In its 14th edition, the Book Party is a platform where the reading public and literary activists engage writers of the 11 best texts (of the genre-in-focus, this year being drama) in the country as determined, each year, by the jury of the Nigeria Prize for Literature (NPL). Soji Cole was the last winner of the drama prize with Embers in 2018.
THE 2023 CORA-Nigeria Prize for Literature Book Party will take place on Sunday, August 6, 2023, by 2pm, at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos Island. The Nigeria Prize for Literature is sponsored by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Limited. This year, the focus genre is drama. On July 20, the Advisory Board of the NPL, chaired by a professor of English, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, announced 11 longlisted playwrights who made the cut from the initial 143 entries.
Initiated in 2010 by the country’s leading literary campaign organisation, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), the Book Party is described as an extension service to the campaign for literacy to advance Enlightenment, Education and Empowerment – CORA’s core commitment. The 2023 event is the 14th since the literature-loving NLNG signed onto the programme to boost its USD$100,000 prize project, reputed as the biggest on the continent.
A statement issued by the CORA Programme Directorate observed that the submission of 143 entries for the drama genre this year is impressive, as it shows that “Nigerian writers are indeed very productive, contrary to the impression that the genre is not as popular among creative writers.” The directorate noted further, “that the demography of the longlisted writers is cross-generational. It is encouraging that young writers are deeply interested in drama.” The longlist this year, much like what happened last year when the poet Romeo Oriogun won with Nomad, consists of old, midcareer, and young writers, who are in contention for the biggest literary prize on the continent and one of the biggest in the world.
Drama prize winner 2018, Soji Cole with Embers
With whopping USD$100,000 at stake, the 2023 longlisted writers, in no particular order, comprise Bode Sowande – a septuagenarian university don whose play The Spellbinder is described by the NPL judges as “a psychological enquiry into cleansing of mental instability having forgiveness at the root of its resolution.” Whereas, Abideen Abolaji Ojomu’s The Ojuelegba Crossroads is said to take the reader “into a townhall to discuss in an engaging manner a metaphor of a society in dire need of purging while Olatunbosun Taofeek’s Where is Patient Zero typifies a play “full of drama and humour. It is an engagement on international politics of disease and economy.”
Grit by university teacher and a record fifth-timer on NPL longlist, Obari Gomba, “gives a deep insight into the destructive impact of soul-less politics which brings out the beast in man. The play is filled with conflicts that create the mood of the inevitability of tragedy. The language is full of twists that entertain amid pains” while Dance of the Sacred Feet by Ade Adeniji is concerned about “upholding the sanity of cultural tradition and yet making space to accommodate change and diversity for peace and progress.”
Yamtarawala- The Warrior King by Henry Akubuiro, an experienced art journalist whose foray into fictional works has come into reckoning, is described as “a historical play garnished with fascinating tales and rituals” while Victor Dugga’s Gidan Juju dwells on “kingship and succession, revolutionizing tradition and inviting post-modernity” and Olubunmi Familoni’s When Big Masquerades Dance Naked has an “insightful, socio-realistic subject-matter representing the dimension of systemic corruption and criminal alliance in traditional and contemporary political space,” just as The Boat People by Christopher Anyokwu, another university don and a second timer on the NPL race, is described by the judges as presenting a “socio-culturally relevant subject-matter that is rich in techniques. An out-of-the-box crafting of the experiences referred to as ‘Japa.’
Those that may be considered to fall within the young writers’ clique include Cheta Igbokwe and Abuchi Modilim. An MFA candidate at the Iowa Playwrights’ Workshop and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Iowa, Cheta Igbokwe’s Home Coming is captured as “a play that gives profound understanding of tragic experiences and the psychological life of the people. It is philosophical and gravely entertaining” while The Brigadiers of a Mad Tribe by the winner of the 2021 Arojah Students Playwriting Prize, Abuchi Modilim, “is a discourse on the politics of marriage between science and voodoo.”
The list of 11 will eventually be whittled down to a shortlist of three, with the eventual winner of the 2023 Nigeria Prize for Literature made public in a ceremony sometime in October. Attendance at the 2023 CORA-NPL Book Party is strictly by invitation, however, online participation is public and accessible through: https://nlng.zoom.us/j/85997220875.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature was inaugurated in 2004 and sponsored by Nigerian LNG Limited with USD$20,000 prize money which was later raised to USD$50,000 and now, it is a USD$100,000 prize. The CORA-The Nigeria Prize for Literature Book party, a special iteration of the CORA Book Party launched in 1996, was initiated after a review of the first five years of the esteemed prize project. The idea is to create a platform through which the public gets to engage with the works considered the best of the usually over 200 entries per edition of NPL.
CORA is a group consisting of artistes, art enthusiasts, art promoters and art writers committed to the flowering of all the contemporary arts of the Nigerian people. It has organised, every year since 1999, the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), critically described as ‘the biggest culture picnic on the African continent.’ The 25th edition holds from November 13 through 19, 2023 with theme ‘The Reset: History On A Darkling Plain.’