Writings of the general word's body

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ben Okri on his 'difficult apprenticeship'

In CNN's African Voices, the Booker Prize winning author of 'The Famished Road', Ben Okri, reminisces about his time sleeping rough on the streets of London, unable to finish university, hungry and seeking the warmth of back doors to crouch in. It was difficult getting food and shelter, but "you could always get books" so he did a lot of intense reading because, "By then, I'd already become infected by the creative dream." He got to see London from "a most heartbreaking perspective". Looking back, the celebrated author reflects that his mother would have been horrified to know her son went through low times. However, "If she were here, I'd like to say to her: it was a good thing. It was a good thing."

"It is not important for me as a writer that you leave a piece of writing of mine with either an agreement or even a resonance with what I have said... The best writing is not about the writer, the best writing is absolutely not about the writer, it's about us, it's about the reader."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Farafina Trust Literary Evening, July 2nd

The Farafina Trust Literary Evening is upon us again. Only once a year, the 2011 edition will close the latest Farafina Trust Writing Workshop.

Details are now out for a literary evening the highlight of which is an interaction with Njabulo Ndebele (author of 'The Cry of Winnie Mandela').

Tash Aw, Faith Adiele and Binyavanga Wainaina and the initiator of the workshop, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, will also read.

A 'New Nigerian Writers' segment will feature Eghosa Imasuen and Jumoke Verissimo. This bit also includes, puzzlingly, Odia Ofeimun. Why a poet who published his seminal collection 'The Poet Lied' as far back as 1980 will be classed a 'new' writer, is beyond me, but there you have it.

Farafina Literary Evening

Grand Ballroom, Eko Hotel, Lagos

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Time: 3pm

With the Farafina Workshop folks

What a fun evening I've had, surrounded by writers known and on the way to being known. Spent some 3 hours with participants in the Farafina Trust Writing Workshop at their lagoon-front Lagos hotel talking about all sorts of things flowing from and leading to the art of writing. I'm seated 2nd left next to Elnathan John (in the striped shirt) and 1st right seated is Gboyega Otolorin. These writers have come from all over Nigeria to attend and one (Olumide, at the back in the middle) came all the way from New York for the workshop. And we've got Wame Molefhe from Botwana and her countrywoman, the 2011 Caine shortlisted Lauri Kubuitsile. Among the group is a Nigerian writer from Niger State, Gimba Kakanda, who presented me with a copy of his poetry collection, Safari Pants (Kraft Books).

I'd gone up to meet with Lauri Kubuitsile, with whom I'd collaborated on the One World Anthology, along with notable others on Zoetrope some years back. Lauri lives, blogs and writes full time from Mahalapye, Botswana; and is among 5 writers shortlisted for this year's Caine Prize for her short story, 'In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata'. From the Farafina workshop in Lagos, she heads straight to London for the Caine readings and the award proper, to be held on July 11.

Lauri is first left in the picture on the right; I'm next to her. Next to me is Wame Molefhe. Also from Botswana, Wame's been making strides in writing for quite some time. She used to be in the Crossing Borders project; we were both commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2007 (African regional winner that year was Ellen Banda-Aaku, now the Penguin African Fiction winner). Wame is the author of the new short story collection, 'Go Tell it to the Sun'. For good measure, I was also meeting my fellow Nigerian, Chinyere Obi-Obasi, for the first time.

The Farafina Trust Workshop reading that closes this year's edition takes place next weekend, details to be confirmed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Eyewitness report from the Fidelity Workshop

Here's Helon Habila, Fidelity Bank MD Reginald Ikejiani and writer/columnist Okey Ndibe at Friday's launch of Dreams at Dawn, the anthology of works by participants in the Fidelity International Writing Workshop.

I had thought the Fidelity MD's penchant for hogging the limelight, especially in terms of photo-ops - which must impose a lot of unnecessary formality and 'Nigerian' protocol on literary workshop business whenever he's around - would be the biggest huddle... At the last real BookJam (as run by Igoni Barrett) in Lagos last year, Ikejiani sat on the high table in front with the featured writers who were reading at the event (Habila, Madeleine Thien, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Unoma Azuah). It was odd to say the least, especially as he wasn't part of the proceedings and never said a word in the discussions back and forth. There was plenty of space on the other side of the room. Habila, Thien and Dangarembga had come from the Fidelity workshop, true, but the Bookjam was not a Fidelity event, yet their banner was displayed prominently there. Then writers were ushered to one side at some inopportune moment or other to pose for pictures with the bank MD. No such shenanigans when the Farafina Trust people came to the Bookjam weeks before. Different approaches, I guess.

