The Garden City literary festival was a huge success. It lasted from 8-11 December 2010. There were several interesting literary events: creative writing workshops were organized – needless to say renowned authors like Helon Habila and Adaobi Nwaubani taught in some of the classes. Dr Reuben Abati also gave a lecture, but it was in the masters’ class: and I will never forget the old white lady with silvery hair who stood up and thanked Dr. Reuben –on behalf of the audience- for his time and generosity. Two of Femi Osofisan’s plays were staged both at the prestigious Hotel Presidential and at the Rivers state Government House. What a pity that I missed those wonderful plays. Actually, the second one could only be attended at the Government House, and strictly on invitation. And I understand the organizers’ plight: nowhere is safe anymore and international figures like Professor Wole Soyinka and J.K Coetzee were expected to be present. I’m sure the GCLF organizers didn’t want those two wonderful men to get kidnapped in the middle of the play.
The best part for me though was the book fair. And considering that it had been sponsored by Shell Petroleum Development Company, I hadn’t expected it to be any less organized. That book fair is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The publishers and bookshops piled their glossy covered books in their well-lit cubicles. And it was exciting, dignifying even, to walk around with other supposedly calm bookaholics and intending writers, Rubbing our palms over glossy covered books, flipping through all manner of literature, inhaling the scintillating aroma of paper and print! Such a unique experience. A unique feeling.
In that world of our own where we paraded feeling superior, I made a few acquaintances. We talked about the books we loved, the ones we had searched for and begged for and many other ‘boring’ esoteric things writers chatter about which the rest of the world would never understand.
Ken Saro Wiwa’s books seemed to be in high demand and scarce too. And when one luckily ran into a bookshop that had it, the price tags would make you scream in horror. Except of course you came with a credit card and a lot of cash. Unfortunately, I came with a few naira notes and I’d planned on buying more than two good books. And so after touring the bookshops and taking stock, I settled for Buchi Emecheta’s autobiography, Head Above Water: beautiful book, I must say! I would recommend Head Above Water for every upcoming writer. Apart from the fact that Buchi is a great writer, I also admired her can-do-it spirit. She walked on rough edges and still managed to keep her head above water through novel writing. I felt so proud of her, even now, I still do feel elated when I remember her – Buchi Emecheta – I feel like I know her already: the awesome effects of an inspiring autobiography.
Spectrum Publishers also made the book fair more exciting. Their books were more affordable and the dark, plump jovial man at the bookstand was only too glad to attend to us the best he could. I was glad to have bought Karl Maier’s This house Has Fallen at a more affordable price, considering that it is a non-fictional account of Nigeria and her history. I’ve noticed that creative non-fictional literature costs much more than creative fictional ones. But of course, that is arguable. And that is just an observation. We are entitled to our opinions. Aren’t we? Afterwards, a writer friend – whom I’d just met- convinced me to buy Bessie Head’s Classic, Maru. Bessie’s style of writing is deep, creative, original and strong: very much a writer’s book.
At the end of the day, I walked away in the evening sunshine, feeling proud that I had harvested some gold; feeling proud that I had been to the banquet of the royals, of the intellectuals. It was quite a curious feeling that I felt. I bounced on the sidewalks beside the cars crawling in the traffic jam. What a wonderful world, I thought, patting my pot of gold!