Attending the Akes Arts and Book Festival

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Our Golden Baobab Prizes coordinator, Nanama B. Acheampong, had the pleasure of attending the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Nigeria. She shares her experiences in this new blogpost!

The Ake Arts and Book Festival, if you haven’t already heard, was a tremendous success. It took place in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, from 19-24 November, 2013 and was organized by writer and women's rights activist, Lola Shoneyin. The theme of the festival was 'Shadow of Memory.'

When at work we decided it would be a great idea for Golden Baobab to be at the festival, I did a little dance in my head. I had been stalking the Ake Festival website for a while and was intrigued by all the activities that promised to be memorable. I wanted to attend for this reason and for some others:

  1. I had never been to Nigeria and so badly wanted to go before the end of 2013
  2. I wanted to meet and speak with many of the writers who were listed on the Ake website
  3. The adventure junkie in me wanted to ride an Okada
  4. I wanted to try Nigerian food

I arrived at the Murtala Muhammed Airport on Thursday 21 and found my way to my hotel in Abeokuta. On arrival, I freshened up and immediately headed to the June 12 Cultural Centre which was the venue for the festival. At the lounge area, lunch was almost over and so I quickly grabbed myself a bowl of jollof and spicy chicken (I was told it was the last one left, lucky me!) from the lovely caterer whose accent sounded like a mixture of British and Nigerian. I then looked around for a place to sit and decided on a chair beside a corn-rowed woman who was busily poking away at her iPad. Through conversation, I found out she was Doreen Baingana, Ugandan writer and winner of the 2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize for “Tropical Fish.” I bought a copy and got it signed by her. It was a good start to my Ake Festival experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed my four days at the festival. The following were my highlights:

Meeting writers, who I had previously only read or read about:  I bumped into Muthoni Garland, who was a 2010 judge for the Golden Baobab Prizes, Tope Folarin who is the 2013 winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Syl Cheney-Coker whose poetry I have seen in countless places and whose new book, Sacred River, I am eagerly waiting for. I met Sitawa Namwalie, who gave a splendid performance with Muthoni during the cocktail event, Binyavanga Wainaina, who had green hair to go with his green African print shirt and Lisa Teasley, who had such warm words, a ready smile and enviable locks.

The numerous book chats and the art exhibition: Teju Cole described scenes in Open City so well that it made me wish I had already read the book, Chibundu Onuzo touched on her story, The Spider King’s Daughter and made me debate with myself whether it’s really possible for two very different worlds to come together, Marlon James read excerpts from his novel, The Book of Night Women, in Patois, the language it was written in, which fascinated me and made me want to hear more of it. I also met Temitope Olorunfunmi, who was longlisted for this year’s Golden Baobab Prize for Early Chapter Books and looked at beautiful paintings at the art exhibition.

The stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives: The show started quite late and I was hungry but two minutes the first song and my hunger was all but forgotten. This play, which was adapted by Rotimi Babatunde, 2012 Caine Prize winner, was such a spectacle. It had enough music, dance, humour and drama in it to keep you completely entertained.

An audience with Wole Soyinka: At this special event, four under 21’s were given the chance to ask Wole Soyinka any question they wanted to. It was such a marvel to hear the professor talk about his hair regimen, something you probably wouldn’t hear anywhere else! After this, he sat down for a book signing. I was with a friend and we both wanted his autograph but didn’t have any of his books with us. We quickly ran up to the book fair that was taking place in the main auditorium and bought “Climate of Fea.r”  We took it back down to be signed, only to realize that Wole Soyinka had gotten in his car and was being driven off. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves!

The barbeque: I have two left feet that have made it quite impossible to keep to rhythm but during the barbeque on the evening of Saturday 23, I couldn’t help but join the dancing crowd that had gathered under the white tents behind the cultural centre. There was great food and drinks and a live band that played some catchy tunes. This was my last night in Nigeria and at the Ake Festival and I must say, it was a great way to spend it!

At the end of the Ake Festival, I had met so many wonderful writers, artists and book enthusiasts, I had bought a number of books to add to my Christmas reading list, I had gobbled mouthfuls of delicious Nigerian food, I had danced and I had been on one or two Okada rides. What more could I have asked for?

For more photos from The Ake Festival, visit our Facebook page