Wednesday, 1 October 2014

54 Years of Nigerian Literature

1960 Newspaper special on Nigerian Independence
It's that time of year again when I celebrate my fatherland. Today Nigeria turns 54. Happy Independence!!!! And for the third year in a row I am using the month of October to celebrate the literature from the country I was birthed and raised*

A couple of years ago, in the article, My Top Ten Nigerian Books, A. M Bakalar wrote this about Nigerian literature: 
" ... Nigeria is a mesmerising place for a ny writer to write about, and the country boasts some of the greatest authors in African literature. The person from an African country to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka in 1986. Nigerian Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is still one of the most widely read book in African literature. The first African author to win the Orange Prize for Fiction was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with her novel Half of a Yellow Sun in 2007, and the the first Booker Prize awarded to an African author went to Nigerian Ben Okri's The Famished Road in 1991. Evidently, Nigeria has a rich literary tradition, which continues to this day."
In addition to producing some prolific and internationally acclaimed writers, we also have a thriving literary scene with younger generation of writers, as well as publishing houses, literary magazines and literary festivals that are helping to shape it. 

So like previous years, I bring to you my way of saying Happy Independence to Nigeria. Hope you enjoy!!!

*Previous celebrations can be found here and here.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Meet ... Mary Okon Ononokpono: 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes Longlisted Author

I haven't done this in a while, but it's back and I'm really excited. The 'Meet' Series will be a chance for me to interview anyone I would love to meet that is involved with African literature. It's always such a pleasure getting to learn about someone whose work I've really enjoyed so I'm really excited about this interview. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Golden Baobab announced its 2014 longlist for its prizes and I wrote a post mentioning how happy I was to see that one of the stories I read and loved made it. Well, I am happy to announce that the next person in the series is writer and artist, Mary Okon Ononokpono whose short story Talulah the Time Traveller was longlisted. 

Talulah the Time Traveller is her first children's short story, but Mary is also currently working on her first adult novel. Enjoy!!!

About You

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, any fun details)
I’m a Nigerian Brit. I was born in Calabar (SE Nigeria - Cross River State) and moved to the UK with my family when I was seven months old. (Today happens to be the anniversary of that move). I’ve lived mostly in Manchester but have just relocated to London. I’m an LCF alumni and have been working in the fashion industry as an independent designer for the last few years. I’ve also worked as a freelance fashion/entertainment writer which was my introduction to writing as an adult. Right now I’ve just started a course at SOAS so I’m back in academia. I’m also a Mum, I have an eight year old angel. She’s delightful.

What was the first piece you ever wrote?
The first complete piece I ever wrote was a book called Down the Rainbow. I was eight or nine. I was a naturally gifted student and was way ahead of the rest of my class in English so my teacher told me to go away and write a book. I spent a couple of months writing and illustrating my book during English lessons. I knew at that point that I was going to become an author but there were other things that I wanted to do first.

What draws you to writing?
The art of storytelling. I love telling stories, whether visually or with words. I’m deeply drawn to history and the unearthing of stories that remain untold. I’m a bit obsessed with making tangible intangible things. It’s my way of understanding the world and my place in it. I can’t really explain why. It’s an urge that I feel compelled to follow.

What do you do when you are not writing?
These days it’s rare for me not to be writing something. I’m working on my baby at the moment, the book that I’ve always wanted to read without realising that I would be the one to write it. It is my first work of adult fiction and is very close to my heart. However it deals with weighty subject matter which can be overwhelming at times. I wrote my entry for the Golden Baobab prize in-between researching for my book. Delving into a child’s world made tackling my other book easier. When I need a complete writing break you can usually find me in my home studio designing and making clothes and jewellery. Alternatively I’ll be illustrating, painting or doing something creative like making music or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I also love visiting the theatre, going to exhibitions or generally doing something cultural with my little lady.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Away from the Dead - A New Short Story Collection by Karen Jennings

Another new release for 2014 - this time from Karen Jennings, author of Finding Soutbek which got shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2013. Jennings new short story collection Away from the Dead is published by Holland Park Press and will be published September 24 2014. Here's a synopsis courtesy of Holland Park Press:  

Karen Jennings is a wonderful story writer. In just a few sentences she is able to paint a picture of a community, frame a life, and to make you see and even almost smell a place. Together the stories highlight facets of African society and in particular South Africa. Karen Jennings has a touching way of writing about the lives of underdogs. The distinctions between the different layers in society are beautifully captured.

