Writings of the general word's body

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To Labadi

My short-short story, A Gong to the Past (left), published in the new ('Freedom') issue of Calabash Magazine.
A Gong to the Past is based on a little gem of a historical snippet I heard last year about a place in Ghana called Labadi. Apparently Labadi was so named because the locals' sabotaged plans to build a slave fort on their land during the Triangular Trade.
However, whilst the bit about the slave fort is based on fact, everything else weaved around it in the story is completely made up.
I do remain fascinated by the history of Labadi, and will continue to dig. I have not read any reference to the slave fort sabotage anywhere. If any readers know more, do please share.

Habila Tours 6 Nigerian States - November 07

Press Release

Caine Prize winner Helon Habila is due in Nigeria for a six-city reading tour from the 17th to 26th of November 2007. The tour is expected to take Habila to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Nasarawa, Jos and Gombe. It will feature readings from Nigerian editions of his latest book, Measuring Time, and the award-winning Waiting for an Angel.
Helon Habila was the first Nigerian writer to gain international recognition after the Abacha regime and is the leading figure in the new crop of Nigerian writers that have been feted and celebrated all over the world. Since the launch of his latest book Measuring Time to critical acclaim in February this year, Habila has embarked on a world tour, reading to packed audiences at all the major literary festivals. Helon has chosen to end his tour in Nigeria in order to celebrate his 40th birthday in the land that gave birth to his creativity and is the subject of all his writing to date.
The Nigerian tour, organised by Habila’s Nigerian publishers Cassava Republic Press will include public book signings, private reading and writing workshops. The reading tour will be supported by poets and singers.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo
For Cassava Republic Press
0803, 5909 778,


  • Image: Cassava Republic

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More Than Just A Widow's Mite

On 25th October, 2007, three writers would emerge in Abuja as winners of a brand new literary contest. Almost four months ago, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, proposed to the Executive Secretary of the Federal Judicial Service Commission, Hajiya Bilkisu A. Bashir, to consider endowing a prize for Hausa literature in memory of her husband who had died in October, 2006. In a country where values have not just been misplaced but turned totally upside down, the Association was pleasantly surprised when Hajiya Bilkisu agreed to immortalise her husband through a prize for Hausa literature.

The Engineer Mohammed Bashir Karaye Prize for Hausa Literature will run in a three-year cycle covering fiction, poetry and drama. For starters, the top three contestants would share three hundred thousand naira. The first place winner gets one hundred and fifty thousand, the second collects one hundred thousand, while the third receives a consolatory fifty thousand naira. This too is unique in the annals of the country’s literary prizes because usually, including the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Literary Prize, the top winner carts all the money home and the runners-up don’t even get a handshake from the organisers. The approach adopted for the new Hausa literary contest will hopefully make the competition keener.

The Mohammed Bashir Karaye Prize is also significant because it is the first non-governmental intervention in the history of Hausa literary contests. Indeed the growth of Hausa literature seems to have been largely propelled, with one significant exception which shall be addressed later, by literary contests. The first competition took place during the colonial era. In 1933, the Education Department of Northern Nigeria, through the Zaria-based Translation Bureau headed by Rupert East, organized a creative writing contest in Hausa. The records show there were only five entries in manuscript format but this small field would provide the formative canon of imaginative prose-writing in Hausa. One of the writers, Abubakar Imam, would eventually have a dominant effect not only on Hausa literature, but also on the use of Hausa language in journalism.

The five entries were Bello Kagara’s Gandoki, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Shaihu Umar, Muhammadu Gwarzo’s Idon Matanbayi, John Tafida’s Jiki Magayi and Abubakar Imam’s Ruwan Bagaja. Of the lot, Imam’s entry stood out and he was encouraged to put together a collection of stories which after several revisions appeared as the three-volume classic, Magana Jari Ce. The momentum generated by the contest led to the establishment of a publishing house - the famous Gaskiya Corporation, a newspaper (“ Gaskiya Tafi Kobo”), and the publication in the 50s of three novellas; Ahmadu Ingawa’s Iliya Dan Maikarfi, Garba Funtuwa’s Gogan Naka and Ahmadu Katsina’s Sihirtaccen Gari. From the 60s to the 70s, Gaskiya Corporation (later to become the Northern Nigerian Publishing Company) would publish four more novellas reminiscent of the pioneering five. These novellas were Sa’idu Ahmed’s Tauraruwar Hamada, Jabiru Abdullahi’s Nagari Na Kowa, Umaru Dembo’s Tauraruwa Mai Wutsiya and Dare Daya.

Another defining period was triggered by two contests that ran almost at the same time. In 1979 the Northern Nigeria Publishing Company organized a contest and got twenty-two entries out of which half were rejected. The top three entries were Suleiman Ibrahim Katsina’s Mallakin Zuciyata, Hafsatu Abdulwahid’s So Aljannar Duniya and Magaji Danbatta’s Amadi Na Malam Amadu. The next year a contest in some Nigerian languages was organised by the Federal Department of Culture with manuscripts as the entry format. Suleiman Ibrahim Katsina once again led the pack in the Hausa category with Turmin Danya. Three other noteworthy manuscripts were Musa Mohammed Bello’s Tsumangiyar Kan Hanya, Bature Gagare’s Karshen Alewa Kasa and Manir Mohammed’s Zabi Naka.

