Writings of the general word's body

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Three by the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Gill Schierhout (left) is so humble one almost forgot that her debut novel 'The Shape of Him' was on the 2010 shortlist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region). Plus there's her shortlisting for the 2008 Caine Prize for her short story The Day of the Surgical Colloquium. Mamle (middle) I've talked about in related posts. Then there's me (right).

Ovo Adagha (left) and I worked on the One World Anthology together; he now lives in the UK. Clifford Oluoch has published several books for children; and Nick Elam is famously of the Caine Prize, of course.

Caine Workshop participants by the Great Rift Valley. Samuel Munene works with The Kwani Trust in Nairobi; Valerie Tagwira currently lives in Britain while her fellow Zimbabwean, Novuyo Tshuma, is based in South Africa.

Sammy and Ignatius, nice guys

Here in the middle is Sammy, one of the key officers on the Gallmann Memorial Foundation conservancy. Here he's flanked by Mamle Kabu and MW. The amiable Sammy was a lovely presence at Ol Ari Nyiro, attending to the participants' needs with good humour. We in turn made him into an avid reader of our writings; he read many of our draft stories and engaged with the themes therein.

Sammy's here flanked by Mamle Kabu and Jude Dibia. Kabu who lives in Accra, was shortlisted for the 2009 Caine Prize for her short story, The End of Skill. Dibia is the author of two novels, Walking With Shadows and Unbridled. The pavillion in this photo was one of the best spots for internet reception this end of the resort.

Ignatius (seen here with Nick Elam) also works at the resort, acting as guide on game drives and providing lots of invaluable service and advice with equanimity. He gave a wonderful lesson in astronomy under the stars one night.

The Conservancy

Pit stop on a game drive: Valerie Tagwira (Zimbabwean writer of 'The Uncertainty of Hope') and Kenyan Samuel Munene.

A tale told without bitterness
When the conservancy's founder Kuki Gallman visited the writers at the Mukatan retreat (this place has many names it seems, depending on your mood), she staged her own tale at dusk, sharing with participants her remarkable life story, including how her husband and son died in Kenya (the former in an accident and the latter killed by a snake). Yet she managed to construct an inspiring life's journey from it all. Participants listened with rapt attention.
The conservancy borders Kenya's Great Rift Valley and is run by Kuki Gallman (2nd left) who first came to the country in the early 70s. She is herself a writer, with 3 published books to her name; one, 'I Dreamed of Africa' was made into a film starring Kim Basinger. With Gallmann in this photograph are: writer Jude Dibia, Nick Elam of the Caine Prize and his wife, Helen.

The Caine workshop took place at the Ol Ari Nyiro Wildlife Conservancy, in Laikipia, managed by The Gallmann Memorial Foundation. The conservancy spreads over 100,000 acres of woodland with elephants, warthogs, and lions roaming free (thankfully, we never saw the lions, phew!) - not to mention snakes (which luckily I didn't see either). We wrote to the trill of all manners of exotic birds - a birdwatcher's paradise, this was. You'd come out of your room and see up to 30 impalas right outside, even zebras. Inspired.

Seripe Sunset

The dreamy landscape of the Caine Workshop... I could not resist capturing these images of participant Vuyo Seripe silhouetted against the sunset.

Caine Workshop 2010

12 writers from 6 African countries participated in this year's Caine Prize Workshop, held Kenya from March 13 to 23. Here's a picture of some of the group taken after a dinner reading of works in progress.
L-R Front: Clifford Oluoch (Kenya), Vuyo Seripe (South Africa) Veronique Tadjo (one of the 2 'animateurs' whose task it was to challenge the writers to better and better stories) and Samuel Munene (Kenya).
L-R Back: Gill Schierhout (South Africa), Mamle Kabu (Ghana) - then the Nigerians, Ovo Adagha, Jude Dibia and MW.

Dinner was lit by hurricane lamps, attracting moths and such like. After dinner writers read from their works in progress and their colleagues commented on the stories. In the foreground in this picture: Nick Elam (organiser of the Caine Prize and these annual workshops, which always take place at an African location), Jamal Mahjoub (animateur) and Stanley Kenani (Malawian, currently based in Nairobi and previously shortlisted for the 2008 Caine Prize for his short story, 'For Honour').
Serenading us after dinner: Kenyan writer/participant, Alnoor Amlani.
  • The 12 stories from the workshop will be published along with this year's 5 shortlisted stories (yet to be revealed) in the next Caine Anthology, to be published in time for the 2010 award dinner in July.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Daddy, I won!

Breaking News: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani wins the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Africa Region).

