It would not be farfetched to declare that the literary scene in Nigeria is on fire. There might not have been any corresponding reverse in the reading culture of Nigerians as it is – yet. However, the prevailing atmosphere within literary circles is one of itchy expectation, with an endless line of aspiring writers itching to find some form of relevance. Here, the internet, of course, has become a ready tool for the willing.
Years past, aspiring writers sent their works to the few newspapers and magazines that published works of that nature. This is usually done without recourse to any form of peer review and more often than not, the works are rejected, with the attendant knocks on the ego of the writers.
These days, things have changed, and drastically for the better too. The coming of the internet has provided avenues for savvy youths to meet, interact and coalesce into groups that are now driving Nigerian literary industry—yes, it is time we start calling it that and run it as such. These groups are revolutionising the way literary events and discussions are handled, causing even semi-retired old timers to crawl out of the woodwork and take notice.
While there are several groups with similar purpose, this article intends to highlight one of them, Book N Gauge.
Book N Gauge, facilitated by Eyinade Adedotun of Pulpfaction Club and Temitayo Olofinlua of Wordsmithy Media in conjunction with Debonair Bookstores, went against the established norm of literary events in Lagos by choosing to hold readings at a more central and accessible Yaba instead of the usual elitist Lagos Island venues. However, it is not only the choice of location that makes Book “N” Gauge one of the most exciting literary events in Lagos.
I have had the pleasure of attending two back-to-back Book N Gauge readings and must confess that the organisers succeeded in ensuring that the time and effort it took for me to get to venue was well worth it. Perhaps they picked points from other literary events or really took time out to think about how to really get the best from a reading.
Chuma Nwokolo and Sam Omatseye headlined the first Book N Gauge I attended. I was late for that event, not because of traffic, but because I had expected the African time factor to play out. I was soundly disappointed when I got to the event venue about 30 minutes after the take off time to find the reading well underway. My disappointment was however short lived, for I found that the format of Book N Gauge allowed for several readings from the headliners, with each section spiced with music, spoken word poetry performances and question and answer sessions. So missing thirty minutes, while remaining a sore point, was not too much of a bother, for I was able to capture the ambiance of the event and the mettle of the authors on show.
That first reading, aside from confirming much of what I had heard about Book N Gauge, also availed me the opportunity to meet for the first time, Sam Omatseye, who was the very first person to respond to a “please review my work” request from me. Perhaps it would do to mention that and Chuma Nwokolo’s African Writer was the first literary publication to accept and publish a work of fiction by me. Therefore, it is given that I had much more than the usual reasons to attend that event.
As for a review of the readings that day, I wrote on my jotter that Chuma Nwokolo’s reading was delightful and Efe Paul Azino and Jaiye Plumbline’s spoken word pieces were, as the hip hop generation would say, to die for. As for the sage Sam Omatseye, though his easy going style did not get the young audience worked up as the others did (It didn’t help that no sound system was in place), those whose followed his reading very much appreciated the depth in them. Sam is a master of his craft. Furthermore, the performance of Ruby, a soul artist, was wondrous. That lady did more than redefine “Redemption song”, made popular by the late Bob Marley.
The value that I took away from that first reading ensured I was at the next event and on time too, especially as that edition had on show Ayo Arigbabu and Ebi Akpeti, two writers that are of the internet generation. Ebi Akpeti is popular for her first book “The Perfect Church”, which was adapted into a movie by none other than the legendary Wale Adenuga. Ayo Arigbabu is the author of “A fist full of Tales.” Ayo is a practicing architect, publisher of DADA Books and a prime mover within the Lagos literary scene.
That day’s event started, not quite on time but close enough to not be much of a bother, with the Moderator, Temitayo Olofinlua, asking the writers on show to talk about their first books and the challenges, inspirations and the overall process involved it its production. Naturally, these insights into the writers writing process were followed by a question and answer session that was rather boisterous and engaging.
In true Book N Gauge fashion, D’Tone, another guitar-strumming maestro, punctuated the question and answer session. His performance was rather thrilling, enough that I posted a picture of him to a BlackBerry group, with the caption “Another Nigerian musician Nigerian should watch out for”.
The readings of the day proper began right after D’Tone’s performance, with Ayo Arigbabu reading from his short story collection “A Fist Full of Tales”. While Ayo’s reading was rather fast-paced, the sense of time, scene and emotion in the piece he read carried the audience along. Ebi Akpeti’s reading had little of the elements that made Ayo’s story engaging but the fact that the main character was a homosexual pastor did the magic.
As was expected the pause to take questions from the audience took the reading to another level entirely. This is a step in the right direction by Book N Gauge, making the readings not just about the featured writers. For better perspective of what went down, the following is what I wrote on my pad during the banter that followed:
While the answer to the question on the controversy surrounding a “Christian writer” writing about sex was not unexpected, I found it funny that Ebi Akpeti, who is known for her Christian leaning literature, denies the tag “Christian writer” applies to her.
“I rather write a controversial book rather than a book that would not make impact,” said Akpeti, who avowed that the important thing is to tell the story without recourse to the controversy, “the story must be told,” she says.
On how Christians should write fiction, Ebi Akpeti says; “Perfection is not a requisite for Christian living, so write it as it happens in the wider society.”
While I understand Ebi’s refusal to be boxed into a genre, I think the fact that she appears to write primarily for the ‘Christian” circuit does little to help her argument. The audience appear not to be buying either way. Anyway, a writer is cursed with associations – that is what genres are all about, if you ask me.
Writers block, that ancient controversy, does it exist or not? The question of writers block may be a very personal thing that varies from person to person, as many of these young ones will in time discover. I however think many aspiring writers here will take great writing tips home. I like the fact that Ebi Akpeti is breaking things down in simple, everyday words.
“Write it the way you say it. The beauty of your writing may well be in its simplicity. Write what you know, it is much easier than writing what you don’t know. Perfection as a writer grows with persistence,” Ebi Akpeti said.
Ayo Arigbabu really sums up the self-publishing debate when he said, “there is too much talent out there to wait for the few publishers available. If you have enough faith in your work, self-publishing might be the way out. Remember that self-promotion is the whole essence of self-publishing. If you can’t self-promote, stay away from self publishing.”
Femi Kayode later punctuated the interactive session with poetry reading that questions “what is in this world?”
Ayo Arigbabu went the digital route as he read from his entry for the Lagos 2060 project, which is an anthology that collected short stories centred on Lagos 50 years in the future. Ebi again read from her book.
Soon it was all over, and on time too. Being more-or-less a writer’s meet, Book N Gauge then broke into a networking session that many who come to these events have come to expect. Proving yet again that the future of Nigerian literature lies no longer in the hands of the few names that seem to embody Nigerian writing, but on the hands of these young ones who are providing much more than just a platform to aspiring writers. That said, it may serve the organisers of Book N Gauge and similar literary events to ask invited authors beforehand what section in their books they would be reading from, and prints as many of those as possible for audience use. I believe if we can follow the writer on our own, we would better appreciate the work on display, and the writer.
Book N Gauge, in conjunction with Saraba magazine, is set to again trill literature lovers on the 17th of December. I intend to be there.