Some might argue that, well, the Fidelity MD likes to smile for pictures, what's the harm? However, an eyewitness report from the just concluded 2011 workshop held in Nsukka, suggests there may be organisational shortcomings with the Fidelity workshop too. Here goes.

"I'm in Lagos again, after a week in Enugu for the Fidelity Bank International Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was a mixed bag--the good parts being the instructors, in the persons of Helon Habila, Diana Evans, and Jamal Mahjoub. The bad part, which threatened to undermine the instructors' efforts, was Fidelity Bank itself. They were inept. Disorganized. Laughable. And I seriously questioned their ability to execute any manner of things, including meals and photocopying."

Wow. Read the rest of the post here.

It must be said though, that the publication of an anthology is a good move on Fidelity and Helon Habila's part. Let's hope they iron out the rest of the teething problems. When it comes to writing workshops in Nigeria, we need several thriving initiatives, not just one or two.

Photo: James Eze

Sunday, June 26, 2011

She's gonna blow

"Originally I was going to read from the ending. But the ending is dark, gloomy and tragic at best and I thought that would be a low way to end this evening of very intelligent and witty writing. So instead I’m going to read from the beginning when things are still looking up for our ill-fated protagonist. It all goes swiftly south from here, but these are the good days. This is a little short story that I wrote, I should say, some years back when I had the good fortune to meet an amazing American writer named Toni Morrison; and she asked me if I could send her some writing. And I said Yes, as you do..."

One moment you’ve never heard of someone and the next, they’re all over the place and popping up every other day. And in the case of Taiye Selasi, you know it’s only going to get more so.

If as a published writer you’ve ever had your work turned down by Granta, then you know what a leap it is for someone to make their fiction debut there, as happened with Ms Selasi, whose father is Ghanaian while her mother, a Nigerian, lives in Ghana. From her story ‘The Secret Lives of African Girls’ published to rave reviews in Granta’s The F-Word issue to a literary reading celebrating the edition to an interview on the journal’s website as well as growing press mentions, the momentum builds for Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, ‘Ghana Must Go’ – due out in the next year or so.

The writer tells Granta about her short story: “I was rather surprised to discover that I’d painted such a devastating portrait. It was only months and months after I’d finished editing – focusing narrowly on rhythm, image, pacing, form – that I noticed how dark the content was, how fundamentally damning the comment.”

From there she’s at the BBC pleading for more fictional portrayals of the African middle class (I’d say Amen! to that – and I’d add that there should be more of the African middle class in stories singled out for recognition by international awards and prizes).

Then she’s over at the NPR which proclaims thus: African Writer Helps Put Her Community On Media Map. Although I seriously question whether Ms Selasi, delightful though she seems, could be credited with putting her “community” on the map, as though others didn’t come before her. One of those daft declarations the Western media makes about our “community” as par for the course, all the time.

Anyway, the writer is fashionably thin, has chiselled features, soul singer hair and speaks in a ‘smiling’ American voice – all of which helps, I’m sure. What matters most though is that by all accounts, she’s loaded with talent, which is always welcome.

Her ‘Ghana Must Go’ – a very Nigerian title if I ever heard one – has been sold by the Wylie Agency to Penguin, and is being championed by
Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison. What’s that like?

Wylie is said to have promised blurbs by Rushdie and Morrison for the book. In fact, ‘The Secret Lives of African Girls’ was first submitted to Toni Morrison (“She would like to help you” – Morrison’s son told Selasi - some help!), who very likely had a hand in the story then ending up on the pages of Granta. Talk about the dream endorsement.

I love the deliberate casualness with which Selasi drops the revered name of Morrison in her YouTube appearance for Granta. I also love the fact that she couldn’t actually pull off the casual name-drop without touching her nose, as superstitious liars do when they
fear their nose might grow.

Anyhow, Taiye Selasi is gonna blow. Watch out.

