Uche Peter Umez interviews Jerry Alagbaoso [Specks in our Eyes; Origami Books 2015]

Jerry Alagbaoso

 8 Questions for Jerry Alagbaoso

 
“Satire does not hurt openly but it can hurt psychologically, if deep thinking is applied to its substance.” 
 
 
Jerry Alagbaoso holds a B. Ed (Hons) History/Drama (subsidiary) and a Master’s in Adult Education, specializing in Industrial Relations, from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is a teacher, founding parent of a renowned secondary school, philanthropist and author. He has written over seven plays, namely Honourable Chairman, The First Lady, The Armchair Parents, His Excellency and the Siren, Signs and Wonders, Sorters and Sortees and most recently, Specks in our Eyes. He also has two non-fiction books to his credit: Eyes Right, and Officers and Men.  He has endowed a couple of literary prizes in Imo State under the auspices of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). As at the time of the interview, Jerry Alagbaoso, who retired voluntarily from the Nigeria Customs and joined politics, is a two-time member of the House of Representatives, and in spite of his schedule, still creates time for writing.
 
Umez: It seems that you were already a public servant before you decided to be a writer. How did you start writing? What was the first literature you read that inspired you to become a writer?
 
Alagbaoso: It depends on one’s definition of a writer or who is a writer.  From our secondary school days you could decipher a potential author through his or her writing talents and techniques. What I mean here is that although writing is an intellectual thing but I hope I may not be stimulating an unnecessary argument if I say from a layman’s point of view on creative writing that a good writer may not necessarily be an author of well packaged books.
 
To that extent, I only started creating and packaging books as an author when I became or was employed as a public servant – when I wrote some didactic books for students and some non-fiction books for adults, especially those inclined to paramilitary services.
 
The first sets of inspiring literatures which I read included Julius Caesar, West African Verses (Poem), Tale of Two Cities, Things Fall Apart, English Register, Mayor of Canterbury, History of Ideas, Wretched of the Earth, The Man died, How Europe under developed Africa and some books from African Writers’ Series. Of course, I read a lot of newspaper articles, biographies and autobiographies like My Odyssey by Zik, biographies of  Ahmadu Bello and Aminu Kano and above all the Bible. While in university, I was taught Educational drama as a subsidiary teaching subject by Prof Adelugba, Prof Nwafor (then Dr Nwafor) in the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Ibadan and I must tell you, I enjoyed and appreciated watching live drama on the stage (if I still remember) like Our Husband has gone mad again Prof  Rotimi, Langbode, (Festac  1977 play), Prof Osofisan’s Shattering and the songsthe Wise Ones by Soni Oti, Swaze Banze is Dead (South African play), Ipitombi (South African dance drama). There were many other plays, in fact, that influenced me because I became addicted to watching live plays nearly every weekend during my university days. So I can say that a variety of literatures inspired me into “writing” or “authorship”, if you like.

Umez: How do you balance literature, business and politics, seeing as you are well engaged in all three pursuits? How do you choose your subjects? Do you keep to a strict writing schedule?
 
Alagbaoso: This adage “give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God” applies to me.  First and foremost, I love academics and teaching. If I hadn’t joined the public service after my postgraduate studies in the 80s, I would have been a teacher or lecturer in the University; remember I studied some teaching subjects – Education, History and with Educational drama (Theatre Arts) as a subsidiary.  Furthermore, I did my Master’s in Adult Education, specialising in Industrial Relations. So you can see how I have been able to manage the intersections of literature, business and politics in my life.  
 
The role of Education as a profession helps me to be accommodating of literature or literary studies, while History and Industrial Relations provide me with the leverage for politics and business. Environment, it’s been said, is the master of man.  So I am always conscious of my environment and I choose my subjects not only out of that consciousness but also based on organised observation, association, interpersonal relationship, listening and thinking.
 
Given my schedule, I usually write at night and on weekends.  
 
Umez: I know you have written some non-fiction, so what made playwriting the right genre for you? How difficult is it to be a playwright, a satiric one, no less?  Have you at any time considered writing fiction?
 
Alagbaoso: I am among those who believe that for anyone to be a playwright, they must be prepared to read, develop adequate writing skill, have and have the passion to work on a piece of work. You must learn to master some of the techniques of writing and, of course, create the time – to sit, be focused and write as well as continue to polish the work until it gets to a publishable standard. For me, a satire has to be instructive, revealing, corrective and, overall, humorous. However, the message you are hoping to pass across has to stimulate dimensional thinking without being a direct attack on issues, persons and institutions. A satire most times sends indirect messages and at the same time plays safe litigation-wise. For some time now, though, I have been thinking of exploring fiction, from the children or student’s perspective, in particular.
 
Umez: There is a strong humorous streak in your plays and they are all essentially satiric. What informs the use of satire in your writing? And what does it mean to you to be a satirist?
 
Alagbaoso: I am aware of the kegs of humour in me and these I usually transfer into my plays.  Moreover, I grew up under parents, uncles and aunts who would usually send didactic and moral messages through humour and satirical proverbs, commentaries and anecdotes. Of course, satire does not hurt openly but it can hurt psychologically, if deep thinking is applied to its substance. After all, it has corrective and educational socio-political and religious underpinning which may be beneficial to the society, if decoded objectively. To be a satirist, one must be careful, creative, resourceful and lawful on how to put it to use and the limits of lampooning a particular subject or object. 
 
Umez: Your plays are equally didactic, obviously aimed at moral rejuvenation.  Sorters and Sortees exemplify the issue of sorting in tertiary institutions, the corrupt practices between lecturers and students.  Signs and Wonders unravel the duplicitous practices by religious charlatans. The First Lady is very timely and telling, in that it reflects the electoral fraud and the practice of over-voting.  Do you think literature can be deployed as a vehicle for social change?
 
Alagbaoso: This question seems to me as being over-flogged. If literature is not deployed as a vehicle for social change, is it for chieftaincy title ceremonies or social parties that it will be deployed? As a matter of fact, literature makes one listen, think, feel, observe, teach, act, speak, empathize, ask, seek and knock for more and more changes in the society. Every literature can be utilised as a powerful tool for socio-political, moral and cultural change, which is why writing and reading of literature ought to be encouraged at all times and in every learning space. Usually any time I write, I not only think of the messages or teachings that my works are meant to convey but also what I hope they might elicit from the readers.
 
Umez: Your latest play, “Specks in our Eyes”, has some strong-minded female characters, especially that of Lady Ijeoyibo. Was this in any way deliberate?
 
Alagbaoso: Yes, it was deliberate in the sense that I was once a Special Assistant to one time Assistant Comptroller General (ACG) in the Nigeria Customs Service: Mrs. Kofo Olugbesan. She had a strong personality in the Customs then.  I admired her strength of character as far as the discharging of her duties was concerned. Lady Ijeoyibo reflects such strong female personalities. 
 
In the House of Representatives, I have come across, especially during our oversight functions in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), such like-minded determined characters like Aruma Oteh, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Stella Oduah, Omobola Johnson, Ochekpe Serah, Prof Viola Onwuliri, Olajumoke Akinjide, Hajia Zainab Maina, Akon Eyakenyi and Patricia Akwashiki. Lady Ijeoyibo in my play represents any of them.
 
Also in the House of Representatives, I have interacted with uncompromising women of honour like Rt. Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, Uche Lilian Ekwunife, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Elendu-Ukeje Nnenna Ijeoma, Nkeiru Onyejeocha, Khadijat Bukar Ibrahim, Apiafi Betty Okagua, Khadi Kaamuna Ibrahim, Binta Bello Maigari, Eucharia Azodo, Nkoyo Esu Ntoyo, Stella Dorgu, Ojakovo Omavosan Evelyn, Princess Stella Ngwu, Peace Uzoamaka Nnaji, Beni Lar, Christiana D. Alaaga, Rose Okoji Oko, Olajumoke Thomas, Blessing Nsiegbe Ibiba, Aisha Ahmed Dahiru,  Rafeequat Onabamiro, Ayo Omidiran, Adebukola A. Ajaja to mention but some. There are some cerebral female legislators in the Senate, too. My play, Specks in Our Eyes, is a tribute to their charisma. 
 