It was phoning galore this morning as the writer heard the news from South Africa. The first call was to her papa - "Daddy, I won!" Nwaubani won for her debut novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance.

The author will now vie with winners from other regions for the overall prize, to be announced in New Delhi next month.

  • Photos by Abiodun Omotoso

Uwem Akpan reads in Lagos

Author of Say You're One Of Them Uwem Akpan is involved in a lot of promotional activities in Nigeria all of a sudden, as publishers and reading groups suddenly wake up to him, following the selection of his short story collection for the inflential Oprah Book Club. Though based in Nigeria and accessible, he'd been pretty much left to his Jesuit priest life here, until now.
Akpan had a reading at the Rainbow Book Club in Port Harcourt in recent weeks. Now he comes to Lagos for a major reading engagement at Terra Kulture, in an event co-presented by Ibadan-based publishers, Bookcraft.
  • 5pm, Wednesday March 18.


Onyeka Nwelue gets his visa

Following a media outcry on the refusal of an entry visa into Hong Kong for writer Onyeka Nwelue to participate in a literary festival, the Chinese authorities have reversed themselves. Nwelue now has a visa and will go to the ball, though later than planned.

Here's what the author told Wordsbody:
"Writers Nury Vittachi and Jane Camens asked booklovers in Hong Kong to petition the Immigration Department and went on radio shows to talk about it. Newspaper reporters were brought in and the Nigerian Consulate was contacted to talk to the Immigration Department too, which they did. In fact, I have never felt so much love like this before, since I became a writer.

The Chinese people happen to be sensitive towards the media and protests.

When I went to the Chinese embassy in Delhi, the visa section woman couldn't look up to my face. She only said, 'The Immigration Department has now approved your visa. Come and pick your visa tomorrow and don't ask me more questions'. She is still rude, but I forgive her.

I wish to have a swell time in Hong Kong, because I learnt Moses Isegawa, author of Abyssinian Chronicles would be there too."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

Press Release

Farafina Trust will be holding a creative writing workshop in Lagos, organized by award-winning writer and creative director of Farafina Trust, Chimamanda Adichie, from May 20 to May 29 2010. The workshop is sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc. Guest writers who will co-teach the workshop alongside Adichie are the Caine Prize Winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, Chika Unigwe winner of a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for creative writing, South African writer Niq Mhlongo and celebrated Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo.

The workshop will take the form of a class. Participants will be assigned a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises. The aim of the workshop is to improve the craft of Nigerian writers and to encourage published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling. Participation is limited only to those who apply and are accepted.

To apply, send an e-mail to Udonandu2010@gmail.com

Your e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application.’

The body of the e-mail should contain the following:

1. Your Name
2. Your address
3. A few sentences about yourself
4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. The sample must be either fiction or non-fiction.

All material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Please Do NOT include any attachments in your e-mail. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. Deadline for submissions is April 22 2010. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by May 6 2010. Accommodation in Lagos will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend for the ten-day duration of the workshop. A literary evening of readings, open to the public, will be held at the end of the workshop.

Okey Adichie
Programme Officer
Farafina Trust

Monday, March 08, 2010

How cute is this?

Her able doorman: Lola Shoneyin and son Mayowa photographed at the JB Grills, Abuja, on February 25, 2010.

The poet Lola Shoneyin held a book party for her latest book, the poetry collection 'For the Love of Flight' at Abuja's JB Grills on February 25. Manning the door for her - welcoming guests and dishing out copies of the book and raffle draw tickets - was her lovely son, Mayowa.
Here's an article on the event.

LS and family have a lot to smile about this year. She has no less than 3 books coming out this year, the biggest being her novel debut, the fabulously titled 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives' to be brought out next month by Serpent's Tail in the UK and anytime now by Cassava Republic in Nigeria (US edition follows soon after). The new issue of African Writing has an interview with the writer about her novel, set in a polygamous household in Ibadan.

There's also a children's book scheduled for publication this year, 'Mayowa and the Masquerades'. Anyone wants to guess where Shoneyin got the name of her children's book hero?
  • Image courtesy LS.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Kingdom of Ife

"If you're in London and have the time, you must go to the Kingdom of Ife exhibition at the British Museum. It is quite incredible: 100 sculptures created between the 12th and 15th centuries, depicting the great, the good and the bad, from Ife, Nigeria – once a great trading city and still the spiritual centre of the Yoruba people"
- so says the UK Guardian on the Kingdom of Ife exhibition of sculptures from The Source.