Another thing
Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie's in today's Observer talking about his latest book, Luka and the Fire of Life; and musing about the shift from writing from the child's eye view ('Midnight's Children' and others) to writing as a father (Haroun and the Sea of Stories). He also rules out a fifth marriage, especially after the much publicised ill-fated one to model Padma Lakshmi, but we'll leave that alone, for now.
In the same Observer, constrast Rushdie's view of London to that of Helen Oyeyemi, who muses about packing up from the British capital to roam through cities including New York, Prague, Berlin and Paris. Any chance of Oyeyemi ever touching down in Lagos?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fidelity workshop anthology out tomorrow

L-R: Jamal Mahjoub (who's facilitated many a Caine Prize Workshop), Fidelity Bank MD Reginald Ikejiani, Diana Evans (author of '26a' and 'The Wonder'), IK Mbagwu of Fidelity and Helon Habila, the Caine Prize winning author of a trio of books including 'Oil on Water'. They're shown in Lagos at last week's opening event for this year's Fidelity Writing Workshop (Friday June 17).

Habila has since last year been the arrowhead of the Fidelity workshop and he's been assisted this year by Mahjoub and Evans. The workshop proper started in Nsukka on Saturday 18th and ended today with a closing ceremony at the Princess Alexandria Auditorium of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. With the theme, Lending Wings to the Nigerian Story, the closing ceremony featured performances from many including Iquo Eke and Chimalum Nwankwo.

Well, that was just the first leg of the closing ceremony. The second leg holds tomorrow in Lagos and a major highlight of the Lagos event is the launch of Dreams at Dawn, the first in the Fidelity Bank's Workshop Series of books. It was edited by Helon Habila, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Madeline Thien and I expect features the works of participants at the 2010 workshop. Details of tomorrow's event, below:

Fidelity Writing Workshop Closing Ceremony

Lagos Resource Centre

Anifowose Street, Victoria Island


Date: Friday, June 24, 2011

Time: 5pm.

Photo: James Eze

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Roy and Lahiri: India, home and diaspora

'They are trying to keep me destabilised-' so begins a recent interview with Arundhati Roy, published in the UK Guardian on the eve of the release of 'Broken Republic', the latest in an ever elongating list of non-fiction books by the author of the great Booker Prize winning novel, 'The God of Small Things'.

Ms Roy may be writing's equivalent of Lauryn Hill, the influential singer without whom we may not have had neo-soul spawns like Jill Scott, India Arie and Alicia Keys, to name a few. 1998's
'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' broke all kinds of records at the time, making the former Fugee star the first female to win 5 Grammy awards for one album. While still in her twenties, Hill became the kind of legend that made Oscar winning actress Mira Sorvino gush to her from the stage at an award ceremony, "You're a goddess." Whatever was supposed to happen with Hill's career after the groundbreaking 'Miseducation', life and hindsight have borne a contrary testimony. For over a decade, fans have waited in despair for a follow-up to their 'Miseducation' - while Lauryn Hill disappeared into the haze of a murky 'spiritual' union with Rohan Marley, five kids and rumours of bipolar and other disorders. Just when she seemed to be getting her act together and hope kicked up for the possibility of a comeback album, Ms Hill announced she'd be taking time off yet again because of a sixth pregnancy. Meanwhile, Rohan, whose only distinction is the fact that he was fathered by Bob Marley, has denied paternity of the unborn child, "until I say out of my mouth to the contrary." So what now?

With Arundhati Roy, we've waited for a second novel for over a decade, in vain. In 2007 the author announced she was writing it but has failed to deliver the goods. She keeps churning out polemics instead. The novelist has given way to an outspoken critic of the Indian government on Deforestation, globalisation, Kashmir and so on. Like Hill, Roy's detractors paint her as shrill, a loony, even her interviewer in The Guardian could hardly keep such insinuations from his text of the interview. In this part of the world, we've never had problems with our writers being activists as long as they remain faithful to the calling that gave them a platform and a listening/reading public in the first place. After buying Roy's 'An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire' years ago, I'm refraining from buying any more of her non-fiction work (and this, from a committed reader and writer of non-fiction!) in the hope she gets that damned second novel out already.

