•While diasporic writers are sweeping awards
By OLAMIDE BABATUNDE
The 1960s and 70s were interesting times in the evolution of African literature. Up till this day, books written during that era are still in public discourse. For the writers of that generation, nothing succeeds like success.
Writers in the first and second generations of Nigerian authors were dominated by men. The nimbus over their narrative was stronger than that of the few women who chose to tow same path. Nonetheless, they made their marks, left an impact as much they could. Flora Nwapa was the doyen of that generation, followed by Mabel Segun. Buchi Emecheta, Zulu Sofola, Tess Onwueme, Ifeoma Okoye, among others, followed in the wake.
Much later, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo hogged the limelight, ushering in the Attas, Chimamandas, Unigwe’s, Okekwes and Oyeyemis. This is the era of the third generation of Nigerian female writers with a breath of fresh air –a group gifted with abundant descriptive power and captivating subjects.
Since their influx, from the millennial age, the international accolades have continued to pour in. They have done so much for the homeland and diasporic readers who, matter of fact, needed the excitement and entertaining streak provided in their works. They drove from the usual subjects of colonialism, the Nigerian civil war, western influences and inter-tribal conflicts to democracy, polygamy, feminism and domestic violence.
From the home desk to the news desk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the new canons whose works have been translated into thirty languages and appeared in various publications. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus earned her The 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, including the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction for her third novel, Americanah, the Orange Broadband Prize for Half of A Yellow Sun in 2007 and the Anisfield-wolf Book Award. Renowned Poet and Human Rights Activist, Odia Ofeimun described her narrative power as one that matches the best across generations of African writers from Chinua Achebe to Calixthe Beyala and Ben Okri.
Who fears Death, written by Nnedi Okorafor, won the 2011 world Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the Carl Brandon Kindred Award. It was also a Nebula and Locus Awards nominee. A younger Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching won a Somerset Maugham Award and was 2009 Shirley Jackson Award finalist.
In 2011, Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters Street was long-listed for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and, in 2012, won the Nigeria Prize for Literature (NLNG Prize), the country’s biggest literary prize. She has won the 2003 BBC Short Story competition and a commonwealth short story award. She was also nominated for the 2004 Caine Prize.
Born in Lagos to Adul Aziz Atta, Secretary to Federal Government and Head of Civil Service until his death in 1972, Sefi Atta attended Queens College ,Yaba. She’s won the NOMA Awards, Africa’s most prestigious and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in 2006 for her debut novel Everything Good Will Come.
At 19, Imachibundu Oluwadara Onuzo, a London King’s college undergraduate, signed her two-novel deal with Faber and Faber, making her its youngest female author. She got published at 21. At first, her inspirations were English classics like David Copperfield and Jane Eyre until she traced her way back to her Nigerian roots, and found a promising depth in African literature as explored by the likes of Chimamanda Adichie and Wole Soyinka.
All of these women have not only been able to write and sell stories, they have earned global recognition. They have won awards ranging from the Caine Prize, Man Booker Prize, the New Statesman Jock Campbell Award, The Anisfield-Wolf Book, The Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and many others. Another string that seems to connect these women is that they are Nigerian authors who live abroad or have lived abroad. Could this be the reason they are clinching this awards? Then, where are the Nigerian authors who live in Nigeria?
Promise Ogochukwu is probably the most cerebral female writer of the third generation writing from home. Though she has swept literary prizes organised by ANA in Nigeria, she hasn’t, surprisingly, replicated this feat internationally.
It would seem the foreign ambience is the secret to these women’s winning spree, but there is more, says Ada Agbasimalo, author of Forest Dames. She says these women have foreign publishers and promoters who help push their stories. It’s not the same back here, so the outcome is very glaringly different for the support an author gets.
Award-winning Chinelo Okparanta wrote Under the Udala Trees, her debut novel, where she treats the bisexual trend as it relates to the Nigerian community. She had written her novel just before the bill against same-sex relations was passed. The Nigerian-American author born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2013 for African writing and won the 2014 lambda Literary Award.
Zaynab Quadri of Pulse Associate thinks this theme is more in tune to the yearnings of the diasporic reader rather than the indigenous community readers. These diasporic authors are getting recognition for the themes they examine in their book.
It’s not the themes, not the environment, Modupe Shoremekun, an avid reader faults the decaying educational system naming it as the undoing of potential writers in Nigeria: “The educational system is what needs to be tackled in order to sharpen writing skills and reading culture”. We have a decline in the educational standard, and it’s not helping Nigerians develop in how to achieve the best they can. These women go out there, and are open to a better enabling educational standard and come out tops. When we set out a proper, improved standard we can produce more Nigerians who can do us proud anywhere.”
How to be a photographer and writer is what Taye Selasi knows. She is of a Nigerian and Ghanaian descent raised in New York. Perhaps because of her upbringing in far away America, she was able to stun with her debut novel entitled Ghana Must Go. Regardless of the upbringing, the number of women shortlisted for this year’s Nigerian Prize for outweighs their male counterparts.
Fully awake to the task at hand, 8 females to 3 males have been put on the list. Maryam Awaisu comes with her debut, Burning Bright, Aramide Segun with Enitan Daughter of Destiny, Ifeoluwa Adeniyi with On the Bank of the River, and Ifeoma with Fourth World. There are also Sefi Atta, Yejide Kilanko, Promise Ogochukwu and Chika Unigwe with Night Dancer. Much of the world of Nigerian literature is still dominated by men, as it has been for years, but the recent increase in prize-winning female authors shows that women are rightfully being recognised more and more for their contribution to literature.