The two post-colonial contests heralded the emergence of a significant novelist, Suleiman Ibrahim Katsina. He would consolidate his prominence with a third novel in 1983 titled Tura Ta Kai Bango, a work described as radically different in content from the typical Hausa novel. The contests also signaled the arrival not only of female writers, but also of the love theme that would be the fulcrum for “Soyayya Novellas” boom in Kano and some other major Northern Nigerian towns. The preoccupation of these novellas, mostly written by women, with “love, passion, and the power relations between men and women” , as Graham Furniss has put, has generated much controversy. This is to be expected since traditionalists and purists are unsettled by the uncompromising reflection of contemporary existence.

The emergence of a new Hausa literary contest, this time emphasising published works rather than manuscripts, creates a number of challenges. First, publishing will be taken more seriously as the contest openly demands that entries must be well produced. Second, writers will need to be more skillfull in the realisation of their stories, poems and plays, so that the handling of contemporary issues will have more depth and the storylines will have realistic but imaginative motivations. Third the consistency of the contest may attract a variety of contests with even more lucrative prizes. The maiden award features a launching to sustain the funding, and a lot of heavyweights in government and business have promised to support the endowment, with the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Lawal Uwais giving the keynote address. If this becomes a watershed in the development of Hausa literature, then the Engineer Mohammed Bashir Karaye Prize for Hausa Literature will be more than just a widow’s mite.

Emman Usman Shehu
*Published in his GRAFFITI column, page 37, Leadership Newspaper, October 19,2007.
  • Shortlisted writers: Maje El-Hajeej for Kankana; Ibrahim Sheme for Yar Tsana; and Balaraba Ramat Yakubu for Matar Uba Jaraba.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Joe Guy

Tiata Fahodzi brings it's production of Roy Williams' play, Joe Guy, to the Soho Theatre, London, from 23 October to 24 November. The play is directed by Tiata Fahodzi's Femi Elufowoju Jr, who commissioned Williams to write a play about African and Caribbean tensions in the UK. In an interview with Africa Beyond, the director explains why...

What do you mean by the African Caribbean divide?
There has been a notion of inferiority and superiority between the races. We, as people, have found different reasons to not get on and there has been an intellectual debate about who sold who out. When I was growing up in the UK I was told to go back to my own country and Caribbeans told me to go back to the jungle; Africa was a prehistoric place that stood still in time immemorial.

So relations haven’t improved since you were a child over 40 years ago?
Kids think that to be African is a stigma and feel they need to be more streetwise or ‘urban’ so they recondition themselves. Brian, from Big Brother, is a modern Joe Guy. He is of Nigerian descent and had to pass the truth or dare test on the show. Big Brother asked him whether his real name was Olawale Belo and he burst into tears and asked “How could you do this to me? My name is Brian!”

My eight year old son recently came home crying “Janet called me an African!” And the girl who did that was passing herself off as Caribbean, but she’s Nigerian too like me. Somehow she thinks that being Caribbean means being a better person. There’s a problem and a need to educate our children that to come from Africa is not a bad thing. In the play Africans are victims: some of it is inflicted and circumstance also plays a role. We conform and feel we have to change our name.

FWords & Caryl Phillips

FWords: Creative Freedom...

Caryl Phillips headlines an event presenting new work from 6 Yorkshire based writers of African & Asian descent responding to the theme of Freedom.

Featuring Jack Mapanje, Rommi Smith, Simon Murray, Seni Seniviratne, Khadijah Ibrahiim, Tanya Chan-Sam, FWords is @ the Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Square, Leeds LS1. Time: 7pm / Date: Tuesday 23 October 2007.

Caryl Phillips will read from his new book, Foreigners, at the special one-off event. Everyone in attendance gets a free copy of the FWords Anthology with an introduction by Caryl Phillips and a set of limited edition postcards on the works of 2 visual artists, Fosuah Andoh & Seyi Ogunjobi.

Bookings: 0113-22423801 / Info from Kadija George: 0113-245-1703

Monday, October 15, 2007


The mirth of June pilgrims
gladdens your century of sorrow
your old heart cloys
your household gods stir
to bless Kunta's ghost
the pains of your
bruised birth
vigorous to scoop away
the silt of your river
the rites of your disintegrated womb
once more observed.

© Mariama Khan

  • Juffure is taken from Mariama Khan's poetry collection, Futa Toro; used with permission.

  • About Juffureh

  • Mariama Khan photographed by MW in Bakau, The Gambia, 15 July 2007.

Kalabash Nigeria - 18 October

Programme Info

Awareness through documentary films and music

Thursday 18th October
7pm - 2am@ The Salmon and Compass

58 Penton Street, Angel, N1 9PZ

Upstairs 7pm FILM 1: Music Is The Weapon –Dir Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori. 1982, 53 mins. This documentary gives a rare insight into the public and private life of composer, Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938-1997). The interviews cover his resistance to the Nigerian regime, his controversial polygamous lifestyle and an exploration of the political context of his work.

8pm FILM 2: Nigeria’s Oil War Foreign Correspondent 2005, 18 mins
The Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force has brazenly stolen oil straight out of pipelines owned by some of the world’s biggest multinationals. The vast Niger Delta where they operate holds an estimated three percent of the world's oil. This well organized crime gang has become a key player in the world’s most strategically important industry. Recently the price of oil rose to a record $50 a barrel when the market panicked after they threatened to cut-off the flow of oil.