From Arundhati Roy's interview
Roy has likened writing fiction and polemic to the difference between dancing and walking. Does she not want to dance again? "Of course I do." Is she working on a new novel? "I have been," she says with a laugh, "but I don't get much time to do it." Does it bother her that the followup to The God of Small Things has been so long in coming? "I'm a highly unambitious person," she says. "What does it matter if there is or isn't a novel? I really don't look at it that way. For me, nothing would have been worth not going into that forest."

It's hard to judge whether there will be a second novel. The God of Small Things drew so much on her own life – her charismatic but overbearing mother; a drunken tea-planter father whom her mother left when Roy was very young; her own departure from home in her late teens – that it may be a one-off, a book as much lived as written. She gives ambiguous answers about whether she expects a second novel to appear. On the one hand, she says she is engaged with the resistance movement and that it dominates her thoughts. But almost in the same breath she says others have "picked up the baton" and she would like to return to fiction, to dance again.

Trading Stories: Notes from a literary appreticeship
There are a rarified few writers whose new writings we are only allowed to read in the New Yorker. Jhumpa Lahiri, the author whose 'Unaccumstomed Earth' made a shortlist unnecessary on her way to winning the Frank O'Connor Prize, is the leader in this regard. She has a new non-fiction piece in, where else? She discusses how in childhood reading opened for her a world into which her Bengali immigrant parents had no access. The road to adulthood and writing; and how writing was a way of showing her parents that though a stranger to their world, she understood it. Something like that. Lahiri's recollection of the inspiration for her story 'A Temporary Matter', is particularly poignant. And here's something to which the average Nigerian writer can relate: even after she won the Pullitzer, Lahiri's father sounded what to him would have been a perfectly reasonable caution, that writing is not to be counted on, other jobs are better. And so Lahiri has learned to listen and not listen, to be deaf and blind to 'good' advice, as every writer must learn, eventually.

From Jhumpa Lahiri's essay
For much of my life, I wanted to be other people; here was the central dilemma, the reason, I believe, for my creative stasis. I was always falling short of people’s expectations: my immigrant parents’, my Indian relatives’, my American peers’, above all my own. The writer in me wanted to edit myself. If only there was a little more this, a little less that, depending on the circumstances: then the asterisk that accompanied me would be removed. My upbringing, an amalgam of two hemispheres, was heterodox and complicated; I wanted it to be conventional and contained. I wanted to be anonymous and ordinary, to look like other people, to behave as others did. To anticipate an alternate future, having sprung from a different past. This had been the lure of acting—the comfort of erasing my identity and adopting another. How could I want to be a writer, to articulate what was within me, when I did not wish to be myself?

It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Twins Seven-Seven, 1944 - 2011

News broke today of the death of Twins Seven-Seven, the great avantgarde artist of the Osogbo School, one of those that rose to prominence through the now historic art workshops organised by Ulli and Georgina Beier in the town on the River Osun in the 1960s.

Twins Seven-Seven - so self-named because he was the sole survivor of seven sets of 'abiku' twins born to his mother - had been known to be ill for some time; and in recent days some in the arts community and in the media had become increasingly concerned. Just yesterday journalists were beating anxious paths to the University College Hospital, Ibadan, where Twins was being cared for in the Intensive Care Unit. Family members rebuffed the journalists; the artist's children had apparently said they did not need anybody's help to look after their father, or so reporters were told; and the family did not want Twins' condition mentioned in the press.

Some handwringing in certain quarters as to what to do - afterall, Twins Seven-Seven was a world famous artist, a national treasure that long ago ceased to belong to his family and children alone, a UNESCO Artist for Peace. In any event, it was all too late, for today, death settled the matter.

His ex-wife, textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaiye, confirmed the passing. His last television appearance may well have been the recent CNN African Voices special on Okundaiye, a programme that did Twins Seven-Seven a bit of a disservice, in my view. African Voices neglected to mention the iconic name that would have chimed with thousands of people: Twins Seven-Seven. "Also an artist" was Christian Purefoy's casual reference to him, almost as an afterthought. And with that an artist of greater power was reduced to a mere footnote in Okundaiye's story.

