It seems almost impossible to discuss literary culture in Nigeria without recourse to Lagos. Many Nigerian writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Odia Ofeimun have drawn inspiration from the lurid peculiarities of the coastal city in crafting their fictional narratives. Lagos also plays host to many publishing houses and various literary activities such as dramatic presentations, book readings, literary clubs and, more recently, an upsurge in online book forums and literary blogging, providing many opportunities for literary enthusiasts to whet their appetites.
The National Arts Theatre located in Iganmu is the primary centre for the performing arts in Nigeria. It was built during the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo and has a famously distinctive exterior shaped like a military hat. It is the largest art centre in Lagos, with a 5000-seat hall with a collapsible stage as well as two 700-800 capacity cinema halls equipped with facilities for the simultaneous translation of eight languages.
The Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre in Onikan is a multipurpose cultural complex that provides a home base for many artistic activities. MUSON was established in 1983 to promote the understanding and enjoyment of classical music in Nigeria, the education of children in the performance and theory of music and to encourage foreign musicians to perform in Nigeria and vice versa. It has a music school and an event centre for the performing arts, film festivals, drama, exhibitions, book and product launches.
The Lagos arm of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) organises a book reading every second Saturday of the month for prospective and current members at the National Theatre. ANA’s Lagos State chapter is considered to be the largest literary organisation in the city, counting writers such as Wale Okediran, Folu Agoi, Remi Adebiyi and Perpetual Nkechi Obidiegwu amongst its members.
Taruwa, a live performance show which launched on August 21, 2007, is a platform for young budding poets, spoken word artistes, actors, comedians, instrumentalists and singers to express themselves. It takes place at the Bogobiri House in Ikoyi every last Tuesday of the month and attracts a positive and art-loving audience. The team behind the show has also created a quarterly magazine.
Another fast-rising literary group in the city is the Pulpfaction Book Club created by Adedotun Eyinade. In a bid to encourage reading the club hosts monthly book readings at the Debonair Bookstore in Sabo, Yaba every first Saturday of the month featuring Nigerian novelists and poets. It aims to create the biggest community of book lovers in Nigeria.
Saraba Magazine, an online literary publication started in 2009 by Emmanuel Iduman and Dami Ajayi, has published eleven PDF issues, five poetry chapbooks and two sub-issues featuring 120 writers from five continents to date.
Writer A. Igoni Barrett (author of From Caves of Rotten Teeth and the convener of the "9 Writers, 4 Cities" book tour), in collaboration with the Silverbird Lifestyle media store, launched "The BookJam @ Silverbird" in February 2010, a monthly series which consists of book readings and discussions by guest writers as well as performances by artistes. BookJam’s objective is to provide literary entertainment for the public by creating opportunities for book lovers to meet and discuss with writers and other artists. It has featured Kaine Agary (author of Yellow Yellow and winner of the 2008 NLNG-sponsored Nigeria Prize for Literature); Eghosa Imasuen (author of To Saint Patrick and the recently released Fine Boys) and Jude Dibia (author of Walking with Shadows and winner of the 2007 NDDC/ANA-sponsored Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Prose).
This year, the Public Affairs Section of the US Consulate General, in partnership with the US-Africa Literary Foundation, launched the "READ IT LOUD" Initiative which is designed to encourage youth and other interested members of the public in the art of writing and reading. The first edition (themed "Celebrating Black American and African Writers") gave both professional and budding writers the opportunity to read their works and the works of others out loud. Each reading was followed by a lively discussion. The audience also had the opportunity to watch recordings of legends such as Maya Angelou, Wole Soyinka, Thabo Mbeki and Mutabaruka reading their works. In a welcome remark at the opening of the first session, Public Affairs Officer Tina Onufer said: "Reading loud or [the] recitation of poetry helps in the development of reading and learning outside of the classroom." She added that "it also helps develop confidence in the speaker out of his comfort zone." She encouraged participants to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the forum to develop themselves.
The increasing numbers of Nigerians using the internet has also played a role in enhancing Lagos’s literary culture, as well as that of other cities across the nation. Many book clubs, e-libraries and online forums have sprung up and added fervour to the love of literature in the city. The rising use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter has also spurred literary activities and improved readership. Notable figures such as Richard Ali (of Sentinel Nigeria and Parrésia Publishers), Dzekashu McViban (Bakwa Magazine), Myne Whitman (Naija Stories), Tolu Oloruntoba (Klorofyl), Ayodele Olofintuade (Laipo), Morgan Oluwafemi (Artmosphere) and Temitayo Olofinlua (Bookaholic Blog) have taken Nigerian literature to the online sphere. Emmanuel Iduma, in a recent post on The Voice (the Garden City Literary Festival’s blog), put it succinctly when he asserted that "the pattern is changing. Emerging writers are not waiting for prize-prestige before creating a platform that projects the ambitions of others."
Jumoke Verrisimo, a Nigerian poet and writer, believes that "today's Lagos is a myriad of dreams - and no one cares if it is illusionary or real. It's just about dreaming. Perhaps this accounts for the different literary events that have sprung up in recent time."
In an email she wrote: "Personally, I think Lagos inspired many writers in the past and still does. Of course, there's a new Lagos and the story would be different from the chaos of the many years that brought disillusion and confusion readily to mind."
Although a vibrant literary culture appears to be blossoming in Lagos, Dotun Eyinade, the creator of Pulpfaction, said in an interview with the Voice that he believes more still need to be addressed, especially with regards to the reading culture in Nigeria: "When I was growing compared to now, bookshelves were fashionable in living room[s]. In fact, it was a sign that the family was a pretender to the non-existent middle class or the last vestige [of it] before the military era wiped them out. Today [a] flat screen TV is the symbol of arrival. The bookshelves are gathering dust somewhere in the stores and no one remembers to build a study when they build fanciful houses."
With the broad and increasing range of activities the city has to offer, the future of Lagos's literature is sure to be very bright given the opportunities for unheard voices and budding writers to work on their craft, improved writer-audience relationships and wider access to learning. Who knows - another literary giant may soon emerge from Lagos.
Do you know of any other literary groups/events/venues/publications based in Lagos? Be sure to post them in the comments!
This piece was originally posted on September 6, 2012.