Criticism is rarely a popular genre of literature. But emerging issues in modern narrative makes it important and essential. This age old tradition came to the fore at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo, Ebonyi State recently, when the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) hosted the first conference on criticism of contemporary Nigerian literature.
Held from June 18 to 19, 2018, the conference, which also had a literary workshop, was tagged, Expanding Frontiers: Nigeria’s creative writing in the 21st Century.The conference, according to ANA President, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, is conceived to unbundle the seminar series hitherto part of the association’s yearly convention.He also stated that the conference was aimed at drawing critical attention to contemporary literature, which he believes, is suffering from the dearth of rigorous criticism, often only available in journals restricted to academics and higher institutions.
According to him, “the conference is to re-popularise literary criticism as a handmaiden of creativity and a vibrant reading culture.”Earlier on, in his welcome address, the Vice Chancellor of the university, represented by Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Prof Solomon Ego, expressed the school’s delight in hosting the conference.
He informed participants that the university is happy, because such an intellectual exercise would lead to the development of reading culture and Nigerian literature.
In his keynote, titled, Expanding Frontiers of Nigerian Literature: Aesthetics and Technological Continuities and Transformations, Professor Isidore Diala of Imo State University, Owerri, took participants round the trends in Nigerian literature from the beginning to the present time, delineating all the major themes and styles.
His rich and all encompassing presentation formed the major plank of discourse at the writer/ critics forum that followed, which Prof. JOJ Nwachukwu Agbada, Prof. Sam Ukala, Prof. Ogaga Okuyade, Dr Ismala Bala and Ikeogu Oke led discussions. The discussions dwelled majorly on the issue of tradition and canon formation in Nigerian literature.
The first day of the conference also witnessed the workshops in the areas of drawing, poetry and drama. All participants at the conference featured in the workshops with the one in drawing led by the art coordinator of the university and another one in poetry led by Prof Joe Ushie, a renowned poet and scholar from University of Uyo. Prof. Sam Ukala, 2014 NLNG Literature Prize Award winner for drama, led the workshop on drama. A competitive segment rounded up the three workshops and winners were announced and awarded on the second day.
The second day of conference started with presentations of two lead papers by Prof. E E Sule of IBB University, Lapai, who spoke on, Diaspora Positioning, Identity Politics and the Crisis of Contemporary Nigerian Literature, and Prof. Oyeniyi Okunoye of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (via Dr. Osita Ezilora of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye) who spoke on, Towards Anthologising Third Generation Nigerian Poetry.
The two lead papers and others that followed presented by scholars and writers across the country acquitted the conference in its major objective of driving necessary critical attention to contemporary Nigerian literature.
The Vice Chancellor of the host university, Prof Chinedum Nwajiuba, walked into the middle of the activities of the second day from a trip outside the country to pledge the university’s commitment to hosting the conference yearly.
In his speech, he spoke of the university’s stride in academics in spite of it being a fledgling school and the intention to make it a world class bilingual institution where French and English are media of instruction.
The vice chancellor read a poem of his and presented awards to the winners of the workshop competitions in the area of drawing, poetry and drama.Earlier on the first day, the ANA President presented a special award to the VC for being a great supporter of the literary arts and donated 200 volumes of books from Nigerian contemporary literature to the university’s library.
The workshop ended with a tree planting ceremony held at the frontage of the main administrative block of the university involving the ANA President and other selected attendees of the conference.An excursion to Ebonyi mines and a poetry and palmwine evening hosted by ANA Ebonyi State chapter ended the two-day conference/workshop.