Monday, December 27, 2010
The literary event of the last week has to be not so much the op-ed piece written by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the New York Times, but the reactions to it, of which there are many, the tones of which have been of the almost universally aghast kind.
My own reading of Nwaubani’s ‘In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse’ was predictably complicated. I am a great admirer of Mario Vargas Llosa (a worthy 2010 laureate) and many other Latin American writers, people in whose works I’ve found a world closest to that of the Yoruba, from among whom I’ve sprung.
That said, I wanted Ngugi to win the Nobel, it meant a lot to me. He has written great, visionary works. He’s an ideological writer, and without ideological grounding, a writer is just piffle, in my view. He has also demonstrated great courage over many decades and suffered terribly for his art and convictions. Ngugi’s ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ is one of the great theoretical works of African literature, or any literature for that matter. After reading it, you cannot be indifferent; you must take a stand, either you are for or against. I have always had great sympathy for Ngugi’s insistence that we should write in our mother tongues, controversial though the larger body of African writers say it is. And one cannot take from Ngugi the fact that he has put his writing post-1986 where his mouth is: writing first in Gikuyu then translating into English (he’s written his latest memoirs in English, but that is a matter for another day).
Ngugi has produced indestructible works in many genres: drama, novel, essay. ‘The Trial of Dedan Kimathi’ was a memorable playtext in my secondary school days. And what of ‘Weep Not Child’, which apart from introducing Njoroge and co, made me want to discover Walt Whitman’s ‘On The Beach At Night’ for myself? These are among the foundational works of my formative years. We used to chant the titles of Ngugi’s books as though they were mantras. I once thought that if I ever saw Ngugi, it would be like seeing man on the face of the moon. Great, almost mythical writer, who one later had the privilege of seeing in the flesh; and to see the radical writer so human, so aged, almost frail (from the detentions and cigarette torture burns). A beautiful mind surpasses the limitations of the physical body.
And to later discover ‘A Grain of Wheat’, ‘Petals of Blood’, ‘The River Between’ and of course, ‘Decolonizing The Mind’. Had Ms Nwaubani read enough Ngugi, she would never have written the following: ‘There’s actually reason to celebrate Mr. Ngugi’s loss.” There’s nothing to celebrate about Ngugi missing out on the Nobel, and it’s difficult to see how the prize going to someone else becomes a “loss” for Ngugi.
Furthemore, it’s baffling that, nearly 25 years after Nigeria bagged her own Nobel through Soyinka, a Nigerian writer saw nothing wrong in suggesting that a Kenyan should not get the prize. Ngugi, Soyinka and Achebe have since the 60s formed the great tripod of the humanising literature of Black Africa. Soyinka has his Nobel, Man International Booker winner Achebe has been celebrated to the heavens for ‘Things Fall Apart’, and suddenly it’s a Nobel for Ngugi that will spell the death of African writing?
Nwaubani’s argument is deeply flawed; and it is regrettable that someone with a platform like the New York Times to postulate about Africa, chose to use her new-found international voice in this manner. The author of ‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’ must realise that it will not be by chance that her argument will play into Western prejudices about Africa and African writing. ‘Oh, let’s not give another African a Nobel because, knowing no better, they’ll only copy themselves.’ Might as well go the whole hog and cite Shakespeare’s Iago: “These Moors are changeable in their wills.”
Arguing for the emergence of new styles of writing, Nwaubani lumps Achebe, Soyinka and Ngugi into a questionable sameness, purveyors of what she calls “an earnest and sober style”. But what is so “sober” about Soyinka’s plays, or his prison memoirs, ‘The Man Died’? Or indeed Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’? Have the likes of Helon Habila, Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Lola Shoneyin and Uzodimma Iweala come to prominence simply because they ‘copied’ Achebe and Soyinka? And which of these two has Nwaubani herself copied? Of the supposed sobriety of the triumvirate, Kinna says on the blog, “Soyinka is far from sober. And what of Ngugi’s ‘Wizard of the Crow’, which successfully mixes humour, satire and fantasy and is, in my opinion, one of the most entertaining books by an African author. Is sober the new word for old?”
