Ajose Adeogun

With its successful book convention in Abuja, where it celebrated the late Northern novelist Abubakar Gimba in February, behind it, the Enugu-based Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited is set to celebrate the memory of the late Yoruba author Amos Tutuola, who was the first African novelist to be published in the English language outside Africa with his 1952 novel classic The Palm-Wine Drinkard in Lagos come Wednesday, May30.

The literary event, tagged Profiles at the Lagoon, will be the maiden edition of what is planned to be an annual celebration of the literary and creative arts. It will be an all-day celebration of Nigerian artistes who have recorded outstanding achievements in their chosen disciplines, which the organisers hail as a major contribution to “the aesthetics of ‘Poetry’”. These are celebrated stage actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Dutch-born, Ibadan-based publishing guru Joop Berkhout, and legal luminary-turned author Akin Ajose-Adeogun. The three celebrants will be conferred with the award The Tutuola Palm for Poetry.

Dillibe Onyeama, President of The Delta Book Club, the company’s subsidiary group that organises their annual book conventions, said: “Amos Tutuola has never been accorded his proper place on the horizon of Nigeria’s great poets, if because few people understand the true meaning of ‘Poetry’. This humble attempt to immortalise him with ‘The Tutuola Palm for Poetry’ is an overdue apology for our misguided mindset in regard to the proper perspective of his hallowed status of poet extraordinaire.

“Poetry is essentially all about innate beauty, the splendour of God’s handiwork across the heavens and the universe, a phenomenon that transcends even modern science with the mystique of the intangible. Tutuola wrote richly inventive fantasies of his native Yoruba folktales. He sat down and scribbled his fantastic images in almost illegible long-hand on ordinary exercise book. He submitted the work to Britain’s leading book-publishing group Faber & Faber, who went through it, were mesmerised, and immediately sent him back a cheque for £200. The book subsequently became one of Africa’s biggest all-time best-sellers, followed by several more of his fictional works in the same unique story-telling innovation. So it was never all about good English grammar or good English diction. It was all about the magic of ‘Poetry’ – a truism divined by celebrated English poet Dylan Thomas in his review of Tutuola’s book with the words ‘this strange poetic nightmare’.”
Profiles at the Lagoon will take place at the Kongi Harvest Art Gallery in the Freedom Park, under the chairmanship of Communications Consultant Akin Fatunke. Eminent guests expected to attend the event include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and former Governor Segun Osoba.

Literary activities will involve readings of new modern poetry and short-stories from the latest edition of THE WRITER magazine, which will include the citations of the profiles of the celebrants before their being presented with golden plaques and asked to “perform” with trips down memory lane to reminisce on their careers, followed by the unveiling of Akin Ajose-Adeogun’s biography of the late eminent jurist J. I. C. Taylor A Passion for Justice, described by the publishers as “a monument to superb writing and outstanding research” and upon which the author is being conferred with The Tutuola Palm for Poetry.

Activities will take on a literary tone proper towards the evening hours with the celebration of a technocrat-turned-children’s novelist, London-based British-Nigerian Frederick Nwokedi, whose revered father Francis Nwokedi was Nigeria’s first Federal Permanent Secretary. Nwokedi will breeze in from his London base after some 12 years since he left to seek better pastures off-shore to share in the euphoria of the celebration of the Tutuola legend with the presentation of his first work Cascaders in their Wonderland. Blithely, in his so-English voice, Nwokedi describes his first literary effort in these terms: “It’s all about the children. They come into this world in differing circumstances, replete with their own challenges and advantages. Each child faces their own lot with individually unique qualities, spirits and behaviours. Yet, at least one thing is common to them during these youthful years: their spirits are typically like springs of water – even waterfalls. Life flows or gushes in a continuous tumble of discoveries and emotions; pure, unabashed and vulnerable to unchecked passions. Events and reactions cascade with boundless and unbridled intensity, at times bordering on chaos. For the child, typically, each new experience is momentous, deep-felt and, wondrous. Through these touching stories, one appreciates that sometimes the smallest things are the most valuable, and can make occasions so magical.”

Nwokedi is not your run-of-the-mill character by any consideration. He was the first, and for most of his years there, the only black pupil at Oundle School, an elite English high school for boarders. It was one of a select number of schools where officers and civil servants were trained to emerge leaders of the establishment, most notably for the great work of ruling the British Empire. Born in the Cameroons, the first years of his life were spent there. Subsequent years have seen him mainly in America and in London, with just a few years in Nigeria.

An appetite for adventure took him from London, in the heart of Europe, to the vast cornfields (and snowfields!) of Iowa, in the American mid-west. That was the base of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, which is a powerhouse in the world of literary creativity. But, ironically, his focus had not yet rested on that specialism. Instead Freddie left the University of Iowa with a degree in financial economics. Then, in another climate shift, he completed his Master of Business Administration (MBA) in tropical Texas, at the University of Dallas.

Finally, the writing on the wall has come to pass – as it always must. Nwokedi assures us that more works are at different stages of evolution. These presently include a full-blown adventure novel for young adults; also, there are nascent elements of short stories for children. Indeed, the genie is out of the bottle.