Jalaa writers showcase novel worlds
Writers of the Jalaa Collective, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Odili Ujubuonu, and Jude Dibia read from their newly published novels at the Faculty of Arts boardroom, University of Lagos on May 26.
According to the head of English Department, O. Okoro, the literary event would not be the first or the last, as such events are always encouraged in the department to promote reading culture in students.
"This is a tradition that we have always had in this department and I hope that we will continue to keep up this tradition," he stated.
Pride of the Spider clan
The reading, organised by the Department of English in collaboration with Jalaa Collective, responsible for publishing the three authors, began with Ujubuonu's ‘Pride of the Spider Clan.'
‘Pride of a Spider Clan' is the conclusion of the trilogy that started with Ujubuonu's ‘Pregnancy of the Gods', which he then followed with ‘Treasures in the Wind', as the author explained before reading an excerpt from the latest instalment.
‘Roses and Bullets'
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo then read from her book ‘Roses and Bullets', a novel based on the events of the Nigerian civil war and its traumatic effects on its victims.
"There are many books on the Nigerian civil war and mine is an addition," she declared. "Like all war novels, it is full of violence and trauma."
She, however, insisted that it is also woven around the theme of love. The section she read from was one that shows how the main character, who is involved in the frontline trades during the war, struggles to survive.
While reading from his book, ‘Blackbird', Jude Dibia attested to the fact that his novels largely portray society. ‘Blackbird' is the author's third, after ‘Walking With Shadows' and ‘Unbridled'.
"You can call me an urban writer. I focus on the contemporary issues in the country," he declared.
Dibia attributed his style of writing to his extensive reading and listed Tony Morrison and Virginia Wood as women who have influenced his writing one way or another.
He opined that he admires Morrison's powerful depiction of places and characters that seem real, thus his books usually depict actual places like Lagos and IMF, PHCN, banks, amongst others, without actually calling names.
As evident from the reading, ‘Blackbird' portrays the inhuman and selfish acts of policemen in the country.
Questions, answers and comments
There was an interactive session during which the writers fielded questions from members of the audience. Ujubuonu expressed dissatisfaction at the deplorable state of publishing in Nigeria. He was quick to note that too many books are published without being properly edited and he blames this on the publishers.
In an attempt to correct this and many other shortcomings, ten writers came together to form the Jalaa collective. Four books have now been released through the collective; Uche Peter Umez's children's book completes the quartet.
"We decided to help bring back proper publishing to our country," Ujubuonu affirmed. "We want to change the face of publishing in the country."
On the issue of publishing new writers, he stated, "Jalaa plans to have a platform for those that are not yet writers."
The author advised students who want to become published writers to give their works-in-progress to friends and colleagues for proof reading before approaching publishers.
Use of language
Ujubuonu's use of language in his novels was one of the issues raised by readers during the session. It was argued that his language is so intellectual that it cannot be easily accessible to young readers.
Ujubuonu, however, maintained that his books are meant for people between the ages of 15 and 45. He argued that it is easier for him to reach such people because it is a generation that has experienced what he has.
On why he writes mainly historical fiction, the writer revealed, "You can say that I borrow a lot from our senior writers."
Story of war
It was noted during the session that Adimora-Ezeigbo's ‘Roses and Bullets' goes beyond the story of war. It is not only a story of intense pain, but of pleasure and even a portrayal of what still happens in society. The post-election violence in the north leading to the deaths of several innocent corps members was cited as an example of regular violent upheavals in the country.
Members of the audience wanted to know why Adimora-Ezeigbo killed her characters even after they had suffered so much during the war. She replied, "I didn't kill them, the war did. If you look at the development of the novel, you will see that their deaths were inevitable because the war damaged young dreams. The war also damaged people physically and psychologically, so that was the result."
When asked why it had taken her so long to write the novel, she replied, "Actually, I have been doing things on the war." She recalled that she wrote quite a number of short stories and a book, ‘Children of the Eagle' that touched on the war before writing ‘Roses and Bullets'.
Her preoccupation with the war was attributed to the fact that she was haunted by the need to write on it when she returned to school after the Biafran conflict. "It was a traumatic experience for my family and people I know," she disclosed.
The writer explained that her urge to capture her feelings of war was not an easy task but it was one she was ready to undertake.
Another issue raised during the session was the length of the book. Adimora-Ezeigbo was asked if the length of the novel - over 500 pages - could have been reduced.
Her reply was, "If any part of the novel is removed, it would be destroyed." She added that the story was written in such a way that the structure and plot are so intricately woven that the flow of the story would be disrupted if there were any attempts to shorten it. She expressed delight that, "Jalaa was bold enough to publish it."
Jude Dibia's portrayal of the injustices of the police force in ‘Blackbird' was said to be exaggerated. Dibia was quick to correct this notion by explaining that his story took place at the beginning of the millennium, shortly after the Abacha regime when there were many atrocities committed by the security forces. He hoped that his novels would pass a message across to such people.
"We as Africans or Nigerians are always in a hurry to cover up our shame. I do not subscribe to that. I write based on what I see. I just write the truth. I do not try to moralise," Dibia insisted.
The author's interesting way of echoing the thoughts of female characters in his novel was also noted. He reiterated that his female influences are Virginia Wood and Tony Morrison whose books he reads a lot.
"I have actually found female more interesting than male," he declared.