Several of the stories have been published in magazines or anthologies. From Dark won the Africa Region prize in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2010 and The Shark won the English section of the Maskew Miller Longman short story competition in 2009.

Away from the Dead will be launched at Open Book in Cape Town on Wednesday 17 September. 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Longlist for the 2014 Golden Baobab Prizes Announced

I have been a fan of Golden Baobab and what they are doing for children's literature ever since I first learned about them in 2012. The Golden Baobab Prizes for literature, organised by Golden Baobab - a Ghana-based pan African social enterprise dedicated to supporting African writers and illustrators to create winning African children’s book - were established in July 2008 to inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. The Prizes invite entries of unpublished stories written by African citizens irrespective of age, race, or country of origin. The prizes have recently expanded to include The Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrations to discover, nurture and celebrate African illustrators of children’s stories. 

Well, on Thursday 11th September, the Golden Baobab Prizes for African children’s literature announced the 14 stories that made it onto their longlist for 2014. And for the second year in a row I had the opportunity to be on the Reading Panel and read some of the amazing stories that were submitted in the Early Book Chapter category. The process took around 6 weeks and each week 4 stories were sent, which were read and scored anonymously (there is no prior knowledge of who the writer is behind the stories). 

It's great to see that two of the stories I really enjoyed reading made it onto the longlist - the first by Mary Okon Ononokpono, described as a 'writer and a visual and music artist' and the other comes from Egyptian Dina Mousa. Also on the longlist for the Early Chapter Book Prize are Jayne Bauling (South Africa), who had a short story shortlisted for the Golden Baobab Prize in 2009 and has written YA novels as well as romance novels for Harlequin Mills & Boons, and Bontle Senne (South Africa), who is 'a blogger/content editor/literary activist'.

Congratulations to all writers who made the longlist and here's the announcement courtesy of Golden Baobab:

These stories, which showcase some of the finest African writers and African children’s stories today, were selected from 210 stories which were received from 13 countries across the continent.With four writers each, Ghana and South Africa are the four most represented nationalities on the longlist. Other countries that had writers on the list were Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. The longlist represents stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books and the Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books. No story from the Golden Baobab Prize for Rising Writers made it onto the 2014 longlist.

Speaking on the prizes’ evaluation and selection processes, the Prize Coordinator, Delali Kumapley commented:
“Stories submitted to the Golden Baobab Prizes go through an incredibly exhaustive evaluation process. We have a team of about thirty people from all over Africa and around the world that read and score each story. A winning story for the Golden Baobab Prizes gets evaluated at most six times by different readers. This year’s longlist represents a very strong crop of African writers.” 
Now in its sixth year, the Golden Baobab Prizes inspire the creation of enthralling African children’s stories by African writers. To date, the prizes have received nearly 2000 stories from all over Africa. In 2013, to increase its support of the African children’s literature industry, the organization, Golden Baobab, introduced the brand new the Golden Baobab Prizes for African Illustrators. This prize will complement Golden Baobab's efforts in literature by discovering and celebrating Africa’s most exciting artists and illustrators who are creating images to tell stories to children.

According to the Executive Director for Golden Baobab, Deborah Ahenkorah:
“Golden Baobab is dedicated to the mission of championing the finest African stories for children and celebrating the people who create these stories. In 2014, we dedicated $20,000 to our prizes alone. We hope to do even more. We are wildly encouraged by the promise we see in the 2014 longlist.”
The shortlist for the Golden Baobab Prizes for African literature will be announced on 30th October, 2014.  The winners for the Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature as well as the winners of Golden Baobab Prizes for Illustrators will be announced on 13th November, 2014. Below are the titles and writers on the 2014 longlist:

