2011: A year of literary advancement

By HENRY AKUBUIRO
It was generally a robust year for Nigerian literature. Literature got a big boost from the establishments, new heroes emerged and publishing flourished for many Nigerian writers. In this yearly round-up, we bring you the literary personalities, events and issues that made the headlines in 2011.

 Just as he did the previous year, former ANA President, Hon. Wale Okediran, continued the writers’ residency programme he initiated two years ago, graduating two fresh batches of resident writers. The first group, which finished their six-week stay at the Ebedi international Writers Residency at Iseyi, Oyo State, was made up of Emmanuel Ugochi and Igoni Barret; while the second group, which graduated in September, included Spencer Okoroafor and Anaele Ihuoma. The residency aims at encouraging creative writing through offering writers a place of seclusion for writers to polish their craft.

 In May, two legendary Nigerian writers, Gabriel Okara and Chukwuemeka Ike, turned 90 and 80 respectively, and events were organized by writers and different groups to celebrate their birthdays. One of such was the forum organized for Okara at the National Theatre, Lagos, by the national body of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
 In June, a new Nigerian writers’ collective, JALAA, created a big buzz on the Nigerian literary scene with the publication of four new books by notable Nigerian writers based at home. The qualities of the books (Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets, Jude Dibia’s Black Bird, Odili Ujubuonu’s Pride of the Spider Clan and Uche Peter Umez’s The Runaway Hero) were highly rated, and the group embarked on a marathon of readings across the country to promote them.
 In July, a Lagos banker, Tony Monye, released the biggest novel, Between a Valley and a Plain, published in Nigeria so far. The 743-page novel was published by Oracle Books, Lagos.

 This year’s Garden City Literary Festival was a bomb. Drawing many writers from across the globe and political heavyweights from Nigeria and beyond, it revolved around the theme “Literature and Politics”. The event which kicked off at the Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt, on Monday, September 12, ended on Saturday, September 17 at the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt.

 Organized by the Rainbow Book Club and sponsored by the Rivers State Government, the festival featured literary symposia, bookfair/art exhibition, writing workshops for budding writers, stage plays, special presentations by schoolchildren, among other exciting activities.

 Achebe’s keynote speech on “Literature and Ethnicity” was presented by his son, Dr. Chidi Achebe, on Wednesday, September 14 at the Emmanuel Ebitimi Banigo Hall, University of Port Harcourt. In his speech, Achebe, among others, echoed the relevance of writers in society: “The creative enterprise is a magical space onto itself –the mind in mutual with the world and its elements to produce something of aesthetic value. Creative writers are like painters, using words to paint a literary tapestry.”
 The festival featured great writers like the Ghanaian writer, Ama Ata Aidoo; Ilyas Tunc from Turkey; Nigerian writers, Prof. Femi Osofisan, Prof. Molara Ogundipe, Captain Elechi Amadi, among others, also had in attendance celebrated American human rights activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson; former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku, to mention a few. An exited Governor Chibuike said of the festival: “I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

 In October, the Coal City Literary Forum, in conjunction with the National Orientation Agency, Enugu, organized a reading campaign to mark World Literary Day in Enugu. The event, which took place at the National Library, Enugu, featured the 2007 NLNG Prize runner-up, Uche Peter Umez, and Mrs. Chinyere Onyemachi Agabi, author of Nwanba, among other books. Mrs. Adaobi Nwoye, who leads the forum, said the idea behind the event was to sharpen the reading and writing skills of students.
 Also in October, Mai Nasara, author of the juvenilia, The Missing Clock, won this year’s edition of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, beating two other works and writers on the shortlist –Eno’s Story by Ayodele Olofintuade and
 The Great Fall by Chinyere Obi-Obasi –to the $100,000 prize.

 November witnessed three major book events in the country: The Lagos Book/ Art Fair, the 1st MBA Literary Colloquium to mark Governor Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu’s birthday in Minna and the 30th International Convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors in Abuja, which ended on December 4.

 The Minna event drew writers from across the country, including Odia Ofeimun, Wale Okediran, Karen-King Aribisala, Akeem Lasisi, Prof Tanimu Abubarka, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Ahmed Maiwada, Jude Dibia, Yahaya Dangana. It featured symposia on prose, drama, poetry, criticism and publishing, as well as songs, poetic performances and drama sketches.
 The keynote speaker, the acclaimed poet, Odia Ofeimun, in his speech entitled “Building Intellectual Power to Fix Nigeria”, applauded the massive support to literature by Governor Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu since he became governor of Niger State four years ago, describing him as “the first advertisement of intellectual commitment.”

 The poet noted that, for him to make headway in societal transformation, the first thing the intellect had to do was to establish reason as a weapon of inquiry. Odia lamented the scant attention accorded to the development of Nigeria’s language policy, saying “part of the problems we have as a people is that we don’t develop the language of the people.”
 What was meant to be the biggest literary event of the year turned out to be the biggest flop of the year in Abuja from November 31 to December 4 when the thirtieth convention of the Association of Nigerian Authors was held. With very little to remember, the convention will go down in history as having gathered Nigerian writers in the FCT and made them a laughing stock due to shoddy preparations and organization by the host branch, ANA Abuja.
 The convention, however, produced new leaders for the association: Prof. Remi Raji (President), Denja Abdulahi (Vice President) and BM Dzukogi (General Secretary). The Akwa Ibom State branch of the association won the hosting right for the 2012 convention.

 On Saturday December 3, The Sun began a new chapter in Nigerian print journalism by publishing the first edition of its monthly literary pullout, The Sun Literary Review. It is the only literary journal published in Nigerian media at the moment. The next edition of the pullout will be published in Saturday Sun on January 7, 2012.
 Renowned poet, Prof Niyi Osundare, rounded off an eventful year with a reading on Wednesday December 14 at the Art House, Victoria Island, Lagos. Performing to a considerable sizable crowd, the poet read from his latest poetry collection, City without People, based on the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, in the US, in 2005, which nearly took his life.

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