Writings of the general word's body

Monday, October 30, 2006

He Claims To Be A Writer

One indignity regularly suffered by African writers and artists planning to visit the UK and the US is the denial of entry visa. It happens even when they are to feature in high profile UK events. And not even prominent, well-travelled ones are immune. Earlier this year, the poet Odia Ofeimun applied for 4 years' visa - for multiple short visits to the UK. The British Consulate in Lagos denied him a visa. You'd have thought any educated person in Nigeria would be aware of Ofeimun's status as a major Nigerian poet, but no. The consulate official compounded the insult by noting down in writing: "He claims to be a writer." The experience led to Ofeimun's poem, 'I Am A Writer'. It didn't end there. Adefayi Martins, in a victory for the power of the pen, wrote a piece in TheNeWS on the visa insult. And as if by magic, the British Consulate invited Odia Ofeimun back and instead of the 4 years applied for, they granted him leave to enter for 10 years. Adefayi Martin's opinion piece, below...

Rebutting the British… and their Visas, in Verse

Acclaimed poet and writer, Odia Ofeimun, one of Nigeria’s finest public intellectuals, disclaims the conceit of the British Consulate – that denied him visa – because "he claims to be a writer". Adefayi Martins reports

Oscar Wilde, the late Irish playwright, and iconoclast par excellence, did not suffer fools gladly, both is his art and in real life. He had, like many Europeans of his age, an understated continental disdain for the United States, the political, economic and spatial behemoth that always fancied itself as "the world". When he visited the United States, long before the current age of the finger-prints and other indignities that the US forces visitors to experience at her entry points under the guise of keeping out unwanted guests, Wilde was asked if he had anything to declare. "Nothing", the witty and deprecating Wilde replied, "except my genius"!

The US Customs official must have had a sense of humour. He allowed Wilde to pass. The officer at the British Consulate that attended to Odia Ofeimun, acclaimed poet, writer, journalist, political scientist, polemist and public intellectual, when he applied to renew his UK visitor’s visa must have been humourless. They often are, at any rate. The official denied Ofeimun, who lived in the United Kingdom as a scholar at the oldest British University, Oxford, for a few years in the 1980s, and has visited the UK many times since returning home, entry visa last month. He must have thought the poet lied. Incidentally, the latter phrase is the title of the affable Ofeimun’s celebrated poetry collection. The official stated in denying Odia visa – in a sticker attached to his passport - that "he claims to be a writer". A most condescending insult added to the injury of visa denial.

Ofeimun is not one to take such insult, which many Nigerians regularly take - with equanimity from the British and other consulates in Nigeria - lying low. The denial comes exactly ten years after the same British High Commission denied him visa to enjoy a facility provided by their own cultural agency, the British Council, for the poet to see the London Book Fair. The Consulate later relented when challenged, only for the more humourless General Sani Abacha’s goons at the airport to seize Odia’s passport.

In his poetic response to the recent British conceit entitled, "I am a Writer…", Ofeimun tells the joyless consuls,

I do not claim to be, I am a writer

As my passport insists

across decades, and still counting.

If the grating visa-granting official is still unconvinced, the poet adds that the years he has spent bearing that passport as a writer draws

humus from Year Twelve
When school bells added my name
To the throng gamboling along
With the Pied Piper of Hamellin
And, the Ancient Mariner
Whose magic, and the bamboo flutes
Of Martin Carter in Guyana jail
Took me by hand to know Ogun
when Okigbo’s road was famished.

If the British Consulate is unaware of the poet’s accomplishments, or what another poet, Okinba Launko describes in his poem, We are Climbing Still, as the "several prizes we were showered with/and the congratulations we wear like mendallions!", Ofeimun sings of his possession of a cultural capital which the British themselves claim to value, but have devalued "through the syllabus of errors…(that) set no column to my stripe" marking the denial of visa to him, this second time. He tells the consulate in the poem that, at 18, his "waify poems" were already "elevating siblings" at the West African Examination Council examinations, that is the General Certificate of Examination (GCE) and the School Certificate exams, popularly called School Cert and even university thesis, long "before stamps hit the pad at the Passport Office".

The poet presses his claims further. For the avoidance of doubt, he advertises his artistic victories that link with world cultures at famous cultural centres of the world, including the British cultural centres:

I do not claim to be, I am a writer
Whose trip under African skies
Took Sun-dance to Sadler’s well
Queen Elizabeth Hall by the Thames
And Fleet Street of glancing nods
with poesy of the body’s rhythm
rounding the Cape of Good Hope
and toasting five hundred years
above visa-gripe, truth’s fibre
as art for life vouchsafes it
setting navel closer to navel
to keep fellow-feeling in grace.

As he tells friends,
Ofeimun will soon journey to South America where, if the poet can be unveiled, he has some honey, who - as he croons in his poem, "Oyin" -

breathes a quiet ardour
against a calculus of (perhaps, British) nerves.

Ofeimun, who, a few years ago, predicted the terrible fate that General Abacha met in one of his poems – Thighs fall apart, the General (dis)appears – insists that though

the division of spoils
encumbering the earth with visas

can stop his travel to Britain, it cannot encumber his spirit, because

I’m happy, beyond mere fashion
for trips that visas can’t deny.

The British consulate can deny Odia Ofeimun visa, but it cannot deny him his voice – his verse.

  • Odia Ofeimun has since travelled through Britain.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is Vanity Fair?

It was inevitable perhaps, that the woman who wrote On Photography should have her life - and death - presented to the world in photographs. Considering that Susan Sontag spent the last 15 years of her life with Annie Leibovitz, a photographer who took artifice to new levels with her celebrity photographs for the lavish covers and pages of Vanity Fair magazine - it was made more likely that Sontag would suffer the fate that’s now hers in death. Those who thought Sontag and Leibovitz were an unlikely pairing will feel vindicated somewhat.

When Susan Sontag died in late 2004, I was reading possibly her last book, Regarding the Pain of Others, in which she discussed war photography. “To catch a death actually happening and embalm it for all time is something only cameras can do,” she wrote. Leibovitz may have sought to prove the point. A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005 - covers the years the two women shared together. Although it’s ostensibly about Leibovitz’s life, the book's main selling points are never before seen photos of Sontag.

Some of the photographs were in The Guardian (UK) Weekend Magazine of 7th October. We see a naked Sontag, only partially covered by her duvet, asleep, pubic hair one breast in view. We see her receiving chemotherapy; barely recognisable as she neared death; and we see her in a series of photographs - dead. Of course we also see Leibovitz herself in a not so glossy version of her famous study of a pregnant Demi Moore, but the photographer has made the choice to show this to the world. Sontag cannot decide. She may have discussed the “democracy of photographs” in life, but even she could not have imagined it would go this far. Of the photographs in Weekend, my favourite is the least invasive, showing Sontag and a companion as tiny features on a pyramid in Giza, Egypt. Of the more intimate images, one cannot but wonder if this is how we would want to remember an intellect like Sontag, her relationship with Leibovitz notwithstanding.