The part of Nwaubani’s argument that has provoked the most consternation, is the suggestion that literature in the indigenous languages serve only to exacerbate “tribal differences”. She declares, “This is not the kind of variety we need.” Chielozona Eze issued an early rebuttal to Nwaubani’s “cowardly ideas, the core of which sought to suggest that it is separatist for a writer to write in his native language or even to claim that he is a writer from his ethnic group.” As for Carmen McCain, a Hausa literature enthusiast, writing in indigenous languages “is exactly the variety we need.”
My own imaginative universe has been formed to a significant extent by the works of D.O Fagunwa, which I devoured as a child and still marvel to read today, novels that form the bedrock of Yoruba literature, books which might not have had the same power written in English. And what of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and others, whose immortal works were not originally written in a Western European language? What of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and other works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Their initial publication in Spanish has done nothing to prevent them being read the world over through translation.
I suspect Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani could not have intended to be understood as saying a writer should not identify with an ethnic group. The bio on the UK edition of ‘I Do Not Come To You By Chance’ informs that the author “grew up in the eastern part of Nigeria, among the Igbo speaking people” – a construction that reads more like an ethnography citation from 70 years ago, but which nonetheless serves the purpose. But if Ngugi must be denied just so we don’t write Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba literature, it’s fairly standard that Nwaubani’s New York Times piece is a hard sell.
Nwaubani, Ngugi and the Nobel
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
by Nnorom Azuonye
That snowy morning I was on a high. I knew I was going to be a part of something that could make a difference to so many lives. Important actions are never without their risks. I understood this very well and I was prepared for whatever might happen. I picked up the placard I spent half the night writing, tucked it under my arm and walked boldly out of my room. The nearly sub-zero winds slapped me around, but I didn’t mind. Every step I took brought back to mind the question my girlfriend, Cynthia, asked me a million times the night before, ‘Ajoanu, do you have to march?’ and each time I had replied, ‘Yes. Somebody’s got to tell them where to stick the cuts, and fee hikes’.
I went. I protested. I chanted. I waved placards at red-eyed policemen barricading us into a small square. They were constricting us like huge snakes. “Pythons. Bloody pythons” I shouted at them and they turned on me. Three policemen versus little me. One hit me repeatedly on the head with a baton and broke my skull. Two hit me between my legs with batons and smashed my balls. One testicle per policeman.
Now I am laid out like a roughed-up duvet, supine upon a hospital bed and the jury is out on the state of my brain. I will know in a day or two if my brain is screwed. With what is left of it though, I understood from Dr Patel that my chances of becoming a father someday are truly gone with the march. I now have the rest of my life to analyse my actions and determine for myself - in due time - whether the price I have paid is worth cause, or the cause worth the price.
©2010 Nnorom Azuonye
Monday, November 29, 2010
For me, 2010 has been an incredibly trying year. A year of unspeakable trials and tribulations that have not yet all ebbed, but all of which I have learnt to surrender to God.
There have been three years in my life that I mourned so hard I thought I would die;
1982 - I lost my father, Stephen in September (he was 66). My immediate elder brother, Chidi in October. (He was 19). Finally my maternal grandmother, Agnes Nwosu-Igbo in December. (She was 86).
Then in 2008, my only uterine sister, Ngozi lost her battle against complications of diabetes aged only 52.
2010 however has been too hard, with the loss of my beloved mother, Hannah (nee Nwosu-Igbo) who was 82 and my teacher and friend Esiaba Irobi who passed away at just 49.
When I put these losses together with other trials I have faced, I thank God for the most special gifts in my life; my wife Thelma Nwamamaka, and my children Nwachiamanda Ola Akuoma and Arinzechukwu Chinedum Nnorom - they gave me a reason to carry on and to revisit my father's favourite hymn; Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Everyday that passes, I realise what a master planner God is, and why he planted such a wonderful woman in my life as my wife, and why he has blessed me with such exceptional children.
I set out to write this piece today because of a touching thing that happened to me this morning: I was up from 5am trying to complete the photo gallery at The Nollywood Factory website, and just before 6am my son came into the room. I did not hear him enter because I had, without knowing it, stopped working and bore my head in the palm of my hand. Suddenly I heard, 'Daddy what's wong?'. Arinze is only three years and 8 months old, and still misses the 'r' in wrong.
"Daddy is sad." I said to him, stretching my arms for a hug. He leapt unto my laps and hugged me tight.
