By Kelechi Agoha
THE inability of big publishers in the local book scene to seek out young, talented writers to groom, publish and promote their works, preferring instead to offer ample publishing spaces to diasporia writers formed part of discussions at Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Mbari Series in March. While publishers in the literary space eagerly take on the works of Nigerian writers living abroad, they demand prohibitive sums from their local counterparts before publishing their works and without offering any editorial advice or assistance. With readership shrinking by the minute, writers in the local scene continue to lag behind for lack of promotion that brings followership.
What came through at the end of deliberations was that the intellectual or creative capital development of young Nigerian writers would continue to be imperilled if enough publishing space is not given to them to put out their works and promote them to a wide followership, as the first and second generation of writers enjoyed and diasporic writers are currently enjoying.
The monthly ANA Mbari Series aims to bring creative minds together to discuss issues that affect writing and reception of creative works in Nigeria, especially among young generation of writer. The second edition of the Mbari Series was held on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at the ANA National Secretariat, Mamman Vatsa Writers Village, Mpape, Abuja. Prof. Udenta Udenta was the guest lecturer with moderation from Dr. Joan Oji. The theme for the March event was ‘In Search of a Better World: Literature and Intellectual Capital Development.’
The meeting started with a brief introduction by the National President of the Association Nigerian Authors, Mr. Camillus Ukah, who highlighted the power of creative literature on the development of an individual, society and nation. Ukah noted that “books are very strong, particularly creative literature, in developing a person, society and issues affecting the human mind,” and therefore called for a robust discussion that should centre on the intellectual capacity of the writer and the impact of literature on the readers. According to him “the essence of this gathering is to discuss the intellectual capacity of the writer. The intellectual energy of our writings is stored in sentences and the amount of energy you put in your work matters. So those of us who want to make impact must be sound.”
However, Ukah argued that only a few creative writers in contemporary times make impact. While bemoaning this negative development, he stressed that the impact of creative works is very important in driving capital development, and that the impact of literature should not only be felt in our immediate society but in the world at large.
In her opening remarks, moderator of the meeting, Dr. Joan Oji stated that the need for intellectual development, especially in the early, formative years of learning is integral in the development of sound, creative skill of the writer. She said it was regrettable that the decline in intellectual development in the Nigerian educational system started with the abolishment of the Teachers’ Training Colleges (TTC), observing that the TTC offered all the subjects on the elementary school curriculum and thus provided a comprehensive education to young people. However, she averred that for young writers to develop the requisite intellectual skill to write good works that have impact in society, it is important for them to read the works of early generation writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe who are among the pathfinders of literary art in Nigeria, and in the Africa continent.
“Honestly, if you do not have the background of the generation of writers before us and you are just writing in the air, then I will say you are on one-way traffic,” she Oji said. “You ought to be guided by what had gone before. Somebody must either be influenced by Achebe or Soyinka, because those were the forerunners.”
She also asserted that language plays a vital role in intellectual capital development and therefore advised that young writers should be mindful of their use of language in creative writing. Oji further gave a brief history of Mbari Club, noting that Mbari art and culture, from where the Mbari Club was formed, came into existence in 1961 at the University College, Ibadan (now University of Ibadan). The purpose of forming the club was to celebrate African arts through culture, she disclosed.
Meanwhile, guest lecturer, Prof. Udenta observed that the current Mbari Series lacks the bureaucratic infrastructure to drive the monthly meetings to its optimal potential. He therefore promised to provide the logistical support needed to make the monthly meeting an enduring one. In addition, he also offered to encourage outstanding writers with incentives every month.
On the issue of literature and capital development, Udenta highlighted the importance of individual development, as sine-qua-non in enhancing creativity. He noted that individual development begins at a young age and involves a “sense of curiosity of the world, a sense of doubt, a sense of striving and struggling consistently and a sense of questioning norms and orthodoxies, sometimes in a manner that disrupts established conventions.”
He maintained that no writer could write beyond the scope of his imagination, and that the human imagination is vast, and consists of what one knows, have been taught, have heard and have experienced, in addition to what he or she has read. Using his boyhood experience as an example, he recalled that reading all the collection of books in the African Writers’ Series (AWS) at age 13 helped to shape his creative skill. Udenta also affirmed that the impact of literature in shaping society, people, government, and policy makers is enormous and could never be overemphasized. He, however, observed that the contemporary society posed serious challenge for young writers, and advised that young writers should leverage on the free flow of information in their creative writing.
According to him, “times have changed; the literary aesthetics have decentred due to issues of postmodernism. A whole lot of things have changed. It is no longer about the received knowledge that will guide you now. You have to understand this moment of despair and the dynamics of today which is troubling and bewildering at the same time.”
Some of the participants at the meeting also spoke on the challenges affecting creative writing and young writers in Nigeria. Salamatue Sule expressed concern over lack of awareness and promotion of creative works by publishers in Nigeria. She observed that books written by young writers lie fallow in the bookshelves of these publishers. In her opinion, this challenge poses a limitation on reception of creative works, which she felt also reduces accessibility to books and readership, noting, “writers cannot consume their own works.”
To bridge the gap between writers and readers, Sule suggested that ANA should use the Mbari Series, as a platform to invite friends and family for the monthly event. Also, Owen Okon noted that creativity without followership is of no consequence. He therefore said the monthly Mbari Series should be a way of enhancing followership. More so, Andrew Bula said deemphasising art for art sake affects the quality of creative writing. He therefore called for the use of elevated language in the creative process to enhance intellectual capital development. Chimnemezu Nwaeze VinePaul underlined systemic failure in recognizing and rewarding young writers, as one of the fundamental snags affecting creativity. He noted with dismay that the curriculum of tertiary institutions and examination bodies are still dominated by works of classical, older writers like Soyinka, Achebe and Shakespeare.
According to him, “We cannot live and die as young writers with the classics” dominating the space, and enjoined young writers to “come together to write classics that can replace the works of early writers by bringing up activities that can promote contemporary literature.”
While responding to some of the suggestions made on the floor, Prof. Udenta affirmed that the Nigerian literary market is dominated by diasporic writing which he noted was affecting the growth, development and promotion of indigenous works. He warned that as a nation, “we cannot use the promotion and canonization of diasporic writing in measuring the growth of Nigerian literature,” and therefore enjoined ANA and other critical stakeholders to find a way of promoting indigenous writers to enhance intellectual capital development.
The meeting featured poetry performances by some participants such as Andrew Bula’s ‘I too have made something on my own’ and Folasin Akingbemila’s ‘when shadows have colours’.
In his closing remark, Ukah said the success of creative writing depended on the quality, value and positive impact of the work on society.
- * Agoha is a Doctoral Candidate of Dramatic Arts at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka