The event which held at Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos on Sunday August 3, 2014 started on time with performances by the lyrical Afro neo-soul singer Aduke Aladekomo and her band, ‘Sticks, Strings and Voices’.
The promised performance of an excerpt from Wole Soyinka’s ADance of the Forests had the audience laughing and sighing in turn as they were drawn into the riveting display by the Crown Troupeof Africa in their colourful costumes and blend of formal language and slang.
That the 2014 prize is for drama, a year in which the literary community is celebrating the Nobel laureate’s 80th birthday in a yearlong series of activities, is a happy coincidence as pointed out by Toyin Akinosho, CORA Secretary General in his opening remarks.
And in the spirit of this celebration, Akinosho read an excerpt from Soyinka’s “Alapata Apata”, a strong political satire on the contemporary Nigerian situation. Mr. Akinosho pointed out that the gathering was not only about books but to celebrate our literary creativity as well as the fact that Nigeria is home to the most prestigious prize in Africa. He mentioned that the eleven long listedworks collectively feature a range of human issues.
With the number of dreadlocks and eccentricities on display, one would not have mistaken the gathering for anything but a feast of the arts. The Book Party drew lovers of the arts, writers, actors, members of the academia across generations; there were grey hairs and Mohawks, safaris and low slung jeans, drawn either by the promise of a good meal, the ‘party’ in the title of the event or an opportunity to hobnob with the eleven long listed authors of whom only seven were present, three of them joining the event by Skype.
There was spoken word by Diana Iquo Ekeh resplendent in a flowing Ankara gown who engaged the audience in a call and response chorus in Efik.
Spotted at the venue were Prof. Biodun Jeyifo, Taiwo Ajayi Lycett, veteran actress of screen and stage, Christine from the French Cultural Centre, Mr. Femi Onilegagbon, Chairman ANA Lagos, Chuma Nwokolo and Tony Okonedo, Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, NLNG. Other NLNG officials were prevented from joining the event by a flight delay from Port Harcourt.
Some of the characters in the long listed books were brought to life by the captivating voice of notable actor Nobert Young who read the part of Samson from Paul Edema’s ‘A Plague of Gadflies’ as well as Edo from ‘Oduduwa the King of the Edos’ and Akon from the book of the same title. Other invited actors also read excerpts from the long listed books.
Deji Toye, the moderator of the ‘Meet the Writer’ session introduced the long listed authors as they joined him for a discussion of their books and Q and A with the audience.
Deji noted that Patrick Ogbe Adaofuyi, Soji Cole,Julie Okoh and Arnold Udoka were absent for reasons ranging from other commitments to flight delays. Ade Solanke, Jude Idada and seventeen year old Ruth Momudu, all in Diaspora, joined the conversation and read excerpts from their works via Skype. Friday Abba, Paul Edema, Attah Isaac Ogezi, Sam Ukala were the only writers physically present.
Professor of Drama and Theatre, Sam Ukala, was a big hit as he drew the audience in with his reading and contributed to the discussion with his many years of experience in drama behind him. Most of the works centred around legends, both contemporary and historical, politics, family, social issues and women in public space. As the session went on, several members of the audience left, very likely bored by how long it dragged on. It was finally brought to an end by a poetry performance by Akeem Lasisi with a piece titled, ‘A Promise Kept’ and a reading by actor Tunji Sotimirin.
Nobert Young, speaking with Sabinews was full of praise for NLNG Prize, calling it a ‘beautiful idea.’ He said that besides the Prize, NLNG also sponsored troupes to Bonny to perform the plays at NLNG events. Refusing to comment on the long list since he had not read any of the books beyond the excerpts he performed, he was however quick to say that given his knowledge of the writers, he believed the long list was made up of quality work.
Author of ‘A Plague of Gadflies’, Paul Edema, a writer with a strong background in television spoke extensively about the inspiration for his work. He said, “I am always inspired by my environment. My environment is the only thing that gingers me to write.”
Another writer also influenced by his environment is Friday John Abba, who had mentioned during the discussion session that his book ‘Alekwu Night Dance’ had not been meant to be a drama but that had chosen to come out that way. His story is about a young girl who is raped and murdered and the trouble that follows. John Abba is a literary consultant who got the inspiration for his book while he was immobile from a broken leg. He said he feels blessed to have his book on the long list as his submission was made on the last day.
Attah Isaac Ogezi whose long listed book is his third, writes across genres from prose to poetry to literary essays. “I was so glad when I found out my book was on the long list and I was not also surprised because when God reveals something to you, it is bound to be the best. The inspiration was not mine. I owe it to the Holy Spirit. So I was very happy and not too surprised because it is the Lord’s doing,” he said. Isaac’s short story collection will be launched in a few weeks.
Two members of the audience speaking to Sabinews had disparate opinions of the books on thelong list. Mr. Ngozi Asoya, journalist at The Niche Sunday paper, said that while he is biased in favour the books that came from a historical perspective, from the excerpts he heard read, he thought all the authors did well.
Chidi Okereke, writer and blogger, said, “There’s actually a phrase I heard when the reading was going on and I’m thinking, if this is the NLNG Prize, a long list of eleven people, the quality of the writing should be way up there. For a prize this big, some writing should not be there.”
The Nigerian Prize for Literature is an annual literary competition. This is the third rotation of the prize which covers drama, children’s literature, prose and poetry.
The short list of successful authors will be released soon.