By Tunde Olusunle
At one of the earliest editions of the reinvented Mbari Series, perhaps the inaugural, I suggested that we should endeavour to help purposely grow the library of Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA), by donating books and similar resource materials. My idea is that writers who are already published for instance, should avail the burgeoning library of our publications. I should probably note here that on my last visit to my alma mater, the University of Ilorin last August, I donated multiple copies of my books to the institution. There are four full decades between my disengagement from the university, and the present. I reckoned the present generation of students in literature and the humanities will be well served knowing they have predecessor authors and creative writers. I was happily received by the representative of the university librarian, Dr (Mrs) Aminat Titilayo Abdulsalam on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, Prof Wahab Olasupo Egbewole, SAN. The very grateful authorities of the university followed up with a well-worded letter of appreciation.
I’m also of the opinion that we as writers should equally help mobilise books by other writers from other climes. We get better as writers when we by study the works of others as we chart thematic and stylistic courses in our careers. This is standard truism worldwide. How would contemporary African literature have been without the inspiration of the oeuvre of Nigerian authors like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Bekederemo-Clark, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Zulu Sofola, Ola Rotimi, among first generation Nigerian writers How about the influences of older pan-African writers like Leopold Sedar Senghor, Alan Paton, Dennis Brutus, Lenrie Peters, Sembene Ousmane, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Peter Abrahams, Okot p’Bitek, Kofi Awoonor, Yulisa Amadu Maddy, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ama Ata Aidoo, and so on?
What about the literary perspiration of the Kole Omotosos, Isidore Okpewhos, Ossie Enekwes, Chinweizus, Femi Osofisans, Odia Ofeimuns, Niyi Osundares, Tanure Ojaides, Olu Obafemis, Festus Iyayis, Bode Sowandes, Funso Aiyejinas, Tunde Fatundes and so on, categorised as “second generation Nigerian writers?” Ken Saro-Wiwa, Femi Fatoba, Abubakar Gimba, Tess Onwueme, Zaynab Alkali, have also impacted Nigerian contemporary writing in various ways. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo (of blessed memory) for instance, said in response to a question about his career as a playwright, that Osofisan his former teacher, was a very strong influence. Harry Garuba, Ezenwa Ohaeto, Ben Okri, have also “infected” the careers of successor writers, in various ways.
Need I attempt a listing of those of us classified as “third generation” writers? My dissertation on the evolution of the poetry of our generation as enabled by the print media turned out numbers in hundreds, variously mentored by artistic forebears. A few names will suffice: Remi Raji, Nnimo Bassey, Sola Osofisan, Olu Oguibe, Afam Akeh, Sesan Ajayi, Emman Usman Shehu, Izzia Ahmad, Esiaba Irobi, Uche Nduka, Onokome Okome, Ogaga Ifowodo and Nduka Otiono. There are also Udenta Udenta, Denja Abdullahi, Chiedu Ezeanah, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, Abdulrasheed Na’Allah, Toyin Adewale-Gabriel, Maria Ajima, Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju, Sola Babatunde, Tivlumun Nyitse, Wumi Raji, Sunnie Ododo, Mopah Aileku, among several others. Such has been the vibrancy of the authorial harvest on the nation’s literary farmlands.
Flipping through the poetry collections and anthologies; novels and novellas; plays, playlets and musical drama published by a single publisher like Kraft Books for instance by Nigerian authors, reveals a massive haul of works by a multiplicity of Nigerian writers! How about works published by other outfits like Bookcraft, Spectrum Books, Parresia Publishers, Caltop Publishers, and so on, by our writers? This is not forgetting books of essays, biographies and similar publications, written by Nigerian authors. Renowned South African literary scholar, Chris Dunton once reaffirmed the continuing dominance of Nigeria in the African cultural orbit. He pointedly describes our country as the “powerhouse of African literature.”
My brainwave is to the effect that we begin to build a proper “house of books” rich enough to be a semi-one-stop-shop for works by us all and compelling enough to invite researchers and literary enthusiasts from anywhere in the world. We are developing boarding facilities in instalments within the village already. People can spend time doing academic interrogations within the scenic environment of the Mamman Vatsa Writers Village, convinced they have sufficient stuff to pore through. True, technology has hoisted substantial quantities of materials we may need for research purposes on the internet. Desire for the crispy crinkle of hard copies, however, is not going to die anytime soon. Not for generations fed on hard copy resource materials. We are conservative and irrepressible about that tactile texture of our reading material.
As we all prepare for the 42nd edition of the Annual Convention of ANA scheduled for Wednesday November 1 to Saturday November 4, 2023 in Abuja therefore, may I make an appeal: Let’s all come along with donation copies of our various publications. I will happily come along with multiple copies each of my published poetry volumes. I will also encourage as many friends as I can, to do same. I hope to build up on my preliminary donations at the convention, by further enriching the library with copies of some collections of essays with which I’m presently involved. This will be before year end, God willing. We should autograph and date every copy we are donating and indicate that they are gifted to the ANA library. The ANA librarian should follow up by stamping every copy with the NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY message. If I find a book I donated to ANA in “Sambisa forest,” I know it’s been deliberately relocated to an unfamiliar destination! Together let’s make our Mamman Vatsa Writers Village the envy of the discerning.
Permit me to note that Al Bishak, professor of literature at the Federal University Lafia, has thrown a challenge to us all with his awesome precedence along the lines of my suggestion. He has donated 10 copies of his groundbreaking book: Black Papyrus: Global Origins of Writing and Written Literature Traced to Black Africa to the ANA National library. He has concurrently gifted five copies of the book to each of the 36 state branches of ANA and the FCT. Al Bishak equally stretched his generosity to the 134 member countries of the Pan-African Writers’ Association, (PAWA), each of which received five copies. I salute him specially. This is the spirit which should guide our book donations.
I should add that our book donations at this year’s convention will not be a one-off event. Not at all. In the same manner that we are constantly in the business of creativity and publishing should we also continually build up on our additions and resources investments in the ANA library. Some of us also receive books from different parts of the world from time to time. Let’s avail the library of extras from such dispatches. Arising from the foregoing, the Femi Osofisan Secretariat should move promptly to digitise the operations of the library, consistent with global best practices. Since we pride ourselves in having perhaps the first and only purpose-built writers village in Africa, we should also set the pace in the smooth operationalisation and modernisation of the envisaged library.
- Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a Fellow-designate of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)