"Daddy is happy" Arinze said.
He did not say, 'try to be happy,' or 'don't be said,' he said 'Daddy IS happy.' Then I realised I had nothing to be sad about. Nothing. I mean, I have a family that loves me unconditionally. I have a roof over my head. My health is holding up. My mind, as far as I know is sound. I just have some niggling problems here and there. Who does not have some niggling problems here and there? I shut down the computer, and went to bed and slept like a child. I woke up just after 10am. Happy.
Today, I worship God with all of my being and give thanks for every day. I have even learnt to give thanks for the lives of those whose passing caused me so much grief. I finally have realised that the reason those transitions cut me so much was because of how special the people were, and how much value they added to my life. I have since learnt to appreciate the living, rather than mourn the dead. I have since learnt to make sure I remember they who have passed on as they were in life. Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning when everyone has slept and I beat the hell out of my computers' keyboards, I stop, close my eyes and listen to the voices and laughters of my friends - both they who are here and those who are not. It is so indescribable how truly amazing life is, especially the realisation that life does not ever end.
I glorify God. Truly, I glorify the only living God.
- Nnorom Azuonye
Thursday, October 07, 2010
“For those who insist that there was a rush to judgment on the part of the President on this matter, it bears restating that what he sought to do was to reassure Nigerians that the perpetrators will be found, a process which could be hampered by a rather casual attribution of the violence to MEND,” - Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation
I just read this rather amusing piece on Next. I don't know what to say. If President Goodluck Jonathan wanted to tell Nigerians and the world that the perpetrators of the bombing in Abuja would be found, could he not just say so?
Why say categorically that MEND was not responsible for the attacks?
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
By Nnorom Azuonye
Mama, at the very moment you passed away,
I was at The Minstrel’s wake, reading ‘A Ceramic Life’
- a poem he had written for his own friend, Chukwudi
who like Chidi, your son, my brother, had walked
the world to dark, young, in an automobile accident.
I did not know it then that the cord of life
that bound us together as two living beings
was being seared out of me by unseen hands;
I burnt up inside for close to an hour.
I thought I was dying as I drank, one cold drink
after another, to cool my insides.
Mother, I didn’t know I was combusting inside
because you were dying in Port Harcourt.
At five minutes to two in the morning
of the 12th of June, I stepped into my home.
My wife’s face, normally beautiful, looked
like the middle of night defaced
by a mischievous graffiti rascal.
‘Has my mother died?’
Like a zombie, I waltzed into the kitchen
and I put on the kettle. Two minutes later,
I was lost in the warm arms of coffee.
In my heart, I hummed a song:
Nnem ejejie la uwa chi o.
Igirigi ututu ejejie la uwa chi o.
Na Port Harcourt.
‘Feel something, Nnorom. Say something.
Mourn your mother.’
The truth, Igirigi Ututu, was I did not know
what would have been right:
To mourn you, I had to accept that you had died.
Done. Gone. Expired.
Passed away like an un-eternal song.
Or to celebrate you, to open my mind
to the endlessness and wonders of our existences,
and sing you – the eternal song, morning dew
now forever dew that neither sunshine nor end
of earthly life could dry, corrupt, or dissipate.
This is how I shall forever remember you,
the way you were in life; cool, comforting,
soothing, loving, forgiving, inspiring.
That very day, I chose to celebrate you.
I even bragged on Facebook
that I had succeeded not to cry,
that I was off to buy dancing shoes
to thank the Almighty for your long life
and for the great privilege of being your son.
Five days after you passed away
I suddenly understood the content of the news:
I would never see you alive or hear your voice again
in this lifetime. The weight of passing’s finality
landed on my heart like a heavyweight punch
and I wept. I wept and wept and wept
until I felt a presence that might have been you;
calming, reassuring, peaceful like morning dew.
Then I bought those dancing shoes.
London. July 15th, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
as I stick a little Ghanaian flag beside my computer monitor and get to the end of my one-day honourary citizenship of Ghana following our demolition of the Yanks in South Africa,
as I accept that my English mates won't be bothering to ask me to tip in to the George & Dragon for a pint of two of Guinness (even though I am not a Brazillian),
I now find laughter where grief has been camping, and from now on, I will focus on making our literature festival in October a great success.
