For Playwrights, It’s Call to Social Consciousness 

Yinka  Olatunbosun

Playwrights have been tasked on the need to show commitment to social consciousness at the book party recently held at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre Lagos. Organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) in collaboration with Nigeria LNG, the party is an annual tradition which features authors on the longlist for the Nigeria Prize for Literature. 

The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates yearly among four genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. Now is in its 14th edition, the event was a platform to showcase the writers and raise concerns for the drama genre, readership and drama performance.

Among the highlights of party were live music, drama sketches and book readings. This year, the panel of judges was led by Professor Ameh Dennis Akoh, a Drama and Critical Theory scholar at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State. Other panel members include Professor Osita Catherine Ezenwanebe and Dr Rasheedah Liman.

Playwrights on the longlist who attended the event include Victor S. Dugga (Gidan Juju), Obari Gomba (Grit), Cheta Igbokwe (Homecoming), Christopher Anyokwu (The Boat People) and Abuchi Modilim (The Brigadiers of a Mad Tribe). Other authors who attended were Olubunmi Familoni (When Big Masquerades Dance Naked), Olatunbosun Taofeek (Where Is Patient Zero) and Henry Akubuiro (Yamtarawala – The Warrior King). 

Abideen Abolaji Ojomu (Ojuelegba Crossroads), Ade Adeniji (Dance of The Sacred Feet) and Bode Sowande (The Spellbinder) joined the panel session virtually. In his speech read by Ropo Ewenla, a member of the CORA Board, Toyin Akinosho, Secretary General of CORA, emphasised the importance of literary engagement and audience interaction. 

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While acknowledging that the prize money of $100,000 makes the competition one of the most keenly contested literary prizes in the continent and perhaps the world, he further stated that writers

“Drama is perhaps the least fashionable genre in Nigeria. The writer is firstly a poet, then a novelist or a short story writer. Then he is grudgingly a dramatist,’’ he observed. He commended the writers and stressed the need for authors to connect with their readers and highlighted the value of events like the Book Party and the forthcoming Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF). 

Akinosho outlined CORA’s initiatives, including the return of the “BOOKTrek” programme, which features author-audience interactions and readings at various bookstores and cultural spaces. Slated for November 14 to 20, 2023 at Freedom Park in Lagos Island, LABAF promises to be an exciting experience with the theme “Pathways to the Future.”

During the question and answer session chaired by Anote Ajelorou, some of the writers recounted their efforts involved in the completion of the play and for some, its production on stage. For instance, Henry Akubuiro explained in detail how he researched into the Bornu cultural history to write his play ‘Yamtarawala.’’

The playwrights agree that there is a palpable decline in theatre production. For Igbokwe, it is a constant struggle to muster financial strength to produce a play after writing it. He noted that the harsh economic climate is taking its toll on theatre patronage adding that it is only the university environment where drama is flourishing. On his part, Ojomu’s play ‘Ojuelegba Crossroad’ is a call on Africans to unite and take advantage of their assets across the continent.

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In his remarks, the General Manager of External Relations and Sustainable Development at NLNG, Mr Andy Odeh, observed that since its inception 19 years ago, the Nigeria Prize for Literature has seen 17 winning works, and over $1 million has been won.

“This prize stands out as the biggest and most prestigious literary prize in Africa, and one of the world’s biggest and most reputable. We are happy that today presents an opportunity to interact with these 11 playwrights. We are just two steps away from announcing the winner of the $100,000 prize in October. We instituted The Nigeria Prize for Literature because we were concerned that standards of reading, writing, editing, proof-reading and publishing were drastically falling in Nigeria, a country that largely founded and dominated the African Writers Series; a country that is also known to have produced reputable writers and winning works. Today, we are glad that Nigeria can showcase great literary works published in Nigeria. Our library and bookshelves have been enriched with many great works by Nigerian writers. The Nigeria Prize for Literature alone has received over 2400 entries in the four genres, many of which are top-quality entries,” he said.

The final verdict on the winning entry is expected to be announced in October 2023.

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