Lola Shoneyin slays on many fronts as a true multi-hyphenate – mother, wife, CEO, writer, publisher and Director of one of the biggest book festivals in Africa, the Ake Book and Arts festival. Come July, her company, BookBuzz will be assisting the Kaduna state government with organizing the first Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAfest) with first ever Caine prize winner, Laila Aboulela, headlining it. In this chat with Toni Kan, Ms Shoneyin talks about what it all means, the relationship between Kabafest and Ake as well as what to expect from her next.
Why are we going to Kaduna?
Artists, writers, film makers, poets and musicians are converging in Kaduna for the all new Kaduna Book and Arts Festival. We will have an opportunity to bond and interact with creatives from all over the country but a much deserved focus will be on creatives from northern Nigeria. From an organisational perspective, I have been so thrilled by the interest and the enthusiasm.
Last year at Ake, there was quite some emphasis on writers from the North of Nigeria, is this an extension?
At Ake Festival, we explore all sorts of issues that impact our lives on the African continent. There are several conflict zones on the continent and it’s important to honestly discuss the issues that lead to the conflict in the first place. Ake Festival provides a safe space for such conversations.
There has been a renaissance of sorts in Northern Nigerian writing, what do you think has been responsible?
You will be surprised to hear that a considerable number of novels and books of poems come out of northern Nigeria every year. The problem is that these books are not getting to readers outside the academic circles in northern Nigeria. I think distribution is a huge challenge. I have no doubt that we’ll witness a renaissance soon.
What’s the connection between BookBuzz and KabaFest?
The Book Buzz Foundation organises Ake Arts and Book Festival and Kaduna Book and Arts Festival. BBF is an NGO so our activities are totally dependent on the sort of funding we get. We love organising these festivals. It is a lot of work but it is hugely gratifying.
Does this mean there won’t be an Ake festival this year?
Are you kidding? Of course, we are having Ake Festival this year! It’s our 5th anniversary so we have a very special theme. Now to fundraise.
We have noticed slight changes, Booklogue instead of Book chat, how different will Kabafest be from Ake?
We want Kabafest to have its own character and identity so we created different names for some of the events. There will be food events at Kabafest. I tell you, I didn’t know there were so many desserts from Northern Nigeria. We are inviting anyone who has a sweet-tooth to join us in the sampling of these delight. I also met this fascinating Syrian chef who has recently moved to Kaduna. She is in charge of the Syrian food-tasting event. The rice with almonds I tried when I met her was just delicious. Apart from the art exhibition with some incredible talent, I am also looking forward to the film screening by young Nigerian filmmakers from Northern Nigeria. You can find more info at kabafest.org.
We know you have a strong team, but won’t two festivals, months apart, take a toll?
We are starting two more next year! The team grows as we take on projects. The biggest one of all is the Right to Write Nigeria Project which will kick off over the next few months. We are having to move into a bigger office space.
On a personal note, how do you fit it all in – mother, wife, writer, publisher CEO. Where do you find the time?
I have intense periods of activity but I try to take a week out, once every six months, to do absolutely nothing. I have never been afraid of hard work. I throw myself into all the projects that I take on and I devote the required energy to achieving the best possible results. That’s just the way I am wired.
Finally, three years after the mega successful and critically acclaimed The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, are we expecting something new soon?
Depends what you mean by “soon”. I am writing but progress is slow because I have so much on my plate. In any case, with the Baba Segi film in the works, and the stage production in the UK next year, I am relishing the love that people continue to show for this book.