By Simeon Mpamugoh
This year’s Lagos Books and Arts Festival (LABAF) has come and gone, but the segment on “New Nigerian Fiction: Status Update” will always be remembered for its cerebral hallmark, as it featured readings and conversation around new novels by Nigerian authors.
On the issue of critiquing and reviewing authors’ work, and whether there was a sense of loss as not having enough critics and reviews for authors’ work, Obinna Udenwe, the author of the title Satans and Shaitan deduced “I read reviews, but it does not matter to me. The reviews I get during the production process are what matters to me. If I have a book and my editors say, ‘One doesn’t add up on the work’, that’s enough for me. But, when I publish it, and people read it and point one thing or another, it doesn’t matter to me, because the next book I’m going to write would be different from what I have done.”
Sam Omatsheye, the author of the title; My Name is Okoro, feels different; he said “From my own point of view, it is good to have the books reviewed, but what is more important to me is that it is read. Reviews like prizes are opinions of few people and one cannot legislate the quality of work because of one man’s opinion or panels of decision. So, people have to realise that when one writes, one writes for the general audience or specific audience. I actually appreciate when one has read my work and speaks to me one-on-one, ‘This is what I think about your book’. Those things are more important to me than reviews.
Toni Kan, the author Carnivorous City, did not hold back when he lambasted those who are indifferent about reviews when he said: “It is quite lazy and illiterate of authors to say, ‘We don’t need reviews.’
Obanya, whose work is titled Ijambody, approached it from language perspective: “My psyche gets provoked because we are writing in another language. All these processes are geared towards writing in colonial language, which is English. I wish we could use all the energies in promoting our indigenous languages. There is no society that had made progress utilising other people’s language.
It was an opportunity for the authors to put the art in perspective as well as read excerpts from their works when Henry Akubuiro, author of Prodigals in Paradise intoned: “Basically when I write, it is to express myself and also communicate with my reader, as well as expect them to enjoy my book, learn one or two things, form their own opinions and equally be entertained aside imparting one or two things to the reader,” he said, adding, “No one tells a writer what to write; a writer chooses what he/she wants to write.”
For Sam Omasheye, “Writing to me is very personal and when you want to get your work out, you’re trying to say things of yourself to the world. When I wrote my novel, I was trying to challenge the Nigerian readership and the torpor of our conclusion that tends to see the narrative of the civil war as just an Igbo experience.”
Professor Femi Osifisan, whose seventieth anniversary this year’s event, entitled “The Terror of Knowledge”, was anchored said: “Although we may not realise it, but something definitely exciting is happening in the world of Nigerian literature. And I’m very excited to see so many of these generation of writers who are writing and dong it so well. And reading through their publications, the standards are quite high, and the imaginative range is quite wide.
“However, it is important we write in the indigenous language, but this should not be a discouragement to writers, because every writer should write in the language he or she masters well –the language the writer commands while we also encourage those who can handle the indigenous language to continue.”