Twins didn't do himself much of a favour in the programme either, he didn't know how, a lifetime of wildly creative eccentricity will do that to you. "I don't marry any woman older than 20, at my age," he said at one point, to the viewer's incredulity. His best years well behind him, he seemed to fancy himself a babe magnet still. "It's now I know I [was] very, very handsome," he said. But it's not so hard to see how women would have flocked to this prodigiously talented artist (singer, theatre performer, dancer, sculptor and painter) in his heyday. I remember reading an account by someone that visited his polygamous compound when Nike Okundaiye was still with him. The visitor remembered Twins-77 as a man loaded with animal magnetism.

For me, Twins Seven-Seven was one of the great culture icons of my youth. As a youngster in the town of Ijebu-Ijesa in the 1970s, the impact of three people on the culture reached us, though we were far from the scenes of their actions and reactions. The sacred trio were Fela, Susanne Wenger and Twins Seven-Seven. Their names reverberated all around us. I didn't even know Twins painted - who at my age had ever heard of 'Visual Art' then? His fame seemed to reach an apogee around the time of FESTAC '77, the year Fela released the rebellious 'Zombie' which all of us kids sang, knowing full well soldiers of the Nigerian army were the 'zombies'. We loved 'Zombie' even more because it had been banned. I was in Lagos that same year and the spirit of FESTAC '77 was in the air, which helped amplify in my young mind the myth of the man who also bore the numbers 7-7 in his name, like he was specially made for those brave times.

In the immediate reactions after the death, Deji Toye called Twins "the rock star of the Osogbo Art School", as indeed he was. His fame for us at a point in time, was on a par with Fela's. He had the plaited hair long before Urban Black music discovered corn-rows; he lived life in fast-forward.

Grown up, I became aware of Twins Seven-Seven's achievement as a visual artist; and have seen at least four of his pieces sold at Lagos auctions in the last year alone. I came to understand why he held adults and children in thrall all those years ago; and why his death is such a huge loss. A massively imitated artist, he stayed ahead of the pack and remained unique. In his fantabulous painted woodcuts, I see the world of D.O Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola, Asiru Olatunde and Ben Okri.

Okri may have written about Azaro, but Twins Seven-Seven - born Taiwo Olaniyi Osuntoki - was Azaro personified. Editing a feature on the artist about a year ago, I decided to make it the cover story. On the cover, I wrote: Magical Realist - for that is what Twins Seven-Seven was.

Photo by Akintayo Abodunrin

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yinka Shonibare's Art-iculate Lecture

LAGOS: Yinka Shonibare with artists Peju Layiwola (m) and Rom Isichei at Terra Kulture on April 20.

In the pictures below we have the artist's mum; and he's shown with Yusuf Grillo, who his father had sent him to at YABATECH over 30 years ago when he indicated his intention to become an artist. Grillo had made time to talk to the young man that came calling; and on April 20, Shonibare said from the stage to Grillo in the audience: "I wonder sir, if you remember me, sir" - then the celebrated artist thanked his mentor.

The passing of GTB bank boss Tayo Aderinokun got me thinking of these pictures I always meant to post but never got round to (you get home sometimes and there's no electricity and your generator has packed up, the internet is down etcetera etcetera...). GTB sponsored Yinka Shonibare's Fourth Plinth
Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, now on display in London's Trafalgar Square and Aderinokun attended the unveiling on in May 2010 . These pictures are from Shonibare's recent visit to Lagos, during which one of the chief reference points for the artist was his Fourth Plinth achievement, made possible by the late Aderinokun.

Shonibare gave the Art-iculate Lecture at Terra Kulture on April 20. Here are some press reports of the event and some of his other appearances in Lagos: Compass Newspaper, The Guardian, NEXT, Life House Fela! Reception/slides.

Photos: MW

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tayo Aderinokun... 'the poets grieve'

Tayo Aderinokun (left), managing director of the
Guaranty Trust Bank, who died in London earlier today, was a major art patron. His longstanding support for the arts culminated in Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' sculpture, sponsored by Aderinokun's bank and unveiled in London's Trafalgar Square in May last year. He is here shown with London Mayor Boris Johnson and Shonibare. May Tayo Aderinokun rest in peace.

Toyin Akinosho on Aderinokun
“Of all the banks, the GTB, under his watch, put the most into those aspects of the arts that are non-commercial. He did better than the once-a-year little drops that Fidelity (Bank) put into writers’ workshops.”

Ben Tomoloju
“It’s a painful loss, so much that it has destabilised strategic assets of our cultural expression because he was a great benefactor of the arts both nationally and internationally... I am aware that the entire Aderinokun family has made one great impact or the other to the advancement of the Nigerian artistic heritage. His eldest brother, Eddie Aderinokun, is a highly respected poet and literary activist. Another, Kayode, is a notable poet and both were Vice President of ANA national and chair ANA Lagos respectively at a point in time.

“The late Tayo was all along a committed patriot and financier of various aspects of the arts. You will recollect that with his corporate status, he backed a pan-Nigerian poetry festival from 2009 to 2010. So the community of poets grieve profusely on this tragic turn. We wish the family, friends, corporate associates, especially the GTBank family, the fortitude to bear the loss. It’s also a personal loss.”

Photos: College Hill

Update 15 June, 2011

PEN Nigeria
Tayo Aderinokun – Adieu Ultimate Art Patron and Gentleman
PEN Nigeria Center joins the entire Nigeria arts community in commiserating with the Aderinokuns on the transition of their illustrious son Tayo.
We of the Pen Nigeria are expressing our heartfelt sympathy to his immediate and extended family and his business empire, especially in Guarantee Trust Bank, in this trying moments in the hope that our shared grief would reduce the impact of this colossal loss.
We bear this grief in the consolation that death is certain and that the impact of Tayo’s short but fruitful life as a giant in a small world of art entrepreneurship and patronage, will, for generations yet unborn, be a shining example.
We remember Tayo fondly as the quintessential gentleman of the arts and ultimate business colossus whose legacies would be etched permanently in our collective heritage. In a clime where art patronage and its quality are weak, Tayo exemplified the exemplary both in humility and commitment to all that he held dear.
His contributions to the Nigerian literary scene bear testimony to the ideals and objectives of PEN International and its Nigerian Centre.
We know we have lost him in person and physical form but we have gained him in ideals and ideas.
Our prayer is that the family, immediate and extended, culturally and economically be granted the fortitude to bear his huge loss.
For and on behalf of PEN Nigeria Centre

Ropo Ewenla
Secretary General

Naipaul, 'misogynist prick'

Sir Vidia has gone and done it again. He made up with Paul Theroux at this year's Hay Festival only to stir the hornet's nest at the same event with a diatribe about female writers. "[They are] unequal to me," Naipaul said, going ahead to single out Jane Austen for particular criticism for her supposed "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too."

He said further, ""I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not." Causing The Guardian to run the Naipaul Test with a quiz:
Can you tell an author's sex by their writing? I must say George Elliot had me fooled for years on the strength of the writing, until I stumbled across some enlightening biographical information. But back to Naipaul.

His former editor, the 95-year-old Diana Athill is similarly dismissed for writing "feminine tosh. I don't mean this in an unkind way." I shudder to think what Naipaul would say if he meant to be unkind.

All this was coming within days of
Tea Obreht's youngest-ever win of the Orange Prize for Fiction, which is only awarded to women, and which regularly generates debate about whether there is any merit in a prize exclusively for females (Nadine Gordimer once rejected being shortlisted for it). The overriding argument is always this: the affirmative action of a prize specifically for women is needed because it is not a level playing field, and there exists a deep prejudice still against their writing. Naipaul's outburst seems to buttress the point.

Well, trust the women to not let the Mongoose go scot-free. Diana Athill just laughed it off, suggesting that her writing only became "feminine tosh" to Naipaul because she didn't admire his work so much anymore. Whenever she wants to cheer herself up, she says,
"At least I'm not married to Vidia." Thank God for that.

Other writers have not been as gentle. Booker Prize winning author of 'The Bone People', Keri Hulme called Naipaul a "
misogynist prick" and a "slug". That should tell him.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Penguin SA Writers of the Month

I like when writers are asked deceptively simple questions in interviews, like 'Which word do you most overuse?' Or when a publication allowed writers to answer the question they would have liked to be asked but which interviewees invariably overlooked...

If Isabel Allende had not been asked to recall her 'most embarrassing moment' by The Guardian (UK), we would never have had this gem:

"Once a man said to me in bed, 'Come with me.' I thought he was inviting me to go with him to Spain."

