Written by JK Anowe and originally published on gulliblegimmicks.blogspot.com
On 28 October 2015, I was announced one of four winners in the inaugural Green Author Prize, and a few days later, I turned it down.
The aim of the prize was to jointly publish four young Nigerian poets under the age of 24 as coauthors due to “the prohibitive cost of publishing that has silenced young writers without the required funds, limiting most to their Facebook walls and the occasional blog entries.”
The authors were selected from four zones: North, South, East and West of Nigeria by a team of young and established Nigerian writers, and they would be offered a full traditional publishing contract under WRR LTD, an independent publisher in Nigeria.
About three months ago, when I read the call for submissions, I was ecstatic. I was grateful, especially to Kukogho I. Samson, CEO of WRR and sole proprietor of the prize. It is a rare thing for a publisher to want to publish budding poets traditionally. I felt I was one of those “silenced writers” that needed to be heard, even though I had a small readership already on Facebook, amongst friends and in school.
For a young budding poet like me, to be published traditionally is a dream come true. It doesn’t just mean I get to widen my horizons and readership, it also means I get paid while I’m at it. And the idea of getting paid, even if in stipends, for your work as a poet is excruciatingly encouraging. Like I said, it was a dream come true, and the Green Author Prize was that metaphorical dream coming true.
Now, as to why I rejected the prize just a few days after bagging it, I would readily, and without laxity say, it was not beyond me. The move, like every move I make on a chessboard, was intentional, calculated and not uncalled for, though a handful of people still think it rash, selfish and even foolish, and I do not blame them. Moreover, what do I know? I will be 22 next year and I still live with my parents.
It just baffles me to think that people can no longer tell the differences between what comes out of their mouths and anuses. Take for example, the criticisms of the Pray for Paris hashtag on Facebook and Twitter, and you would marvel at how people achieve orgasms from myopia.
It turned out the Green Author Prize was not all I’d hoped it would be. The initiative was brilliant but I feel it could have been better handled. It was no different from a publisher publishing your book and then letting you do all or most of the marketing yourself. Something I think the present CEO of WRR had experienced with his first publishers.
So I’d thought it was going to be different with the Green Author Prize, and since it wasn’t I opted out, primarily because I felt there were better ways the prize could have been run without spending more than they had bargained for and because I didn’t feel it was enough to put four people’s poems in a book, hand them certificates, and then ask them to market the book themselves.
It probably sounds overly ambitious but I thought they were different. I mean, when was the last time we did something for the first time? Would it kill these publishers to do more than just publish books and leave their fates to the writer’s inability to market them? I mean, what happens to these books when they are published?
Ironically, the people behind the Green Author Prize didn’t create that “rare opportunity” for young poets. They simply created what every other publisher, who’s making it all about the business, would create. Even though they seem oblivious of it.
I daresay it is not enough! It is not enough!!!
It is just as the literary critic, Ikhide R. Ikheloa, had written in an article and I quote: “…many African publishers are pretend publishing outfits, giant stapling guns with a lot of heart but little to offer writers….”
Which brings us to what I speculate would be Africa’s biggest literary event of the year; the AKE Arts and Book Festival, taking place at the June 12 cultural center, Kuto-Abeokuta, from 17 – 21 November 2015.
The festival will feature 8 book chats, 3 art exhibitions, 1 play, 2 in-depth interviews, school visits, 18 stimulating panel discussions, 3 documentary screenings, 2 films screenings and a poetry performance event. In addition, it will run a large bookstore which will be open to booksellers, book lovers, pupils and students who benefit from Governor’s grants.
I hope I’m able to attend but I’m not here to advertise the festival, but to point out a shortcoming similar to that of the Green Author Prize;
“…the theme is Engaging the Fringe and dialogue will focus on the genres and creative endeavor that do not get the same attention as Art forms considered as mainstream…”
I, however, think this is bullshit; a conspicuous dalliance of the lips, and I’ll tell you why.
A prose/photography competition was organized and conducted with the aim to sponsor three African creatives constrained by costs to attend the festival.
“…the prize includes an all-expense paid trip to the festival and EUR200 in prize money….”
I liken this simple act of goodwill to a 9-month pregnant woman ceaselessly ramming her stomach into a wall.
How can they claim to want to focus on the malnourished genres/creative endeavors but the aforementioned provisions were neither made for playwrights nor for poets even though it is no longer hearsay that these two genres are the ones lagging rigorously behind, especially in the Nigerian literary industry?
So where’s the “focus on the genres and creative endeavor that do not get the same attention as Art forms considered as mainstream”? Where is it? That the Nigerian government has done little or nothing to ameliorate the arts and culture industry in the country is no excuse to wallow in our favoritisms and in depth laxities.
At this point, it is necessary to note that the Green Author Prize and the Ake festival are in no way peerages. Comparing these two is like comparing Nigeria to the USA in terms of development. Thus, just as I would be discomfited experiencing an unnecessary power outage in America, as it is executed nonchalantly by our amiable brothers at the powerhouses in Nigeria, I’m devastated, as a poet and as a lover of art, at this grave omission – intentional or not – by the key players in the Ake Arts and Book Festival.
It is about time publishers, and foremen behind these literary events realize that poets are not beggars. We are not beggars and we should be treated with respect. There are not many projects in Nigeria promoting poetry, at least not until the recently concluded Lagos International Poetry Festival convened by Efe Paul Azino, where they talked and talked and talked but mostly about performance poetry. I’m not saying it is a bad thing to talk but how many of these things said would be implemented? And how soon? Or is it enough to come and talk and rub your successes as accomplished writers on the faces of the budding ones? Nobody elaborated on how publishers should create more avenues for written poetry other than self publishing.
I scoffed when someone spoke about the idea of street poetry for the first time. I scoffed because it sounded like he was woefully late for the party. Street poetry is already a happening thing in Lagos!
Thanks to Bahati’s youngest author, Caleb Okereke and The Sky People – a literary movement he founded in 2014. They perform poetry on the streets of Lagos, in BRT and Danfo buses. It’s been going on for more than a year now. I’d say their only lapse is the right sponsorship and not getting their performances on video. Save for that, they are doing a wonderful job of promoting poetry in Nigeria. They even go as far as organizing literary events like drama, poetry performances and literary workshops in secondary schools in Lagos. And these they do with the little finances they’re able to garner amongst themselves; I’m talking about high school students and undergraduates here. I don’t think I’d be mistaken if I said I was the only graduate amongst them.
Small literary movements like The Sky People need recognition on big platforms like the Ake Arts and Book Festival, Lagos International Poetry Festival etc. It goes beyond just saying “catch your performances on video and send to YouTube”. There should be sponsorships, financial and otherwise.
As much as I hate to say it, I would say it is somewhat excusable for the Green Author Prize to have a few lapses (even though I’d rather not be a part of these lapses) being that it is in its first year, but Ake has been a game player for awhile now and this is not a time for them to start omitting things as important as these. A competition for playwriting and poetry should have been organized too. Awarding only photographers and prose writers is not enough. Yes I said it! It is not enough. It only weakens the point they’re trying to drive home.
Nevertheless, it is my earnest desire that Lola Shoneyin and other key organizers of the AKE Arts and Book Festival look into this. Equal provisions and opportunities should be made available to all genres, be it poetry, playwriting, photography or prose, and the sooner the better, if not the sole purpose of bringing to life this initiative would have been defeated with the organizers succeeding only in shooting themselves in the knee.
And as for the Green Author Prize, I cannot say I regret my actions but I do know I’m not unhappy.