NIGERIAN WRITING: SEASON OF LISTS AND 'CABALISTIC' AWARDS



It is that time of the year when the Nigerian writing community bickers over ranking lists and personalized awards. As a person who has been very much involved in the Nigerian literary space as a writer, publisher, and promoter, I think I need to say a word or two about this annual ritual.

First and foremost, l must state categorically here that I do not consider ANY award, in any sphere of human endeavor as 100% objective. I simply refuse to accept that. Subjectivity has always been involved in the selection of award recipients which is why hardly any award goes without some form of grumbling – remember the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016, the 2018 Ballon d'Or, Burna Boy Headies snub? Some are just louder than others.

Secondly, anyone who denies that social media played a BIG role in the resurgence of Nigerian literature – particularly the versing genre, is only trying to deny the existence of air. A larger portion of our contemporaries was birthed as writers and weaned off social media, just as many of us knew most of the Nigerian writers we associate with from social media. Because we have different social circles that overlap only partially, it is very possible that we know and respect different sets of writers.

My third point feeds off the first and second. When the social media storm started rejuvenating Nigerian literature, we didn’t have many bodies willing to recognize and reward writers, again, especially poetry. Those days, we would create very subjective lists of supposed best writers/poets based on our own perception as condensed from our own close circle on social media. It wasn’t seen then as a war, even though a few hairs bristled still. As a matter of fact, a lot of names now recognized as worthy of awards were first thrown into the limelight by these ‘insignificant’ lists, prizes and awards. When I won the Orange Crush Poetry Prize in 2012, I was practically unknown. The award, however insignificant some people may call it gave me the impetus for publishing my first poetry collection and there are many people like me who I will not mention just to not irk anyone.

May I also add that we seem, over the years, to have split the writing army into two – the local writers and international writers? Even though in many cases, some writers traverse both worlds, or exist internationally but trend locally and vice versa, this creates a problem of sorts. The problem is that some writers may be Nigerian and excelling outside the shores of this country but are almost unknown here. Furthermore, they are not part of any local event or platform. If ever they are spoken of, it is on platforms/media that are largely unknown to the local pens.

Take for example Shoola Oyindamola – fantastic Nigerian poet and mentor of young writers. Many here would not put her on a list. In 2017, I had to observe her absence on the Nigerian Writers Awards’ List of Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40. They honestly knew nothing about her. But this is a writer with firebrand poetry collections doing well on the market. A further example is Theresa Lola, joint winner of the 2018 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, whom I only properly heard of today from a Facebook post by Romeo Oriogun.

What am I driving at:
  1. Lists and subjective awards are useful. No matter how much we hate them, they help us discover new names
  2. It is everyone’s right to believe so-and-so is better than so-and-s0. If a list doesn’t sit well with you, make objective observations
  3. It takes a lot of efforts to draw up even the shadiest rankings and that effort must first be appreciated. You can draw up a more respectable list if you feel so inclined
  4. NO ONE is put on a list just for the fun of it. While the ranking may not seem fair, it is my belief that EVERY writer deserves some ‘well-done’ in any form it comes
  5. This is our industry, let’s build and not destroy. It serves no one to go on a rampage, name calling and being vulgar.
MY CONCLUSION: While I do not seek to be included in lists that rank me with others, I really do not mind the inclusions not will actively discourage it. Why? I know that lists are subjective, eternally so irrespective of the organizers or the length of essays written about the modality of the rankings.
I think it is a disservice for anyone to criticize anyone for drawing up lists and ranking people as he/she deems it fit to, UNLESS SUCH A LIST IS TOUTED AS INFALLIBLE AND SUPERIOR TO ANY OTHER LIST.

I have had privileged information about the lists and awards by the so-called reputable organizations which will shock anyone. This is a story for another day because saying it now will be like seeking vendetta.

So, to my friends online and offline, please, if you want to put me on lists, please go ahead. It is not in my place to tell you how to think.

Cheers to appearing on many (positive) lists in 2019.

KUKOGHO IRUESIRI SAMSON
Writer/Publisher/Literary Promoter

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