There are reports of controversy in a small circle Sontag’s friends, on learning of the photographer’s plans to publish. In the end, they supported the decision; you get the feeling they couldn’t have stopped Leibovitz anyway. The photographer says: "There's this question: how can you publish these pictures? Well, you could never publish them while she was alive. But she's dead. And that's the bottom line."

You've got to give Leibovitz top marks for directness, even if you think there's something chilling about the finality with which she lays down the 'bottom line'.

Annie Leibovitz’s book is published this month and a copy will set you back £60.

In Weekend edition of 14th October, a reader, Stefan Nedu, had sent the following letter in from Bolton, UK:
“Annie Leibovitz’s decision to publish intimate photographs of Susan Sontag is distasteful… Thanks to Leibovitz, my mind now associates [Sontag] with a soggy nipple and bruises on a corpse. Commercialism makes some people sell not only their own souls, but also their best friend’s.”

My thoughts exactly.

~ ~ ~ ~
  • Vanity Fair (on whose pages Leibovitz did her most significant work, becoming not only a photographer of superstars but also a 'superstar photographer' in her own right) naturally carries news of Leibovitz's book on p235. Happily, the magazine leaves all photos of Sontag be, showing instead the deceased's snapshot of a naked and pregnant Leibovitz.
  • Vanity Fair's UK edition does not have Suri Cruise (whose existence many once doubted) on its cover. Instead, we have the delectable Goerge Clooney and there's many pages on him inside. He is written of - and one sees where they are coming from - as the only current Hollywood star who evokes Clark Gable, Cary Grant and a few other immortals - depending on the setting. Clooney's self-effacing and natural sense of humour definitely reminds one of Cary Grant who also combined these qualities with devastating handsomeness. The Clark Gable thing hit me when I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? many years ago, especially the scene in which he tells his doubting daughters: "I'm the damned pater familias!"
  • Staying with Clooney, London Lite (a new free evening newpspaper that's fast catching on) carried a snippet on the actress Ellen Barkin on its 19th October edition. Asked about rumours of an affair with Clooney, Barkin replied: "Yes I f***** George... and I'm proud of it! If you don't have chemistry with George Clooney you need to check your pulse."

I Forget To Look

The photograph of my mother at her desk in the fifties
has been in my purse for twenty years,
its paper faded, browning,
the scalloped edge bent then straightened.

The collar of her dress folds discreetly.
The angle of her neck looks as though
someone has called her from far away.

She was the first in her family to take
the bus from Claremont
up the hill to the university.

At one point during the lectures at medical school,
black students had to pack their notes, get up and walk
past the ascending rows of desks out of the theatre.

Behind the closed door, in an autopsy
black students were not meant to see,
the uncovering and cutting of white skin.

Under the knife, the skin,
the mystery of sameness.

In a world that defined how black and white
could look at each other, touch each other,
my mother looks back, her poise unmarred.

Every time I open my purse,
she is there, so familiar I forget
to look at her.

© Gabeba Baderoon

  • I Forget To Look was inspired by the poet's mother, who studied medicine in apartheid South Africa in the 1950s. The poem is taken from Baderoon's new collection, A Hundred Silences (Kwela/Snailpress, 2006). Reproduced with permission.
  • Images of the poet...
  • Gabeba Baderoon appears at the South Bank, London on Wednesday 25th October 2006 as part of Poetry International.

The Gods Are Not To Blame

The Gods Are Not To Blame, Ola Rotimi's African adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex - is one of the most significant plays by a Nigerian playwright. First performed in 1968, The Gods Are Not To Blame is the official play of this year's Muson Festival. Directed by Wole Oguntokun, the play will be staged on Saturday 28th October (at 3pm & 6pm) in the Agip Recital Hall of the Muson Centre, Lagos.

Fela Stories

Give Fela a well-told Short Story

Call for Fela centred, fictional short stories,features articles and biographical sketches on “FELA The Folklore: A Peoples’ Biography for all categories of prose writers.

Reputations Consulting is a brand marketing communications management consultancy that gives seasoned voice to concepts, brands and causes and seeks to immortalise them through biographies and documentaries. According to Mr Chike Ofili, author of Our Unspoken Ties, and managing consultant of Reputations Consulting: “we earnestly desire only well-told Fela centred creative short stories, journalistic features, stories or factual biographical sketches on Fela Anikulapo Kuti that bear the honest perspectives and convictions of the prose writer on this music maestro. Kindly let us know which work is purely fictional, and which is biographical/features as you can do both”.

Ofili adds: “family, friends, fans, journalists, critics and enemies of Fela across the world are all free to send in their convictions on this Nigeria’spublic property number 1, in 2,500 or less to c
hikeofili@yahoo.com. Or P.O.Box 1565, Shomolu, Lagos on or before November 30, 2006.

Chosen pieces of writing will fetch the writer their copies and also entitle them buy copies of the published book at negotiable discounts.

- Press release


Press Release - Cassava Republic Press Writer’sWorkshop

Workshop Title: Techniques to Develop Your Writing Style.
Cassava Republic is holding an intensive 2 dayswriting workshop. If you dream of being a writer, thisworkshop is for you. Selection is by competition: submit 3 to 5 pages of your best story. The writersof the best 15 short stories will be accepted for the programme.

Contents of the course:
  • Developing your writing style:
  • Developing a passion for writing
  • Where do stories and ideas come from?
  • What is writing style?
  • An Introduction to Point of View (POV)
  • Who’s telling the story; the writer or the character?
  • Developing your unique POV

  • Developing your writing technique
  • Creating great structure in books, films and articles
  • How to show not tell a story
  • How to create and develop memorable dialogue
  • Characterisation: making your characters live
  • Weaving themes and issues in your books, films andarticles
  • Knowing your audience

Biography of the workshop leader: Abidemi Sanusi was born in Nigeria but she lives inthe UK. Her first book, Kemi's Journal was published in 2005. She has just completed its sequel Zack Story and another novel God Has Daughters Too. Abidemi is akeen runner and devotional writer for Inspiring WomenEveryday published by CWR and Day by Day with Godpublished by the Bible Reading Fellowship. Abidemi is the editor of www.christianwriter .co.uk and thedirector of the Levite Scribe, a writing servicescompany. The Levite Scribe runs creative writingcourses.

Diwali Goodness

It's Diwali time. Diwali is the Hindu New Year, and where I live, fireworks have been lighting up the night sky in celebration for several days now. Seduced by the specta
cular show, I watched from my balcony till late; at some point giving in to my sons request that they go and observe from close quarters in a neighbouring garden. That was two nights ago (rain probably scuppered any chance of fireworks last night). Then yesterday, my favourite and nicest neighbour - the Indian lady downstairs - made me feel like I was back in Nigeria where neighbours will send food round on special occasions. She sent her son to give me these Diwali specials, known as Fah-fah (don't know if I've got the name right). It was quite a touching gesture for me and a first, because in all my years in this country, no neighbour had ever done anything like that. I managed to keep my 8-year-old's hands off the 'colourful and starry crisps' long enough to photograph them. They've since disappeared down our bellies, but from these pictures, I'd say Fah-fah look as sweet as they taste. And now, I must share these photos with the lady downstairs.

Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

A Blazing Sun - The Storyteller Returns

By Ikhide R Ikheloa

I write this for James Meredith, the distinguished first black student of OLEMISS, and for John Hawkins, the distinguished first black Cheerleader of OLEMISS. Courage counts for something. Yes!

My time is no longer mine and I miss my Muse running alongside my railroad tracks urging me to say something, anything. In between stealing sideways glances at my Muse and struggling mightily to satisfy demons born of my life’s choices, I have managed to hold on to just one passion – reading. I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book, Half of a Yellow Sun and if I don’t read another book for a long time, memories of this epic tome will keep me warm in the hibernation of the coming winter. But first, before I slink off into the trenches of my own doing, I must rise to salute Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of the finest story tellers to come out of Africa in a long time. Out of the seething, smoldering ruins of our collective horrid judgment, a giant Phoenix is born, worthy prodigy of the master Phoenix Chinua Achebe. Achebe lives! Adichie lives! Hurrah for the resilience of the human spirit. Chimamanda, I celebrate the mystery of you, and I luxuriate in the reassuring warmth of your gift. I salute you, silent witness to a story that never left, that won’t go away. I salute you, insistent bugler of yet another coming.

This book starts out being about Nigeria in the sixties and the Biafran war. Ultimately, it is about our collective destiny in that failed state called Nigeria. A delightful cast of well-formed characters carries the burden of this book rather effortlessly: The cast is led by a set of twins; the vivacious Olanna and the enigmatic, mysterious Kainene, renaissance women, well schooled, and well traveled. A boy Ugwu arrives from the village to be a houseboy to "Master" Odenigbo, a university don and we witness the growth of the boy and Biafra’s dreams (and demise) through his awe-struck eyes. There is also Richard an English man loitering in Nigeria as a writer who also becomes Kainene’s lover. It is an expertly written book, professionally edited, one that raises the bar for how great books should be written. In Half of a Yellow Sun, we see mature relationships, strong men and women comfortable in their individual roles within relationships and actually enjoying themselves. There is the liberated Olanna who actually turns down marriage proposals from her long-term lover because she is enjoying the relationship. Refreshing.

When I think of this book, I think of words like, awe, admiration. And envy. Envy at such a beautiful product. Adichie manages to cobble together several complex stories and she carries out this feat with amazing, unceasing, unrelenting grace. In writing the book, Adichie makes the point eloquently that we are the sum of our experiences. Harrowing is another word that will not let go of me – the ethnic cleansing, the inhumanity of it all and you ask, for what purpose? Everything is scarce; joy, food, sex, and when it comes, it is devoured in joyful song. What is it about sex and war? The sex when it happens is luscious and the reader’s lungs and loins erupt in unadulterated joy. Adichie brings together all of the principal characters for a day of reckoning. Well, almost all the principal characters. Unless I missed it, I did not read any mention of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe. You can almost forgive Adichie for not mentioning Azikiwe, Awolowo in this epic. They probably deserve to be deleted from memory, who knows… Besides, this is a novel. Go write your own if you are that enamoured of those two figures.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a muffled collage of courage, grace, rage, injustice, horror, and the resilience of the human spirit. Breathtaking, simply stunning is how I would describe the experience of reading Adichie’s literary salvo. Reading this book was akin to taking an unforgettable field trip, an eclectic tour through the dainty halls of several eclectic minds. It is hard to believe that only one human being wrote this epic. And yes, in my humble opinion, this book is the first epic to come out of Nigeria since Chinua Achebe’s trilogy of books: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God. This book is so good, it is easy to forget that this is the product of research, of a most unjust war, a pogrom that came and went many moons before this story teller was born. I have to admit that I bought the book expecting it to be contrived – after all I thought, Adichie was not there during the war, what can she tell me about the war? I was pleasantly disappointed that my expectation was roundly rebuffed by this writer’s formidable strengths.

Adichie pulls off the stunning feat of fully immersing the reader in a past that is more glorious than today’s quagmire, civil war or no civil war. She captures with unnerving clarity, the unctuous self righteousness of Nigeria’s ruling class and her conniving intellectuals - a cultural pathology that thrives to this day. In the book as in today’s reality, we witness the aping of alien values, the total lack of originality in anything the contemporary Nigerian embarks on, from creative writing to creative kleptomania. The most comical representation of our condition is Harrison the Nigerian cook proudly displaying his knowledge of western recipes, and ribald ignorance of Nigerian recipes: He proudly shows off one of his signature counterfeit productions - "a bean and mushroom soup, a pawpaw medley, chicken in a cream sauce speckled with greens and a lemon tart as pudding!" Graham Greene should be dying of laughter in his grave.

Half of a Yellow Sun is several complex stories, simply told. Hints of pulp fiction tug at the reader’s arrogance and it says to the reader, Get off your high horse – why must communication be obtuse? The style grows on you, surprises you like a charming lover in the night, grabbing you from behind, stirring your loins, startling you with brutal clarity and slashing a smile-gash in your happy face. And there is beauty in the book’s simplicity. It is sheer pleasure to luxuriate in the poetry of pretty words strung together daintily like lace. And the attention to detail is intimidating – weeks after reading this book, I can still smell the flowers and the men’s cologne. Adichie does have a thing for flowers and scents.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a messy journey narrated with neat precision, at times, told languidly, at other times, told with malaria-feverishness and sometimes you wonder where this is all leading, where is Biafra in all of this, etc, but then if it was a tidy story it would be an awful book. Life is a mess. This book is a mess. This is a good book, this is a great book. And sometimes, the book does drift, seemingly aimlessly. One of the main characters, Olanna goes to Kano to visit an ex-boyfriend. The purpose of this trip is not quite clear – why this restlessness other than to show that an Igbo once loved a Northerner? In any case, any seeming drift in the book is more than compensated for by the delightful story oozing from virtually every sentence. It is like sitting in a verandah in Lagos (choose your favourite Nigerian city) and reveling in raw street theater. The book’s chapters move deftly back and forth between the early sixties and the late sixties, between a gathering fear (apologies to the poet Olu Oguibe) and a relentless pogrom. This technique is effective in keeping the reader fully engaged in an absorbing story. Reading the book, I felt like I was watching a gripping movie. This should be made into a full length movie for those who choose not to or are unable to read about our history.

And three decades after that shame of a war, not much has changed. The corruption is eerily the same; actually one gets tired of reading about these things, the past posing as the present tense. Only in Nigeria. We see ourselves in virtually all of the characters - Chief Okonji – the Finance Minister is a sadly familiar caricature, not much different from today’s jokesters in Aso Rock. Refried beans must keep for ever. Too bad for Nigeria. Adichie says this book is about Biafra. It seems to me that this is more than Biafra. This is really all about the horrid fate of the long-suffering people trapped in that failed state called Nigeria. We see African intellectuals at their most unctuous and self-serving. We see them in their nakedness, aping rather uncritically Western values, trying so desperately to be white folks. Graham Greene would love this book. The intellectuals put together a babble-fest at every opportunity as they cry louder than the bereaved in alien tongues. Nothing has changed today; if anything, things have gotten worse. After all these years, Adichie’s book is eerily contemporary because the social and cultural pathologies that gave birth to the pogrom called Biafra are roaring alive today, very much alive and hungry for another death of a dream.

In Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie adroitly exposes the near-myth of physical geographic boundaries and sews together new geographic vistas that are not necessarily contiguous, and she challenges the reader to think out of the box of traditional relationships. Yes, the world has changed since Biafra. The reader upon reading the book can feel the palpable and lingering frustration of witnessing the fraying of hurtful memories, of injustices wilting away on the bloodied picket fences of changing boundaries and allegiances. Enemies are marrying enemies, creating new allegiances and new enemies. We do not know our friends, alas.

Adichie may be accused of reaching too much for balance, for objectivity. She is not going to endure herself to Biafra die-hards. This book is definitely not an uncritical sentimental hagiography of Biafra; indeed some people would be displeased at the searing look into the perfidy, the moral and leadership decay within the rank and file of the Biafran army. Adichie exposes the hypocrisy and the self righteousness of those who convinced the populace to go to a war they had no business fighting. Good warriors negotiate from a position of strength. From my perspective, the Biafran war was an unnecessary turkey shoot and Adichie’s story spreads the responsibility for that pogrom to all, not just the Federal side.

Half of a Yellow Sun is perhaps not the definitive book about Biafra. Those interested in an extensive reading on Biafra may do well to also do their own research, starting with the useful glossary of books at the back of Half of a Yellow Sun. War is war, full of broken limbs, bloody calabashes filled with decapitated heads and broken dreams. Adichie is not able to tell us what sets this particular war apart from the others. She does not try to and in a counter-intuitive way, I see this as one of the book’s strengths. Adichie does not try too much to please. The good news is that there is not a shortage of books about Biafra. Dr. Daniel Awduche has compiled a great list. The book’s one strength is that although it is marketed as a book about Biafra, the reader’s senses are assaulted by a panorama of images that envelopes just about every land that is trapped in that country called Nigeria. The book is an amazing journey that is best savored by actually reading it. Regardless, Adichie does a great job of confronting the enigma that was Biafra – in my view, a tragically flawed reaction to a horrid injustice

Adichie’s book is likely to stoke the debate about the use of contrived English to perhaps improved readability in the West and reach a wider market, a debate that was started with the release of Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation. In the book, the hapless character Harrison employs a version of English that is strikingly similar to Iweala’s experiment with rotten, I would say, contrived English in Beasts of No Nation: "You are not knowing how to bake German chocolate cake?" "You are not knowing what is rhubarb crumble?" (p 166) Contrived English trumps Pidgin English one more time. It is mercifully not as cloying, not as annoying as Iweala’s abuse of the technique and Adichie executes it quite well. In a sense, she may have bestowed some credibility to Iweala’s experiment. Regardless once senses that the African writer still struggles to reach a mass market in the West through the use of interesting techniques – for instance Igbo sentences are italicized and immediately translated in English: "Yes! Yes! Ojukwu, nye anyi egbe! Give us guns! Iwe di anyi n’obi! There is anger in our hearts! (p 171).

Adichie does not look back in anger, she does not look back with just a clinical detachment; she makes us look back at history galloping back in fast furious reverse to challenge our current condition. Our collective destiny is history, fast forwarded, in reverse. Adichie’s book challenges us to have courageous conversations and assign responsibilities for the pogrom to all parties so that we may never pass this way again. It is a crying shame that after all these years there are no fitting monuments, no usable museum to the memory of Biafra. Adichie’s book has put all of that to rest. The restless spirits of our victims rustle through the pages of Half of a Yellow Sun. Buy a copy of this epic, read, relax and await yet another coming of our collective poor judgment.

Half of a Yellow Sun hints at shades of everything the reader has experienced, indeed we are the sum of our experiences. There are strong hints of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as the revolution that was Biafra turns into a dog-eat-dog race for survival. In his stirring poetry, the character, Okeoma the poet-warrior bears strong hints of Chris Okigbo:

With the fish-glow sheen of a mermaid,
She appears,
Bearing silver dawn
And the sun attends her,
The mermaid
Who will never be mine."
p 324

In Half of a Yellow Sun, the telling of our story breaks the reader into a thousand emotional pieces. It is like the story teller takes a wooden bat to all of your conscience and exposes you for the fake that you are. I have not felt this way since visiting the Jewish Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and the Hector Petersen Museum in Soweto. This book is a museum. And if you care about Nigeria, you must visit this museum.

I salute you, Chimamanda.

- Ikhide R. Ikheloa

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kongi in Canada

Uncensored - Wole Soyinka et al - Read from works in progress

Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran); Wayson Choy (The Jade Peony); Marina Toews (A Complicated Kindness); and M.G Vassanji (The In-Between World of Vikram Lall).

Friday, October 20, 2006, Convocation Hall, University of Toronto.






Tuesday 17 October 3 p.m.
Dunton Tower 2017
Refreshments to follow

Limited Enrolment: Pre-registration Required
RSVP: Karen Mackinnon at karen_mackinnon@carleton.ca

Sponsored by The Canada Council for the Arts, the President’s Office, The Department of English, the Dean of Arts & Social Sciences, and the Dean of Public Affairs and Administration.


Director of the National Theatre, Ahmed Yerima, won the NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature last weekend, beating his predecessor at the theatre, Femi Osofisan, to the $20,000 award. Yerima pulled it off with his play, Hard Ground, and Kole Ade Odutola's poem below, celebrates the feat.

D. A . Y

Doctor Yerima it's your day.
The rewards of long nights
and no light.
The many reworks of words
and thoughts....
The walk up and down
just to set down the plot.
The days of writer's block
as heavy as Aso Rock,
have now been made up for
by a well deserved solid prize
from the Gas company owned by our country.
Doctor Yerima it's you day
and we all salute you, the son
of him, who once took salutes.

© Kole Ade Odutola
  • Reproduced with permission.

New Reads

In the current issue of the Barcelona Review is a quirky and funny story, Someone to Tell by A-dZiko Simba - a poet and writer of mixed Jamaican/Nigerian parentage. A boy has seen something of such amazing 'incredibleness' that he's dying to find Someone to Tell.

Mary Janga says she will only listen if you tell her dollies too. You are too excited to care. You tell her, "Yes," and you wait for her to line them all up so they can all look in your face and hear what it is you are saying. Now they are ready. Mary Janga and her dollies are all lined up, all ready to listen, except for Floppy Florenzo the Rabbit, who keeps drop­ping over on his face. Mary Janga listens with eyes open big and wide. When you get to the end she makes a face like she is trying to squash it up into a ball and stuff it through a little hole. And then she says, "Yuck!"
Mary Janga is not from planet Earth. An alien spaceship left Mary Janga in your yard one day. She has come from a place where they talk to plastic dollies and they say "Yuck" to incredible stories. One day her people will come back for her and you won't have to put up with this nonsense anymore. You suck your teeth to let her know that you know the spaceship is coming any day now, and then you run inside to tell your mother.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The culture of the London Underground is pretty fascinating in many ways, and it's nice to read fiction about it. Rosie Fletcher's Freedom and the Black Line, published in an Underground Special of Litro, offers interesting insights on stations along the Northern Line. A man on the way to work, misses his stop for now discernible reason. He'll get up at the next stop, he tells himself but it doesn't happen quite like that. For the first time in his life, the man breaks with his hum-drum routine.

Excerpt - The train pulled into Oval. “Non-station, with no connections,” he thought. “Next, Kennington, the gateway to central London. And now we have to sit here for 5 minutes as usual.” The train stayed at Kennington for several minutes, and several people got off and several people got on...

“At Kennington the world was so exciting and so full of possibilities. Whichever choice you made there, you were young enough to know you’d be ok. You weren’t far from the Tube’s birth at Morden. The ends of the line, High Barnet and Edgware, seemed like a world away. You could choose the Bank branch and opt for career, money, fast cars and fast women, or you could follow the Arts, Theatre, Enlightenment, and choose the Charing Cross branch. Whichever choice you made, things were new, and full of bright lights and opportunity.

Kiran Desai

Funny, I was at Waterstones Piccadilly with a Nigerian poet on the night of the Booker (Tuesday 10th October). We stopped before a section stocked with Booker short-listed books and said: gosh, tonight is the night. This led to a short discussion on the likely winner, weighing Kiran Desai's chances against the hot favourite, Sarah Waters. We sort of concluded that Waters was unstoppable, though we'd have loved to see Desai win. The conversation came to interesting light with news of Desai's triumph when I heard the next morning. Waterstones has now gone ahead and slashed the price of her prize-winning book by £7 and according to this newspaper report (right), it's even cheaper at WHSmith. Anyway, my short report on the Booker....

Nine years after Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, India is once again celebrating a Booker Prize winning novel set in the sub-continent. Kiran Desai beat five other writers on the Booker shortlist last week to win the £50,000 prize with her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss. At 35, she is the youngest woman to win, and the latest in what is now being called a tradition of Indian-born Booker winners.

After the critical nods received by her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), Desai dropped off the literary radar, so that when she turned up on the shortlist of this year’s Booker Prize, she did so as a virtual unknown. Being noticed in her own right was never going to be easy, since the name ‘Desai’ would lead most people to think only of her famous mother, Anita Desai - an author of 14 novels.

Announcing the Booker long-list in August, chair of the judges, Hermione Lee, said: "It's a list in which famous established novelists rub shoulders with little known newcomers." Of those that made the short-list, Sarah Waters was widely tipped to win (for The Night Watch). In the end, Kiran Desai, the relative outsider, won. “I think her mother would be proud,” said Lee.

Arriving in London from this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair (which focused on Indian Literature), Desai may have been a first-timer in the Booker razzmatazz, but it was not entirely new to her. She had experienced it vicariously in fact, since her mother Anita has been short-listed three times and failed to win. With the daughter also in the run for this year’s prize, some might have wondered who was living vicariously through whom.

When Desai won on the night, someone would have had to dash to some remote outpost in India to inform her famous mother. Anita Desai - mindful of her own bad luck with the Booker and worried for her daughter - went as far away from means of communication as possible. She was said to be holed up in a small village with no television and no telephone. “I hope she has heard,“ was all Kiran Desai could say, the day after her win.

Born in India, Kiran moved to England with her mother at the age of 14. They eventually relocated to the US, where the new Booker-winner is based. Hardly surprising, the solitude and dislocation endured by migrants are the main themes of The Inheritance of Loss, which took the novelist eight years to write. Her first novel was written in four years; she jokes that, going by her standards so far, the next book could take 16 years.

In the eight years of writing, Kiran Desai found that, not only did publishers and agents lose faith in her (as can happen when the achievement of the first novel is not quickly followed by a second), so did everyone else. “Everyone in my family… was saying, ‘It’s awful, you really have to be responsible, you must get a job,” Desai told the British Press. She praised her mother as the only one who stood by her.

Desai retains her Indian citizenship, though she has lived in the US long enough to become an American citizen. George Bush is one reason why she has hesitated in applying for US citizenship; writing is another, perhaps more fundamental reason. Not only is the younger Desai not enamoured with the American style of writing, she has come to the realisation that: “I see everything through the lens of being Indian. It’s not something that has gone away - it’s something that has become stronger… I have realised that I can’t really write without that perspective.”

The author returned to India to write parts of The Inheritance of Loss. Although she would be heading back to America after her Booker win, Desai indicated that she would have preferred to celebrate where it matters most - in India.

Advanced Nyanshology

That most iconic of Nigerians, the one and only Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, was born on this day in 1938. It is right to celebrate more the life - rather than the death - of a man who like many in the Kuti clan, lives up to the meaning of the family name - 'one who never dies'. In commemoration of the birth of one of the very greatest Nigerians ever, there is something of a cultural event going on in the Nigerian blogsphere. Please see the following posts on The World According to Adaure...

And there's more where these came from, by the look of things...

Akeh, Nwokolo @ the Poetry Cafe

Afam Akeh & Chuma Nwokolo Jr - photographed by MW, October 2005.

--From Sentinel Poetry Movement--

You are invited to the Sentinel-Eastern Light Literary Afternoon organised by Sentinel Poetry Movement and Eastern Light EPM International in celebration of Black History Month.

Agenda includes:
  • Launch of the poetry collection Memories of Stone by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr.,
  • Pre-launch of Letter Home - poems by Afam Akeh
  • Unmasking the future of Sentinel Poetry Quarterly and introduction of the new Editor
  • Open Mike - readings of works by black writers. Readers may read their own works or works by legendary black writers.

Venue: Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London. / Time: 4pm - 6pm

Date: Monday, October 30th, 2006

Entry: FREE

If you would like to read at this event, or require more information please contact: Nnorom Azuonye (Event coordinator) E-mail: sentinel@sentinelpoetry.org.uk / Tel: 07812 755751

Cardinal Place

These pictures refused to go on the preceding post on life in Cardinal Place. 2 or 3 weeks after the fashion show below, it's early October, and office workers poured out of a their floors after a fire alert - and a rain soaked Cardinal Place was what awaited them. Many came prepared, with umbrellas. All part of the cycle of life at Cardinal Place.

Life @ Cardinal Place

This is one of the cheery scenes @ Cardinal Place (a trendy re-developed area of London's Victoria which has seen a wide range of shops and eateries opening up smack in the middle of sober office buildings, transforming workers' lunchtimes) in the summer. These 2 donned the 'shop' and 'go' bag and signal and pranced about, to onlookers' amusement.

One morning in September, I was coming out of Benjy's with my freshly purchased coffee when I heard loud Rock music blaring from the direction of Cardinal place. So I went to have a look. The main walkway had been transformed into a catwalk, with Cardinal Place's green glass sculpture as the backdrop. There were stage lights hanging overhead, stage directors and other fashion people. And of course, the models were strutting their stuff, including children. Naturally, there were cameras about. So I put my coffee to one side and grabbed my camera for some of the action, too.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

In Conversation

Isioma Daniel sends in the following snippet from her conversation with novelist Sefi Atta at last month's Stavanger festival.

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta is one of the best novels written by a Nigerian author I have ever read. Atta writes from a unique point of view – a progressive, middle-class one, and most importantly, Enitan, the narrative’s main character, breaks the mould of what a Nigerian woman should be. I spoke briefly to the author during this year’s Kapittel Literature Festival held in Stavanger, Norway.
- Isioma Daniel

Now, the Q & A...
  • Isioma Daniel: Why did you choose to write about a middle-class Nigerian girl?
  • Sefi Atta: I thought it would be easier to write about what I knew. It was only marginally easier. The middle-class Nigerian experience has really not been examined in our literature and as a reader, I’d always wondered why. As a writer, I have come to realize that publishers overseas are not that interested in stories about privileged cosmopolitan black African characters--or so it seems to me.
  • ID: Would you call your book a feminist novel for Nigerian women?
  • SA: It is a novel for anyone who is interested in reading it.
  • ID: What's your writing process like?
  • SA: I finish my first drafts in three to six months and then revise for years. I wrote my second novel, Swallow, five or six years ago. I started sending it out to publishers this year and it will be published in Nigeria in 2007.
  • ID: Who is/are your audience(s)?
  • SA: I am very much aware of an audience, a world audience. I write so that someone in Ghana might understand or someone in India or someone in Norway. Nigerians are my primary audience though. I always want Nigerians to say of my stories, yes, this is realistic.

Related Post

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More from Stavanger

The group Women's Voice performing at Kapitell's opening ceremony.

Sefi Atta and Isioma Daniel @ the Stavanger Literature Festival in Norway.

'Hottentot' Slur @ Stavanger LitFest

No wonder Benjamin Zephaniah (below at the Stavanger Literature Festival in Norway last month) looks worried. A festival celebrating writers of African descent degenerated into a SlurFest, with the word 'Hottentot' uttered by none other than one of the organisers. And that is not the end of it. Isioma Daniel reports, below.

Benjamin Zephaniah

'Hottentot' Comments Enrage Festival Guests
By Isioma Daniel

Kapittel, the annual literature festival held in Stavanger, Norway, pulled in the biggest names in literature of the African continent.

On the third day of the festival, Birgit Hatlehol enraged many of the visiting black guests when she quoted a line from the Norwegian poet she was introducing. At the small pub, Cementen, British Kat Francois and Linton Kwesi-Johnson had just performed on stage when Hatlehol came on to introduce the Norwegian poet Kjell Vindtorn and used the word ‘hottentotskjørt’ which means ‘hottentot skirt.’

Chris Abani and Russell Banks

Many of the participants were offended by the quote. According to them, several of the Norwegian audience stood up and left the pub, commenting that not all Norwegians share similar views.

Carola D.A Kinshasa of the performance group Women’s Voice was disappointed. ‘I thought this festival was about filling in the gap between our cultures, men now most of the African artistes feel like objects. We are here only because the organisers think it makes the programme look good. All the discussions and seminars have been led by white people talking about Africa, while we’ve been brought here as performers,’ she said.

The festival has included Ben Okri, Benjamin Zephaniah, Uzodinma Iweala, Chris Abani, Sefi Atta and Isioma Daniel. The latter interviewed Sefi Atta on her novel, Everything Good Will Come. Benjamin Zephaniah inspired the black audience living in Norway with a poem about rejecting the media’s negative portrayals of black men and women, ‘Listening to the wrong radio station.’

Hanna Wozene Kvam also reacted strongly to Hatlehol’s words. ‘It was completely inappropriate. There were also several fairly racist comments made back stage. But it’s even worse, when such things are said publicly. Then one has to react,’ she said.

‘Africa and Denmark in Our Hearts’ was the festival’s theme.

Michela Wrong, Marte Michelet, Uzodinma Iweala and Pedro Rosa Mendes.

Thomas Ajamu Prestø, leader of African Youth Norway, said: ‘This is serious, one of the worst things I’ve experienced. One of the artistes was introduced as a clawing wild cat and of another, Hatlehol constantly said she ‘had met hottentots in Africa before.’"

Hatelehol has explained that her comments have been exaggerated and taken out of context.
"‘Wildcat’ was a clumsy translation of an Italian word Ben Okri’s wife had taught me, which she by the way had used on me, and I took it as a compliment and used it on Hannah Wozene Kvam," said Hatlehol.

Hatlehol had also made comments about ‘unreliable African men who have a tendency not to show up.’ She insists that these comments are grounded in what she has experienced while organising the festival.

  • Images - © Isioma Daniel

On That ASAUK Paper

Any 'comment' as long and considered as the below, deserves a post all its own. Toyin Adepoju left the comment on this blog days ago, in response to Muhtar Bakare's paper on publishing in Nigeria...

That paper is most creatively challenging. Inspiring, though perhaps it glosses a little over powerful issues of global economics and artistic taste. I wonder how true it is that Diaspora writers owe their success largely to their Nigerian markets. He also does not go deeply into the question of the difference between literacy per se and the quality and taste of that literacy. Not surprising, since as a a publisher he could be seen as needing to focus on the bottom line of sales and value could be determined in that context by what sells.

I know little about the Nigerian banking industry but I have certainly watched some of the Nigerian home videos. I think I want to ask how we can improve quality while developing a robust sales curve.I hope the videos do become better than the ones I watched the last time, about 3 years ago.

As much as I admire the idea of strategies to capture lucrative domestic markets, I am concerned that the focus on the immediate bottom line of adapting writing to the perceived taste of the reader could leave Nigerian literature and cultural production within a cultural and economic ghetto where it is elated to only by those whose immediate social histories link with it. If we are to move briefly to the bottom line of sales here, one could observe that one reason why American films have such huge success globally is that they are bale to go beyond American and Western social frameworks even though they are rooted in them. This brings me to the point he makes about writers who are lionised in the West but only read only by the intelligentsia in Nigeria. He might be alluding to works like Soyinka’s signature works, which, unlike his comedies require a more dedicated attention, even though the comedies are not what define his genius. Along those lines I remember that some of the worlds greatet works in both science and literature were conceived to appeal to the majority of people and subsequently became iconic-Descartes’ Meditations, which he wrote in French rather than Latin, the then language of scholarship so that "even women could read them” well before the advent of formal female education in Europe, yet it is a seminal work in epistemology or theory of knowledge, Galileo’s Dialogues where he developed novel ideas in cosmology through the dramatic device of dialogue in his native Italian, even though he was convinced that mathematics was central to science but chose dramatic dialogue in those works. Plato’s Dialogues where the most sophisticated philosophical ideas are developed through dialogue, ante’s Comedy which he chose to write in Italian rather than Latin, the then language of learning so his country people could read it.