There are other strong willed female writers who come to my mind as I reflect on Lady Ijeoyibo in that play. Writers such as Prof Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma, Gloria Ernest-Samuel, Tess Onwueme, Funke Egbemode (a Sunday Sun columnist), Eugenia Abu (Executive Director programmes NTA) and Chimamanda Adichie, the multiple award winning novelist.
 
So the Lady Ijeoyibo, a strong character in Specks in our Eyes represents an honour to them and other women in the midst of male chauvinism. Of course, Ijeoyibo is the name of my late elder sister who loved and nurtured me the way any mother might, when I lost my real sweet mother. So the character Ijeoyibo in the play is part of my attempt at immortalising my late sister. 
 
Umez: How has your being a politician change the way you think about literature?  Has it much affected your artistic vision? Can you say a little about what your passion for literature has taught you?
 
Alagbaoso: Venturing into real politics has not in any way affected me negatively, regarding my artistic vision. I have said it in many fora that if everybody is interested in literature it means that everybody is into socio-political and religious guidance and counseling, which may provide a level playing field in all our human endeavour. After all, literature not only teaches but also corrects and remains a major factor in shaping positive or negative human inclinations. Indeed, my passion for literature has modified my system of thought and appreciation of education, in matters of life and death.
 
Umez: Who do you write for? Do you write for yourself or with an ear for your audience? And what are you working on now?
 
Alagbaoso: I write for students, the civil servants, and generally, the public. I write to elicit reactions, either positive or negative, from the audience.  In fact, I support audience and actors/actresses-participation, for it allows for group cohesion, collective or general feelings and impacts, than individual feelings. My writing, of course, contains one or two useful messages that may stimulate dimensional thinking. Now, I am thinking aloud on what to work on, although it actually depends on how much time I am able to squeeze out of my crowded space.
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Babishai Niwe Foundation (Uganda) Announces @BNPoetryAward 2015 Submissions

Our partners, the Kampala-based Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, chaired by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyuvna, just released the Call for Submissions for the 2015 BN Poetry Award. It’s open to all African Poets of all genders with $1000 in the sweet pot. Kenya’s Tom Jalio won the 2014 Award. Parrésia COO, Richard Ali, is on the Board.

See details below.

Parrésia
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PRESS RELEASE-15 JANUARY 2015
2015 BN POETRY AWARD CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

The BN Poetry Foundation is pleased to bring yet another exhilarating, stimulating platform for African poets world-wide. We strongly believe in rewarding great poetry where we can and so, we are filled with abundant enthusiasm as we send out our 2015 call. #BNPA2015

The submissions will be received from January 15 2015 to May 15 2015. By early July, we will send out a long-list and later a shortlist and the final winner will be announced during the 2015 BN Poetry Festival in Kampala in August. The winner receives 1,000 US Dollars and the top ten will receive publication, poetry mentorship and participate in various literary festivals. There will be an exclusive pull-out of our experienced judges on Monday 26 January.

Guidelines for submissions:
• It is open to ALL African poets (living anywhere in the world), who will not have published (including self-publishing), a full-length collection of poetry by May 2015. By African we mean either born on the continent, citizen of an African country or with either one or both parents as citizens of an African country
• Submissions should be previously unpublished, in English and not more than 40 lines each. Submit using Times New Roman, single-spaced and size 12. Local languages are accepted only if English translations are sent alongside them
• Send a maximum of three poems and a minimum of one poem to bnpa2015@bnpoetryaward.co.ug as a word attachment. Include the poem’s title on the poem but DO NOT include your name or contact details on the poem itself
• The subject line should read, “BNPA 2015”
• Include your name, email address, country or birth and country of permanent residence, telephone number and the titles of your poems in the body of the email
• The submissions will be accepted from January 15th to May 15th 2015 at 11:59pm Ugandan time
• There is no theme, be as inventive and original as possible
• The long-list will be announced by July 2015
• For more details or for any inquiries, view the website at http://www.bnpoetryaward.co.ug, , email bnpoetryaward@bnpoetryaward.co.ug OR follow us on Twitter @BNPoetryAward

