Writings of the general word's body

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Reading

[O]n January 5, 2008 – Ngugi turns 70. The lived years, in this case, do not signify the mere passage of time, but mark the process of the making of a colossus. Such an anniversary does not simply have to be observed; it ought to be celebrated. It is only appropriate then to take brief stock of what it is in particular we are celebrating.
- So begins a tribute to Ngugi wa Thiong'o at 70 (by Emilia Ilieva) in the new, 'Holiday' issue of African Writing, now online. There's acres and acres of content, and I am beginning to pick my way through. Poetry, Tributes, Profiles, Fiction (lots of fiction), Photo Galleries, Reviews... The theme is Southern Africa.

Might as well introduce a 'New Read' here... and here's the intro to a lovely short story in the issue, Eddie Fisher Won't Be Comin' In Today...

Viva McVee arrived that day at the tail end of a dust storm, and as the empty Simba chip packets settled back in the branches of the leafless hedge at the school gate, out of the grey dust appeared a woman. I sat on the lid of the dustbin outside of the airless staff room smoking a cigarette and as she emerged I felt my heart jump and knew, from the look of her, that we were in for something.


There is a gallery of Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (publisher at Cassava Republic) looking fierce at a talk she gave in South Africa last month. Contributed by Ntone Edjabe, editor of Chimurenga.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Books of 2007

My compilation of Writers' Books of 2007 has been published in the new 'Holiday' issue of African Writing. Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy and Helon Habila's Measuring Time - are 2 of the hot picks this year.

Here's how E.C. Osondu introduces his chosen books:
"It was a cruel, gray, typical upstate New York winter. I was teaching in a small college in the outskirts of the city. It was a long forty-five minutes’ commute and the only thing of interest en route was the burial place of a female missionary Laura Maria Sheldon who had tried to convert the Seneca Indians. And of course there was the sprawling Onondaga cemetery where I once counted ten tombstones with the name Muldoon as the bus crawled past."

Already a story there, no? Other contributors include: Brian Chikwava, Blessing Musariri, Wadzanai Mhute, Aminatta Forna, and Akin Adesokan.

~ ~ ~

I have also contributed images from the PEN Women's Conference in Dakar to the new issue of Ponal.

Reading Lessing

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

I was brought up in what was virtually a mud hut, thatched. This house has been built always, everywhere, where there are reeds or grass, suitable mud, poles for walls. Saxon England for example. The one I was brought up in had four rooms, one beside another, not one, and, the point is, it was full of books. Not only did my parents take books from England to Africa, but my mother ordered books from England for her children, books in great brown paper parcels which were the joy of my young life. A mud hut, but full of books.

And sometimes I get letters from people living in a village that might not have electricity or running water (just like our family in our elongated mud hut), "I shall be a writer too, because I've the same kind of house you were in."
But here is the difficulty. No.

Writing, writers, do not come out of houses without books.

There is the gap. There is the difficulty.

I have been looking at the speeches by some of your recent prizewinners. Take the magnificent Pamuk. He said his father had 1 500 books. His talent did not come out of the air, he was connected with the great tradition.

Take V.S. Naipaul. He mentions that the Indian Vedas were close behind the memory of his family. His father encouraged him to write. And when he got to England by right he used the British Library. So he was close to the great tradition.

Let us take John Coetzee. He was not only close to the great tradition, he was the tradition: he taught literature in Cape Town. And how sorry I am that I was never in one of his classes: taught by that wonderfully brave bold mind.

In order to write, in order to make literature, there must be a close connection with libraries, books, the Tradition.

Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.

If this writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

When writers talk to each other, what they ask each other is always to do with this space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"

Let us jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We, cynically enquire, How are her boobs? Is she good-looking? If this is a man, Charismatic? Handsome? We joke but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of paparazzi begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening.

He, she is flattered, pleased.

But ask in a year's time what he or she is thinking: I've heard them: "This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.

Some much publicised new writers haven't written again, or haven't written what they wanted to, meant to.

And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears. "Have you still got your space? Your sole, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold onto it, don't let it go."

Friday, December 21, 2007

CBA Awards Night

The Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) held a reception for UK-based winners of the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition on 10 December. The event was held in the sumptuous Blenheim Saloon of historic Marlborough House.
Going to the venue, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It was evening and the throngs of tourists had gone back to their hotel rooms. Still it was poignant for me, walking through here, as Trafalgar Square is the major set-piece in ‘Trial By Water’ the short story I had come to collect a Highly Commended Award for.

The first person I encountered in the Blenheim Saloon C.J Onyia, who was Highly Commended in the 2006 competition for her story, ‘Anywhere But Here’. Our first meeting, and we had much to talk about, so we stuck together most of the evening. A greater surprise perhaps, was the realisation that the Nigerian Television Authority had come to film the event. What were the chances of that! The delightful Hauwa Yusuf was the only television correspondent for that matter. She also interviewed a some people, including myself and Indian Manasi Subramaniam.

Award winners, guests, wine, nibbles and discussions floated about in the pleasant atmosphere. Elizabeth Smith OBE of CBA and Mark Collins of the Commonwealth Foundation gave brief speeches ahead of the award presentations. Emily Pedder (Regional winner –Europe- for ‘Days Are Long’) could not make it and sent a friend, Monique Roffey to collect on her behalf. Fran Hunnisett won the same award last year but hadn’t been able to collect; better late than never, as she finally bagged it in the Blenheim Saloon.

Highly Commended winners on the night: Juliet O’Callaghan (UK; for ‘In Arms’); Faye Davies (UK; for ‘The Flying Carpet’); Manasi Subramaniam (India; for ‘Arranged Marriage’). I collected a copy of the 2007 Short Story CD, the prize cheque and a certificate I’m tempted to frame... Australian Ash Rehn prevented the night being an all female affair. Read his award winning story, The Hook Up, online.

The CBA’s own photos of the evening are online.

Wasafiri Reading

Biyi Bandele...
the long
and the short
of it

Seeing a shaven headed Biyi Bandele at Wasafiri’s reading event of 22 November wasn’t all that shocking, as I’d run into him days before, on the 17th, at an Imperial War Museum event about African Soldiers who fought in the World Wars. One has gotten used to Bandele with flowing dreadlocks and seeing him without, takes some getting used to. The author doesn’t know what the fuss is about. He grew the locks while writing his last book, Burma Boy, and now that it’s finished... (a new book in the works? Hmn...)

Wasafiri Magazine launched its 52nd edition with an evening of readings and wine, and the venue was Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London. The Magazine asked: “Why do some books make a particular impact on our reading and writing lives? In what ways do they return to us? When, why and how did we first encounter them?” These are the questions posed in the new issue, in which writers and publishers talk about the book that made them. Chaired by Robert Fraser, readers on the night grappled with the same questions after reading from the books that ‘made’ them.

The readers were Maggie Gee (who on learning that Lily Allen is to be a judge of the 2008 Orange Prize, has asked: “Where is the seriousness here?”); Rana Das Gupta (whose talk centred around the fact that he actually doesn’t read novels, though of course he writes them!); Biyi Bandele and Pauline Melville (author of The Ventriloquist’s Tale). Melville started her reading with the line that lured her into writing, the opening of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I patted myself on the back for recognising it, even before Melville reveal the book and author from whence it was taken.

In the audience: Linton Kwesi-Johnson, Bernadine Evaristo and many more.
Images © MW

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taiwo Ajai-Lycett

“As a young man, Joseph is taunted by the cooler British-Caribbean kids for his accent and his humility. Ditching his Ghanaian heritage, Joseph becomes Joe, an icon of urban Black identity. Premier league clubs, venal agents and one-night women all want a piece, but one night in a hotel room with the lovely Lauren and it all gets out of control. As the abyss opens, Joe discovers how much he has lost and how little of him remains.”

So goes the intro to Roy Williams’ Joe Guy, a play about African and Caribbean tensions in the UK, which played at the Soho Theatre, London, from 23 October to 24 November. The play rang too uncomfortably true in places, as Joseph suffers vicious taunting for being African. He takes the easy way out and ‘loses’ himself, transforming into the fast talking and very ‘urban’ Joe. He is played by the actor Abdul Salis, and we caught up briefly with him after the performance of 2nd November. By ‘we’ I mean myself, dancer Bolaji Badejo, actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett and the Nigerian Guardian’s chief correspondent in London, Tunde Oyedoyin.

Let’s start with Bolaji Badejo (wife of choreographer Peter Badejo), who features as one of a trio of dancers on the cover of the book of Odia Ofeimun’s ‘Under African Skies’. As a member of the Pan African Dance Ensemble, Bolaji Badejo toured 14 UK venues (including the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Sadlers Wells) from May to November 1990.

It was great running into grand dame Taiwo Ajai-Lycett again at the Joe Guy performance (we first met at the 2005 Lagos Book and Art Festival at the Onikan Museum in Lagos). An actress on British television since the 70s - many will remember her as the thread-wrap-hairstyled beauty in the YouTube clip of ‘Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em’ – she’s back in the UK. Fresh from her role in Streetwise Opera’s production of ‘Critical Mass’, which played at the Almeida Theatre earlier this year, Ajai Lycett talked about about her plans for more acting roles this side of the world as Tunde Oyedoyin and I walked her to Oxford Circus Station at the end of the evening. Suffice to say, you’ll be seeing more and more of the lady in 2008.

  • Images by MW

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New Reads

Chika Unigwe is currently on a book tour of Nigeria with her first novel, The Phoenix. We draw from her tireless pen for this instalment of 'New Reads', with excerpts from 2 recently published stories.

In Per Contra we have 'The Day Independence Came' - set around 1960 as a young girl and her family eagerly await Nigeria's independence. Independence comes all right, but not quite as the girl narrator imagines. Excerpt...

Three days later, when Mama Boy, the woman who lived in the apartment below ours saw me in my tight braids, she smiled and said I was ready for Independence.

I did not know who Independence was, but I was sure that Independence was more important than a chief because my mother took me down to the market to have my hair braided. And Father bought me a new dress that same day. A pink dress with a satin bow. And matching red shoes with white stripes. The dress looked like something out of my mother’s magazines. “For Independence,” he said. I wanted to try them on immediately, but my mother tied them up in a Kingsway plastic bag and stowed the bag at the bottom of the cupboard in the bathroom. “When Independence comes, you can wear them.”

- Read The Day Independence Came


In Alek (published in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly), societal upheaval devastates a young woman's family - in Sudan. Excerpt...

The SPLA, Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which had been guarding the predominantly Dinka town, was withdrawing. There was a rumour that the janjaweed militia were making their way to Daru. To sniff out the SPLA members. And to cleanse the city of its Dinka population. People were disappearing. They would have to travel light, Nyok said. They might not be able to hitch a ride. Not with four of them: Alek, Ater - her younger brother- Nyok and Apiu, the parents. I liked going to Khartoum. It was a different world. High rise buildings. Lots of cars. And women with henna on their feet and hands. The elaborate designs intrigued her. They seemed to have their own lives. To move. Alek often wondered what it would be like to be hennaed all over (but she would be careful not to get the henna around her cuticles. Henna around the cuticles spoilt the entire beauty of it. It made the cuticles look dirty. As if the women had spent hours digging up crops and had not bothered to wash their hands.) But this was not a shopping trip. Or a sightseeing trip to the museum. This was a fleeing from home.

- Read Alek

What the- Kwani?

Excerpt from a review of Kwani? 4 - in Artmatters

For its liberal use of not-so-polite four-letter words, the first editorial by Billy Kahora—why was it necessary to have two editorials, anyway?—is one of the Achilles’ heels in Kwani?4. And now that we have mentioned obscenity, what is a naked man doing running across the pages of Kwani? 4 with his accentuated private parts leading the way in Running by Jackie Lebo?

Why does Kwani? relish the use of four-letter words in its articles, editor Binyavanga Wainaina and your assistant Billy Kahora? To paraphrase Shailja Patel’s poem, An Open Letter to Certain Male Performance Poets, we may pose: “…Show me how: aesthetically, stylistically, morally, metrically, rhythmically” four letter words are crucial to your writing.

- Read full review here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Like Whoa!

And why is this a photo moment, you ask? Well, because you don't see this in London every day, that's why. Feet were the only things that could get you through this side of the Neasden Underpass, just off the A406, on Saturday 1st December. The truck had overturned, blocking this direction of the road. Traffic was murder. Standstill. But that wasn't the half of it. The truck was carrying tons of rubbish and tipped the stinker-load onto the road. They had to bring in a couple more vehicles to clear the rubbish off the road. Like a dirty scene in 'Bob the Builder'. Such an unusual sight, I wasn't the only one who stopped to take photographs. When I passed by some three hours later, everything had been cleared away. Like it never happened. If Nigeria were this efficient, I allowed myself to think, for a moment.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Chika Unigwe Reads in Lagos

Chika Unigwe's second novel, Fata Morgana, has just been published in Dutch. Readers in English have been waiting patiently to read her debut novel, The Phoenix (published in Dutch in 2005 as 'De Feniks'). Well, wait no more. The Phoenix is now out in English, in a West African edition published by Kachifo. And Unigwe hits Lagos from next weekend for a trio of Readings.

  • Saturday December 8 - The Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos @ 4pm
  • Friday December 14 - Quintessence, Falomo Shopping Centre, Ikoyi @ 5pm
  • Saturday December 15 - Bookworm, Eko Hotel Shopping Complex, Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island, Lagos @ 2pm.

Dibia & Nukoya in Ife

O.A.U Hosts Jude Dibia and El Nukoya
Words & Images by Adedotun Eyinade

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is fast becoming every author’s delight. Only last August it hosted the Orange Broadband Prize winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the Kenyan winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African writing, Binyavanga Wainaina, for a reading, the first in a Nigerian university after the former won ‘the Bessie’. The campus, on Saturday November 24th 2007 lived up to its literary tradition when it hosted yet another award winning duo - El Nukoya and Jude Dibia.

The literary event aptly captioned ‘3-2-1’ three books, two award winning authors, one afternoon was the brain child of the Association of Campus Journalists (ACJ), Obafemi Awolowo University. The event which took place at the auditorium 1 of the faculty of Arts was graced by a motley crowd of book lovers and the literati who turned out to celebrate the works of the writing duo.

Jude Dibia, author of the ground-breaking Walking with Shadows and Unbridled (ANA/NDDC Ken Saro-Wiwa prize for prose), accompanied by Dr Chijioke Uwazonmba of the Department of English and Literature, sauntered into the venue clad in a navy blue short sleeve shirt at about 2.30pm. The programme commenced with a book signing session as students armed with copies of the author’s works took their turn to get the books autographed by the writer. In what could pass as an attempt to fill the seats of the auditorium, the students did not allow the moment to slip past them as they trooped out to get copies. Twenty minutes into the book signing the winner of the 2007 ANA/Jacaranda prize for prose, El Nukoya, arrived. The author of Nine Lives, in blazer and denim jeans, breezed into the venue to resounding applause from members of the audience eager to see the face behind the award winning thriller. He joined Dibia on the dais and the programme soon commenced.

Dr Nwazonmba in his opening remark welcomed the authors to the campus. He applauded the Association of Campus Journalists for taking the initiative of bringing the authors closer to the readers, as it would strengthen discourse and revive interest in the reading of literary works. Three budding poets: Oni Afolabi, (A4), Ima Iduma and Pheabian Alao set the tone for the event as they performed their poems.

El-Nukoya was the first to read. The bespectacled management consultant cum writer read excerpts from Nine Lives, the 490-page story of how Olupitan Ogunrinu confronts the vicissitudes of life. A few members of the audience who could not resist the reading raced out of the auditorium to get copies of the book. The reading was interspersed with a performance by O.A.U’s leading cultural troupe Ajankoro Dugbe who thrilled the audience with a graceful dance drama.

Jude Dibia thereafter read from his two works: the controversial Walking with Shadows and Unbridled. The NASELS drama troupe delivered a short satirical play titled ‘Justice Justus’ that threw both the guest writers and the audience into girth-racking bouts of laughter. The audience was literally screaming ‘encore!’ when the troupe left the stage for an engaging question and answer session where the audience took the authors to task on the themes addressed in their works. Expectedly, the first salvo for Jude Dibia was his seeming fascination with taboo subjects like homosexuality and incest. El Nukoya was not spared either as he was asked the plausibility of Olupitan keeping a chance picture for years only to use it as an object of blackmail. The questions ran the whole gamut from what informed the choice of the name ‘El Nukoya’ to what writers and intellectuals could do to engage issues in the body politic. In his response, the author of Nine Lives contended that the name El Nukoya was a pseudonym that gave him a distinct identity without intruding into his other professional engagements. “I would not like a situation where I would be in the board room and a fan would identify me and be discussing fiction when we are talking business,” he added.

Jude Dibia in his reaction to issues raised on his obsession with sexuality said he noticed that the issues were deliberated avoided as people only talk about them in hushed tones. “I am not gay but I feel everyone has a right to his/her own sexuality,” he retorted, when the question of his stance on homosexuality was posed.

The event was graced by Professor Adebayo Lamikanra (poet, pharmacist and convener of the Ife festival of Poetry) - and Dr Chima Anyadike who was instrumental in the hosting of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie earlier in the year. The two authors evidently had a great time as they promised to return to the campus in the future.

“I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I loved the professors that came and their comments,” Jude Dibia enthused after the event. “I loved the performances as well as all the students who came to personally meet us, take our autographs and then snap pictures with us... everything was good” he added, beaming smiles.

  • Words & Images © Adedotun Eyinade

Undressing Empire - 6 December

Undressing Empire: Black British Perspectives at Museum in Docklands
Panel discussion exploring issues of empire, art and liberation. On the panel are SABLE Litmag's writers including poet Dorothea Smartt, writer and playwright Michael McMillan and Susan Yearwood, SABLE Essay editor. Chaired by Toyin Agbetu.
The Museum in Docklands hosts London, Sugar and Slavery, the only permanent exhibition examining the involvement of the city of London in Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Date:06 December 2007
Time: 19:00 - 20:30
Venue:Museum in Docklands
West India Quay Canary Wharf London E14 4AL
Museum entrance is two minutes walk from West India Quay DLR Station.
For more information please call 0870 444 3856