8.20pm FILM 3: Suffering and Smiling - Dir Dan Ollman, Nigeria/USA 2006, 65 mins.
Focusing on Fela Kuti and his son Femi, Suffering and Smiling depicts the impact of their politically charged music. Following Nigeria's independence in 1960, Fela used his songs to speak out against the country's corrupt leaders. Since independence the military and political elite have enriched themselves by allowing Nigeria's oil and natural resources to be stripped by multinational corporations with little benefit to ordinary Nigerians. Fela gave voice to Nigeria's disenfranchised underclass and sang of a free and united Africa. Since Fela's death, Femi has continued the legacy. Equally passionate and charismatic, he asks why the world's most resource-rich continent has the poorest people, and carries a vision of better days ahead for the people of Nigeria.

9.30pm Q&A & film discussion with Eki from ALISC, Molara Wood, Ben Amunwa (Remember Sarowiwa) The African Liberation Support Campaign Network (ALISC) is a democratic organisation led by Africans fighting oppression and tyranny in Africa, and racism in the West. Molara Wood is an independent Nigerian journalist (
www.molarawood.blogspot.com)Remember Saro-Wiwa uses public art and events to raise awareness about London's social and ecological impact on the Niger Delta. (www.remembersarowiwa.com) Ken Lewis-Allagoa is Niger Delta lawyer and activist.

MUSIC Downstairs 10.15pm:
Live Performance from INEMO (Black Mango Music)- "Afro Funky Beats" OUT NOW on Black Mango Music: Inemo Samiama describes himself as representing a new generation of African musicians. From his earliest years Inemo was shaped and influenced by music. His father taught him to play, and at the age of 18 he formed the group Jah Stix with Majek Fashek. Debut album ‘Bushman’ (Mercury/Universal) mixed African melodies with techno, hip-hop, jungle, dub and ambient sounds. Following this huge success, Inemo was nominated for an RFI (Radio France Industry) Music Award as Best World Music Artist. Inemo has now decided to return to his roots. After three years of composing, recording and traveling between London, Paris and Africa, Inemo is back with a new album, Afro Funky Beats. With this album, Inemo demonstrates that his music can reinvent and enrich itself with new sounds, just like Fela Kuti, Salif Keita and Angelique Kidjo have done before him.

Then SPECIAL GUEST PA from UK Hip Hop legend BLAK TWANG:
Over a decade has passed since BLAK TWANG'S first ever foray into the British music scene. His most recent single is the head pounding, socially driven 'Help Dem Lord' from his forthcoming album 'Speakin From Xperience'. Born to Nigerian parents and growing up in South London, he is undoubtedly a pioneer of Hip Hop maintaining an infallible recognition of his roots in cultivating his own identity.

11.30pm-12.30: DJ ILKA: German born and raised but South London based for more than 15 years now, Ilka started djing in 2005. Her selection includes all things funky and African such as Coupe Decale, Kwaito, Afrobeat, Zouglou, Soukous, Naija Pop and more, but also the occasional Soca, Dancehall and Champeta as well as other global beats. As a freelance music publicist, Ilka works with labels like Out Here Records (Bassekou Kouyate), Analog Africa, Afrolution Records and Because Music as well as with artists directly, targeting specialist, BME (black minority ethnic) and mainstream media. Ilka is the content editor of the BBC's African music site Africa On Your Street
and she manages UK-based Nigerian hip-hop group JJC & 419 Squad and Lagos- based Reggae artist African China.

Downstairs Bar till 2am:
Afro-beats and grooves hosted by Kalabash Movement Resident DJs Supa Scion & Springfield

  • Kalabash World is an organisation that seeks to promote awareness through film and music. Each event is designed to encourage recognition of the rich diversity between African Nations, to celebrate cultural heritage and explore socio-political situations. We aim to give a platform to Musicians and Independent film makers and encourage a wider audience to appreciate their works. Enquiries to info@kalabashmovement.com

Discussion with Monica Arac de Nyeko

Yesterday I anchored the 'In Conversation with Monica Arac de Nyeko' session during the Word Power Book Fair. Above right, the winner of the 2007 Caine Prize for African Writing - reads from her award winning story, 'Jambula Tree' - about the so-called 'taboo' lesbian relationship between two girls, and the price they have to pay in their unforgiving community. After her reading I engaged the Ugandan writer on her writing. She also took questions from the audience.

Among the audience were writers including: 2004 Caine Winner Brian Chikwava, Chika Unigwe (who was on the 2004 Caine shortlist with de Nyeko & Chikwava), ANA President Wale Okediran (on a visit from Nigeria, he attended both days of the book fair), Koye Oyedeji, Delia Jarrett-Macauley (author of 'Moses, Citizen and Me') and Dr. Vincent Magombe (earlier in the day I sat with Magombe on a panel, 'Focus on African Literature' - chaired by Jarrett-Macauley).


Q & A With the Audience

Dr Wale Okediran: Monica I’d just like to say: Congratulations. Like you I’m from Nigeria where the issue of same sex relationships is being hotly debated. My question is whether you wrote the story [Jambula Tree] with the Caine Prize in view, like some do when they want to write for a Western audience, they try to write what [Western readers] like. Would you have been able to publish this in Uganda?

