My experience at the Quramo Writers Awards 2017 will remain with me as long as live…
I am not just saying this because I am a writer; I am saying this because the event is one of the most organized events I have ever attended.
On the 2nd of October 2017, I arrived at the Eko Hotel Grand Ball Room at some minutes past 4 pm. The lobby was already filled with well-dressed guests, sipping on drinks, and engaging in conversations. One of the ushers greeted me and led me to the drinks area so I could get a glass of wine.
I went to a small high table and took a good look around, as I took small sips of my wine. Then a young lady joined me. Her name is Funke, and she is a teacher, writer, and dancer. Talk about being multitalented! We got into an interesting conversation about writing, and how now, children can confidently tell their parents they want to be writers without expecting a knock on the head (Thank you Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Uzodinma Iwela, Chika Unigwe, Chinelo Okparanta, Sefi Atta and all the other fantastic new generation Nigerian writers who have proven that it is possible to make a living from writing – this new generation of writers are forever in your debt).
We continued our discussion until we were ushered into the hall for the event. We all settled down and waited for the event to start. As I looked around, I saw so many familiar faces: The First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Omobolanle Ambode, The Former First Lady of Lagos State, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola, Ifeoma Williams, Ifeyinwa Ighodalo, Bukky Karibi Whyte, Kate Henshaw, Lami Phillips and many others.
I was so excited to see them, and let me explain why: for a long time in Nigeria, it seems more attention has been paid to other art forms (singing, acting, dancing and art) than literature – at an album or movie launch or awards ceremony or art exhibition, a lot of people come to show support, but the same cannot be said for a literary event.
I am confident that the reason why a lot of people came out was to support the amazing Executive Publisher of Quramo Publishing, Mrs. Gbemi Shasore. I have had the opportunity of meeting her twice: the first time, observing her from a distance, and the second time at this event. She seems to be a smart and sharp woman, who has an air of purpose and moves with grace. I admire her a great deal and from the way everyone greeted her and behaved around her, I could tell I was not the only one who felt this way.
So, back to the event….
After the rendition of the national anthem and an opening address from Mrs. Shasore, the first award of the night was presented for the Quramo Junior Writers Prize by the First Lady of Lagos. The award went to Ashriya, a teenage Indian girl who has lived in Nigerian for two years. I watched her, with her thick-framed glasses and a gentle air, as she walked quickly to the stage, obviously shy. Then I took my eyes to her parents and two younger brothers, and all I could see was on their faces was pride (and some mischief on the faces of the boys!) The scene made me tear up for some reason I can’t explain.
Then came the highlight of the night for me: The Stage Play, Ajayi… “Write to Freedom” staring Kemi Lala Akindoju and Seun Ajayi, produced by Mrs. Sasore. All through the fast-paced play, filled with energetic dancing, powerful drumming, and stellar acting, my heart danced in my chest to an unfamiliar but pleasurable rhythm. I have always been a lover of theatre, but no other stage-play has ever evoked such a visceral reaction from me. I think the reason for this was the theme of the play: slavery – how easily people are taken away from their loved ones, and their possibly beautiful destinies are broken and remolded into ugly shapes. There is something about slavery that always gets me both angry and sad, in equal amounts, at the same time.
After the actors, dancers and Mrs. Shasore took their bows, it was time for the reading of the works of the three shortlisted writers for the Quramo Writers Prize. When all the readings were done, I couldn’t figure out who I wanted to win, because honestly, they were all very good.
So, when Mrs. Shasore opened the envelope and announced that Samuel Monye had won for Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread, I clapped as hard and cheered as loud as I would have for any of the other shortlisted candidates. He won a cash prize of One Million Naira and a possibility of being published by Quramo, a very handsome prize for a newbie writer I must say. Ashriya also took home a prize of Five Hundred Thousand Naira.
After some pictures and handshakes, the event was officially over. It was about 6.15pm – a brief event for the usual Nigerian standard, which I was grateful for. I went back to the lobby and after a bit of networking, it was time to go home.
As I walked out of the lobby, I took a look at the table where all the Quramo book titles were displayed for purchase. My mind drifted to how books are perceived in Nigeria.
It seems there is a small group of Nigerians who love books, and in a way, some of them would prefer that the group to remain exclusive, so that when they say they love books, they can be seen as ‘wise’ or ‘intellectual’ or ‘different’.
But books are not meant for a small group.
They are meant for everyone.
All of us.
I dream of a day when children would read books with as much enthusiasm as they watch movies.
I dream of a day when teenagers will save their pocket-money to buy books, the same way save to buy video games and albums.
I dream of a day when it will be as normal to see an adult reading a book in a cafe.
I dream of a day when there will be bookshops, in every state in Nigeria, filled with hundreds of books from every part of the world.
I dream of a day when Nigeria will produce thousands of authors who will not need to look to the west for validation and readership, because they will get both, in huge amounts, here at home.
I dream of a day when loving books will be normal, not weird or different.
With publishing houses like Quramo, Farafina and Cassava Republic, Physical Bookstores like Laterna Ventures and Glendora Bookstores and Online Bookstores like Roving Heights and Africareeds, I hope that day will come, soon…