Author of Taduno’s Song, Odafe Atogun (left); moderator, Isabella Akinseye and author of Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo at Revolving Art Incubator reading, Silvebird Galleria… in Lagos
* Ouidah Books offers scholarship for students
Two writers, who just burst onto the country’s literary scene with their exciting works, Odafe Atogun (Taduno’s Song) and Ayobami Adebayo (Stay With Me), which is shortlisted for the 2017 Bailey’s Prize for Literature, have challenged Nigerian publishers to believe in the works of local writers so as to give them a voice rather than allow outsiders to do so first. In a subtle manner, the duo challenged what has become the norm over the years, where local publishers wait for Nigerian writers to get published abroad first before adding them to their to-do list.
The two writers, who are published in Nigeria by Ouidah Books, publishing arms of the organiser of Ake Arts and Book Festival, Lola Shoneyin, read to an intimate gathering of book enthusiasts from their works last Sunday at Revolving Art Incubator at Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. They also fielded questions from the audience about the books and their processes of writing.
Isabella Akinseye moderated the Sunday session. The two earlier had a session at Patabah Bookstore at the mall on Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Surulere, with Kola Olatunbosun moderating.
Atogun’s Taduno’s Song is about a character modelled after the inimitable Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his revolutionary and visionary music, whose resonance still haunts the country’s leadership memory long after the music maestro passed on in 1997. How much has the people, daily oppressed by bad leadership, imbibed the consciousness the musician-preacher tried to awaken in them for a better society? That remains the question the Abuja-based writer is posing alongside delivering the book in a style that has been descried as Kafkaesque, even when Atogun had no idea who Franz Kafka was when he finished his book.
Adebayo, on the other, takes on a socio-cultural dilemma in her choice of theme in Stay With Me that challenges a crucial societal expectation married couples are constantly plagued with – childbirth. Should young couples continue to face the barrage of questions about when the baby would come? Why is the young wife often to blame for the delay in childbirth? Why is the man the innocent victim of his wife’s so-called barrenness and is easily let off the hook in such matters? Shouldn’t adoption form part of the marriage deal in cases where couples find it difficult to have children?
These are Adebayo’s posers in Stay With Me. Her queries cut across all sections of Nigeria’s ethnic groupings, where children are regarded as reason for marriages and love a distant consideration.
Adebayo said she’d submitted her manuscript to some local publishers before she went abroad and luck threw her in the company of a fellow who turned the tide for her at her East Anglia University while pursuing a Masters degree in Creative Writing in the U.K.
Atogun, however, sent his manuscript straight to a U.K. editor and he was excited enough to want a full book. Unfortunately, Atogun only had the first few chapters ready; he had to work feverishly under intense pressure to get the book out. Sadly, the rest of the book didn’t turn out as good as the first few chapters. He had to start a new book altogether, which turned out just as fine and it got published. Atogun got a contract big enough to make him a fulltime writer, a rare phenomenon in these parts. Now, he has got contracts and translations for Taduno’s Song in the U.S., Germany, Italy and other western countries.
Atogun said Nigerian publishers needed to change the narrative and provide the first platform that would launch the country’s writers to the international publishing stage rather than the other way round. He said a similar scenario played out with 1991 Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, whose prize-winning novel, The Famished Road, was rejected by local publishers. He promptly relocated to London, got a publisher for it and went on to win the prestigious prize.
Atogun chided Nigerian publishers for not being adventurous enough, but instead, preferred to look for ready-made writers and books from abroad to publish, saying it is a failing of duty and a disservice to local writers. He feared that a great many books and writers would have been lost as a result.
ALSO, Ouidah Books has offered scholarships for students of literature wishing to use any of Ouidah Books for their thesis or projects as a way of encouraging studies in contemporary Nigerian literature. According to the publisher of Ouidah Books, Lola Shoneyin, the scholarship includes making the books available for the students, N10,000 cash for other support materials, interview opportunities with the writers and any other thing such students might require to complete their projects. She said students only needed to make a pitch via Ouidah Books’ website to access the scholarship.