Monica Arac de Nyeko: I believe good stories are always being published, and sometimes good stories do not get published. So in that sense, yes. When we [FEMRITE members] first started writing, people were saying: ‘You’re women for God’s sakes, what do you think you are writing?’ But, NO, I did not write the story with the Caine Prize in mind. I think if you write with competitions in your head then you’re going to be one very sad writer because they’re not very easy to win anyway.

Dr Vincent Magombe [exiled for over 20 years from Uganda because “I dared to write a play about Idi Amin”]: Noted de Nyeko’s reticence about being a ‘voice’ for community or nation, but suggested that in recognition that fellow scribes have suffered for a better society, there ought to be conviction in today’s writers to say: I have to do something about this situation [MW paraphrases Magombe].

Monica Arac de Nyeko: I think it’s a very difficult thing, to take on a voice and to defend a particular community, because the assumption has been that people who are suffering do not have voices. But I do not think that’s always true. For instance, in Northern Uganda people are telling stories. You have kids who are painting; you have people who are very vocal on radio stations. People are talking about it and people are not silent. But [as for me taking on their voices] NO, I do not think I can because, you know, it would be a pretence, to understand, or to feel completely that I can represent... Unless you’ve lived it, every minute, unless your legs are being chopped off, unless you’re being raped. It’s a reality, and you cannot pretend to be in someone’s shoes. I do not want to pretend that it’s something I can do, because I can’t. What I can do is try to understand it; and writing is my way of doing it.

South African writer in the audience: Asked if the writer feels it’s necessary to defend ‘Jambula Tree’ or any other story, to let readers know what the intention is, in writing the work [paraphrased].

Monica Arac de Nyeko: I don’t think it’s necessary to defend a story. Once you ask people to read your story, I think you have to understand that they have different experiences and maybe their reading of [the story] is completely different. If I wanted to, I could go around writing Reading Guides saying: this is how you ought to understand it, but it’s much more complex. I think part of the joy of whole thing is that people take it and are free to choose, to interpret or misinterpret it however... that is much more interesting, to me. Another thing is that when I write, I am very sure this is what I want the character to do sometimes, but when people interpret it, then I’ll say: that’s interesting! So I think it’s a sort of learning and re-learning.

Black Brit Lit

Focus on Black British Literature: L-R... Simi Bedford (Not With Silver), Stephen Thompson (Meet Me Under The Westway), Margaret Busby, Dreda Say Mitchell (Killer Tune) & Alex Wheatle (Island Songs).
Chaired by Busby, the panel sat yesterday to discuss Black British Writing. It was the second day of the Word Power Book Fair, held @ the Arsenal Stadium, London.
  • Image by MW; 14 October 2007
  • Calabash Magazine (right), special Word Power edition.

Gambian Women's Voices

Nawal El Saadawi is the Spotlight Writer for the new issue of the SABLE Litmag of New Writing - out now. The 142-page publication includes an extract from Sefi Atta's second novel, Swallow, to be published by Farafina in December. There's plenty of fiction, poetry, interviews, reviews, columns - and an essay on Gambian Women's Voices by Rosamond S. King. The Fulbright Scholar was at the Sable Litfest in The Gambia in July.

Excerpt from Rosamond S. King's essay, as presented at the Litfest

Gambian literature and Gambian women’s literature both begin in an unlikely place: Boston, in the British colony of Massachusetts, in 1773. There Phillis Wheatley, “a native African and a slave,” published the celebrated book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Over time Wheatley has become an important figure for many reasons. She was the first African-American to publish a book of poems, and the second person in the US colonies to publish a poetry collection – a remarkable feat for a slave. Gambians claim her largely because of her reference to “the pleasing Gambia” river in her poem “Phillis’ Response to the Answer.”

Most of Wheatley’s works are occasional poems (e.g. “On the Death of the Rev. Dr. Sewell” and “To a Lady, on her remarkable Preservation in a Hurricane, in North Carolina”) or on noncontroversial topics such as Biblical stories, virtue, and nature. We can only surmise whether these themes were those that inspired her or those she felt would please her patrons – and whether she wrote any other poems that were not shared or published. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that anyone in The Gambia – then a colony contested by England and France – had heard of the young poet. And it would be almost 200 years before another Gambian woman published a book.

In 1968, Augusta Mahoney’s play The Rebellion appeared, and neither the title nor the content mince words. Nysata is a teenager in a rural village where her father is chief. With palpable anger, she fights to continue her education rather than being married to a man of her parents’ choosing. Nysata complains that women are men’s “slaves” and resents their traditional power. The father eventually relents – not because of his daughter’s efforts, but because of his surprising encounter with a female physician. Mahoney may have feared that The Rebellion was ahead of its time (or perhaps that it was too incendiary a book for the wife of The Gambia’s first president), because she published it under a pseudonym. While the play was reviewed in Gambian newspapers when it appeared, since then it has fallen into obscurity. The book is long out of print and usually off the radar of scholars who argue over who the 1960s “father” of Gambian literature is, without realizing that it could have a “mother.”