Early Chapter Book Prize
Ricky Dankwa Ansong (Ghana) – Kweku Ananse: The Tale of the Wolf and the Moon
Jayne Bauling (South Africa) – The Saturday Dress
Mamle Wolo (Ghana) – Flying through Water
Mary Okon Ononokpono (Nigeria) – Talulah the Time Traveller
Bontle Senne (South Africa) – The Monster at Midnight
Hillary Molenje Namunyu (Kenya) – Teddy Mapesa and the Missing Cash
Dina Mousa (Egypt) – The Sunbird and Fatuma

Picture Book Prize
Katherine Graham (South Africa) – The Lemon Tree
Aleya Kassam (Kenya) – The Jacaranda Tree
Kwame Aidoo (Ghana) – The Tale of Busy Body Bee
Mandy Collins (South Africa) – There is a Hyena in my Kitchen
Mike Mware (Zimbabwe) – The Big Ball
Shaleen Keshavjee-Gulam (Kenya) – Malaika’s Magical Kiosk
Portia Dery (Ghana) – Grandma’s List

For further information, please contact Delali Kumapley on

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Book Review: Zukiswa Wanner's 'London Cape Town Joburg'

A couple of months ago, I woke up around 1am - having uncharacteristically fallen asleep at around 11pm. Unable to sleep, I thought I would find a book to read and hopefully fall asleep a chapter or two into it. I went for Zukiswa Wanner's latest novel London Cape Town Joburg and next thing I knew it was 5:30 am, I was on page 334 and I was reading 'The End'.

I knew from the title that London Cape Town Joburg was set in 3 cities and from the synopsis it sounded like it was about love and a relationship between the two main characters - Martin O'Malley and Germaine Spencer. I, however, wasn't expecting this when I began to read. 

Spoiler alert!!!! Lovely reader, please be aware that there is a spoiler coming up. As much as I try to never give away crucial plot points, it was difficult for me to write this review without including this. 

Off to Brighton (Hove, actually)

So, I moved. After 14 months of commuting for 2 hours (on a good day) each way from Surrey to Sussex for work, I finally made the move down to Brighton (well Hove, actually). It was a really tough decision - and if I'm honest I'm still not sure if I've made the right choice. It has been a little over a week and I've been asked the question - how I feel about the move - a few times and I think it's too soon to tell. Plus, I've already signed the contract for my flat so I figure I should at least give it a try.

What I do know is that it takes me 30-40 minutes to get to work (door to door) which is awesome, the weather these past couple of weeks has been absolutely gorgeous for September (and the UK), I love the neighbourhood I am in and I am literally a few minutes away from the beach. All bonuses in my books.

No sand here - Brighton and Hove's pebble/stone beach

Also, with a new city comes new discoveries and as nervous as I am to be in a new place and attempt to make new roots, I am also looking forward to seeing what this move will bring. I am particularly interested in what Brighton and Hove have to offer for this African book lover. I know I did a feature on Brighton bookshops around this time last year when I came down for a weekend. Well I 'm curious to know what else is in store. There is a bookshop super close to where I live - although I haven't been in it yet (I know, I know) and I have already found some cute coffee shops around my place - we don't get internet in the flat for another couple of weeks so I've been coffee shop hopping for free wi-fi. 

Anyways, wish me luck and let's see how it goesI'll try and share my experiences over the next few months as I settle down here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Review of 'We Need New Names' in Selamta (Ethiopian Airlines Magazine)

The latest issue (September/October) of Selamta - Ethiopian Airlines inflight magazine - is out. And I am super excited to say that my review of NoViolet Bulawayo's award winning debut novel, We Need New Names, is in the Style + Culture Section. 

We Need New Names is a coming-of-age story, told from the point of view of a young narrator, Darling, and her journey from Zimbabwe to America. The review can be found here. There is also a piece by Chika Unigwe who writes about falling in love with Brussels, despite being a small-town girl. 

This is my third time contributing to Selamta - my other two pieces were on The Caine Prize and AfroSF - but there is something about seeing my name in print or online that will never, ever get old. Also, how cool is it that my review is in the same issue with a piece written by one of my favourite authors.