So, I think I would agree with him about the need to tap more powerfully into the Nigerian market by telling the people stories but I am not fully in agreement with all the details of the home video example of account of the stock character of a number of the themes and styles they demonstrate from my limited knowledge of them. But he has powerful points about the necessity of investment in equipment and remuneration for the right personpower. Another point about strategy his ideas take me to is the question of advertising in publishing. My memory of Nigeria since I left in 2003 was that the video producers advertised but that the publishers did not. TV, radio and stationary ads can do much to sell books by packaging them in ways that make them relevant to potential customers. Other approaches are provided by South African publisher who publishes poetry on table cloth, by the use of chapbook literature,as is done by Penguin, where you can read the texts conveniently in busy busses like those in in Nigeria Another is the little books initiative in publishing works of scholarship, part of a broad range of efforts to introduce sophisticated ideas to wide public this includes children’s books, such as the Ladybird imprint where I first learnt about science, art and history.

One of the economic issues his paper takes my mind to is that about one of the probable economic reasons behind the decline in reading and the rise of the home video market. That is the idea that reading has declined on account of the decline in leisure, whether that leisure is understood in terms of time to relax, free from distracting considerations or in times of even mental freedom understood in terms of free mental space free of worry. Reading can be understood as a more demanding leisure activity than watching films. The latter, therefore, would be a more likely engagement than the former when leisure is chaliced be hostile economic forces that make it costly. But Wang Ning has observed that a similar result emerges in affluent countries where the pace of the capitalist economy reduces the leisure time that would have been used for reading and people now focus more on pictorial data which is easier to assimilate.I wonder, though, how true this is of London where one can often see people reading on the Tube and in parks. But perhaps class comes in here since on account of the cost of the Tube, most people take buses. I rarely see anyone reading on a bus in London. So, perhaps those on the Tube are more likely to be higher income earners who higher educational levels along with the cultural orientations that come with it, are more disposed to ead than most of those who use buses. But then, how much time would a busy City worker or businessperson have to read? So, perhaps we might have a denudation of reading at opposing ends of the social spectrum, with those in the middle, who have the education and taste to ad as well as the freedom from work pressures being those who read most. Still conjectural, though.

Another probable outcome from the economic challenges of the country could be seen as being that the films they watch focus on issues that address the social values and ideas that emerge from their challenged economic situation. So, the films often focus on how money is made through juju. I would like to give more examples of filmic subjects that would support this particular thesis but I can’t think of any right now.

His analysis of the textbook market also takes my mind to the idea that the quality of literacy of the country could be improved and money made in the process by adequate investment in tertiary textbook market. My experience as of 2002 was that new textbboks,most of which were imported were difficult to on account of the currency exchange problem. Some lectures have tried to tap this market, ethically and unethically, the unethical approach being to tie purchase of books to marks. But my experiments have convinced me that student who is convinced about the value of book will buy it even without the threat of sanctions, but motivated by the desire to succeed in the [primary educational purpose of their schooling. What is needed is a market survey to find out those areas that books are particularly scarce and where there is significant demand and produce books accordingly. Scholars can be commissioned to write them. They can also go though a per review process through which they will acquire academic respectability along with their economic value.

These approaches have worked for me using the most rudimentary printting technology. The print run I experimented with was miniscule but the potential market extends all over Nigeria, and is boosted by the emergence of private universities. It also extends into Africa.
The Think tank CODERIA asses Africa as suffering a textbook shortage and sponsors production of textbooks. Since all African countries have adopted the Western educational model, crossing national boundaries will not be a problem. Having made sufficient money with selling textbooks, the publisher could then proceed to publish works that are not directed at simply presenting existing knowledge, like textbooks but are meant to break new ground. This cpuld even operate as a minority strategy from the onset Baraka seems to have done something sim ilar by moving into nonfiction after fiction as in the book on architecture.
Such works generate economic value through indirect long rage process since they signal the scholar sly power of their authors,of the institutions they work in and the institutions and countries where they and had their education. A colleague of mine travelled from Japan to SOAS in London to do an MA and a PHD so as work with Ghanaian lecturer at SOAS on account of the scholars work he student had read.

This ultimately translates into student enrolment from other countries with the multiplier effect that has on local economies, research investment in the locales where those scholars are, which again will affect the local economy and all these fed again into the political for a robust academic market and its possible spin offs-a good number of American companies are university sin off-Google and Yahoo were developed by PhD students at Stanford, which is a matrix for technology companies on account of its closeness to Silicone Valley which was founded by Stanford staff to achieve that very catalytic and synergistic effect. Many more examples could be provided.

Bakare’s paper is truly provocative and inspiring in the cogency of his analysis and the fervour of his vision.

Toyin Adepoju

Monday, October 02, 2006


Film / Text
A rare experimental screening / performance
4 artists explore Identity: Gad Hollander, Michael Horovitz, Mahmood Jamal, Malgorzata Kitowski

Friday October 6th, 8pm
The Artworkers Guild, Bloomsbury
(part of National Poetry Week 2006)

Gad Hollander: “My writing aspires towards the inarticulateness of music & silent film; whereas my films strive to articulate my writing, often in the form of on-screen text or voice-over. Having said that, I don't think I'm best placed to describe my own work. I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm guided by my ear & my eye, and what I know about it comes after the fact, from the work itself. The exception to that rule is that I eschew any political overtness in my work.”

Poetry Olympics torchbearer Michael Horovitz will perform excerpts from A New Waste Land (New Departures #23-24), and present footage of his William Blake Klezmatrix band, featuring songs, verse & music by Shakespeare, Blake, Annie Whitehead, Pete Lemer, Horovitz, & their fellow jazz & blues troubadours. Music / text / identity.

Mahmood Jamal´s work speaks of division and its consequences. His visualised poems include Nostalgia, a piece examining identity. Information about his latest book.

Malgorzata Kitowski, author of Doppelgangers, will screen a selection of cut-up poems turned into films, and read text from Nuggets, a sequence about synchronicity. Her work looks at the ineffable and the point where language fails – how do we use language to construct identity, and how can we communicate the incommunicable, short of resorting to telepathy?

The Artworkers Guild, 6 Queen Square , Bloomsbury, London .
Tubes: Holborn / Russell Square .

Tickets £8. Seating is very limited and expected to sell out quickly so please reserve in advance by emailing INFO@POETRYFILM.ORG

Best regards,

On yer Updike!

He is so 'out there', you're almost taken aback when you see his profile on 'a life in writing' -one of the new features of the Review section of the fairly new look UK Guardian. Was one required? you ask yourself. Still, what can it hurt? You delight in reading one more thing about Salman Rushdie anyway, even when you've read nearly all there is to read about the man.

The author of Midnight's Children, starts with an 'On Yer Bike!' broadside on John Updike, who questioned, in a review of his latest work, Shalimar the Clown, "Why, oh why, did Salman have to call one of his major characters... Maximillian Ophuls?"

Rushdie sniffs: "A name is just a name. 'Why, oh why ... ?' Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike'. The thing that disappointed me most about Updike is that he did not say in that review that he had just completed a novel about terrorism. He had to sweep me out of the way in order to make room for himself. I don't subscribe to the very predominantly English admiration of Updike. If you take away Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, and some of the short stories, there's a lot of ... slightly ... garbage. Think of The Coup! The new one [Terrorist] is beyond awful. He should stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do."

Ouch! Rushdie adds: "I'm allowed to say it, because he was really rude about me."

The piece continues on the self-confessed 'translated' man, Rushdie, whose "literary enthusiasms embrace problematical writers - from a colonial point of view - such as Conrad and Kipling. "Lord Jim is a book that I kind of hated but couldn't get out of my head. The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' is awful, but unforgettable." Similarly, he has had "many of the difficulties with Kipling that a lot of people from India have, but every true Indian reader knows that no non-Indian writer understood India as well as Kipling. As a child I loved the Jungle Books, long before I realised that there were ideological problems with them. If you want to look at the India of Kipling's time, there is no writer who will give it to you better."

Rushdie is pleased his work has had an impact, but he insists that books don't save the world; when he is writing, he simply aims for the modest goal as any other writer - to make the story work.

Wrongs of Shakespearean Proportions

I don't read The Voice newspaper (the leading black newspaper in the UK) much; I probably should. The other week, I was in a nearby cornershop for some emergency household supplies and paying by the till, I saw The Voice and without further thought, added it to my shopping basket.

The main reason I bought the paper was the fact that it had on the cover the face of Trevor Phillips (a face I don't ever like seeing) with the bold headline EQUAL WRONGS. The Voice hit the perfect note for me, in its unequivocal damning of the decision by Tony Blair's government to appoint Phillips, a former broadcaster who has had an astronomical rise under the Labour Party's rule, for reasons that should give right thinking people of black and other ethnic minority groups serious pause. In my view, Trevor Phillips was never that great a broadcaster anyway. He was, apart from Trevor McDonald, one of the few black presenting faces on British Television in the late 80s and early 90s. There not being many to choose from, Trevor Phillips, in my view, was a natural choice whenever programmes about the black community were to be presented. It did not mean that he was the best person. I never saw anything to make me think he was a Bernie Grant or Darcus Howe who, love them or hate them, had/have clear convictions, especially on the issue of race in Britain.

I don't know what led anyone to think Trevor Phillips was any kind of flag bearer for the black community. But Tony Blair came into power and Phillips was transformed into just what, in my view, he was not. After the resignation of the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the charismatic Gurbux Singh, Trevor Phillips was the shock replacement, in January 2003, of this important organisation, which was supposed to be the watchdog of the rights of ethnic minorities in Britain - in employment and other areas where equality under the law is essential.

What happened under Phillips, was a watering down of the effect of the CRE. Worse, Phillips began to mouth off ideas that would not have been out of place coming from right wing groups. According to Trevor Phillips, the fact that 'this county' lost Shakespeare is a tragic thing. Who told him that Shakespeare's 'world heritage' status in literature represents a loss to Britain? In what way is the bard lost? It is one of the milder declarations of this man, whose idea of 'Britishness' requires that people completely blend in, indistinguishable by their cultural backgrounds, forget their attachments to wherever they come from. He in/famously attacked Multiculturalism, saying it had no place in today's British society. London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, gave a furious dressing down to Phillips over his anti-multiculturalism views; when the white Livingstone is the one having to defend multiculturalism, against the poison of the black Phillip, one gets to thinking. I see Ken Livingstone on the London Underground (the Jubilee Line) regularly. I've never seen Trevor Phillips and don't wish to. I know which of these two men I'd rather drink tea with.

When Benjamin Zephaniah threw the Queen's conferment of an OBE back, saying: "Stick it, Mrs. Queen," he wrote about his reasons for rejecting the 'honour' in the Evening Standard. Trevor Phillips rushed a piece into the same paper days later, to attack Zephaniah's stance. I shook my head.

And now, Blair's government has had the bright idea of replacing the CRE with the new 'Commission for Equalities and Human Rights' - more power but completely compromised effectiveness in fighting for minority groups in Britain. And guess who is the leader? Trevor Phillips. All the stakeholders, including London Mayor Livingstone, Black & Ethnic Minority grougps, Liberty groups, Gay groups - are seriously concerned.

"It's a terrible decision," - says the National Assembly Against Racism. "It's absolutely disgraceful," says the Mayor. You can say that again, Mr. Livingstone.

And to the powers that be, an appointment that heralds a huge setback for non-white peoples in Britain cannot be a racist decision since the person being used - is a black man. Use the Brother to keep the brothers and sisters down. The old trick is as effective as ever.

  • I enjoyed reading my edition of The Voice, including (see the pic) an article informing us that a 'Nigerian makes history' playing a Shakespearean king on the British stage. The article, written by Uchenna Izundu (herself of Nigerian extraction) celebrates David Oyelowo's part as Henry VI onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. What I don't understand is, why The Voice is only just waking up to the 'historical' relevance now. David Oyelowo (who recently appeared on the TV show, Shoot The Messenger which led to much public comment on black-on-black racism in the UK; I missed the programme, which may not be a bad thing) 'made' the 'history' at least 2 or 3 years ago as the first 'black actor' (no mention of 'Nigerian', at the time; in fact The Voice is the first to identify him as such, that I'm aware) to play Henry. He is merely reprising his role in the new production. Something awfully belated about The Voice's proclamation concerning Oyelowo, therefore.

Darfur Down

My Endgame in Darfur post the other week generated quite of few comments on Renegade Eye's blog - some negative, some positive. One of the 'comments' is this poem, Darfur Down, by the man behind the blog, Poetic Justice - Dont burn the flag. Wash it!

Darfur Down

The plains are quiet under the forlorn Sudan
The people wilt like flowers planted beneath the sand
From rape and murder and starvation

Of unfed mouths
Unfed hope

Consumed by the Janjaweed
Ravaged by the Baggara
Descendents of grand tribes

And moving

Roving the sands
And hopeless sun
Stopping only to
Plant gardens

Push the black seed

Into the empty guts
Of Darfur



The hunters raid
The rapists thieve
The murderers slay
Lacerating fatality

Upon the child’s teeth

Upon the mother’s bones

Upon the father’s strapped back


A growing lossInfection
The seeds of genocide


The zenith of rot
Rising down
Now a wailing

O! Baggara!
O! Janjaweed!
O! America!
O! World!

Tempests of butchery
And burials

Burials don’t rise

Burials don’t sprout up like flowers

Blooming to fragrant air

Burials grow

Into the dark

The deep fetid dwelling
Of hopelessness

Of greed

Of starvation

Of shrieking hell

Of the decomposing stench
Heaving Heaving Heaving
Down Down Down
Swelling upon the child’s lips

Across the mother’s breasts

Through the father’s hands

Over the nation’s love

Upon the world’s hope


© mrp / thepoetryman

  • Reproduced with permission