While in the 1970s Ndaanan, The Gambia’s first and only professional literary journal, published several short pieces by women, it was not until recently that more Gambian women have published their creative work. The relatively low numbers of published Gambian women are the result of both gendered and less-gendered factors. Many rural Gambian families preferred to marry young daughters off and collect their dowries than to spend money sending them to school. Thankfully, a joint effort between the Gambian government and private NGOs has made primary school tuition free for all Gambian girls. Still, the national literacy rate – for men and women – hovers around only 30%. Assuming a girl learns how to read, and that marriage, motherhood, and work (in or outside of the home, or on the farm) leave her time to write, publishing is still both rare and difficult in The Gambia. The majority of Gambian titles are self-published, which means that only individuals with access to tens of thousands of dalasis can afford to print their work. And submitting one’s work to foreign publishers requires access to information and contacts that may be even more rare than wealth for most Gambians. (Hopefully SABLE’s International Literary Festival will help change this situation by encouraging foreign and Gambian authors to dialogue with each other.)

In the last 15 years, several Gambian women have overcome these challenges to make more of their writing available to the public. Here I will focus on a few significant contemporary women’s voices in fiction, poetry, and drama. Sally Sadie Singateh wrote the novel Christie’s Crisis in diaries when she was a teenager. Her mother found the manuscript and helped her daughter publish it with a press in Kenya. The publisher promptly requested two related books to create a trilogy of young adult novels (the second, Baby Trouble, was just released in Nairobi). But The Sun Will Soon Shine, an unrelated novel, shows Singateh’s mature voice. Fortunately for non-Gambian readers, it is available through London’s Athena Press. This coming-of-age novel sensitively portrays a young girl who undergoes marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) at a young age. She sinks into depression and isolation, but eventually is able to become educated and happy, married to a man of her own choice.

After spending her professional life traveling around the world, Gambian Janet Badjan-Young retired to her native country ten years ago, and has focused her time on bringing her own and other dramatists’ plays to the Gambian stage. Her plays typically incorporate traditional and contemporary music and dance, as well as drama. With her dynamic work, she creates performances that are very well-received, even though she takes on controversial themes. For instance, The Ultimate Inheritance addresses HIV/AIDS and traditional Muslim inheritance laws, while The Hand of Fate tackles child marriage and poverty. Young, like most Gambian writers, believes that good writing must have a message for its audience. Hopefully her important messages will continue to be heard for years to come.

Mariama Khan is a promising new voice in Gambian poetry. Her first book, Futa Toro, is named after the Fula’s ancestral homeland – and indeed many of her poems focus on ethnic pride. But Khan addresses a wide range of themes. She shares with other Gambian women authors a compulsion to critique oppressive aspects of motherhood and marriage while acknowledging that both can be loving, nurturing experiences. For instance, “Bed Time Trail” is a touching portrait of a mother giving in to her sleepy son – “And I know every night/I cannot cheat him his time/my chores are defeated by his lobbies.” And “Fort Kaba,” in a style that echoes jali’s traditional praisinging, poignantly asks a husband to partner with his wife in their love. Khan is currently studying for a literature degree, an experience that will undoubtedly contribute to the breadth and maturity of her work.

Readers and critics often assume that writing by women is the same as writing about women. Costly Prices, by Ramathoulie Othman, disproves that stereotype. Othman’s novel focuses on young Gambian men who befriend and/or have sex with European tourists in the hopes of receiving money or visas. In The Gambia these men are known as “bumsters” because they “bum” money off of foreigners. But in addition to portraying the “new” sex tourism, the book is also about friendship and betrayal. Stylistically, Othman’s book is similar to the highly dramatic Nollywood films that are so popular in The Gambia and throughout West Africa and its diaspora.

So is Gambian women’s literature descriptive of its social and political context or prescriptive, portraying society as the authors want it to be? In a way, the texts are both. They describe the challenges women face in their families and communities, especially to delay marriage and become educated. But in collectively portraying women who want to change gender oppression and communities which eventually support those changes, the authors also provide a prescription of sorts. They suggest first methods for achieving change in women’s lives, and second that what a woman’s life can look like after that change is achieved. In the end, the female protagonists are happy and confident – and they are willing to get married, have children, and fulfill traditions that do not endanger their bodies or intellects. Furthermore, the plays and novels strongly imply that younger women and girls will benefit from individual women’s successes because the latter will have to fight those particular issues less or not at all.

Most Gambians put everything printed in book form under the title literature. With this definition in mind, we must mention historians Dr. Florence Mahoney and Patience Sonko-Godwin, two female scholars who also do not restrict their writing to women. Dr. Mahoney’s Stories of Senegambia was one of the first histories of The Gambia from a non-colonial point of view. She is also probably the first Gambian woman to receive a Ph.D. Her new book on the history of the Aku promises to be another must-read. Sonko-Godwin’s Leaders of the Senegambian Region and Ethnic Groups of the Senegambian Region also significantly contribute to the field. All of these books are regularly referenced by students and researchers. (And, unfortunately, all are often plagiarized and sold illegally within the country.) All deserve a broader audience beyond The Gambia.

Rosamond S. King, Ph.D
  • Dr King received a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake research into Gambian literature.

Nobel Lessing

Hooray for Doris Lessing getting the Nobel Prize

She was one of my favourite writers in the 1970s and one of the people who really bolstered my sense of womanhood in those glory days.

