Literary Crossroads 2016

Literature, like every other art form, is universal language. More, it is the most accessible if to regard power to communicate ideas and dynamics in integrating varying societies and cultures. Through literature the socio-political bulwarks of bureaucratic institutions across nations have been peeped through to create an enabling outlook of the world; a freer air among societies; understanding perspectives; and projecting openness towards differences, thereby making better human habitat of the world.
 

Literature, like every other art form, is universal language. More, it is the most accessible if to regard power to communicate ideas and dynamics in integrating varying societies and cultures. Through literature the socio-political bulwarks of bureaucratic institutions across nations have been peeped through to create an enabling outlook of the world; a freer air among societies; understanding perspectives; and projecting openness towards differences, thereby making better human habitat of the world.
It is on this important premise that the Literary Cross Road, A pan African program initiated by Goethe-Institut Nigeria, exists as a platform of discuss where African writers meet colleagues from all over the continent and from the African diaspora to talk trends, topics and themes prevalent in literature today.
The first edition of the event featured one of Nigeria’s leading literary figures Molara Wood, author of Indigo, journalist, critic, and culture activist; Nigerian Ambassador to Cote-devoir Ambassador Ifeoma Chinwuba, author of Merchant of Flesh, Waiting for Maria, African Romance Poetry in Dialogue; and as moderator, Khainga Okwemba, host of Book Café in Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation and a columnist in Nairobi’s Daily Newspaper.
With Molara Wood meeting Khainga for the first time, and Ambassador Ifeoma Chinwuba meeting Molara Wood, too, for the first time (despite the fact that the three are well familiar with each other’s works and activities) proved that the programme, among every other set objective, has achieved its most towering aim: familiarizing African writers across the continent.      
Khainga, who saw the event more as a moment of reflection, historically reiterated Nigeria’s place of pride in Africa liberation by recounting a gift of a political history book, ‘In the Fog of a Seasons’ End’ by Alex La Guma, handed him by his father when he was a schoolboy. The writer, A South African Novelist and leader of a political organization South African Coloured People’s Organization, also wrote other books among which is A Walk in the Night, a book exposing the brutality of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Smuggled out of South Africa to be published in Nigeria, and smuggled back to South Africa in 1962 to be distributed and read discreetly, A walk in the Night proved the most contended piece of literature of its time. “But why was Nigeria the destination of the book’s publication?” Khainga asked. “And are Africans still walking in the night half a century after the end of colonialism?” The event solemnly found its footing in these pertinent questions.
If to consider the mirage of social, political and economic challenges facing the African continent—which in the critical sense of any intellectual gathering must be discussed—; the question of race, identity, literacy, poverty, diminishing culture and more; and given the fact that in any given society, the writer and teacher occupies an indelible position in influencing societal affairs, it then should go without saying that the relevance of an event as this holds a timely imperativeness to Africans home and abroad.
Khainga, in his opening remark stressed on this by stating writing as an act of dissidence and that writers are self-appointed voices of the marginalized. Writers are the conscience of the society, he concluded.
On experiences with publishing, the discussion veered into one of the most challenging phases of literature production in this sphere: Getting published. To give the honest answer, Molara said—which is not always the diplomatic answer, as an African writer if you’ve not had the extreme luck of being shortlisted for the Caine Prize, then it is very, very difficult to get agents and publishers. She was talking from personal experiences. Thus the question, as posed by Kahinga: Why should we wait for approval from prizes that are administered from abroad and not from the African continent before discovering writers with great potential?
Ambassador Chinwuba, on where writers source materials, believes writers must have the urge to write. According to her, she got materials for her novel, Merchants of Flesh, a story of human trafficking, from experiences garnered as a civil servant serving on Nigerian diplomatic desk in Italy. She told the despicable situations of life for Nigerian young women in the Vatican City, whom with little or no choice in most cases; have to work their livelihood as prostitutes. Writing materials are in the air, she said,—they are blowing in the wind.
Afterwards were readings from the two writers, and then questions and answer session.  
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The second and latest edition of the event tagged Literary Crossroads - Conversation with African Poets took place on the 26th October 2016, and the discuss roved partly around identity and migration. Slated to host Mandi Vundla and Afurakan from South Africa; Jumoke Verissimo and Dami Ajayi from Nigeria, the event eventually hosted the two Nigerian writers and a Liberian writer and poet: Jumoke Verissimo, author of I Am Memory and The Birth of Illusion both of which are collection of poems; Lekpele Nyamayo authored a book of poetry Yearnings of a Traveller; and Dami Ajayi is the author of Clinical Blues, also a collection of poems. The panel was moderated by Kola Tubosun, a renowned Nigerian linguist and writer.
The course of discuss led the writers to narrating their individual journey into literature, their influences and challenges. Ajayi, who said he started writing poetry at age eleven, and has not at any time found himself outside the literary scene ever since, gave a narrative of how, as an undergraduate studying medicine at the University of Ife, Nigeria, he co-founded a literary group called Saraba Magazine.
Equipped with his first issue, Clinical Blues, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Melita Hume Prize in manuscript form, and 2015 ANA Prize for Poetry, Ajayi read to the delight of the audience. He read a poem titled On Airport:
“…welcome to the travel theatre where transition is key. Goodbyes here could be ephemeral or eternal”.
The lines are that of home-leaving. To an average peregrinating African, the lines may mean life or death. We only need to revisit D.H Lawrence in one of his lines:
“Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away”,
to appreciate the depth of Ajayi’s poem, and to ask where freedom really is for the African man.
Verissimo, whose I Am Memory won the AWF/Carlos Idizia Ahmad first book Prize for Poetry 2009, recounted how she got influenced by the famous Yoruba folklorist and poet Akeem Lasisi earlier in her career. She stressed the need for collaborations with other genres of art. “New perspective is what makes poetry for me” She said in contribution to the discuss on what influences a writer. Her statement was greeted by a general acquiescence by the audience.
Reading from her second publication: The Birth of Illusion, she rendered a poem titled Ajani, a love poem laced with Yoruba folklore, and with which she recapitulated her previous stand on her take on poetry: Engaging literature in new perspective.
And Nyamayo, who feels strongly that poetry can be used to vent, carries childhood memories of his country civil war with him as he writes. He offered a poem from Yearnings of a Traveller, a threnody.