Today I want to take you into the literary landscape of Nigeria, and not just the regular. In the past few years, it seems that our output in literature has grown in leaps and bounds even in the face of poverty and other hindrances. A Nigerian has now won the Booker – Ben Okri, the Orange – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who also got the MacArthur Genius Grant), and the Man Booker International Prize – Chinua Achebe for his lifetime achievements. Need I forget Wole Soyinka who won the first Nobel Prize for Literature in Africa.
In today’s literary circles however, we have been blessed with a horde of new and refreshing literary voices in Lola Shoneyin (poet and author of So All the Time I Was Sitting On An Egg, who is not so new anyway. The collection was published in 1998.), Sarah Ladiipo Manyika (author of In Dependence), Unoma Azuah (American based author of Sky High Flames), Molara Wood (blogger, literary journalist and story writer), Chika Unigwe (author of The Phoenix), Bimbola Adelakun (author of Under the Brown Rusted Roofs, which was nominated for the Nigeria LNG Prize for Literature), Diana Evans (author of 26a) among many others. I have only mentioned a few prominent ones as I could not be exhaustive.
In the male category are Jude Dibia (author of Unbridled, also shortlisted for the NLNG Prize), Helon Habila (author of Waiting for An Angel, and winner of the Caine Prize), Biyi Bandele (author of Burma Boy, who brought us the forgotten images of Africans in the big European wars), Toni Kan (author of Nights of A Creaking Bed, and poems Songs of Absence and Despair), Eghosa Imasuen (author of To Saint Patrick), Igoni Barrett (author of From the Caves of Rotten Teeth). If you have not heard any of these names before, then you have not been reading from Nigeria. Last week, poet and short story writer Tolu Ogunlesi (author of Conquest and Conviviality) won a “Mini” Orange Prize in a competition of short paragraphs.
If you want to read love, sensual verses, you may pick up Jumoke Verissimo‘s I Am Memory and journey with her as she chants to the memory of her love. There is also Helen Oyeyemi‘s The Icarus Girl, Nnedi Okorafor‘s Long Juju Man and Zarah the Windseeker – the latter which won her the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Onyeka Nwelue‘s The Abyssinian Boy is another fresh addition to the literary firmament. The young man has been compared to Rushdie in style, and his book is a journey between cultures, gender and generation, traversing Nigeria and India. I should not forget Sefi Atta‘s wonderful writing in Everything Good Will Come.
A few days ago, the poet Lola Shoneyin was featured on the Arts Show where she read from her upcoming novel, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”. Listen to, or download the programme here. Today, I read an interview of Chimamanda in the Guardian UK. Apparently her new book The Thing Around Your Neck has made waves because of its depiction of Nigerian life. I have read Araceli Aipoh‘s No Sense of Limts, and now, I’m seeking Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani‘s I Do Not Come To You By Chance, because I have been told by Ikhide Ikheloa, another online literary critic, that it is worth reading to glimpse the “comprehensive documentation in prose-song of the ravages of the locust of materialism on our people’s way of life.”
When I’m not reading the books from any of the above, or trawling bookshops or online libraries for copies, snippets or reviews, I am reading opinions from Nigerian online literary columnists. Some of my favourites are Ikhide Ikheloa, Teju Cole and Rukky Ladoja at NEXT Online. I could also be attending public readings. I am sure that you’ve heard of the now famous Nine Writers, Four Cities: a road trip/literature tour of nine writers across four Nigerian cities. After attending the event at the Cambridge House in Ibadan, former home to poet Christopher Okigbo, I had blogged about the event, which came to an end on Saturday, 6th June 2009 at the African Artists’ Foundation, Ikoyi, Lagos, after having toured Ibadan, Benin, Warri, and finally Lagos, where it began. I was there also.
The Farafina Magazine is arguably the most prominent literary magazine in Nigeria today. They are the publishers of the Nigerian version of Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, among many others. Then, there is also Cassava Republic , which has published a few new notable authors including Toni Kan’s Night of a Creaking Bed, Teju Cole’s Everyday is For The Thief, and Abidemi Sanusi’s Zack Story and Kemi’s Story among others. There was a time when Laspapi hinted of a publishing project initiated to feature the best literary blogposts from Nigeria. It was to be published by Farafina. Hopefully, the project is still in the works since we haven’t heard anymore from its sponsors.
Well, there you have it. Every day in Nigeria brings fresh new writings. My favourite are those that shock, and take us into sweet realms of fiction where we re-discover ourselves in a way we weren’t expecting. In closing, I’d like to share a few blogged literary pieces that I like. They do not necessarily reflect the best of the Nigerian blogosphere, but they sure represent the recurring spirit of our latent creative potential. And since I’m reviewing, let’s just call them my list. First, there is Loomnie’s Fola which I first read in draft as an undergraduate in the University. Then there is 7 Lies: A collection of Short Stories by Adeleke Adesanya, which is unique and enviable in its accessibility. The author wrote the works, compiled them, and simply put them up for public reading and free downloads. This should surely rank as one long overdue innovation in the literary circles today. In poetry, I recommend Aloofar’s Lost, a personal reflective poem that is stunning in its simplicity, and Nigerian Drama Queen’s Haiku for Forgivenness. If you have the time, you would find many refreshing pieces of prose and poetry works on Nairaland.com.
You may also look up my first online published short story. It is published on StoryTime, another online literary forum/commune – along with Author-me – where new great fictions from all over Africa show up now and again.
Look me up on Twitter@Baroka