by Emmanuel Iduma
From this standpoint of history we can imagine a coming history, when Port Harcourt is described as the outpost of Nigeria’s literature.
I believe it was in Port Hacourt, in the early 90s, that I entered the world of books. My father, at that time a Travelling Secretary with the Scripture Union, began gathering books. His affinity for Christian literature had begun in the early 70s, when he became born again, and when he was admitted into the University of Ife. By the time we began living in Port Harcourt, I am not certain how many books he had acquired, but the fact that two years later I wrote my first manuscript, suggests the accompanying (osmotic) presence of my father’s fledging library in Port Harcourt.
And now, years after I have left the city, there is exciting news coming from Port Harcourt. The title of World Book Capital, which began in 2001, is presented by UNESCO to a city with the best programme that promotes books and reading, and Port Harcourt has succeeded in its bid to hold the title in 2014. One thing is clear on account of this impressive win, and that is that the world’s literary attention will be focused on Port Harcourt in 2014. Wisdom demands, and the coming generation of book-lovers deserve, that an unforgettable experience is created out of this opportunity. Will Port Harcourt, given its successful bid, share an enduring creativity and culture that is beyond itself? There is every reason to believe it would—my life testifies to that.
The Rainbow Book Club has fixed itself on the parameters of responsibility. I like the term ‘parameters’ because it suggests how open-ended the scheduled activities are. They include a festival, book campaigns, television and radio shows, an essay contest, a writers’ residency, drama performances, book fairs, exhibitions, etc. The activities are to run from April 23 (UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day) in 2014 until April 22, 2015.
I find that in hosting the literary consciousness of the world in 2014 to2015, Port Harcourt will testify to the surge of creativity on the African continent. It will be the business of the first city in sub-Saharan Africa to be named World Book Capital to ensure a trans-African representation. (Evidently, Nigeria’s frontline status is indisputable, a country whose youth population is almost three-quarters of its number.) And by trans-African, I imagine the urgent need to aggregate the vast talent that Africa offers into an accessible hub; that hub has emerged as the city of Port Harcourt.
Will it be possible to aggregate the literature of Nigeria, then Africa, into an exchangeable, and unique, offering for the rest of the world? Older writers like Soyinka, Clark-Bekederemo, Achebe, Saro-Wiwa, and Amadi have affirmed the possibility of this; younger writers like Adichie, Dibia, Imasuen, Umez, Barrett, and Habila have affirmed the immediacy of this task.
Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital of 2014 will thrust books, and literature into public glare. It is not the case that Nigerians and Africans are not a reading, or ‘literary’ public. It is the case that we need to enliven our books: adapt them into films, exhibit excerpts from them alongside photographs, convert them into formats for mobile devices, serialize them into soapies, adapt them into comic strips, read them aloud as podcasts and audio books, broadcast SMS excerpts from them—endlessly reuse them. So, we need an incident, an event, to galvanize literary efforts within the African continent. Port Harcourt as World Book Capital 2014 is that event.
I recognize the gift this successful bid is to collective memory, to what Nigeria is, to whom Nigerians are. Port Harcourt is a historic city, by all ramifications; a centre point for British military operations in World War 1; Nigeria’s most prominent oil city; a symbol of the struggle for equity and environmental sustainability. From this standpoint of history we can imagine a coming history, when Port Harcourt is described as the outpost of Nigeria’s literature.
Before considering, and ending with, that word, ‘outpost’, I give in to the temptation to speculate on the theme of the World Book Capital year: ‘Books: Windows to Our World of Opportunities’. I think there is an overarching, overreaching sense to that theme, meaning that the idea of a World Book Capital is foregrounded on the ability of books to transform public consciousness, regardless of career, religious sensibility, political affiliation, economic strata. Books are windows, clearly, as wide and measureless as the country of imagination, as bottomless as the sea of inspiration. And books are treasures that can be stolen by any reader, whenever and wherever.
Port Harcourt was an outpost for my literary career, for it was there I began to see books. And yet, even before I came into existence, the city had been an outpost for transporting coal to Europe and further afield. Now it is going further and further afield. Since the Rainbow Book Club has successfully bid for Port Harcourt as the World Book Capital of 2014, the city will become an outpost for Nigerian literature, for a unique African sensibility.
Emmanuel Iduma is the co-publisher of Saraba, Editor of 3bute and Content Management Supervisor of Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Organization. He has been called to the Nigerian Bar, and he is the author of Farad, a novel.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.