THE WINNER WILL RECEIVE 1,000 US DOLLARS. THE TOP 10 WINNERS WILL RECEIVE POETRY MENTORSHIP, PUBLICATION OF THEIR POEMS AND ALSO PARTICIPATE IN VARIOUS LITERARY FESTIVALS

There will be a special pull-out of our experienced Judges, running from 26th January to 7th August 2015

Parrésia’s Richard Ali in Jalada Collective’s #Afrofutures Anthology

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Richard Ali

There is an increasing number of independent publishers, bloggers and content creators and writers collectives across the Continent showing a new way for African literature. Amongst these is the Jalada Writers Collective which was founded in Nairobi in 2012. Jalada just released their third Literature anthology yesterday and it’s got poems by Parrésia author, Richard Ali, who is a collective member, in it. See his Facebook post below.

Well done, Jalada!

The Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s) anthology was launched at midnight in Nairobi yesterday at http://www.jalada.org . It’s the third anthology of the Jalada Writers Collective and this edition has work from voices as diverse as Jude Dibia, Okwiri Oduor, Ivor Hartmann, Lydia Kasese and Melisa Kiguwa. I am a member of the Jalada Writers, I have three poems in the Anthology and it is the sum, at present, of our interpretation of Afrofuturism.

Read the Anthology free HERE: http://tinyurl.com/mmztstz

Please, share what catches your interest liberally. 🙂

– Ra.

Read the Anthology HERE AND be sure to #share

APBF and SABLE Lit Mag Launch Library in The Gambia

Our friends at the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) have just launched a new Library in The Gambia, in partnership with Kadija Sesay’s SABLE Lit Mag. We are proud of this initiative. It was opened yesterday.

Parrésia.

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Kadija Sesay, SABLE Lit Mag.

Official Launch of The African Poetry Library, The Gambia

It has taken a year of discussions, negotiations, preparations and meetings to make space for the library to bring it to fruition. We are pleased to announce the official opening of the ‘African Poetry Library, Gambia’ on Friday 9 Jan at 3pm.

We celebrate the official opening as The Gambia has been especially selected as one of five libraries on the African continent to have one of these libraries – the success of these ‘First Five’ will be closely monitored in order to establish further libraries. Gambia is already playing its part to show how much poetry is loved by Gambians – seen from the very fact that national newspapers carry daily poems; poet is often invited to perform at both small and large events.

The African Poetry Library – a Reading Library in The Gambia – is thanks to the efforts of the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF), Prairie Schooner, (the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s literary journal), and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) Libraries in conjunction with individuals and organisations in The Gambia, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.

Poet, Kadija Sesay’s, literary magazine SABLE, along with the African Homecomers Collective (AHC) are the caretakers for the library. The books are being donated by the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) and the host space is being provided by the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC). On Saturday 10 January there will be an ‘Open Mic’ poetry programme for all ages and a free session on performance skills. As well as being library stewards, volunteers are working on different library projects.

· KAI Youth Movement are planning the best way to undertake outreach in schools and collating the details of all poetry and fiction books published by Gambian authors in The Gambia.

· AHC members are liaising with the Department of Education whose members are also assisting with admin and promotion.

· SABLE LitMag are sourcing equipment and resources for the library and working , with AHC, on promotion.

· All involved are collating inspirational poetry quotes – we invite people to come and share poetry quotes from celebrated individuals

More volunteers are welcome!

The first 3-month programme and other exciting news will be announced at the opening. Please come and visit the library and put your visitor message on facebook and twitter before you leave!

The Programmes for Friday 9 January and for Sat 10 Jan 2015 are attached.

