At NLNG/CORA Book Party, poor publishing infrastructure others dominate discourse
No matter where you turn in Nigeria, whenever the discourse is about books, there is usually lamentation about the country’s inability to provide elementary key infrastructure for learning and knowledge acquisition. It also ends with the plaintive calls on government to do the needful.
In fact, the moderator, poet and music critic, Dr. Dami Ajayi, virtually turned the searchlight on the country’s publishing industry and how the home-based writers managed to get their works published, when last Sunday at MUSON Centre, Lagos, the NLNG/CORA Book Party was held to celebrate and acquaint the reading public with the 11 longlisted writers for the coveted USD$100,000 The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2016. The winner of the prize will be announced on October 9.
While some of their foreign counterparts, like Canada-based Yejide Kilanko (Daughters Who Walk This Path) and U.S.-based Dr. Mansim Okafor (The Parable of the Lost Shepherds) who joined the conversation via Skype had it fairly easy getting a publisher, the three home-based writers in attendance – Aramide Segun (author of Eniitan – Daughter of Destiny), Maryam Awaisu (Burning Bright) and Ifeoluwa Adeniyi (On the Bank of the River) – all had their books self-published after difficulties securing publishers failed.
Therefore, it was not new; in fact, it has been so for as long as anyone can remember the publishing difficulties young writers face.Indeed, as Aramide Segun (author of Eniitan – Daughter of Destiny) pointed out, writers’ plight with poor infrastructure – lack of paper mills, with every publishing inputs imported as the three paper mills in the country closed shop long ago, lack of electricity, poor distribution network and absence of reliable bookshops – were what her mother and first generation writer, Mabel Segun and the Wole Soyinkas and the JP Clarks have kept bemoaning.
While the three home-based writers expressed surprise at making the longlist, they lamented the difficulties young writers encounter in the country and wished that things were different. Segun said publishing has changed a lot since she first published in 1991, while Adeniyi and Awaisu said they had to save rigorously enough to get their works published.
As Adeniyi noted, “I approached virtually all the publishers in Nigeria. They never reject you; they never accept you either. They don’t want to publisher somebody without a name. I became a Disk Jockey (DJ) and On-Air-Personality (OAP) and thought to do stuff in Ibadan. I had to look for best editor and publisher; I’m glad I took a leap of faith and saved up to publish my book. I had a launch that looked like a wedding event”.
Awaisu had a similar experience. An OAP as well up northern Nigeria, she said she had to save up every kobo (even while at school, doing part time jobs) she got without knowing why, but it came handy when she needed to publish.According to her, “Getting published by the big publishers is not easy at all. When you live up north, you don’t get to know so much. I was a little discouraged. Apart from not having standard publishers, it’s about providing wide ranging services. Nigerian publishers don’t have international reach. We need to bring consultants and use networks and not just traditional ways. Having reach is our problem. We need good publishing that has reach and good editing”.
For Segun also, “What we really need is infrastructure. Distribution is non-existent; bookshops sell books but authors don’t get money back. No proper postal system compounds costs of distribution. We need to promote reading culture. Sad to say not many people read fiction. What about electricity? So many things militate against reading culture. For many people, survival comes first”.
Also, Adeniyi raised the question of incentives for reading and writing, saying students studying in the humanities, who would be future artists, usually felt short-changed compared to their counterparts in the sciences who get all sorts of scholarships.
“No incentives for reading and writing,” she noted, “We don’t value reading and writing in his country. There are scholarships for science students even in the universities as encouragement, but not so for arts students. Why can’t we have writers as brand ambassadors? We read a lot in the past. What happened to us? Government should invest in things that aid publishing”.
Segun also pointed at the value orientation assailing the country that effectively negates cultivating intellectual culture, but a glorification of the mundane instead. She argued that rich people are the least well read, an unfortunate situation which she categorically would continue to hamper progress, adding, “Until we have intellectuals as leaders, reading will continue to take the backseat”.
But Manager, External Relations, NLNG, Dr. Kudo Eresia-Eke, said it was erroneous to categorise those who steal from the commonwealth as leaders because they have failed to impact society positively. He noted that leadership must not be limited to political office holders, and urged young people not to imitate such ‘leaders’ who fail to impact their lives and society positively.
IT is a competition that has the women dominating the longlist. Eight women are in the race with only three men. Apart from the three female writers physically present, others writers who joined via Skype included Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday); he joined from Germany; Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Season of Crimson Blossoms), joined from Abuja and Ifeoma Okoye (The Fourth World). Those who couldn’t join in were Ogochukwu Promise (Sorrow’s Joy), Sefi Atta (A Bit of a Difference) and Chika Unigwe (Night Dancer).
Earlier, CORA Secretary, Mr. Toyin Akinosho, stated that the 11 longlisted writers, “collectively feature a range of human issues, from love through religion, to terrorism and the triumph of the will. Our novelists talk about the anxieties of youth, the terror of knowledge, and the tyranny of state apparatus. Contemporary authors here strive to depict the artifacts of tradition. Nigerian art is largely neo-realist; its literature fits the mould”.
Also, Dr. Eresia-Eke, in his remarks noted that out of the 173 entries received, “We have 11 winners, out of which one of them will lift the trophy on behalf of the others, but it is not a trophy to be shared. We are here to celebrate, to party with CORA; nice to have such a dedicated team of erudite, knowledgeable intellectuals. We are celebrating the rising quality of Nigerian literature; we’ve seen more energy in publishing. It’s been a huge rise in quality and it’s something we celebrate. At the end of the day, we all as a community of literature are the winners. It’s a journey into the heart of excellence, something we hope as a company we can bequeath to Nigeria so as to inspire Nigerians to excellence”.
Two of the contestants, Okoye and Awaisu, have set their eyes on what to use the money for should they win the prize. Okoye would spend her money to assist individuals stuck in neighbourhoods like the ones in her novel, The Fourth World while Awaisu, who survived sickle cell anemia, will assist a sickle cell foundation and an orphanage home. However, while John thought talking about money was as a result of poverty mentality and Ibrahim would rather not talk about it.