No mention of beds in Ellen Banda-Aaku and Pius Adesanmi's responses to basic questions on the writing life put to them by their publisher, Penguin, but the answers are fascinating all the same. The two winners of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing are Writers of the Month on the website of Penguin South Africa.

Both writers answer the same 10 questions. Here's how each recalled: My Earliest Memory:

Ellen Banda-Aaku
I’m about three years old, and I’m sitting at a table telling my parents about a dream I had the night before. I can’t remember what the dream was about what I do remember is them laughing so hard. The funny thing is as I grew older, till about age seven, I would actually make up stories and pass off as a dream I had just so I could tell a story.

Pius Adesanmi
Playing street football with my peers in the village and being annoyingly summoned by my father – just when the game was ‘sweetest’! – to come and read some abridged children’s version of stories from Greek mythology he just discovered in the family library. I could not for the life of me understand why Jason and his fellow argonauts had the right to leave their abode in ancient Greek memory just to come and disturb the football game of five or six-year-olds in Africa.

As it happens, Allende is one of the writers Adesanmi most admires. His book, 'You're Not A Country, Africa!' and Banda-Aaku's 'Patchwork' will be out from Penguin SA soon.
Read their answers to 10 questions here.


MAAMI premieres in Ekiti today

Cinematographer Tunde Kelani presents his latest film in Ado-Ekiti today in collaboration with the state government in commemoration of June 12. Details below.

MAAMI Premiere
Monday 13, June, 2011
Venue: Bishop Adetiloye Hall, Fountain Hotel, Ado-Ekiti.
Time: 4pm

At the Lagos premiere held at the MUSON Centre in Lagos on June 4, the filmmaker had introduced his film with words including the following:

Kelani on MAAMI

It is with great joy that we premier MAAMI here today. MAAMi, an adaptation of Professor Femi Osofisan's novel of the same title, parades notable stars led by the celebrated Funke Akindele, Wole Ojo, Tamilore Kuboye, Peter Badejo, Olumide Bakare and introducing the young Ayomide Abatti. Set over a two-day period, leading to the 2010 World Cup, MAAMi is an inspiring story of a poor, conscientious single mother's struggles to raise her only child, Kashimawo who eventually, rises to international stardom in an English football club.

It is unfortunate that
our experience with pirates in our last work, ‘Arugba' and indeed in all our other works, forbids us from considering a DVD/VCD release of MAAMi at this time. We therefore plan premieres throughout the South West to be followed by theatrical release in identified cinemas throughout the country. We shall also deploy our mobile cinema facilities to take the film to tertiary institutions in an exhibition and lecture series with students of Mass Communication, creative arts and other related disciplines.

Lagos has always been the commercial as well as the entertainment capital of Nigeria. The close links between entertainment and commerce therefore need to be further explored and exploited by shaping the entertainment activities in the state into a properly structured and well organised industry towards revenue generation, mass mobilisation, employment generation and gainful engagement for the youth.

Filmmaking is a collaborative art, drawing artistic resources from many other art forms. I would therefore like to acknowledge and thank the cast and the crew of the production as well as all Mainframe partners and associates for the robust support they have always freely given.

Finally, I must use this opportunity again to thank the Lagos State Government for their great support in the realisation of this project; and the opportunity to contribute our own little quota to the development of the state and the general welfare of Lagosians.

I present
MAAMI to you all.

Photos from the Lagos premiere, below:

The Two Kashys: Wole Ojo (left) played the male lead as a grown up Arsenal football star, Kashy, while Ayomide Abatti (right) filled the role of Kashimawo, the poverty stricken sun of a tenacious woman, played by Funke Akindele.

Kelani with the actress Khabirat Kafidipe, who has appeared in at least two of his films.

Tireless art patriarch Ambassador Segun Olusola (honestly, this man is at every noteworthy art event - exhibition openings, film premieres, concerts, book launches, you name it) and TK himself, the director of 'Maami', Tunde Kelani.

Here I am at the premiere with journalist Bunmi Ajiboye who writes lovely film reviews (read her take on The King's Speech and Aramotu).

Photos by Aderemi Adegbite