Lessing was described by the Swedish Academy as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". She is only the 11th woman to get the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dr Judith Buckrich

Chair, International PEN Women Writers’ Committee

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Reads

The new issue of African Writing is now online, in a bumper package that you will read and read and read and hardly ever finish. Literary news, interviews, profiles, fiction, poetry, reviews, and stunning visual art. And where do we start with the contributors? Best not to start.
Let's just have a look at the fiction - 15, yes that's 15, short stories by contributors including Courttia Newland, Nii Ayikwei-Parkes, Kola Boof and Akin Adesokan.
In Dike Chukwumerije's Bus 73, a white man and a black woman regularly take the same bus at the end of the working day in North London. They are familiar in a way that only strangers who have never spoken can be. He is lonely, she is lonely. Each wonders if the other can fill the hole in his/her life. Does he have a name she can fit in her mouth, she wonders. Would she fit in at his mother's dinner table? The reader is on tenterhooks, reads with trepidation, wondering if the 'lovers' will find it within them to breach the gulf of loneliness.
Here's an excerpt...
I wonder how my name would sound on his lips. She shakes her head at the persistence of her obsession. I must be lonelier than I thought. I wonder how my name would sound on his lips. Most probably, he would draw it out, misplace the intonations. I’ll teach him. My man must call my name right. I can’t have him calling me a flea bag instead of a precious stone. Different intonation, different meaning.

That’s what I fear about being with a white person; the nuances I would have to enjoy alone, the shaded meanings I would have to explain. She feels like she is talking out loud. And the music. Would he understand the drums? What would she do if he could not dance with his waist? This is madness, all these thoughts. But she found it interesting, talking to this white man in her head.

Can you dance with your waist? She asks him. No. Then, what good are you to me? You know how you always wished that Tumi would be the first to reach for your hand when you were in public — that’s what he says in her head — I will. She looks at him sceptically. If I will be all those things Tumi was not, will you have me? She thinks about it for a second that she says — Yes.

I wonder if she would have me. He looks at her. She is awake again, looking out the window. I wonder if she would deserve me; I have so much to say, so much to share. Are they not all like Lynn? They are not. He remembers Sarah. Sarah was not like Lynn. He remembers Sarah, with shame. With Sarah, I was the vulture, I was like Lynn. It is the wheel that has brought retribution. I have paid for my sins, he thinks. No more.

I would have you, yes, if you are not a vulture. If you are not looking to watch me die and feed off my flesh. She looks at her face in the glass. I would have you if you are a gardener with tender hands and you understand that I am a rose, or a daffodil. I will always want attention. Not just for one or two weeks. Always.
A tale of excruciating tenderness. The vulture image reminded me of the horrible photograph by Kevin Carter.
Chuma Nwokolo's literary whodunnit, Poetic Justice, is the latest in his 'Tales by Conversation' series. Laureate Sir Anthony Augusto died many years ago and his young trophy wife was imprisoned for the murder. Her conviction is a surprise to Gargazin who left England 8 years ago. Now a retired sleuth beats a path from the UK to Gargazin's door in Nigeria. There's an 8-year-old mystery to be solved, as the two try to outwit each other, in a clever story that's bound to make you crack up with laughter.
What are you doing in my house, Laurence?
That’s exactly what I’m explaining. The turning point for me came when I was 50, when I stopped trying to prove myself. I had just joined the Thames Valley Police from Humberside. I went into the reverse of denial. I began to draw out my sentences. Sometimes I’d spend an hour at my desk, mulling over a piece of evidence and a blank sheet of paper. During the first few months in Oxfordshire, everyone thought my first performance review would sweep me out of service. Yet, when the reviews did come in, my bosses noticed something: case files did linger on my desk - but my cases were never thrown out of court. My success rate was at the top of the division.
Mister Laurence…
Then came the case of my career: the homicide of Sir Anthony Augusto, Poet Laureate of England. We got a conviction alright, which is now on my conscience. That’s the case that brought me to Lagos.
I left Oxford eight years ago!
The case is eight years old. - And It has taken me that long to decide we got the wrong person.
Let me get this clear, Mister Hughes, you turn up on my doorstep under false pretences, you eat my wife’s jollof and sit under my orange tree - and all the while you were secretly interrogating me...

Song of our Timi to end Timidity

Seek and be found by the words of wisdom
from the fount of Fiditi
whose only son is Timi
A son with many parts
Never will the tag timidity
stick as his identity
As Baba Fiditi carries himself

with dignity
so shall his igi-iwe son
dig deeper into customs
that transforms those in want
and those wanted for standing up
when oil ‘pan-caked’ the soil
and turned the face of earth
into a frying pan

Stick together and you will find
a coalition of like minds
that will not give codeine
when cups of garri will cure hurt.
Timi, push me into huts of peasants
where hope is the alter laid
for the coming victory
like the Pope as sentry at heaven’s gate
Timi, push me till the deity of timidity
becomes the sacrifice at oritameta
and workers, farmers, writers, fishers, sellers
Prisoners, cobblers, pushers, butchers
reclaim their collective voice in the
new history of bold types.
The Slave Union and Union of Slaves
must be traded for brave Trade Unions
with words, swords and sickles
No more fickle minded minions
who bark by day and back out by night.
Tell Timi the time is right
to give the landlords a fight.
End of a people's timidity can only be now!
Sing this song in the mid-day Sun
Sling the catapult for assault if that's
all you've got
Sing, dance, cry, shout... don't
just wait for Timi

© Kole Ade-Odutola

  • Used with permission
  • Image courtesy of the poet

Imagine This & Word Power

How's this for an example of just how hard a writer has to work? You'd think she's packed and ready to hop off on a weekend to Prague, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong.
This, left, is debut novelist Sade Adeniran - photographed by this blogger at her reading on Thursday 4 October inside London's Harlesden Library. Adeniran packs copies of her book, Imagine This, in this case and rolls it to readings around England - in the hope she can shift a few copies.