Launch: Friday 9 Jan, 3pm, NCAC Office, Fajara
Public Programme: Saturday 10 Jan, Library open from 10.30 – 3pm

APBF established with funding from Laura and Robert Sillerman

For more information contact:
afpoetrylibgambia@gmail.com twitter:@afpoetrylibgam
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/apbflibraries

African Poetry Library, Gambia
Directorate of Literature, Performing and Fine Arts, NCAC Fajara Office, Kanifing, The Gambia
Location: Off Kairaba Avenue, behind GT Bank


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New Cover: The Whispering Trees by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Parrésia is pleased to release the new cover for Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s highly regarded short story collection, The Whispering Trees. The title story of The Whispering Trees [Parrésia Books 2012], was shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Abubakar is the 2013 Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow.

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New Cover: The Whispering Trees
By

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Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

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The new edition will be released in the first quarter of 2015.
Pre-order using the form HERE.

Happy New Year from Parrésia Publishers Ltd

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Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi and Richard Ali warmly wish a happy new year to all #Parrésia authors, fans, supporters, and those who have bought into our three-year old dream of publishing quality books that keep Africa’s words in trust, one paperback at a time.

#2014 was a very tricky year for us, but we made it through.

#2015 will see the release of new titles under the Parrésia Books imprint, a continuation of the exciting work going on at Origami Books and the release of Blessing Musarari’s Cordite Books crime fiction novel. We will also continue to seek partnerships and arrangements to make our books available in all the major languages of Africa and the World, including Hausa and Swahili, German, French and Arabic. Our fans and friends can also expect to access our books on more platforms than we currently offer in this new year.

In related news, we will be releasing a new cover for Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s short story collection, The Whispering Trees, [Parrésia Books, 2014], today, to commemorate its third print run.

We treasure each and every one of our authors, from amu nnadi to Chika Unigwe, from Emmanuel Iduma ranging through Saddiq Dzukogi and Umar Sidi to Helon Habila, Molara Wood and Victor Ehikhamenor. Each one of you is a star.

Here’s to 2015, to a great year for books written in Africa, for Africa, for the World.

Happy New Year!!!

—————-
Management.
01/01/2015

Parrésia On British Council #GenTalk Creative Industries Panel

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Parrésia COO, Richard Ali, will be on a panel tomorrow in Abuja to discuss ways to transform the Creative Industries in Nigeria. The Panel, organised by the British Council, will seek to articulate strategies to transform the industry, including Publishing, in the age of E-. Parresia Author, Reward Nsirim, will also be on the panel along with Charles Novia, Ese Oraka, Wale Ewedemi and Dike Chukwumerije.

It would be recalled that #TeamParresia won a #500,000 grant in the British Council’s Culture Shift programme and is currently developing its solution, tagged #ParresiaSocial, with Lagos-based CoCreation Hub.

The venue for the Panel is Petrus Royale Hotel at Garki 11, Abuja.

Parrésia Partnership with Digitalback Books Announced at TedXEuston

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Parrésia Publishers Ltd’s partnership with London-based Digitalback Books was announced last week at the influential TedXEuston 2014 event. Digitalback Books is a virtual library venture dedicated to making literary works from Africa and the Diaspora widely available to readers. Other pioneering partners are the African Books Collective and Peepal Tree Press.

Download the Digitalback Books (Android) app HERE

Parrésia Titles Available
Richard Ali: City of Memories
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: The Whispering Trees
Emmanuel Iduma: Farad

In collaboration with Impelsys – a global leader in providing electronic content delivery solutions – Digitalback Books has brought its content to readers over multiple channels, including free apps for iPad and Android devices. Digitalback Books is built on the award-winning, SaaS-based Impelsys platform, iPublishCentral and offers a subscription model for readers to browse and read all of the available content online rather than having to purchase individual books outright.

“This launch is the culmination of a dream and a journey started many years ago.” said Gersy Ifeanyi Ejimofo, founder of Digitalback Books “We firmly believe that access to books reflecting one’s heritage and experience should not be considered a luxury. However, the distribution of physical books in Africa faces many obstacles; there are currently more smartphones in peoples’ hands than books. So our unique business model transforms each of these phones into a deliciously diverse collection of African works through an affordable subscription. We are glad to have found the right partners who saw our passion, understood our vision and have been able to support us with the right solution.”

About DigitalBack Books: http://www.digitalbackbooks.com sources literary works from across Africa and the Diaspora and makes them widely accessible as a digital library of 100’s of titles. Leveraging advances in technology and the explosion of mobiles devices on the continent, Digitalback Books seeks to plug some of the gaps that the region’s publishing industry faces in distribution.

Digitalback Books is available online and also available via apps for the iPad and Android devices.

http://www.digitalbackbooks.com | http://www.ipublishcentral.com | http://www.parresia.com.ng

Parresia Publishers Releases New Fiction: Viral Load

Parrésia Publishers announces the release of Kayode Oguntebi’s début novel, Viral Load, under its Origami imprint.

Kayode Oguntebi’s Viral Load is a poignant narrative of various discourses, of the simple and predominant things that make up the trajectory of the African post-colonial experience. Tunde Lewu, a young Nigerian from a rather challenging middle class reaches a breach in his expectations when he realises that he has HIV from forgotten jolly escapades. But this is not a story only about Tunde Lewu, it is a story that intercepts the realities of military incursion into politics, the involvement of the western powers in contributing to the paragraphs of aid and the establishment of social organisation.

Lewu is only a character that navigates and engages the many characters in the global sphere that are looking for answers to personal, social and economic preponderances. The health of the person in Viral Load is subtly linked in the health of Africa. The health of a family shattered into specks of darkest brilliance props up unpalatable dissatisfaction that transcends the present and morphs into the novel’s future. This makes the author attempt a new proposition of a plot of this nature while retaining a flow from flashbacks and imaginations.

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Kayode Oguntebi’s debut novel is full of promise. His futuristic narrative of what Africa would be when Africa leaders turn their paradigms towards improving the lives of the people. What you will find in Kayode Oguntebi’s novel is the cosmopolitan Africa capable of engaging the rest of the world as it presents its own cultural solutions packaged in a more acceptable, and verifiable quality.

Kayode Oguntebi is a colourful persona who works at a Multinational FMCG company where he has spent the last three years transforming business systems and processes across the African continent. Viral Load is his first novel, published 12 years after its first cut. He is married to Kudi Oguntebi.

BREAKING NEWS! Parresia’s amu nnadi wins 2014 Glenna Luschei Poetry Prize!

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amu nnadi

Parrésia Publishers Ltd is pleased to announce that its author, amu nnadi, has just won the 2014 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry for his collection through the window of a sandcastle published by our Origami Books imprint (2013). The collection, amu nnadi’s third, had earlier been shortlisted for the 2013 $100,000 NLNG Prize and won the prestigious Association of Nigerian Authors Prize for Poetry in 2013.

He was earlier shortlisted with Kadija Sesay (Senegal) and Kobus Moolman (South Africa).

The Glenna Luschei Prize is administered by the African Poetry Book Fund headquartered at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, USA–the Fund is run by an Editorial Board chaired by international poet and scholar Kwame Dawes. There is also an Advisory Board comprising Laura Sillerman, Glenna Luschei, Suleiman Adebowale, Elizabeth Alexander and Russel Goings.

In a press release published HERE on the APBF website, amu nnadi’s winning collection was described in the following words–

Abani says that in reading through the window of a sandcastle, “We come face to face with a truly original voice” that “creates new metaphors, new spaces of being, and new cartographies of the African soul. There are traces here of Christopher Okigbo’s striking vision and voice, of Eliot’s sense of epic, of Walcott’s ability to turn quotidian diction into a song of light, and yet a melancholy, a brilliance, a dance that is all original, all amu nnadi.” Abani calls the poems themselves poems of “remarkable lyric grace” with “a capacious imagination.”

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amu nnadi with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio

It would be recalled that amu nnadi, apart from numerous poetry readings in Nigeria, has in the last year read his poems in Frankfurt, Germany. He was also in New York, USA where, as a guest of CUNY’s Medgar Evers College Celebrate Africa event, he read to an audience including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the first black mayor of New York, David Dinkins.

Two weeks ago, he was a guest at the Ake Book and Arts Festival, directed by Lola Shoneyin, in Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Congratulations amu nnadi, congratulations Nigeria!