Widely considered the biggest exhibition you're likely to see in London this year, Kingdom of Ife's British Museum opening was attended by some of Nigeria's best collectors and art afficionados. The exhibition brings comforting echoes of the golden past, and raises disturbing questions about African treasures in 'exile' in Western museums (though curators are keen to stress that the pieces in the show are largely sourced on loan from the collection of the National Museum in Lagos). Let the debate rage on.

  • Kingdom of Ife will not be seen anywhere in Africa (sigh), but you can catch it at the British Museum, London, until June 6. Unmissable. This exhibition will be worth every penny of the £8 ticket fee.

Update (related articles)

Seated figure, Tada, Ife. Late 13th-14th century, copper. © Karin L. Willis/Museum for African Art/Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments

Is it because I'm black?

Now, what have we here...

21-year-old Nigerian author of 'The Abyssinian Boy', Onyeka Nwelue, has had quite a steep rise since entering into the Lagos literary scene as a teenager. Pretty impressive, unless you're a Chinese immigration officer who has to consider the author's visa application to be allowed into Hong Kong for a major literary festival.

Nwelue was billed to feature in this year's Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, due for programmes and appearances on March 9 (City University in Hong Kong) and the festival itself on March 11. Alas, the writer got a call from the Chinese embassy in Lagos informing him that his visa application has been turned down. No reason given.

We are by now used to Britain rubbishing artists from African when it comes to visas: Odia Ofeimun, Souleymane Cisse, Atukwei Okai, Samuel Fosso etcetera etcetera. But Hong Kong now as well?

Almost certainly the only African and the only black writer participant in Hong Kong, Onyeka Nwelue is left mouthing the oft-repeated cliché: is it because- ?

Studio Malick

It's a Christmas party; quite late, you'd imagine. The picture shows a young black couple. She's barefoot in her best sixties frock, he's in ­loafers and a snappy white suit. They're jiving ­together – not quite touching, yet, but with their heads dipped in close, both faces lit up with shy, almost disbelieving smiles. It's an ­astonishing ­photograph, full of intimacy and ­energy, joy and anticipation, taken in 1963 by the Malian ­photographer, Malick Sidibé, known as The Eye Of Bamako.

The above's an excerpt from last weekend's UK Guardian
interview with veteran Malian photographer, Malick Sidibe, whose images capture the spirit of Bamako in the heady period around independence. The men in the photographs are the more flamboyant. One brought his motorbike into the studio and posed astride, his two women alongside. They have bro-bags (or what is it they call them these days) and look quite dandy in their Parissiene clothes. They hold up their hands so you can see their fancy wristwatchs (not unlike suspiciously camp rappers holding up their 'ice' now). Decades later, the men in Sidibe's photographs look pretty metrosexual - and these guys probably never knew a man could be confused about his sexuality. You were a man and that was it, and so you could hold another man's hand in a photograph and have the Eye of Bamako click away. Innocent times.

Malick Sidibe was born in 1935 or 36, "he's not too sure which" - ah, bless. I know a couple of folks like that!

  • Previously unseen images of Malick Sidibe's open at the Lichfield Studios, London W10 on March 11. They will be on display till April 16.

Vagina Vagina

The Vagina Monologues is one of the more popular not to mention recurrent plays in Lagos, in a Nigerian adaptation known as V-Monologues.

Now that I'm here in Lagos, I constantly find myself quite involuntarily calling it 'Vagina Monologues' which is something people hardly ever do over here. The initial impulse seconds afterwards is to seek to apologise and say: "Sorry, in England we call it Vagina Monologues" (I find myself saying 'in England we...' a lot; relocation anxiety?). But I always resist this urge to apologise or explain. Instead I go all confrontational: "Why it is called V-Monologues here? It's Vagina! It's more honest, in-your-face for a supposedly in-your-face play, and it sounds better!"

And it does, but that's Naija for you. Perhaps the reason the corresponding male version is known as 'Tarzan Monologues' rather than the 'Penis Mono' - you know what.

Anyways, it's all on again, as the male and female versions go head-to-head at Terra Kulture, in Lagos, every Sunday at 3pm & 6pm. See the poster for details. Meanwhile, I'm still here saying: Vagina Monologues. Onwards ever.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Ngugi in London

Ngugi comes to London with his latest book, Dreams in a Time of War

In an event tagged ‘Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Conversation: A founding father of African Literature’ (and who’s to argue with that?) The Travel Bookshop presents the acclaimed Kenyan author for his only London event for ‘Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. There will be book signings after the event.

The 20th Century Theatre
291 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2QA

Date: Sunday March 7, 2010
Time: Doors open 6.30pm for 7.

Tickets: £10 (booking essential)

The Travel Bookshop, 13-15 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 2EE,
Tel: 0207 229 5260 / Email: