Okay, whatever your thoughts are, this is the story of a reading of the Writers’ League of Benue State University, Makurdi. I was once a prominent member there, then official. Over the years I have enjoyed their readings and Writer sessions. This was often reduced – the enjoyment – because of a certain prominence given me by members who knew me. It didn’t help with my Benue ANA roles and small literary promotions. You know, the people would just keep looking at you in awe and trying to pretend or something… Well, today the Writers’ League had their readings (they do so every Thursday). A lil intro first…
After our secondary school campaign at Ogiri Oko Memorial College in North Bank, I had a meeting, then got home, had another meeting and then decided to go check Writers’ League. Wanted to make the visit an official Benue ANA meeting but changed my mind. I went in, preparing myself for the usual high table bla-bla and introduction/recognition. Surprisingly, I didn’t recognise any of the officials – and they didn’t recognise me either. There was only one familiar face, the Vice President, Anyo Leah Sewuese. But she hadn’t been around ANA for a while and didn’t notice me. So, all in all, I was prepared to have a pleasant anonymous reading with them. Need I mention that it was the Critique session (boy, you gotta love critique sessions!)
John Ekere, a student from the Faculty of Law read a poem, ‘Nostalgia.’ It was an interesting piece speaking of a person away from home. The way the verse went, you could almost have thought the poem was written from Europe, the United States or some other country. It spoke of a ‘desert traveller/thirstily thirsting for water…in alien lands.’ The persona longed the lovely African ladies that none of the white ladies could measure up to. Immediately after the poem rendition, the critics of the house tore through it. Ogbo Michael was prominent among them balancing his critique with both compliments to highlight the strengths of the poem and also his problems with the piece. He mentioned that the poem brought memories of negritude to him. Heard another critic mention that the poem reminded him of certain negritude poets like Y. M. [another funny initial] DuBois (pronounced as Duuboys). I racked my mind wondering if there wasn’t only one DuBois, W.E.B. Oh well! There were a few other responses to the poem before the President of the League, Gbatar Lanshima Emmanuel gave his views on the poem also giving a brief shallow history of negritude. I nearly asked him for some more explanations but well, had to keep my peace as a few more hands were raised to comment on the poem. The President (who was also moderating) called for a halt so that another piece could be read. Grudgingly, some of the silenced critics kept their peace and wrote (with the anger of their silence?) their comments on the piece. I joined the league of the writing critics and scribbled my thoughts that would sure change almost most of what Ekere wrote if he decides to consider even a few of the suggestions. When Ekere got his piece back, he wasn’t smiling so much.
The next on the list of readers was Sewuese Leah Anyo. I expected much from her. She had been a part of Geoff Ryman and Chuma Nwokolo Jnr’s Literary Workshop last year. We had also travelled for the last Association of Nigerian Authors’ International Convention in Abuja last year. Yup, at some point, I had eyed her because of her writings. Shhh. Anyway, so, I watched as she walked to the front of the class that served as the venue for the readings. She took the lecture stand (writer’s rostrum for the event) and looked around. She showed signs of some fright. Meanwhile, her piece was being shared around. She noted me and smiled. But I digress too much… Okay, to the story. Yes, she was reading a story. The title was ‘The Firefly under the Leaf.’ Nice title, I thought to myself. She apologised for copies of the story not being able to reach everyone and promised to read the somewhat lengthy story as fast as possible. The story tells the tale of a girl, Kendra, who opens the door to a stranger asking for her mother. We were told later that the girl had recently lost her father. By and by, the girl is kidnapped by her uncle. Kendra is to be killed. In a very sharp twist, so much happens that leave readers wowed – or would. I smiled as the audience clapped. The critics were full of praise claiming with most claiming that the ladies had shamed the guys with their more powerful writings. A critic stood up to say he didn’t really like it when Africans wrote using the name of foreigners or foreign places. He preferred that we should be more native. You could hear the heavily overt post-coloniality in him shouting. Ogbo Michael quickly called for freedom of anyone to write what they wanted. I added it to the list of things I wanted to say. I wanted to ask that nationalist critic about the names of most of us in the room. Almost all of us had foreign first names – Michael, Leah, Joseph, Emmanuel… My hand was ignored. After some more comments, Lanshima, the President proudly proclaimed that there was no surprise at the piece ‘What do you expect of our Vice President?’ Well, I expected a lot more. I put my hands up but somehow the President’s permitting finger kept jumping me from the left to the right and plain over my head. (Now, this is where you have to feel bad at the loss of the high table – the high table is always allowed to talk 🙂 … even if it is to say rubbish which the audience would smile at… Ah, Oga’s rubbish must be knowledgeable after all he is so, so, so and so…) I wrote my comments on her piece in the end and passed to her. I saw diamonds in that piece and I sure know that after reworking, there would be so much more! Trust me, when that piece is through, you would hear of it!
Next, it was the turn of Abigail (didn’t get her surname) to take the stand. She read a poem, ‘Love.’ Nothing new to it. Nothing fresh. Really, hasn’t that topic been dealt with? I think it takes lots of guts to write any poem on that topic especially when you have that title. But again, isn’t that the beauty of it? Love has been experienced, lived, and all but we all keep trying to get into it once more, to discover it for ourselves… Love! Well, I guess. So, I thought of her poem again. Yes, there was nothing new. Still, she passed her message well. The story of love – love of lovers, love of children, love in general… There was a touch of betrayal too. I quickly noted my comments on the piece starting with a request that she change her title. The critics did their job tearing the piece and giving compliments as due.
Well, several calls started coming in, plus there was an appointment with my graphics designer that I had to meet. I asked a few questions of Tijah Doolumun (bless him) who was my guide through the whole readings giving me names of the various people and all. Gave him a gift of a book (not mine! Ternenge Injo’s The Lost Maiden) and decided to split – before my anonymity might be broken!
I smiled as I got out. Things had sure changed. I thought of how beautiful the readings had been. I was impressed. I sure know things can be better. Sure, we can work things. But the question would I really want to compromise my anonymity with them? Maybe they might even see this!
Oh well… Summary: I had a nice time. Kudos Writers League. That organisation is sure one of the wonders of literary activities in Benue! Was nice hearing the ‘In the pen our voice’ motto. Keep the spirit. We are with you anonymously and famously 🙂 Cheers!