We have been talking with prospective participants and from this week, we shall be updating the festival website with details of those who have confirmed that they will be there. If you are interested in participating in this year's festival, please contact the Artistic Director, Mr Lookman Sanusi e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
We have made a call for submissions of Poems, Short Stories and Short Plays to be published in the Sentinel Literature Festival Anthology 2010 due out in October. The anthology's editors are Nnorom Azuonye (Drama), Unoma Azuah (Poetry) and Amanda Sington-Williams (Fiction).
For more details and to submit your work now visit Festival Anthology Page
FESTIVAL POETRY COMPETITION 2010
The last day of the Sentinel Literature Festival will be the Awards and Recognitions day. On that day we shall be giving out the maiden Sentinel Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of contributions or services to literature. We shall also honour the winners of the Festival Poetry Competition with their prizes and first public readings of their poems published in the festival anthology. The Prize money for this competition is £250 (First), £130 (Second) and £70 (Third). The competition is judged by Roger Elkin.
For details and to enter now, visit the Festival Competition Page
All new information about the festival will be published on the website www.sentinelpoetry.org.uk/literaturefestival
Call me: 07723 904 913, or 07812 755 751
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Monday, June 07, 2010
Proud little a tune of greatest joy I make
the talents of my choristers I fully employ.
Loud wondrous a sound my trumpeters wake
the jewelled blissfair dancers honour my joy.
London, June 7, 2010
Saturday, June 05, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
"Although the continent accounts for only 2% of global traffic, figures show it was responsible for 26% of aircraft crashes last year. In 2009 accidents on the continent increased sharply from 2.12 to 9.94 accidents per 1.4m flights. The worldwide rate was one accident every 1.4m flights. Bad infrastructure, poor maintenance of aircraft and lack of investment in new technologies are regarded as some of the main culprits. But the African skies are also thick with politics. Some 111 carriers from 13 African countries have been blacklisted by the European Union and banned from its airspace."
Tripoli tragedy highlights Africa's unenviable record on air safety
Bad infrastructure and poor maintenance contribute to continent's relatively high number of plane crashes
A teacher, a retired manager, a cabin crew trainer and an award-winning writer. Five seconds was the difference between a safe landing and the crash that killed these and 99 other passengers on Afriqiyah Airways flight 771 at Tripoli airport last week.
Nine-year-old Dutch boy Ruben van Assouw was the sole survivor of the carnage that also left two Britons dead. The plane had been due to stop over on its way from Johannesburg to London.
Afriqiyah Airways, born in 2001, is owned by the Libyan government and promotes itself as a cheap way to get to Africa from Europe. It is popular with backpackers and independent travellers and boasts: "We connect Africa to the world." But last week's accident underlined how far Africa has to go to shake off its reputation as the most dangerous place to fly in the world.
Although the continent accounts for only 2% of global traffic, figures show it was responsible for 26% of aircraft crashes last year. In 2009 accidents on the continent increased sharply from 2.12 to 9.94 accidents per 1.4m flights. The worldwide rate was one accident every 1.4m flights. Bad infrastructure, poor maintenance of aircraft and lack of investment in new technologies are regarded as some of the main culprits. But the African skies are also thick with politics. Some 111 carriers from 13 African countries have been blacklisted by the European Union and banned from its airspace. This does not sit well with the African Airlines Association, which accuses Europe of taking commercial advantage. "We are the first to admit that Africa needs to improve its air safety record," Nick Fadugba, secretary general of the association, said last month. "However, while the EU list may be well-intended, its main achievement has been to undermine international confidence in the African airline industry. The ultimate beneficiaries of the ban are European airlines, which dominate the African skies to the disadvantage of African carriers."
The industry in Africa is not taking the criticism lying down, pointing out that not all its airlines should be tarred with the same brush. Earlier this month the Flight Africa Blog published a list of the 10 safest airlines on the continent, in rank order: South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Botswana, Air Mauritius, Air Seychelles, Kenya Airways, Tunisair, Royal Air Maroc, Nigerian Eagle Airlines and Air Zimbabwe.
The inclusion of Air Zimbabwe shows it has stood up well despite the economic and political meltdown in the country. But nobody's perfect: last year one of its planes veered off the runway after colliding with a warthog.
