Editor’s Note: In this article, Tamara Gausi profiles 10 Nigerians in the arts that are worth knowing and watching. Some of these people in arts are home-grown, while others are foreign-based. The list gives an insight into why Nigeria’s literary industry should be watched in 2011.
With just one book Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani has been catapulted to the forefront of Nigeria’s literary scene, joining the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta and Helon Habila. Published in 2009, her wickedly funny debut novel ‘I Do Not Come to You by Chance’ introduced the world to some of the characters involved in Nigeria’s infamous 419 scams. It won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Best First Book in the Africa Region and the Betty Trask award (past winners include Diran Adebayo and Zadie Smith). As well as being the former editor for 234Next’s popular style supplement Elan, the new “rock chick” of Nigeria’s literary scene is currently one of the newspaper’s contributing editors with a new book in the pipeline. We can’t wait.
Femi Elufowoju Jnr – The theatremaker
Femi Elufowoju Jnr isn’t a wordsmith per se. Rather than write words, as a theatre director he helps to bring them to life. But it is no exaggeration to say that without him the UK’s vibrant African theatre scene would be considerably duller. As the founder of the Tiata Fahodzi theatre company he provided a home for young African-British writers like Bola Agbaje and Oladipo Agboluaje to write stories from an African perspective, thus paving the way for a new generation of actors and directors as well as playwrights. In a fair world, as one of the hardest working directors in the business Elufowoju Jnr would be running one of the major off-west end theatres in London. But fear not – earlier this year he stepped down as artistic director of Tiata Fahodzi (he has been replaced by ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ actor Lucian Msamati) so it may happen yet.
Tolu Ogunlesi – The scientist
Journalist, poet, writer, pharmacist – is there anything former CNN African Journalist of the Year Tolu Ogunlesi can’t do with a pen…or prescription? His weekly column for Nigerian newspaper 234Next.com, (On)going Concerns, is just about the best thing in a newspaper packed to the hilt with intelligent writers. We love his wry humour coupled with acute observations about political and social life in Nigeria. But while yabbing politicans is clearly his favourite pastime, he is also pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia (alta mater of British-Nigerian writer Diana Evans, Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro) which means there should be a follow up to his 2004 poetry book ‘Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony’ and 2008 novella ‘Conquest & Conviviality’ sometime soon.
Bim Adewumni – The blogger
London-based writer and journalist Bim is the author of Yoruba Girl Dancing, which is one of our favouritest blogs on the block. How many other feminist bloggers do you know with a weekly column called The Friday Pretty which reveals their boy crush of the week? YGD oscillates between the deliciously frivolous – asking such pertinent questions as why don’t white people drink supermalt and why do black British magazines keep going bust – coupled with smart, funny and unique insights into race, gender and popular culture. She was recently nominated for a well-deserved 2010 Precious Award and Black Weblog Award, and has even racked up a guest appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour following her brilliant article about online dating for the Guardian. Expect to read her in a magazine that hasn’t gone bust near you soon.
Jeta Amata – Mr Nollywood goes to Hollywood
Jeta Amata has probably done more than any other filmmaker to open up the Nigerian film industry to a western audience. He isn’t afraid of big subjects: his 2006 film “Amazing Grace” tackled the slave trade; 2010′s “Inale” starring Caroline Chikize and Haekem Kae-Kazim made its mark as Nigeria’s first musical feature film; and “Black Gold”, out next year, attempts to tackle the Niger Delta crisis. Amata’s confidence may come from the fact that he was born into the Nigerian version of the Redgraves – his grandfather John headed a dynasty which includes Jeta’s father Zack and his uncle Fred. But his swagger is probably also something to do with that fact that he is a filmmaker who knows his craft – how else did he rope in Hollywood stars like Billy Zane and Nick Moran to work for him?
Inua Ellams – The trailblazer
Inua Ellams has achieved a lot in his twenty-something years. As he describes himself in his Twitter bio, he is a “poet, performer, grafik artist, geek” but can we add door-kicking pioneer to that list? In 2009, Inua Ellams became the first black male to put on a solo show at the National Theatre with “The 14th Tale”, a virtuouso performance of his riveting life story which spans Nigeria, Ireland and England. He is also currently working as Covent Garden’s Creative in Residence – and did we mention that he is a badass graphic designer with a sublime collection of neck scarves?
Lola Adesioye – The provocateur
Look up the phrase ‘high achiever’ in the dictionary and you’ll probably see a picture of Lola Adesioye beaming back at you. The 30-year-old Cambridge graduate has worked as a music industry executive in London, a consultant in Johannesburg and now lives in New York where she is using her Masters in Social & Political Science to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps (Nigerian newspaper editor and PR guru Ebun Adesioye) into the world of journalism. Currently working as a writer and political commentator for The Guardian, CNN, The Economist and The Huffington Post, Adesioye plans to push forth with her activism but judging by the topics of her blog Lolacreative.com we reckon she could add life coach as another string on her bow.
Chika Unigwe – The multilinguist
Writing a book is hard enough for most people but to do it in a foreign language takes some guts. Yet that’s exactly what Belgian-based novelist Chika Unigwe did, despite being born and educated in Nigeria up until university level. In 2005, this mother of three became the first Flemish-language writer of African origin to be published with her debut novel ‘De Feniks’ (The Phoenix). Her 2008 follow-up book ‘Fata Morgana’, was published in English in 2009 as ‘On Black Sisters’ Street’, which was named as one of Alistair Campbell’s favourite books.
Lagos-bred, London-based Chibundu Onuzo hasn’t even been published yet and she is already being touted as a literary star of the future. The A 19-year-old Nigerian undergraduate at King’s College recently signed a two-book deal with Faber, making her its youngest ever female author. Her first novel, “The Spider King’s Daughter” is out next year and tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a male street hawker and an ajebota girl whose father is a member of the country’s ‘corrupt elite’. In an interview with CNN recently, Onuzo revealed that she wrote the book in her last year of school and is currently working on her second novel, a story about two soldiers stationed in the Niger Delta.
Tamara Gausiwrites about the arts, culture, people and politics for publications such as Arise Magazine, New Statesman and Time Out London. Her favourite African city is in fact the London suburb of Peckham and hopes to see the day that young African teenagers can go Interailing across the Motherland before heading to Europe for a year of voluntary work.
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