An evening of readings featuring Professor Akin Adesokan brings together writers and arts lovers in Lagos. Nkrumah Bankong-Obi was there.
Life House, the outstanding literary event centre is usually closed to literary activities on Mondays. This house rule was, however, relaxed last Monday. The waiver became pertinent because, as the proprietress told guests, it was difficult to allow the United States of America-based professor, Akin Adesokan visit and depart the country without sharing his expertise with the literary community in Lagos.
And for those who abandoned other activities or fought to beat traffic snarls to attend the event, they reaped bountifully.
The main attraction was Prof. Adesokan’s reading of excerpts from South of the Still River, a novel he is completing. In his prefatory remarks, he informed the audience that the book takes its bearing from African Diaspora experiences. From the parts read, the story centres on a writer in constant movement after circumstances had pushed him. Armed with only a United Nations passport, he returns to a sight he had always loved in worn-torn Somalia. While there, he enjoys the convivial nudge of an older writer. It shows the anguish, the nightmares and the different models of living in an environment that one can rightly claim to have biological ties with.
Apart from the reading, there was a question and answer session. On the hot seat, Prof. Adesokan expertly unknotted the puzzles thrown at him. For example, asked the rationale for widening his thematic scope from Nigeria as was the case in his earlier writing, to Africa and the Diaspora as is the case in his current novel, the Professor of Comparative Literature explained that as an expat himself, his horizon has been broadened. He sees better the similarities of the problems bedeviling the continent and her citizens who live outside her shores.
“When you are an African and you live abroad, you see things in continental terms. If you want to write about Nigeria or Cameroon you see the place from a continent’s viewpoint. It is not really a change in theme per se,” he said.
He explained that his book “is basically a conception of fictional characterisation” which seeks to allow the character tells his own story about love, about adventure. He noted that his current effort is structured to allow a major character share his observations and experiences with the readers. On how he balances his writing as an academic, journalist and public commentator, the guest told his listeners that he sees himself essentially as a writer. He added that in spite of the distinction that people make between academic and public writing, the difference in achieving the objective either way depends on individual talent.
“The distinction that people make between academic writing is great. I don’t feel any kind of tension; it is a question of individual talent,” he explained.
Budding writers had something to cheer about the professor’s submission. In his opinion, there is need to understand that Nigeria’s writing history is still at its infancy, as such, much room needs to be allowed for intermediate writers and those whose writing have not netted recognition in the form of awards.
“Our literary history is very young. Young, because it is fairly under a hundred years. Writing to win awards is a function of the market. We should make room for writers and books that do not make it to the bestseller list,” Adesokan concluded
Besides discussing the South of the Still River, participants nudged the guest writer to comment on Nollywood, the Nigeria movie industry. He observed that Nollywood is witnessing intensification. His argument was based on the fact that film-making had been a major part of the Nigerian culture in the 1980s, except that the analogue model of production did not encourage the flexibility that the present digital form does.
The evening was enlivened with a performance by Edaoto, an Afro musician, whose spontaneous beats eased the digestion of the discussions.
Professor Adesokan’s other publications include; Roots in the Sky, an award-winning work of fiction, Postcolonial Artists and Global Aesthetics. He has written for journals and newspapers including AGNI, MAIL, SREEN and Guardian. He is at present an associate Professor of Comparative Literature in America’s Indiana University, Bloomington.