Writings of the general word's body
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Unoma Azuah interview
Unoma Azuah, Molara Wood and Victor Ehikhamenor - photographed May 2009 in Lagos
Here's a picture that would have qualified for a 'While Wordsbody was sleeping' slot... US based writer Unoma Azuah with two of her constituency - myself and Victor Ehikhamenor - both of whom were not long returned from the UK and the US respectively. Azuah was around for the summer last year; it's a year on and she's in Nigeria for the summer again, doing writing workshops up and down. Here's a recently published interview of mine with her.
While Wordsbody was sleeping
- Images by MW
Pilgrimages: Thirteen African Writers. Thirteen Cities. Thirteen Books
The Pilgrimages Project
Pilgrimages is a ground-breaking, pan-African project organised by The Chinua Achebe Center, Bard College, in partnership with Kachifo Limited in Nigeria, Kwani? Trust in Kenya, and Chimurenga in South Africa, in celebration of Africa’s first world cup.
The project involves 13 African writers visiting 12 cities across the continent and one in Brazil for two weeks during the World Cup. At the end of the project, each writer will produce a book of non-fiction travel literature based on their experiences, forming a series to be published next year.
The writers and cities involved in the project are Funmi Iyanda (Durban), Alain Mabanckou (Lagos), Abdourahman A. Waberi (Salvador, Bahia), Akenji Ndumu (Abidjan), Doreen Baingana (Hargeisa), Chris Abani (Johannesburg), Uzodinma Iweala (Timbuktu), Billy Kahora (Luanda), Kojo Laing (Cape Town), Binyavanga Wainaina (Touba), Yvonne Owuor (Kinshasha), Victor Lavelle (Kampala), Nicole Turner (Nairobi) and Nimco Mahmud Hassan (Khartoum).
Alain Mabanckou in Lagos
Alain Mabanckou from Congo-Brazzaville is considered one of the most talented writers in Francophone African literature today. His most notable works are Verre Casse (Broken Glass), Bleu-Blanc-Rouge (Blue-White-Red) and The African Pyscho. His work, Memoirs of a Porcupine, won the Prix Renaudot, one of the highest distinctions in Francophone literature.
Alain visits Lagos from the 25th of June to 2nd of July 2010, during which time he will crisscross the city, from the ‘highbrow’ to the ‘slum’. Each day of his stay will alternate stops at football viewing centres, local bukkas and beer parlours, upmarket bars and relevant cultural events, and will include interviews with local denizens, artists, writers and other social commentators. Alain will be guided around the city by architect, writer and publisher, Ayodele Arigbabu, who will also blog about their daily experiences on the Pilgrimages website.
A dynamic and state-of-the art multimedia website has been launched as part of the Pilgrimages project. During the 13 Pilgrimages the writers and their local guides will blog on the website. Correspondents, artists and photographers in each city will also post topical content on the site.
The Pilgrimages Project will culminate in the launch of twelve books in four African cities in January 2012 during the African Nations’ Cup. The collection promises to be the most significant, single addition to the continent’s archive of literary knowledge since the African Writers’ Series of the 1960s. The books will be published by Kachifo Limited in Nigeria, Kwani? Trust in Kenya, Chimurenga in South Africa and a francophone publisher to be announced.
For more information on the Pilgrimages Project, please visit the website.
For more information on Pilgrimages and Alain Mabanckou in Lagos, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, June 25, 2010
Tunde Kelani sends out an SOS
Monday, June 14, 2010
New Caine Anthology
The anthology also contains this year's 5 shortlisted stories, available to read online now.
Here's an excerpt from shortlisted writer Namwali Serpell's short story, Muzungu - about an expatriate child's sudden jolt into an awareness of racial difference...
Ba Simon was singing softly under his breath. He’d probably picked up some nasty song from the shabeen, Isa thought emphatically, repeating in her head a condemnation that she’d heard a thousand times from Ba Gertrude, the maid. There are three kinds of people in the world: people who unconsciously sing along when they hear someone else singing, people who remain respectfully or irritably silent, and people who start to sing something else. Isa began singing the Zambian national anthem. Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free. Land of work and joy and unity. Ba Simon gave up on his quiet song, smiling down at Isa and shaking his head while he flipped steaks he wouldn’t get to eat. Ashes from the brai drifted and spun like the children playing in the garden.
The other shortlisted stories
- The Life of Worm by Ken Barris (South Africa)
- How Shall We Kill The Bishop? by Lily Mabura (Kenya)
- Soulmates by Alex Smith (South Africa)
- Stickfighting Days by Olufemi Terry (Sierra Leone)
Namwali Serpell is Zambian. Winner of the 2010 Caine Prize will be announced in Oxford on July 5.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Seun Kuti plays on June 12
In a series of concerts that started in August 2009, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 will for the sixth time thrill audiences with yet another fiery performance at the center for Nigerian culture, Terra Kulture in VI Lagos. On this significant day in Nigeria’s history, Egypt 80 will perform a tribute concert to the upholding Democracy in Nigeria.
Following Nigeria’s first match against Argentina in the 2010 World Cup holding in South Africa, the band will perform some tracks from Afrobeat king the legenday Fela Anikulapo Kuti, as well as from their Many Things album. They will also debut new tracks from their upcoming album set to be released at the end of 2010.
Seun Kuti + Egypt 80 hold two regular performances in Lagos at The Afrikan Shrine every last Saturday of the month and Terra Kulture bi-monthly on the second Saturday.
JUNE 12TH 2010
8:00p.m - MIDNIGHT
(following Nigeria vs Argentina)
Tickets available at
Terra Kulture VI (Tiamyiu Savage Street) * Naira.com * Jazz Hole Ikoyi * Gbogobiri Ikoyi
Brought to you by
Egyp80 Records, Africa-Related & Terra Kulture
Jeffrey Daniel in Lagos
- Photos by MW
Photographed at the Keziah Jones gig - here's Oyiza Adaba, presenter of the television arts show, Messengers.
- Photo by MW
Sunday, June 06, 2010
Interview with Ama Ata Aidoo
I took this photograph of Ama Ata Aidoo during an interview in Lagos last Sunday May 30.
"I was lucky to have grown in an environment where maybe storytelling was part one’s living experience. I later realised that we had some kind of informal professional – would that be an oxymoron? – storyteller. You know, a man who was known as a storyteller (but he wasn’t earning anything from that). He was there in the village. Also, I had the good fortune of having for a Headmaster at one point when I was in Primary School in the same village someone who was very interested in getting us to tell stories to ourselves during the school hours. Maybe it was his way of making sure we didn’t fall asleep on him because we were kids and it can get hot. And this teacher not only had us telling stories to ourselves but every now and then over the weekend he would haul us around the surrounding villages, telling stories to the people. Incredible. I couldn’t have ordered this. If I had been aware that these were also helping me to become a writer. I couldn’t have known, but I suspect that it helped for me to have grown up in such an environment."
Keziah Jones in Lagos
Chika Unigwe in Abuja
Chika Unigwe (middle) flanked by Lola Shoneyin and Dapo Oyewole who hosted her reading of May 26 at Infusion in Abuja. Unigwe read from her novel 'On Black Sisters' Street at the event, which reportedly was jam-packed. Shoneyin and Oyewole started Infusion, and this is their second literary event.
Chika Unigwe was in town as a facilitator of the Farafina Workshop (she read at the finale event at the Civic Centre, Lagos on May 29) and also did a creative writing workshop for school kids in Port Harcourt.
- Photos courtesy Infusion
Fidelity Bank gets catty with Adichie
Adichie, who's made the New Yorker's list of 20 writers under 40 (no surprise) could have responded with 'No, they didnt!' if shown Fidelity Bank's recent press release announcing their 2010 workshop, taking place in an unspecified serene location in Abuja, commencing July 18. The Fidelity Workshop is to be led by Helon Habila who the bank says is "a more rounded" choice for them.
The question then follows: 'a more rounded choice' than who, exactly? Adichie? Is this an 'Ouch' moment?
Once upon a time, Adichie started a workshop to bring new Nigerian writers to the fore, and got Fidelity Bank to sponsor it. She starred in many a full page advert for the bank. Now she's moved the workshop to the Farafina Trust, with sponsorship by Nigerian Breweries, and it seems Fidelity Bank is sour. So, they rebrand her workshop as theirs and sign Habila on board.
One more writing workshop in Nigeria is to be welcomed, especially with the involvement of Habila, who has not been seen to be a major champion of up-coming Nigerian writers. But did Fidelity really have to get so personal in their press release?
- Images by MW
I ask about JM Coetzee, whose decision to leave South Africa for Australia is said to have caused resentment in some quarters. Brink worked with him for years at the University of Cape Town, "and learned a hell of a lot from him. I always admire writers who can pare everything down to the essential; it's totally the opposite of what I do, and we were so different that I could very deeply respect what he was doing without feeling that I had to compete with him. Anybody can understand why somebody might reach a point when they just want to move out. And after he published Disgrace, there was such a violent reaction against him, especially from within the ANC, that I can't blame him for deciding that he'd bloody well had enough. Although, on a very personal level," he adds with a look of exaggerated innocence, "I can't understand why anybody would want to go to Australia."
- Read the interview here.
And in today's Sunday Times UK, a revealing excerpt from a new book about Nelson Mandela details the warring within his family, and the toll of the struggle on all their lives. I read some lines there squirming a little, thinking: why would this offspring tell the world that the Madiba's no longer altogether there?
Once Zindzi accepted that her parents could not be reconciled, it became easier for her to welcome Mandela’s third life partner, Mama Graca — Graca Machel — into their family.
Graca made it clear to Zindzi the first time they met that she would never occupy Winnie’s place in her father’s heart. That was something everyone is agreed on, even now — that Winnie was the great love of his life. But the new relationship at least provided some members of the family with a stable emotional base. Graca was warm and affectionate, Zindzi said, while her father, though loving, was physically undemonstrative.
More on StoryAfrica
We are truly sorry. It may seem like a giant request, but I do hope you can make a little place somewhere in your heart to forgive. We've just cancelled the book and I am trying to see if the publishers can do a recall on copies sold and get it delisted from Amazon as soon as possible. I've been in contact this morning with authors like ----- and ----- (who were included in the anthology) and some others who reprimanded me, but advised me on the proper way to go about things as these.They went ahead to grant permission to us to use their stories. I've however decided to cancel it and redo things properly, the next time, by MYSELF.
Another thing: I was not gloating when I wrote to you about our book sales going through the roof. I just wanted you to know that the project actually had prospects.
This, from another StoryAfrica person
My name is Evans Macharia, a 3rd year Literature student at Daystar University, and I am part of the StoryAfrica team which published your story in 'Africa's Best Stories.'
Mfonobong just sent me the correspondences you've been having together, and I have checked out your blog. You might not be interested to know these details, but I'll tell you anyway:
When we started this StoryAfrica project at Daystar University, a team of ten of us selected some African stories which we felt had global potential. Our idea was to put together an anthology of the best African stories and sell to the world. Your story, 'the beaten track' was one of the stories we selected. We had collected 18 works- 3 of them were from Daystarians. When it came to the issue of permissions and copyrights, there was a student called [name withheld] who convinced us that she had contacts with many of the writers, and that she could get permissions from all the authors involved- and even sign contracts with them on behalf of StoryAfrica.
That was in December 2009. We paid her Ksh.100,000 for her efforts, and in about seven weeks, around the last week of February, she produced 15 professionally signed contracts from authors whose works we intended to publish, including 'yourself', which stated that you all had given us permission to use your works. Now we know that the contracts were a scam. But we wouldn't have known back then since the contracts and signatures looked so professional. She did her scam well. She told us she had sent emails and faxes to you all and had made phone calls, e.t.c. to get across to you, the authors. Bottom line, she fooled us into believing you all had signed contracts and permission agreements. And so we proceeded to publish. As soon as this scandal came to light, she absconded.
We were all fooled, including Mfonobong.
But a few things I want you to know:
We were not scammers. More importantly, Mfonobong, (who by the way was one of the stellar students in this school) is not in any way the person you have portrayed him to be. I have read the way you have attempted to destroy his image on your blog, and believe me, it is not fair. If you ever get to meet him personally, you will know that he is not the sort of person you have portrayed him to be. When it was discovered that this was a fraud, he took the pains to contact all the writers to apologize. He has stopped production of the book, and has been working hard to get Amazon.com to delist the book and to get Createspace to recall the books.
If you know him personally, you'll know for a fact that he does not deserve this. In the end, we were all victims of a scammer. I just hope you'll see through this and forgive-just like all the other writers he has contacted have done.
I also hope you'll remove the blogposts about him on your blog. They are destroying the character of a good person. And that is the truth. If you have any questions you can contact me if you are so pissed to ask him.
Chika Unigwe's post on Amazon's StoryAfrica page
I was alerted to this book by a writer-friend whose story appears in it too. We were not informed of this anthology (before it was published), and we certainly did not give our permission for our stories to be in it. I have since spoken to some of the other writers whose works appear (or are purpoted to appear in the anthology) and they, like us, were not approached for permission for their works to be so used. The publisher has shown disdain for our profession by simply stealing our stories and publishing them. Further, (s)he ridiculously claims to have Oprah's seal of approval. I urge you not to buy this book by a shameless literary scammer and I urge Amazon to pull it from their cyber shelves
I want to make it clear that I have a lot more by way of correspondence from StoryAfrica than I've actually made public on this blog. My decision to go public with Mfonobong Nsehe's correspondence was informed by the knowledge that a major expose had been done on him and StoryAfrica on Book.co.za. It was already a matter of legitimate public literary interest. What was I to do therefore, keep quiet and allow him to flog the story as given on Book.co.za that all but one of the writers gave permission? Would I have served the cause of writers and writing by keeping quiet in the face of so much double-speak and lies? Would that pressure him to withdraw the book? MN's mails claimed that at least 2 of the writers whose works were used without their knowledge (one of whom is a friend of mine) have been more forgiving. I say that is a matter for them. I am allowed to react to the quite unbelievable violation as comes naturally to me. I take solace in knowing that Chika Unigwe has gone so far as to post an alert on Amazon. At least I am not alone in feeling this book should be taken out, and urgently too. Even now we are not sure that has happened. Mfonobong has claimed in one mail that "for some reason, Amazon.com is not responding."
I want to stress that I deal with many issues of copyright infringement privately. Just last week I discovered that this same story of mine, 'The Beaten Track' had been published in the maiden edition of an online journal championing female writers of colour, complete with my picture and outdated bio as copied straight off another site (to which I submitted the story years back). I wrote to the editor asking them to remove my story as they had no permission to use it. The editor wrote back giving some excuse and apologising but confirming the story had been removed as per my request. No need to escalate the matter therefore.
StoryAfrica is however the most flagrant violation I've been subject to thus far, and in the permanent medium of a 'fast selling' book for that matter. By someone who some days ago at least was quite prepared to wangle a way through the muddle in order to keep the book in circulation. There have been too many untruths concerning this publication. There's the claim that scholars at Harvard selected the stories, then that Oprah endorsed it (which would have been a bit boring on her part, so soon after Uwem Akpan) etcetera etcetera. Now I'm to understand 'signed' contracts were also involved, including one purportedly by me. Where is the truth and where do the lies end? As it happens, the real exposure on StoryAfrica happened on Book.co.za, I merely buttressed their point. In this, I believe I was justified.
About The Beaten Track
This was the second short story penned by me and it was originally published in Farafina Magazine I think in 2006. Then I submitted it to Africanwriters.com. The story made a bit of a ripple in November 2009 when it was the subject of a N500,000 question on 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire' (Nigerian TV). I wrote 'The Beaten Track' in a psychological space I cannot access again, and for that reason it is unique in my work. I love the story, but it is far from my best. All the more surprising that some Harvard scholars, real or imaginary, should select it as one of Africa's best stories.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
That is why I wrote this apology. I'm NOT attempting to impress you with hopes of a royalty or appease you with a byline in a 'less reputable' publication as ours. I'm saying that there was a breach by someone in the team who was charged with the responsibility of gaining permissions, and I'm taking responsibility on behalf of the team. We are working on cancelling this first edition, but there are so many things involved. Once we are done with the process (which will be soon), be assured that the book will be deleted and prodution and marketing efforts will cease.
And by the way, while I am truly very sorry on behalf of the team and must exercise caution and respect in writing to you, I just want you to know that the thing you said about sales picking up in 2050 is absolute crap. Sales have actually been good. Target and Walmart, apparently, are selling the book, and we've already sold in thousands in less than 6 weeks. Smaller publishers in America and Canada have already requested for republishing rights, and the project would have succeeded if not for the mistake on our part. It's unfortunate that this has happened this way, but when we get our act together next time, we will succeed.
Once again, accept our sincere apologies. Don't bother responding to this mail.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
see me see trouble-o!
Greetings. My name is Mfonobong Nsehe and I am the founder and editor of StoryAfrica. StoryAfrica is a literary project founded by lovers of African literature at Daystar University, Kenya. Our aim is to sell the best of Africans literature to the rest of the world, and to promote African writers to American and European readers.
We made an error in publishing one of your stellar pieces, 'The Beaten Track' in the first edition of our quarterly anthology, 'Africa's Best Stories,' without your permission. A lady who was part of the StoryAfrica team, and who was charged with the responsibility of getting permissions from authors apparently lied to us that she got permissions from several writers whose works were featured to use their stories. After complaints from writers, we discovered that we did not have permission to publish many of the stories we did publish.
Even though the harm has been done, 'Africa's Best Stories' has been published, and your story is in it. I know it is really late, but I would like to use this opportunity to request for the permission to use your story. You will be paid a royalty for your story as soon as sales pick up. But even more importantly, in the book, we have provided a byline to help promote you and your books.
We are really sorry for the misunderstanding. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Please note that my name is not 'Lara' - it's Molara.
This must rank as the highest piss-take 'literary' email I've ever received. What makes you think I'd be impressed by your offer of 'royalty... as soon as sales pick up' (when, in 2050?)?
And how condescending of you to think you've done me a favour by providing a byline to "promote [me] and [my] books." Did I ask for your promotion? Do you know how many bylines I've earned in my writing career, in how many reputable publications?
Bottomline is: you had no right to take my story - without permission - and publish it in any anthology, I don't care if it's the Best Universe Stories. You have a nerve to purport to inform me of the sacrilege after the fact. I'm completely flabbergasted and outraged. This is intellectual theft at its most blatant. Your behaviour is a complete negation of everything I stand for.
Remove my story from your anthology or you'll hear from my lawyers.