A Nigerian Scribe in South Africa
Review by Raselebeli Khotseng
Hector Kunene Ed.
New Voices Publishing (Cape Town, SA)
Nigeria’s influence on African and world literature is awesome. It is extraordinary that Africa’s two all-time greatest black writers – Chinua Achebe, and Wole Soyinka (the first African to win the Nobel Award in Literature) both come from the same country, Nigeria!
So perhaps it is no co-incidence then that Nigerian-born Omoseye Bolaji has contributed so much to popular Black literature in South Africa in recent times. His impact is often described as galvanic and grassroots-oriented. He is already rather celebrated and has received a string of awards and accolades.
Omoseye Bolaji has published well over 20 books based on South Africa, and his fiction, in particular continues to be stunning to readers. Novels of his, like Impossible Love and The Ghostly Adversary have been very successful, with many readers singing his praises. Also, his celebrated “Tebogo Mokoena Mystery” series of books (which now numbers seven) is probably the only such “whodunit” series created and written by a Black African writer.
But more than this, Omoseye Bolaji has been a wonderful literary catalyst in South Africa, encouraging and nurturing a galaxy of talented black South African writers. Bolaji continues to popularise literature, in South Africa in particular, via his role as editor of a number of publications; encouraging book reviews, interviews, etc.
Startlingly, just within a decade some ten books have been published by various South African writers appreciating the literary work and impact of Omoseye Bolaji. Such studies have been produced by writers and critics like Pule Lebuso, Charmaine Kolwane, Flaxman Qoopane, Petro Schonfeld, Pule Lechesa and Julia Mooi, among others.
This latest work, simply titled OMOSEYE BOLAJI, is the most comprehensive of such published studies. The author or editor, Hector Kunene, scrupulously pieces together the background and persona of Bolaji himself; and publishes many articles based on his literary works.
The book contains some 30 articles, reviews, critiques, plus two interviews with the writer himself. The articles are all written by South African writers, black and white. The illustrious white South African movie producer and author, Aryan Kaganof contributes two of the articles. Other contributors are Raphael Mokoena, Pule Lechesa, Paul Lothane, Marika Du Plessis, Mzwandile Soqaga and Hector Kunene himself.
Two of the articles on Bolaji’s work in this book stand out for me (but this in no way suggests they are the best). Raphael Mokoena’s “Literary Allusions in People of the Townships” struck me as remarkable, especially the references to Charles Dickens’ work, Great Expectations. Mokoena in fact contributes at least four fine articles to this work.
I also enjoyed reading Paul Lothane’s essay, titled “Folksiness in Tebogo and the epithalamion” which focuses on the sixth of the Tebogo Mokoena Mystery books. It is a positive, yet intelligent review that emphasises a very vital aspect of African life, or predilection.
This new book of course celebrates the literary work of Omoseye Bolaji, the Nigerian who has performed wonders in boosting Black literature at grassroots level in South Africa. The two Interviews with Bolaji in the book are revealing and informative. I love the way he explains in detail how the culture of reading for pleasure used to be very vibrant in Nigeria.
Earlier in his career, Omoseye Bolaji worked as a journalist in Nigeria publishing “hundreds of short stories” in Nigerian newspapers, especially the Sunday Sketch in Ibadan. He attended Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife). He is one of the sons of the late, great Nigerian journalist and author Chief S.L Bolaji who held key positions in major Nigerian newspapers like Concord, Punch and Tribune decades ago. Oh – and by the way, thanks to his striking writing prowess, Omoseye himself was made a Chief of Ibadan in 2008!
All this, and much more can be ascertained from this new study, OMOSEYE BOLAJI.
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