‘Communion with creatives’: Literary events flourish in Nigeria | Arts and Culture
Lagos, Nigeria – Earlier this month, an electric light bulb glittered above Umar Abubakar Sidi’s bald head and his glasses reflected blue light from his computer screen as he sat in front of a bookshelf.
He is set to read his poetry book on the second day of the three-day annual book festival to an audience mainly in the southeastern city of Enugu, nearly 600 kilometers from Lagos where he lives.
“There is no greater joy than interacting with creative colleagues,” he says with a ready smile before reading.
More than 100 writers, artists, and readers gathered at Alliance Francaise in Enugu and virtually via Zoom to hear Sidi and others participate in book talks, panel discussions, and conversations at the Literary Festival crater.
The festival started in 2017 when founder Adachukwu Onwudiwe was unable to attend the Ake literary festival in Abeokuta, a two-hour drive from Lagos, because she couldn’t quit her job as a librarian at an NGO profit. Since there was no similar festival in Enugu, she decided to fill the void by establishing her own festival.
For many years, Enugu was a rich literary hub, producing some of Africa’s leading writers including Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Chimamanda Adichie and Chika Unigwe. But over the past decade, festivals honoring writers and literature in the region have disappeared, according to Onwudiwe.
Onwudiwe, 34, also a writer, told Al Jazeera: “The government and the private sector have not made a concerted effort to maintain the literary legacy. “Why do we want to do it? [the festival] is to promote literature and creativity. There are people working in the area but because their names are not in the major magazines, no one knows what they are doing. So we decided that we would cater to those people.
A new breed
In recent years, researchers have identify Reading culture is on the decline in Nigeria as people’s attention dwindles globally, in part due to the rise of social media networks like Instagram and TikTok.
But Onwudiwe says the average age of those present at the five editions of the festival ranges from 20 to 45. And these young people also happen to announce their attendance on social media.
“One of the things we discussed was low attention span, about how we can create to sustain people’s attention…with the right policies in education and culture, we really do. can do it,” she said.
Across the country, similar new festivals are springing up to showcase local art, revitalize writing communities, and facilitate intellectual exchanges modeled on older festivals such as Festivals. Lagos Books and Arts (LABAF) and the Ake festival, which began in 1999 and 2013, respectively.
Perhaps coincidentally, many of the activities that are happening around the same time during the last quarter of the year as a parallel event or foreshadow the year-end festivals are now tagged Detty December. These festivals , spread across different regions of Nigeria, including the Sokoto Art and Book Festival, the Benin Arts and Book Festival, and the Kwara Art and Book Festival, among others.
These emerging companies are not only promoting reading culture, but are also creating new stars, Onwudiwe says.
“The more we create these festivals, the more voices we give people,” she said. “It creates an avenue for authors and publishers to make their work known. I look forward to more happening.
Meanwhile, the Ake festival, which organizers say is Africa’s largest literary event, has been an inspiration to organizers of some of these fledgling events. It held its tenth edition this November, in Lagos.
Lola Shoneyin, veteran writer and director of the Ake festival, told Al Jazeera: “I am delighted that I have been able to bring faith to more people to establish new literary festivals. “Part of it [organising the festival] It’s about showing people what’s possible and being a woman makes that all the more important. That means young men and women can see how they can use their potential.”
For Shoneyin, there aren’t enough literary events in Nigeria and it’s a joy to see so many people taking the initiative to start new ones.
“I actually met the young lady who started the Benin Arts and Book Festival because she came to this year’s Ake festival all the way from Benin. Luckily, I was able to spend some quality time with her and offer some advice on what to do next,” she said.
‘Opportunity to bond’
Attendees say the events are giving audiences from across the continent and the diaspora access to writers of all genres and a wealth of knowledge.
Just before Sidi, a naval helicopter pilot, read his poetry to the Crater devotees, the three curators – from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – joined a playwright. from Owerri, near Enugu, discussing the Second Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Rome in 1959.
LABAF, which hosts events at Freedom Park, a former colonial-era prison, hosted a Q&A session with legendary filmmaker Tunde Kelani and screened his political drama Saworoide.
An all-star cast including Abdulrazak Gurnah of Tanzania and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, two of only four black people to have won the Nobel Prize for literature, featured Ake this year. Writers Nnedi Okorafor and Jennifer Makumbi, rapper MI Abaga and singer Brymo, and Nollywood stars Shaffy Bello and Deyemi Okanlawon also attended.
Also present was Leye Adenle, the author of the novel Easy Motion Tourist in London, who said that despite touring Europe, he only felt truly at home at festivals in Nigeria.
“I still remember… feeling excited when I see authors I have read or know but haven’t met, and the joy of signing books for Nigerian fans,” he told Al Jazeera. “The opportunity to interact directly with African readers is a privilege that people only begin to appreciate when attending book festivals in the rest of the world.”
For Eseoghene Okereka, a 30-year-old writer who attended this year’s Crater festival, the event was an avenue to connect with fellow creative and commercial ideas.
“It is comforting to know that there are people who share your ambitions,” she said.
Wale Ayinla, a 24-year-old poet living in Abeokuta, agrees. Attending literary festivals, he says, has put him in contact with a community of older writers, whose advice has helped him find his voice and navigate the world. published, he said.
Meeting his heroes also gives him clear purpose.
“I remember meeting Wole Soyinka once and I felt fulfilled,” Ayinla said. “I knew I had to do more to be able to sit at the same table with this person.”
Rewrite the script
But the plot is unlikely to be simple for festival organizers who are working to celebrate the culture and put artists on the map. So they had to rewrite the script.
Unlike the larger festivals that have attracted corporate sponsorship and were able to bring in visitors to Nigeria from around the world, Onwudiwe had to provide its own funding. There was also the goodwill of a few individual donors and the enthusiasm of a small group of volunteers.
This year, she has to work with a meager budget of 390,000 Nigerian naira [$875]significant hindrance to planning.
Onwudiwe told Al Jazeera: “We cannot guarantee any corporate sponsorship. “Creative scene” [in the east] not that big… a lack of capital means we have to stay small.”
Insecurity has also disrupted peace in parts of the southeast, as “unknown gunmen,” a catchy phrase for separatists and armed groups, take advantage of what people say. locally known as the economic and political marginalization of the federal government.
So Onwudiwe turned the festival into a hybrid version to cut costs and is looking to create other events for kids, in an effort to revive the reading culture.
Despite the cost, she says she’s happy to provide a platform and connect writers with readers who support them.
“There are times when people contact me to say they have seen my festival portfolio online and want to meet a festival guest and I contact them to buy my books,” she says. them or other things. “For me, that’s very important.”