once overheard a young white man at a book festival say to his friend, "Have you read the new Kureishi? Same old thing - loads of Indian people." To which you want to reply, "Have you read the new Franzen? Same old thing - loads of white people.")

On Afolabi's 'Goodbye Lucille'

Excerpt from Toyin Akinosho's Artsville Column...

Goodbye Lucille - Is This The Same Writer?
Segun Afolabi's Monday Morning, the short story which delivered the Caine Prize to him in 2005, feels like a slow, tentative story of an immigrant uncertain of his new space. With another deliberative short story in The Obituary Tango, an anthology of Caine Prize entries, it is easy to assume that Afolabi would come
to be known as a "soft", carefully measured stylist. The publisher Muhtar Bakare actually describes the Kaduna born scribe as "restrained and.. subtle". But first impressions aren't always a complete take. Afolabi's just published first novel, Goodbye Lucille, about another immigrant in Europe, begins with a furious pace, such that four distinct characters had shown up by the second page; Vincent, the struggling photographer who is at the heart of the story; his girlfriend Lucille who he left behind in London to hustle in Berlin; Marie, the magazine editor and Henrich Henkleman, the politician whose murder sets much of the tone of this 308 page narrative. And in less than 1,000 words, all of these characters are already sufficiently described we can picture what they are. Farafina's decision to publish Goodbye Lucille is in sync with its tradition of seeking out Nigerian winners in publishing houses in Europe and America and giving them audience at home. The same principle informs the company's release of the Nigerian version of Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy and much earlier, Chimamanda Adichie's Half Of A Yellow Sun. Such strategy certainly serves a socially responsible purpose; a growing tribe of Nigerian writers live and write abroad and they are getting the attention of European and American critics as they beat western writers hands down in contest for some of the most important literary awards. But it is easy for these authors not to be known in their home country, as the publishing houses don't think very highly of having outlets in the supposedly dark continent. To the extent that most of these stories are essentially Nigerian, Farafina fulfils the need of letting the home audience get more than a glimpse into life in the diaspora. In November, these sort of stories will form the basis for a panel discussion: Writing In: Tales From The Diaspora, which will feature readings, reviews and discussions around Afolabi's Monday Morning, Biyi Bandele's The Street, Chimamanda Adichie's That Thing Around Your Neck, Diana Evans' 26A, Helen Oyeyemi's The Icarus Girl and Diran Adebayo's Some Kind Of Black. This conversation is one of the main events of the 9th Lagos Book And Art Festival, holding at the National Theatre from November 9-11.

Azu Kalia Azu

Why did I shrink to think of you,
why did I despair for the words to describe you?
why was this world, since you left,
a large ashtray for dreams?

Come mother mine
of the canny laughter
that mellows raging beasts into wagging tails,
set that joy right here where it hurts
-I’ve been herding gloom
since your presence fled that afternoon
when the eclipse of your laughter froze in place.
The meteor strike of death
'that planted, scattered you across the earth'
has me wandering far and wide
seeking harvest from a sprouting you,

Here is a constant sea
looking to cast a perfect wave
to cleanse her beach
of every foreign thing.
Just missing perfection,
she retreats patiently, and casts her net again;
and again, and
again... here’s a face of patient you,
looking to salving every hurt
In your chest of faith.

So curl, enfold, the waxen wick of you
deep in the lamp of memory.
You are not dead, dear Mama,
merely recoiled into the tank of earth.
Memory holds you now, Mama.
While we live, you live.
And in the bleakest darkest dreariest dawns
in which it seems the sun and moon and earth
are frozen in a black eclipse,
forgive me if I discomfit your rest
and draw you out from memory
to cast your lighted eyes,
broad like the girth of a small sea’s surf,
calm like her rolling waves that
break continually
upon the cliffs of adversity,
and heave that seismic sigh of yours
that fills the hungry with the husk of faith,
to assure me,as you always do:

‘The bigger swallows the fish, my child.
Tomorrow comes, the bigger fish.
Endure today.’

© Chuma Nwokolo Jr

  • Chuma Nwokolo Jr read Azu Kalia Azu (The Greater Fish Swallows the Smaller) during Word From Africa @ the British Museum on 2nd June 2007.
  • Used with permission

Book Places on the net

Visit the stylish new website for the book, Celebrated - Nigerian Women in Development, written by Ayona Aguele-Trimnell (Toyin Sokefun Bello took the portraits in the book, published by Kachifo Ltd).

Kachifo also publishes Farafina. The magazine's website has been redesigned and is worth a visit. The last edition out, Farafina no 9, is now downloadable in pdf format.

The website for Abuja's chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors has gone live. ANA Abuja's site was launched at the end of August, same time as the branch kick-started plans for creative writing workshops. There will also be a new prize for Hausa Literature, to be overseen by ANA Abuja. More details on the site, where you can read short stories, poems and other outputs of Abuja writers, led by the branch chairman, the poet Emman Usman Shehu

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Literary Wedding

Here's one reason why many will never forget the 2nd International Sable Litfest (13 - 15 July 2007) which took place in The Gambia. Straight after the litfest, on 16th July, the organiser & publisher of Sable Litmag, the irrepressible literary activist Kadija George married Dr Wayne Edge - on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. As well as a conventional wedding ceremony, the couple also performed an old African American marriage rite, the 'Jumping of the Broom'. The high point perhaps, was when the bride's mother broke the kolanut and shed tears of joy as she called on the ancestors to bless the union. The bride's sister, Saffi Haines, was the Maid of honour.

In addition to family members, writers made up a large number of wedding guests. Among them were: Jack Mapanje, Dorothea Smartt, Judy Buckrich (chair of the International PEN Women Writers' Committee), Blessing Musariri, Courttia Newland, Doreen Baingana, Binyavanga Wainaina, Rommi Smith, Jessica L. Huntley, Andreah Enisuoh etcetera etcetera.