More hazardous than commercial travel, however, are the lives of mercenaries and smugglers who pilot ageing Soviet-era aircraft until they no longer work. The planes have been described as "flying coffins".
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
(For The Minstrel, Esiaba Irobi)
This is the song I told you about,
in the vernacular of spirit
channelled through men like me
lyrics unfettered chip and stir,
then from recesses blow veils away
until lives presumed ordinary
yield unusual stories.
The song rises equally -
for the first breath, and
the certain stillness afterwards;
women whose brows bear kaolin art
dance and ululate through the village.
Where a cry of infancy rises,
there is relief; the woman
with a swollen belly was, thankfully,
only heavy with life.
Men stand in small groups,
to dirge forth fallen kin through
the gateway of ancestral lodges,
the seat of justice.
The song rises for feet that kiss,
feet that shuffle by still, or
rolling feet, on life's dance floor -
when birds and insects sing to unite
the animate and the inanimate,
cousins in one universe.
Do chairs know people sit on them?
Do aeroplanes know they fly?
Do cars know they are driven by men?
Why do lips and heels crack in the harmattan?
Why do crocuses sprout in springtime?
Why do birds lay eggs and humans don't?
Why do men raise arms against men?
Why do we grow old and die?
Why do we cry when a loved on dies?
This song enslaves me
in waking hours,
the story of life couched in rhythms
of screams and silences,
fear and fun.
Listen to the beats…
they are alive, punching tongues
unto paths of honour,
new ways of thinking,
these beats, optimistic, hopeful,
celebrate pockets of friendship;
survivors of unnecessary wars
This song, a journey into the core
of breath, is sometimes just that –
a song, meaning nothing,
like morning breeze
cool and fresh in the face.
This is the song I told you about,
mirror to my face, and the core?
If there is hope and joy
in the lines of our faces,
let there be laughter.
If there is fear and sadness
in the lines of our faces,
let there be tears.
I am a songwriter,
and all I have is this song.
by Nnorom Azuonye
Dr Esiaba Irobi went into transition on May 3, 2010. You can read my tribute to him in Next on Sunday here: http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/ArtsandCulture/Books/5564729-147/story.csp
"A Song about What Happens" was first published in Other Voices International e-Anthology vol. 15. (November 6, 2005) http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol15/azuonye/index.html
Saturday, May 01, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
By Nnorom Azuonye
The Lord is my shepherd. I have no difficulty in paying for a roof over my head, affording my transportation, food, clothing and other necessary expenses required to provide abundantly for my family. I lack nothing at all.
I have no physical ailments. My body is fundamentally healthy. I soar in divine health.
He makes me lie down in green pastures where there is abundance of fruitfulness and blessings for me and my family. I am a success.
He leads me beside the still waters thereby giving me peace of mind, peace of spirit, and the courage to face life with calmness, clear headedness and purpose. I do not rush into decisions and I do not speak too quickly, I only do those things which the Lord desires and asks of me with the sense of direction that comes with spiritual serenity. I surrender to His will and guidance.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He keeps me on the side of what is right. He makes me aspire towards holiness. He makes me realise that I live only to worship Him and by my every word, every thought and every action bring honour and glory to His Holy name. I worship Him.
Yes, even though I walk through the valleys of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for the Lord is with me. I live without fear in everything I do – driving, travelling by public transport, walking in the streets where terrorists and criminals operate, visiting the infirm in the hospitals where unseen bugs prowl, I am never afraid because I am covered completely with the blood of my Lord Jesus the Christ. I wear the armour of God.
Your Rod and your staff, they comfort me. There is no grief in my life.
In my times of despair. In my times of sorrow. In my times of confusion. God is the rock within which I take refuge, where nothing can ever hurt me, where neither words of detractors, nor the snares of principalities and powers can hurt me or even come near me. You have put a hedge around me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Where people expect me to fail, I triumph. Where people expect me to fall, I stand. Where people expect me to mourn, I celebrate. You are good and faithful to me, because I do your will and meditate on your law, day and night. You have fortified me with your spirit and your grace. You have blessed me.
You make a way where there is no way, heavenly father. You give me business where there is no business. You make me achieve every target I set for myself. I never fall short because I am in you and you in me. My cup truly overflows.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the wondrous house of the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
©2008-2010 Nnorom Azuonye