‘Expect changes in jury structure’
By Ozoro Opute
ONE unique thing about the sponsors of The Prize for Literature, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited, is their willingness to always listen to informed views from critical stakeholders. Of course, they may not always implement them, but the openness of management to criticisms and suggestions stands the sponsors out and has endeared it to the literary community. This is perhaps what accounts for the longevity of the prize, the willingness of a gas company to adapt to the sometimes volatile, changeling environment of a literary prize.
And so from one Manager, Corporate Communication and Public Affairs to another, starting from Ifeanyi Mbanafo to Tony Okonedo, Andy Odeh and now Dr. Sophia Horsfall, the story is the same: constantly engaging with critical stakeholders in their unceasing efforts to make the prize better through innovative ideas and criticisms. This is usually backed by the reigning MD/CEO at each prize award night when they affirm and reassure of the gas company’s commitment to the continuity of the prize to animate the literary community.
One such stakeholder engagement meeting was held last week during a luncheon at Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, when Dr. Horsfall again assured that her team was constantly looking for ways to improve the prize for the benefit of stakeholders in the literary value chain. She solicited the support of literary journalists and other stakeholders to come up with ideas that could expand the scope of the prize and endear it to the creative community. She also said as major stakeholders in the prize structure, NLNG would continue to engage literary journalists who promote the prize and make it known to the reading public, and appealled to them to deploy all their media platforms to engage with their audiences and spread messages about the virtues of the prize in upholding excellence and reward for excellent writing.
The gas company was commended for instituting the prize and increasing the prize money from its initial $10,000 to $20,000 and to a whooping $100,000, describing it as one of the biggest prize money for a literary prize in the world. But as encouraging as the prize, those present regretted that other corporate citizens were yet to emulate NLNG to also institute similar prizes to help animate the creative scene. They suggested that top managers of the gas company could prod their colleagues in other sectors to also imitate them by enumerating the benefits of the prize to the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) bottomline, as motivating, inspiring factor.
The prize sponsor was also encouraged to continue what it did in 2014 when prize winner, Chika Unigwe (who won with On Black Sisters’ Street) was given her award at her old campus, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was noted that such gesture has an inspiring influence on aspiring, young writers, particularly students, who would otherwise not be invited to a glittering prize ceremony in the city. Also, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo was taken to Bonny town to engage with secondary school students with her children’s book My Uncle Sammy that previously won the prize. Such gestures, it was pointed out, would help deepen the value of the prize and its awareness among citizens.
As the only serious corporate entity interested in excellence in creative writing, it would seem that the litany of demands on the sponsor are enormous. For instance, it was urged to consider a yearly creative writing masterclass programme for writers, so as to help sharpen their writing craft. One writer and journalist who has benefited from the outcome of such masterclass, it was pointed out, is Anote Ajeluorou, who was inspired to write his children’s book, Igho Goes to Farm after reading the slim volume on writing for children published in 2015 when the children’s prize was not award that year on account of poor quality of entries. Igho Goes to Farm would later make the longlist of best 11 children’s books in the country in 2019. The book has also been approved for JSS1 classes nationwide by the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC). Jude Idada won the prize that year with his children’s book, Boom Boom; he was a facilitator at the writing workshop for children’s writing in 2015.
The winner takes-all approach was considered, with the sponsors being urged to consider rewarding the two runners up with money, especially in an economically challenged environment like Nigeria where alternative prizes are lacking.
It was pointed out to the communication team that making the prize administration an all-university professors’ affair was not in the best interest of the literary community, as there were as many readers and literary enthusiasts that are not academics, but who have a firm idea about literary matters and could adjudicate the prize. That was when senior team lead, Palmer-Ikuku, disclosed that the writerly community would see changes made to the jury structure this year (poetry is in focus) to reflect a broad spectrum of readers and interests.
Also, it was suggested that perhaps it was time the sponsors broadened the prize to accommodate a much neglected but vibrant literary genre the world over, the short story category, especially a collection of short stories by a single or its anthology equivalent (collection of short stories by different writers). Although there are short story prizes (Ako Caine, Commonwealth, etc), but they are mostly based on a single story rather than a collection. An appeal was made to other corporate citizens to look in the direction of short story collection, as a worthy genre deserving of a major prize.
Some stakeholders in the gathering expressed the desire to tour NLNG Bonny Island facility, so they could have first hand appreciation of the work being done there, its proximity to nature, particularly the roaring ocean waves crashing against the shores, and so be able to write about it in an engaging manner. One of them who had visited the facility some years ago rhapsodised about it, saying it inspired a proposed poetry project that didn’t get off ground because the project partner would later suffer ill-health and pass on.
Poetry is the fiction genre in focus this year, and a call for entries would soon be made by The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2022 sponsors, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited. Cheluchi Onyemeluchi-Onuobia won The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021 with her novel, The Son of the House after beating Obina Udenwe (Colours of Hatred) and Abi Dare (The Girl with the Louding Voice).