Makurdi the Benue state capital came alive on the 18th of June, 2012 when SEVHAGE brought award winning writer and internationally acclaimed writer, Unoma Nguemo Azuah to Makurdi, Benue. Nguemo Azuah, an Associate Professor of English at Lake College, Jackson, Tennessee in the United States, was billed to read from her latest novel, Edible Bones. The place was the NUJ House and the time 4:30 pm. It was the SEVHAGE’s first official Guest Reader session and an evening of literary excitement. In a pre-event interview, the Benue born writer who grew up in Delta and has been away for long said that it was exciting to be coming to Makurdi: ‘It’s such a great re-union. I may actually get down to Gboko to see my grandfather.’
The events started with prayers from H. O. C Kochis in the form of a poem titled ‘Creative Invocation: Approaching the Muse’. By the end of his rendition, there was confusion as to whether to say an ‘Amen’ or applaud.
The Moderator, Su’eddie Vershima Agema welcomed everyone and gave room for the literary flow, a session which was based on a general discussion of a literary topic, which on this occasion was the ‘Death of the artist’ in us. The literary flow was handled by Joshua Agbo, lecturer and author of How Africans underdeveloped Africa. It elicited lots of response from different people who took varying positions as to how the artist is in society. Some opined that the artist was dead due to the dependence on politicians who dictate the tone of how to write while others opined that the artist was not dead, just the art which was gradually dying due to various factors. Francis Amedu of the Benue State University submitted that the black man is an enthusiast of literature but he [the black man] is more concerned with development – the white man’s civilisation: ‘We had our own civilisation. The white man came and brought his own. We are still coping with the shock of the interruption of our civilisation and forceful entrenchment of their [the colonialist’s] will on us.’
Soon after there was a general introduction of members of the audience who included literary enthusiasts from different walks of life. The highest number of people however came from the Benue State University, Makurdi.
Kurannen Baaki who the moderator said had come from Kaduna for the event read his short story ‘Silent Night.’ He was aptly applauded and some of the blemishes of his writing and craft mentioned.
It was time to welcome the guest of the moment, Unoma Nguemo Azuah. Her citation was read by Mrs. Maria Ajima, poet and award-winning short story writer. The crowd stood up in awe at the end of the citation which Unoma said was one of her best ever.
Unoma read from two parts of her novel, Edible Bones. The first part was from the Prologue where Kaito, the protagonist of the book tries to fight away people trying to gain access into the American embassy. The second excerpt she read was Kaito’s entry into America right up to where he is driven out by April when he uses her toilet leaving the house totally smelly. Unoma read in character and tried to be the true voice of her characters switching easily from Ghetto English for April to typical Nigerian English for Kaito. The humour of the second excerpt left most of the audience giggling.
After her reading, Joshua Agbo came forth once more to question her on some aspects of the book which he said was so good that if it was a woman, ‘most men would want to claim her hand in marriage!’ In answering the several questions, Unoma said that the aim of the book was to show the experience of an illegal immigrant in America and also disabuse the mind of several people about foreign countries and instantly making it over there:
‘It is something I was guilty of. People think that when you go to America, it’s a better life. Living here is better than going out as an illegal immigrant. People are struggling to survive there. Going abroad doesn’t make you rich. America is a land of opportunity but you have to be prepared for it. Once you get there, remain legal.’
The feeling of inferiority complex shown in the book was the next question. The particular point of interest was Kaito’s feelings of extreme excitement after bedding a white girl. This, Unoma replied was only normal to what she had heard expressed of most black men. She said that such a feeling could also be explained in the context of a person who was expecting everything abroad to be perfect: ‘Sleeping with a white woman would be the perfect cap to the entire experience.’
There was feedback from the audience at this point. Lazarus Mom asked to know the major difference between writing in Nigeria and writing abroad. In response, Unoma said that writing abroad was double faced. Everyone could get a laptop there and there was the added advantage of constant electricity power supply. The other part was with time, with which one’s memory of home starts to fade. ‘You struggle to adapt. You struggle to remember. You have to call friends at home to confirm your memory and things.’ It’s one of the reasons, she said, she comes back home at every opportunity she has.
Dr. Lucy Vajime said that she had been impressed with the proceedings at the readings and was glad that people could come together to criticise themselves in order to become better as well as have an established writer around. She praised the efforts of Unoma in joining the ranks of Chimamanda Adichie and Chika Unigwe in filling the blanks and showing the diasporan view from different fronts. Francis Amedu said there was a trend of departure from Achebe’s traditional style to something rather more urban and ‘civilised’ in the writings of contemporary writers. Kerakaa Terlumun commented on Unoma’s delivery saying it was interesting. He however wondered on the usual headache of why the black man is still where he is in life generally. Dorcas Doobee Targba said that she had come to have a sense of pride in her race from her relations with white people (mainly her tutors) in secondary school. It had made her to vow never to go out especially since we were Kings over here. She applauded the guest author and said the book was great.
After the audience talk with the guest author, a raffle was held with several books from authors as diverse as Hyginus Ekwuazi, Nadine Gordimer, Chinua Achebe and C. L. Innes, Bernth Lindfors being won by different people including Yima Antiev, Amedu O. Francis, Regina Achie Nege, Mercy Ugwu, Dr. Moses Tsenôngu, Tersoo Ayede, Sunday Abo Echenu, and Aondohembafan Akase.
Unoma Nguemo Azuah took her time to sign several books and also gave fans the chance to catch several poses with her in photographs. As darkness stole the grounds, the people left for home impressed and ably fed from the rich feast of Nguemo Azuah’s Edible Bones.
(Visit the SEVHAGE site for the full proceedings…)