By Yinka Adetu
ON Sunday, August 6, 2023, a joyous and momentous literary celebration took place to honor 11 exceptional playwrights whose works were chosen for the esteemed USD$100,000 The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2023. The event, held at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, was a collaborative effort between NLNG and Committee for Relevant Art (CORA). The audience was enthralled by a captivating blend of book readings, enthralling performances, enlightening author spotlights, and immersive audience participation. The occasion was to celebrate the 11 longlisted playwrights who had demonstrated exceptional talent and creativity, earning their place in the penultimate stage of the prestigious award. The celebration underscored the profound significance of drama and playwrights as catalysts for societal change in Nigeria. Through their thought-provoking works, these playwrights courageously challenged conventions, igniting introspection among the physical and virtual audiences with the aim of addressing societal follies and foibles that demand correction.
The playwrights and plays include Bode Sowande’s The Spellbinder, Abideen Abolaji Ojomu’s The Ojuelegba Crossroads, Olatunbosun Taofeek’s Where is Patient Zero, Grit by Obari Gomba, Dance of The Sacred Feet by Ade Adeniji, and Yamtarawala- The Warrior King by Henry Akubuiro. Others are Victor Dugga’s Gidan Juju, Olubunmi Familoni’s When Big Masquerades Dance Naked, The Boat People by Christopher Anyokwu, Cheta Igbokwe’s Home Coming and The Brigadiers of a Mad Tribe by Abuchi Modilim.
Olatunbosun Taofeek (Where is Patience Zero?) making a point while Olubunmi Familoni (When Big Masquerades Dance Naked) looks on
Heralded as one of the most esteemed literary awards in Africa, The Nigeria Prize for Literature has been a source of pride and recognition for the literary and creative writing community since its inception in 2004. Celebrating a diverse array of literary genres, including prose fiction, poetry, drama, and children’s literature, this year’s prize focuses on drama, a category often undervalued in the Nigerian creative industry. Out of an impressive 154 entries received, the panel of judges carefully selected 11 playwrights after undergoing a rigorous evaluation process.
Despite drama’s historical underestimation in the creative writing industry, Nigerian playwrights have consistently proven themselves to be not just mere observers but also the conscience of society. Each of the selected authors has enriched the essence of drama through thought-provoking contributions, questioning societal norms and challenges. Addressing a wide range of issues facing Nigerian society, their works exemplify Aristotle’s assertion that drama is a re-enactment and an essential aspect of learning. Through the reading and celebration of the 11 longlisted books, audience was enlightened, gaining invaluable insights into life and enriching their perspectives.
In addition, the riveting readings from the NLP finalists’ books and illuminating author spotlights reinforced the exceptional quality of the longlist and will make it a formidable task for the judges to choose the ultimate winner, who will be awarded in a glittering ceremony in October. The event has undoubtedly showcased the immense talent within Nigeria’s literary scene, sparking anticipation and excitement for the forthcoming winner’s announcement and demanding the literary community to extend its heartfelt gratitude to the prize sponsor, Nigeria Natural Liquified Gas Limited for its commitment to recognizing and rewarding excellence in literature.
In all, this literary event served as a testament to the vibrant and diverse literary landscape in Nigeria, applauding the remarkable achievements of these playwrights who continue to elevate and enrich the nation’s cultural and artistic heritage. The celebration echoes the vital role that literature plays in shaping and reflecting upon the complexities of society, emphasizing the transformative power of storytelling and creative expression. The event’s vibrant atmosphere and captivating presentations underscored the profound impact of drama on society and the role of playwrights as powerful agents of change. As the literary community eagerly awaits the shortlist of three from the 11 longlist to the final announcement of the winner, NLNG and CORA’s dedication to recognizing and promoting literary excellence in Nigeria remains commendable. Here’s to the hope that this award will continue to inspire and elevate literary talent in Nigeria for years to come.
* Adetu is an English & Literature graduate student at Lagos State University, Ojo, researching African and African Diaspora Studies, Anglophone Postcolonial Studies, and Cultural Studies