Writings of the general word's body

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Odia Ofeimun bags the Fonlon-Nichols

Congratulations to Odia Ofeimun (who clocks 60 in March and for whom a Committee of Friends have organised the Mamdani Lecture, holding at the Nigerian Insititute of International Affairs in Lagos on 16 March - more about that and a host of other commemorative events, later) - who is the worthy recipient of this year's 2010 Fonlon-Nichols Award. Press release below.

Odia Ofeimun Gets the 2010 Fonlon-Nichols Award

Nigerian poet, essayist, journalist, and social critic, Odia Ofeimun has been announced as the 2010 winner of the Fonlon-Nichols Award. The award, administered by the African Literature Association, ALA, is given to an African writer every year for excellence in creative writing and for contributions to the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression, according to Dr. Oty Agbajoh-Laoye, chair of the ALA awards committee.

Mr. Ofeimun is the author of eight collections of poems and numerous essays on political analysis and cultural criticism. His most recent volumes include Go Tell the Generals, A Boiling Caracas and Other Poems, and I Will Ask Questions With Stones If They Take My Voice, and Lagos of the Poets, a poetry anthology. In 2008, Los Ninõs del Estero, a selection of his poems, was published in a Spanish translation in Mexico .

Ofeimun was born on March 16, 1950 . He published his first book of poems, the critically acclaimed The Poet Lied, at the age of 25. His career began as a journalist and literary correspondent with The Midwest Echo, a newspaper based in Benin , capital of present-day Edo State , in Nigeria . He has also had experiences as a factory worker, civil servant, and union organizer. After a stint as a graduate student of Political Science at the University of Ibadan , he was appointed as the private secretary to Nigeria ’s leading political figure and former presidential candidate, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in 1978. Following the fall of the Second Republic , Ofeimun published A Handle for the Flutist, his second poetry collection. He also became a member of the editorial board of The Guardian ( Lagos ).

From 1989, he was a British Council fellow at Oxford University in England ; he lived in London and worked with Nigerian expatriates in the pro-democratic New Nigeria Forum until 1993 when he returned to Nigeria in the wake of the controversial June 12 presidential elections of that year. From this point, Ofeimun’s political and literary engagements followed two distinct but interconnected paths: he became the president of the Association of Nigerian Authors ( ANA ), and the lead columnist for the hitherto-clandestin e TheNEWS/TEMPO publications. His tenure as president of the writers’ body (of which he had been publicity secretary and general secretary between 1982 and 1988) coincided with the political crisis of the 1990s, and it has to be borne in mind that his immediate predecessor was the late writer and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The annulment of the presidential elections precipitated the “stepping-aside” of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria military president (1985-1993), and the rise to power of General Sani Abacha, under whose tenure the country experienced untold political and economic repressions. Progressive political opposition to the military dictatorship coalesced around the groups National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the Campaign for Democracy (CD), and the Democratic Alternative (DA). Although his political connections were strongest with the first, Ofeimun dedicated his weekly columns in TheNEWS to championing and appraising the activities of all the three groups. Those classic pieces, including such titles as “The June Twelvers’ Dilemma”, “The Ngbati Press”, “On Whose Side are the Orisa?”, are remarkable for their robust illumination of modern Nigerian (and indeed, African) political and cultural history, and for their thoughtful eloquence as a most accomplished example of the concern of African writers for the lives of the majority in their societies. Ofeimun’s tenure as ANA president ended in 1997, but his relationship with TheNEWS/TEMPO continued for a little longer, peaking with the organization’s second period of “guerrilla journalism” (1995-1998).

In April 1995, while attempting to travel to England for a conference sponsored by the New Nigeria Forum, Odia Ofeimun was stopped by security agents at the airport in Lagos . Although they never succeeded in jailing him, the agents questioned him on his political and other activities, and his travel documents were confiscated. For the next three years he was unable to travel outside of Nigeria , and would not regain his passport until the period of “liberalization” which followed the death of General Abacha in June 1998.

In spite of these involvements, Ofeimun found time for creative writing. His career as a poet suffered undeniably from the crisis in the publishing industry, like that of many African-based writers in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2000, he published three volumes of poems: A Feast of Return Under African Skies, Dreams at Work and Other Poems, and London Letter and Other Poems. Ofeimun’s poems have been widely anthologized. His works-in-progress include the poetry anthology “Twentieth Century Nigerian Poetry”, the essay collections “ Africa ’s Many Mansions” and “In Search of Ogun”, and a long-awaited political biography of Obafemi Awolowo. Since Nigeria ’s return to civil rule, Ofeimun has become a highly-respected and much-sought- after opinion leader and public speaker, giving speeches to NGOs and other civil society outfits. He is a leading champion of human rights and anti-corruption crusades in Nigeria, and he remains steadfastly independent of political organizations in the country.

