CORA Art & Cultural Foundation

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Shedding Identity Weight At Nigeria House

Posted by jahman Anikulapo on August 7, 2012 at 4:00 PM
Various authors attracted to Showcasing Nigerian Literature, held last week as part of the Cultural Olympiad in London, try to reveal what govern their sensibilities, writes AKEEM LASISI

The literary component of the cultural showcase at the Nigeria House, London ended at the weekend, but the issues raised by the writers that participated in it remain alive. These include the lingering questions of identity, national dilemma and the relationship between Nigerian writers abroad and those at home.

The project tagged Showcasing Nigerian Literature, which was coordinated by the Committee for Relevant Arts, featured Helon Habila, Nnorom Azuonye, Ade Solanke, Diran Adebayo, Zainabu Jallo, and Chibundu Onuzo. While the author of Everything Good will Come, Sefi Atta, who was also billed to attend, could not make it; the only Nigerian-based writer that participated is latest Caine Prize winner, Rotimi Babatunde.

Babatunde’s presence can be described as being symbolic since, as Christopher Okigbo would say in a poem, he was ‘a shrub among the poplars’. That was until his Bombay’s Republic won the 10,000 pounds prize, thus bringing limelight on what he is capable of doing as a writer.

Followers of Nigerian literature would note that it was the same way the Caine Prize gave Habila’s talent a break, but Babatunde tried to make a clarification on where he is coming from as a writer.

Touching on one of the questions that bordered on the identity of some of the writers, he noted that although he preferred to concentrate on writing, leaving marketing and promotion to publishers, people around Ibadan knew that his personality was not too passive.

He said, “A lot of Nigerians make efforts to self-publish and market their works. I try to concentrate my efforts on writing and reading. But I am a night crawler, though. Those who don’t know me in Ibadan don’t night-crawl.”

Probing questions by Lookman Sanusi, Sola Adeyemi and Ike Anya, who anchored the discussion on different days, touched on the sensibilities of the writers. For Azuonye, who is also the founder and editor of Sentinel Magazine, the identity question is key. Part of how he answers this is by sticking to his African/Igbo name, dropping Sydney, an English name he was given by his parents alongside those (names) he bears now. His children bear Igbo names, despite the fact that the family is based in the UK.

The irony in Azuonye’s case is, however, that he at times finds it difficult to say whether he is a Nigerian or Biafran, since he was born during the civil war. Onuzo’s identity story sweetly contrasts with that of Azuonye.

The father of the author of The Spider King’s Daughter is Igbo while her mum is Yoruba. She does not only jealously keep her Yoruba name — Oluwadara — she also tells anybody that cares that apart from being Igbo, she is as Yoruba as any other person, having been born and bred in Lagos. She, however, added a twist to the identity puzzle in which many people, especially Africans, are caught when she was asked the source of her ‘other name’, Chub.

According to her, it was the alias she earned from a schoolmate in the UK who found it too tough to pronounce ‘Chibundu’.

In the case of Solanke, who was born and raised in England, the identity issue may just be a ‘Pandora’s Box’ – being the title of her play on which most of the questions directed at her focused. She has never experienced Nigerian life, so she created a story in which some of her principal characters are trying to establish where and how. The book is like her own mental box.

Adebayo has a similar story as Solanke in terms of his background, having been British from day one. His response to issues that surround his identity will largely be found in his novel, Some Kind of Black. But a belief he shares with Azuonye, that home-based Nigerians concentrate too much on heavy subjects such as politics and social issues, bred another question that Habila’s position tended to resolve. According to the author of Waiting for an Angel, an enduring perspective is to focus on people. “I try to be realistic and true to life.”

Habila said when asked why love affairs do not usually work out in his stories. “I write about love, about life and sadness. And our society has more sadness than happiness. I don’t write about agenda. I write about human beings.”

At the encounters held thrice at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, Jallo, author of Onions Make us Cry, recounted some of her experience at a residency she just completed.

CORA, which was represented by one of its officials, Ayo Arigbabu, noted that the project was designed to exhibit the best of Nigerian Literature through book readings, conversations on literature and a display of a wide range of books by Nigerian authors at home and in the Diaspora. It was powered by the Bank of Industry and British Council.


Categories: MEDIA

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