NLNG Prize for Literature: Nigerian Poets not good enough this year!

Wow! I enjoyed the evening. I say this even though many of my friends will cringe. It was lots of wine and champagne and overpriced food and deserts. It was plenty of unhealthy red meat. It was plenty of writers not getting invited for an event that was meant for writers. It was political giants and big boys of oil oppressing us with attires too hot for us to handle. It was a hall full of business men and office holders and maybe three or four tables of writers. It was Dora Akunyili, shamelessly preaching that nebulous concept of rebranding and smiling even when there is truly nothing to smile about. It was our dear Minister for Information boldly misinforming the audience that a Nigerian had won the Nobel Prize for science- a category that does not even exist and shamelessly quoting as her source a text message! It was Ojukwu giving a long and dramatic speech after a late and dramatic entry. It was the German ambassadors wife leading the Nigerian National Anthem with a funny accent, making a mockery of it all! It was the MD of NLNG’s wife giving the only solo performance of the evening. It was many very pretty ladies whose numbers I couldnt get. It was less than fabulous poets expecting to get a fabulous prize! It was people staging a walk out when they didnt need to(and missing all the chocolate served at the end).
Is NLNG prize for literature, objectively construed, a credible way of promoting literature, or a masquerade dance where big people mock small people. I dont know. Were the poets yesterday, non of whom got an invitation card from NLNG, deserving of 50,000 dollars? From the works I read I cannot say yes without feeling like a hypocrite. Should they have been shortlisted if they were not good enough. I think not!
While I share some of the sentiments expressed about the legitimacy of the prize in general as a way of promoting literature in Nigeria, I must say that the best thing that happened yesterday was the “no winner” announcement. It saved us from embarrasment. I imagine a bunch of “unripe” poems touted as Nigerias finest and the world looking on as we celebrate mediocrity. Good poems. Readable. Some of them perhaps interesting and enjoyable. But non of them great! Non of them something we would want to show the world as the best of the year from our large great country. That is the only conclusion I reached yesterday. So while people walked out I sipped on wine and stuffed my mouth with chocolate.

I was sad at the beginning when I saw writers treated without respect, most of us having to sit behind, while the politicians whose night it was not, enjoyed the view close to the stage. But I left at the end, a big smile on my face, and more than a moderate amount of wine in my stomach. Maybe it was the alcohol that made me happy. Maybe the fact that the evening didnt end in the celebration of what we would not be proud of. Maybe both. Or maybe because of chocolate and Giwan-ruwa with dafa duka rice… maybe!

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~ by elnathanjohn on October 11, 2009.

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