By Solomon Elusoji

Is the recently concluded Ake Arts and Book festival the biggest literary festival in Africa? There is the palpable ambiguity that follows such a question. After six days of literary and artistic discussions and events, has the festival left guests and participants thrilled or left them grabbing their stomachs, reeling from indigestion? The answer in one sentence: It is the biggest thing to have happened to Nigerian literature for quite a while.
Like a snail withdrawing from its shell, the festival did not start at a high tempo. Obviously, going by the schedule for the festival, it was supposed to start like that. It was a perfect strategy. Lacking a cluster of events, the first two days allowed guests who had travelled from far and wide settle into the festival venue (Abeokuta). It was all about building momentum, then trying to sustain it.
By the third day, momentum had increased, and this was where the festival started to shed off its amoebic structure. The events increased. Festivities multiplied. And having adapted well to their new environment, benefitting from the relaxed mode of the last two days, guests were prepared to take it all in, and carefully navigate their interests and concerns. It was a pyramid structure, and it worked well.

11213l.Lola-Shoneyin,-Festi.jpg - 11213l.Lola-Shoneyin,-Festi.jpg

Toni Kan
The Arrival:
I arrive Abeokuta on a clear Thursday Afternoon.
I left Lagos in a bit of a funk. A friend and poet headed for Abeokuta had asked me to pick her up. Thinking that I was late I had asked my driver to race down to GRA Ikeja. Two minutes from pick up I call and she says: “Can, you give me 10 minutes?”
I cut the line and ask him to drive to my partner’s house where I preview a documentary we just shot for an insurance company. The night before, I had found footage of Nigeria’s Independence Day. I had edited it out and emailed it to the studio. I liked what they had done with it. They had segued it seamlessly into the old narrative. She wishes me a safe trip and I discharge my driver, take the wheels and head out for the expressway.
Allen Roundabout is blocked but not badly so and I am on the Ibadan expressway at 12.20 pm, ten minutes after I left my partner’s.
The day is bright, the sky is blue, there is no rumour of rain in the air. I slot in Frank Edward’s CD, cue track 2 on repeat and step on the gas pedal.

Christie Watson (left, reading to children) reflects on the inaugural Ake Book and Arts Festival.

We arrived at Lagos International Airport, a group of poets, novelists, artists, a graphic novelist, activists, some of whom were frequent visitors to Nigeria, others who had never visited any African country. I tried to imagine how it would feel for them to be shaken down for dash - a bribe - to wait in Lagos traffic, to experience for the first time Lagos, as I had 12 years ago. I remembered my own love at first sight for a city with the heightened, excited personality of a toddler: nonsensical and exhausting, and so funny.



Jacqueline Auma is a legally qualified Senior Product Specialist at Thomson Reuters where she is responsible for the management and development of Westlaw UK, one of the company’s flagship online legal research databases and provider of professional information services.She is the founding member and organiser of the London Afro-Caribbean book club which has over two hundred members and has been running since 2009.  She organises regular events relating to culture, books and literature in and around London.  She is also co-editor of A Lime Jewel:  An anthology of poetry and short stories in aid of Haiti.

What She Said:

“There are three reasons why I would like to attend the festival. First of all I love reading and in particular African literature, so much so that I set up and run the London Afro-Caribbean book club to support and celebrate African and Caribbean writing. Secondly, I enjoy meeting the writers behind the stories and so attend as many literature festivals and events as I can. Finally I love travelling and have always wanted to go to Nigeria, attending the festival will just be like heaven for me so please make me a winner.”

Judge’s verdict:

“This candidate deserves to win because she has, on her own, spearheaded initiatives that promote reading and literature. These are very much in line with the goals of the Book Buzz Foundation which organizes the Ake Arts and Book Festival. People like Jacquiline Auma should be rewarded for their good work.”

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