Having taken 5 years to write the novel and failing to find a publisher, the author (who began her writing career with a play on UK's Radio 4) put her money behind her talent and self-published. It hasn't been easy and she has had to contend with the stigma attached to self-publishing in the UK. But things are looking up. Carting her books around from reading to reading, Adeniran has managed to sell several hundred copies of Imagine This all due to her own direct efforts. The publishing industry in the UK is beginning to take notice; even a Nigerian publisher has been in touch since the writer's appearance on this blog last week.

Last week the writer read to members of the Harlesden Library Reading Group, shared her publishing experiences so far and sold some copies. At the end of the evening, she put the left-over copies in her roller-case and wheeled off into the night.

  • Sade Adeniran appears at the Word Power Book Fair on Saturday 13 October, in a discussion with other writers on 'The Publishing Maze.'


Strutting her stuff

Here's writer Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford leading a storytelling session with schoolchilren during the 2nd Sable Litfest held in the Gambia - photographed by MW on 15 July. More images from the Litfest online in the 2nd issue of African Writing.
  • Nana-Essi Casely-Hayford has an essay in the same issue - read it here.

Okigbo Conference

Images from the Christopher Okigbo International Conference held last month - 19 to 23 September. Here the poet Esiaba Irobi poses with Obiageli, an artist and Okigbo's only child.

Esiaba Irobi and four participants @ the Christopher Okigbo International Conference.

*Irobi's images courtesy of the poet.

The September issue of the Sentinel Poetry Online was devoted entirely to Okigbo. The Christopher Okigbo Special Edition featured contributions by devotees including Obi Nwakanma, Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo, Uduma Kalu, Obiwu, Obododimma Oha & Jumoke Verissimo.

Simi Bedford Reads for Black History Month

Simi Bedford, author of Yoruba Girl Dancing, reads from her new novel, Not With Silver as part of Black History Month.
An Evening with Simi Bedford is at the Kilburn Library, 42 Salibury Road, London NW6 6NN
Date - Thursday 11 October
Time - 7pm to 8.30pm
Event is free
Read a review of Not With Silver, and interviews with the author on the BBC - News website & Africa Beyond.


Sunday-Sunday Drama

Excerpt from Toyin Akinosho's Artsville column of yesterday...
"Now, Live Drama Happens Every Sunday
- THE playwright Wole Oguntokun and the arts promoter Bolanle Austen-Peters have revived a 50-year-old idea to have a drama performance in a respectable venue in the city of Lagos at least once every weekend. Theatre at Terra is the latest incarnation of the initiative that gave rise to a period of sustained performances at the J.K. Randle Hall in Onikan in the 60s and the birthing of J. P. Clark's Pec Repertory Theatre in the same venue 26 years ago. In October, which is the second month, Theatre At Terra will feature Femi Osofisan's The Engagement (October 7), Zulu Sofola's Wizard Of The Law (October 14) and two plays by Ahmed Yerima: Yemoja (October 21) and The Twist (October 28). Theatre At Terra grew out of Oguntokun's Season Of Soyinka's Plays, a one off series of live drama performances over four weekends at Terra Kulture last August. At the end of the well-attended Season, produced in commemoration of the Nobel Laureate's 73rd birthday, the collaborators realised they had hit upon a do-able project. There are thousands of Nigerian plays all over the place; why not take one each every weekend and breathe life into it? Terra Kulture has always been considered a smart place to hang out, especially by the Lagos Peppersoup Elite (roughly defined as the species of middle class Nigerians who earn 150,000 plus a month and can afford to travel for holidays once a year). So, getting an audience to fill the 100 seats in the auditorium for N2,000 each has not been extraordinarily difficult. Even so, to put quality work on stage requires more than the N200,000 guaranteed by a full hall."

The first in this month's Theatre@ Terra 'A Gathering of Eagles' productions, Femi Osofisan's The Engagement (directed by Sunkanmi Adebayo), was performed yesterday @ Terra Kulture, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Coming highlights this month

  • Sunday October 14 - The Wizard of Law by Zulu Sofola (directed by Gbenga Adekanmbi);
  • Sunday October 21 - Yemoja by Ahmed Yerima (directed by Segun Adefila); and
  • Sunday October 28 - The Twist by Ahmed Yerima (directed by Theatre@ Terra convener, Wole Oguntokun).
Guarantee Trust Bank's sponsorship may be in the offing to keep this important new initiative going. More info...

Monday, October 01, 2007

Call for Poetry Submission

From Emmanuel Sigauke @ Munyori.com

I am looking for poets to contribute work to be posted at munyori.com, a new website featuring poetry and literary commentry.I have a vision to start a committed online poetry publication. Send poetry on any subject; the work should be of high quality, your best. The rights revert to the writer upon publication. Send 3 to 4 poems. I am a busy English teacher, but I will respond within three weeks.

Send your poems in the body of your email to manu@munyori.com

See Sigauke's blog

Chika Unigwe's 'Fata Morgana'

Chika Unigwe's second novel, Fata Morgana, launches in Dutch on Friday 5th October.

Time is 4pm and venue is the Standaard Bookshop, Sint Antoniusstraat 18-22, 2300 Turnhout, Belgium.

Unigwe's publisher, Harold Polis) will welcome guests to the event, and Belgian writer Leo Pleysier will introduce Fata Morgana (we are going to have to wait a bit for the English language version). Music is by Velvet.

*Book signing after the launch*
October 7 - Chika Unigwe will be a guest at an Antwerp Book Fair event, De Ooogst Van Het Seizoen ('The Season's Harvest') alongside 2 other writers, Annelies Verbeke & Mustafa Kör.
Time: 2pm
Venue: Grote Zaal, Wereldculturencentrum Zuiderpershuis, Waalse Kaai, 14, 2000 Antwerpen.

Enter the Vampire

"Our appeal is straighforwardly based on the need for clemency as an essential element in the attainment of that healing process which the present national leader swore to embark upon, on taking oath of office. Without being superstitious, we cannot but observe how a 10-year cycle of blood-letting appears to have become an incubus on the very life of the nation's Armed Forces - 1966, 1976 and now 1986. You possess the will to break this jinx. You have the moral duty to exercise that will."

- Chinua Achebe, J.P.Clark and Wole Soyinka
in a petition to General Ibrahim Babangida at Dodan Barracks on March 4, 1986.


if you are going to dodan,
dont wear flowers in your hair.

if you are gong to dodan,
dont write or chant poetry.

if you are going to dodan,
dont mention human rights.

if you are going to dodan,
dont announce consummation's cycle.

if you are going to dodan,
ride in an armoured carrier...


The betelgeuse of compassion
led three graying sages
to the dodan of decision.

Our three wise men
brought no gold,
brought no frankincense,
brought no myrhh,
only logos of compassion
to break cycle of consummation.

But no room in the ears
of the leader-lord
to hear professorial pleas.

If you are going to dodan,
ride in an armoured carrier...

© Emman Usman Shehu
  • Enter the Vampire is taken from Emman Usman Shehu's first collection of poetry, 'Questions for Big Brother' (ANA/Update, 1988).
  • Used with permission.

Boycott the 2007 NLNG Prize - Oha

Sadly, the most prestigious literary award in literature in Nigeria comes from the same group of people who killed one of our own and who have constantly destroyed our environment, our economy and our intellectual framework. The same people, according to Nimmo Bassey, who live on the blood of the Niger Delta people. Unfortunately, our writers have consistently followed this disgraceful development with tight lips. Everybody scrambles for awards. $20,000 USD was enough to buy our souls, our conscience and our rights! Incredible!

Disgracefully, the president of ANA, Dr. Wale Okediran, has often campaigned for support to this literary suicide. I do not wish to insult my elder, but it is necessary that we advice our elders whenever they seem to throw caution to the dogs. Selfishness is one of the major diseases that the present ANA executive is suffering. To them, whatever brings about the 'cash' should be supported, undermining our conscience and our sensibilities. Adding to this is the fact that NLNG award is never organised with the input of ANA, the foremost and the most recognised association of writers in Nigeria. ANA is even hardly recognised in LNG programmes. They moronly follow each LNG program like the proverbial dog eating the crumbs that fell from its master's table. They follow unrecognized, unacknowleged.

To add salt to injury, General Babangida, is invited as the Special Guest in this year's NLNG award. IBB is an enigma, a destroyer of intellect and a habinger of illegalities. To be in LNG Award is to remind us that we are still victims of what we have been fighting to eliminate. IBB and Nigerian literature are two parallels that should never never merge. I call for a boycott of this year's NLNG award by Nigerian writers and to advise that a more credible company than LNG should be called into this literary business. This is the time to shop for a credible partner....

Tony C. Oha

26 September 2007
*Writer's image © Tolu Ogunlesi

New Reads

Excerpts from winning stories in the Bath Spa University (BSU)/BOAC Creative Writing Competition for Nigerian writers – judged by BSU and Caine winner Segun Afolabi.

WinnerNgozi Ifeyinwa Razak-Soyebi with a novel excerpt, The Whip – which begins in shocking fashion, with a woman mercilessly assaulting her housemaid with a horsewhip. We come to realise that the abuser was herself the victim of vicious assaults at the hands of her own mother.

By now, Mother is a like ticking bomb just waiting to explode. ‘So none of you stole the cake from the fridge, eh?’ she bellows. ‘Would you rather have me think that a ghost wandered into the house while we were all asleep, realized we had some cake left in the fridge and decided to help itself to some?’
Mother often speaks like that, conjuring up images of impossible scenarios into a serious situation. Of course no matter how much you long to laugh, you can’t because you are so intensely aware of the seriousness of the situation and afraid your bowels might give way any time soon.

Read “The Whip”...


Runner UpAdeboyin Thomas with “The World is a Bubble” – a story of love, jealousy and tradition. It is a testament to how good Thomas’ story is, that it did so well in the competition despite the many punctuation opportunities missed.

Arit looked hopefully at the entrance of her tent; she hoped John would come. It was true what the man said about screaming. It could work either way. People could come in and chase the man away or they could draw negative conclusions and the village of Oron did not forgive a ruined reputation easily. At her age and in her position, she couldn’t afford any stain on her reputation. It was bad enough to be encumbered by the shackles of tradition that bound every virgin in the village but for a virgin of the priestly lineage, the weight of the shackles was heavier. Afam followed the movement of her eyes. He wondered jealously who she was expecting.

Read “The World is a Bubble”... (I never did get the relevance of the title, but lovely, lovely story).