This Tuesday, Peekay Gardens in Enugu will host to this year’s Coal City Book Convention. And this will be the eighth in the annual series of the literary fiesta. Conceived in 2009 precisely to immortalise the rich story-telling tradition among the Igbo people of Nigeria, the opening ceremony will this year highlight the conferment of The Olaudah Equiano Life-Award on two Igbo heroes – legendary mathematician and educationist Dame Maria David-Osuagwu, 83, and the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka Professor Bartho Okolo, 58.
This award was inspired by the career of 18th-century slave-turned-author Olaudah Equiano, who published his book of memoirs in 1789 in London. Titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the book elevated the legend to the additional pedestal of being the first-ever published black author in the history of literature.
Besides alluding to Equiano’s Igbo roots, The Coal City Book Convention’s organisers also cite a statement in the book – “we are almost a nation of dancers, musicians and poets” – as an indication of the very definite existence of aesthetic literary expression among the Igbo since before the dawn of time. This fact served to add impetus to the enviable record of literary outputs by writers of Igbo extraction on a scale of 70% of Nigerian literature in the English language.
This evident flair for literary expression is believed to have peaked in 1947, which kicked off the “boom” years of a phenomenon that became celebrated as the “Onitsha Market Pamphlet Literature”, from which such literary legends as Cyprian Ekwensi and Ogali A. Ogali bloomed long before such later literary luminaries as Achebe and Soyinka.
These considerations inspired the creation of The Coal City Book Convention by The Delta Book Club, a subsidiary of the Enugu-based Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited. CEO and Convener, author Dillibe Onyeama, schemed to capitalise on the principle of a book in every man, predicated on the idea that every man has a story to tell.
The remarkable career of each Equiano life-awardee, selected by a committee of five stakeholders in the book industry, was calculated to give the right inspiration to Igbo youths in particular and the people of Nigeria in general, with the mind to stem drift and delinquency through such examples of sacrifice, hard work and selfless service.
Notable achievers who have been crowned with the Equiano award at colourful well-attended ceremonies include (but not limited to) Professor Chinedu Nebo, late researcher and author Professor Catherine Acholonu, saintly paediatrician Dame Winnie Kaine, octogenarian novelist Professor Anezi Okoro, administrator Dame Bernice Agbo, Professor Sam Ukpabi, Traditional Ruler Igwe Chris Ogakwu, late Catholic cleric and thinker Fr. Stan Anih, Chief Nduka Eya and widows’ rights crusader Dame Gozie Udemezue.