The Fonlon-Nichols award was established in 1992 to honor Bernard Fonlon and Lee Nichols for their own contributions to both African literature and freedom of expression. Past winners include Rene Philombe, Werewere Liking, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nuruddin Farah, Nawal el Saadawi, Niyi Osundare, Assia Djebar, Abdullatif Laabi, Wole Soyinka, Pius Nganda Nkashama, and Tess Onwueme. This year the award will be publicly presented at the 36th annual conference of the African Literature Association March 10 - 14, 2010 to be held in the University of Arizona, Tucson.

SA PEN Studzinski Award

I've just seen Guardian Prize winning author Petina Gappah's blog post notifying that the call for entries has gone out for the 2011 PEN Studzinski Award for short fiction. The award, originally for writers from the 15 SADC countries, was opened to all of Africa for the 2009 edition, eventually won by Karen Jayes.

As Gappah attests, the 2007 award started her on the road to something significant. Her second placed story, selected by J.M. Coetzee (At The Sound of the Last Post) opens her highly successful debut collection, An Elegy For Easterly, having been previously published in Prospect. The 2007 winning story by Henrietta Rose-Innes (Poison) went on to scoop the Caine Prize in 2008. So there is no denying the power of this award.

Oddly enough and in a major about-turn, the SA PEN Studzinski Award reverts to "appealing only to writers living in the fifteen countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC*)." No more All-Africa inclusivity then. Just one All-Africa trial convinced them to narrow it back down to SADC only, it appears.

As I wrote in the comment box for Gappah's blog, "I wish the Studzinski Award would make its bloody mind up."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Michaela Wrong reads in Lagos

Acclaimed journalist and writer Michaela Wrong, author of 'It's Our Turn To Eat' and 'In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz' - does a book blitz in Lagos over the coming days. Today's events below:

  • 11am-1pm @ The Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.
  • 3-5pm @ The Silverbird Galleria on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos - Wrong features in the first BookJam alongside writers: Kaine Agary (author of Yellow Yellow), Jude Dibia (author of Unbridled) and Eghosa Imasuen (To Saint Patrick).

more dates to be added...

Also today

Pat Oyelola launches her book, Nigerian Artistry:
Harmattan Gallery
10 Elsie Femi Pearse Street,
Off Kofo Abayomi
Victoria Island, Lagos.

Time: 4pm

Update 2 March

More Michaela Wrong dates...

She's been busy, having discussed her books in Terra Kulture (Feb 28) and the University of Lagos (yesterday). But here's more:

  • 2 March - that's today - @ Quintessence, Falomo Shopping Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos. Time: 3-5pm;
  • 5 March - in Abuja - Adamawa Room, Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, Abuja. Time: 6pm-8pm.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sozaboy @ 40

Victor Ehikhamenor - writer, visual artist and newspaper creative director - celebrated his 40th birthday in Lagos today. Music was jumping and spirits were high, so of course the birthday boy had to do a few jigs.

With Ehikhamenor in the image on the right is another image maker, photographer Kelechi Amadi Obi.

  • Photos: MW.

Talk With Funmi

TV personality Funmi Iyanda photographed being photographed, today in Ikeja, Lagos. Photo: MW.

After years of mutual friends and some shared concerns, I finally got to jaw-jaw with talk show host Funmi Iyanda when we met for an interview this afternoon in Lagos. Talking of shared concerns, someone told me in 2005 Funmi Iyanda said she was "trying to make books cool" - which is kind of what Wordsbody's about.

Formerly of the long-running New Dawn on NTA, she is out with a new show, Talk With Funmi, which is something of a departure, since it eschews the talk show format. Instead, Iyanda takes to the road, catching up with people across 5 states. The first of the series was shown last Sunday, and focused on the 'action gov' of Lagos, Babatunde Raji Fashola. Filmed when the governor was at the height of his popularity, the show aired at a somewhat uncertain time for Fashola, with swirling allegations of corruption and probes and what not.

The second episode of Talk With Funmi, Naija Hip-Hopping featuring 9ice and Wande Coal, is on tomorrow.

  • Catch Talk With Funmi every Sunday on DSTV's Africa Magic Channel @ 6pm.

On Oscar and Lucinda

An illuminating piece by the author Peter Carey about the conception of his Booker Prize winning novel, Oscar and Lucinda - shows how the gem of an idea or image can germinate into a fully blown narrative. Carey was inspired by a clapboard church by the Never Never River (this river's name alone is a wealth of inspiration) threatened with removal, and which the locals - non-believers all - fought to save. The author started to see the church as a box of stories, stories that had supplanted the aboriginal stories in this Australian landscape.

For the sake of the Christian stories, these other stories had been poisoned, shot and drowned.

And now we had no use for the Christian stories and the church would be physically removed. Then the site would be scarred and broken and in these broken places thistles would grow.

How absolutely perfect, the novelist thought – nothing could better represent the emptiness of our present beliefs, the beliefs we had killed the Aboriginal stories for.

At this stage, while the local community split into two groups to bid against each other to see who would pay the most money to the Bishop of Grafton to leave the church just where it was, I was envisaging the small, white clapboard church as a box full of Christian stories. I was imagining the moment that box of Christian stories came floating or cutting through the landscape filled with Aboriginal stories.

I had no idea about Oscar, no clue about Lucinda, but I thought: this is a novel.

Well, isn't it just?
Read Peter Carey's piece in the UK Guardian Review.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani shortlisted

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is the author of a novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, chosen as one of the best fiction of 2009 by the Washington Post at the end of last year. But now Nwaubani has gone one better and started the new year on a roll, with the shortlisting of her novel for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book category for the Africa Region. Nigeria has 4 writers in the shortlist, but Ms Nwaubani has the distinction of being the only one fully based at home.
The the full list of the shortlists here (7 South Africans are also in contention).

With the release of the shortlist 2 days ago, a writer friend expressed surprise at the non-appearance on the shortlist of An Elegy For Easterly by Petina Gappah, who surely must be the undisputed breakout writer of the last year. Then it occured to me today: Zimbabwe (Gappah's country) is not in the Commonwealth. Yes, that must be it.
  • Author's image: publicity photo

Gone to pot

My good blogger's intentions, that is. I had it in mind to post about Laila Lalami's reading of February 16 at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, last week. However I was in remote Agbarha-Otor near Warri in Delta State when I tried to blog it on Monday 15th. And what do you know, my MTN internet USB connected all right, but it went nowhere! So there went that.
Happily, the 2006 Caine shortlisted writer - who was to read from her second book Secret Son - has blogged about the reading from London, where it was "chucking it down". The reading in Norwich, she said, was a "smashing success." Good for her. Never mind unreliable bloggers, Ms Lalami.
  • Laila Lalami photographed in London, 11 July 2006, by MW.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Read

Chika Unigwe's short story, Waiting, is in the current issue of Per Contra. This was one story of Unigwe's that I'd somehow never read before now, although I'm sure I've read about it someplace. Oge is heading home from a shopping trip, after buying a few things that her son Jordi may not actually need. Her husband Gunter thinks she spoils the boy. Gunter has changed somewhat. Why? Waiting has a neat surprise at the end.

She should have made a list. She is always forgetting things and Gunter used to find it endearing. My little forgetful wife, he used to say, laughing. My little forgetful wife. One day you’d forget your head. And then where would we all be? And she had laughed with him too. Now, when he laughs it is because there is something funny on TV. She never watches TV with him, especially not when there is a comedy on because they do not find the same things funny. She finds his humour dry. It had never mattered before: this difference but now, like all the other ways in which they are different, it bothers her and she wonders why she ever married him in the first place.

Unigwe is the author of the novel, Black Sisters' Street.

Read Waiting here.

Miriam N Kotzin, one of Per Contra's editors, has been very good at showcasing new fiction by African women writers over the last few years. She has
an interview with Chika Unigwe in this edition.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Tonight in London

Late @ Tate

Afrodizzia, a series of performances and discussions around the work of Turner Prize winning artist Chris Ofili is on tonight at Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1 - from 8pm.

Featuring Charlie Dark with Andreya Triana & The Speaker's Corner Quartet; scholar Bonnie Greer, Cleveland Watkiss and Larry Achiampong.

  • Chris Ofili's exhibition is ongoing at Tate Britain until May 16.

Tonight in Lagos

Afro-soul singer 'Siji performs songs off his self-titled new album, adeSIJI, tonight at the Jazzhole, Lagos. 7pm start.

If that's not enough, Afrobeat heir Femi Kuti's also jamming all night at Tribeca, Victoria Island, Lagos, to celebrate his Grammy nomination... We do know by now he didn't win, but since when has that stopped a party?