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GCLF 2010: CELEBRATING FIVE DECADES OF ROBUST LITERATURE

By NBF News
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•Soyinka
In just three years of intense struggle and planning, organisers of the yearly Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) have succeeded in finding a voice for literature. They have, once again, created a veritable platform for literary development, aside bringing hope to men and women of letters who have long suffered marginalisation and neglect in society.

Packaged by the Koko Kalango-led Rainbow Book Club, the festival held between December 8 and 112010, under the theme: Nigeria:50 Years of Post-Colonial Literature. It was opened by Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, with Prof. Olu Obafemi of the University of Ilorin as keynote speaker.

The festival of books and literature also alternated venues between University of Port Harcourt campus and Hotel Presidential in the central part of the city, drawing hundreds of participants and a number of literary icons from across the country and beyond.

Having received tremendous support from the Rivers State government since inception in 2008, GCLF, as usual assembled a number of famous and younger writers. Among these were Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, Lindsay Barret, Prof. Adimora Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Dr Jerry Agada (President, Association of Nigerian Authors)and Dr Wale Okediran, immediate past president of the association.

Other prominent guests were Prof. Joseph Ajienka, Vice Chancellor, University of Port Harcourt, Prof .Briggs, former Vice Chancellor, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, Matilda Nnodim, Mariam Ali Ale, among many others.

Also in attendance at GCLF 2010 were the US-based Nigerian award winning writer, Helon Habila, UK-based Sefi Ata, as well as Adaobi Nwaubani and Zainab Jallo. Meanwhile, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner, J.M.G Le Clezio, who was expected to join Prof. Soyinka as the second special guest writer could not make it to Nigeria due to illhealth.

But his recorded speech was played for participants during the open forum with the guest writers.

With a colourful opening ceremony which saw both the governor and keynote speaker urging writers to make their works relevant to society, the festival soon went into its full swing, parading resource persons and participants in various events. In his paper which received a standing ovation, Prof Obafemi was the audience through the gains and challenges of the post-colonial literature.

He reminded the crowd that folk narratives, myths and chants have since been the roots of most literary works, and that these cultural materials and attributes have not only inspired Nigerian writers, but have helped to preserve African tradition, aside transforming some of the writers into laureates.

Obafemi, who commended writers, particularly women for keeping Nigerian literature alive, however, concluded that literary development cannot be sustained without adequate competitions and prizes, support from other media and above all, the implementation of the proposed National Endowment for the Arts.

But Governor Amaechi called on writers to comment on the nation's social milieu, noting that any writer who refuses to use his work to address the plight of the masses cannot claim to be relevant to society. According to him, time has come for writers to intervene on issues of welfare, poverty eradication, political reform, good governance, youth employment among others.

The festival went on at the Hotel Presidential with such educative events as the book fair, photo exhibition, reading sessions for children, seminars and writers' workshops. While some of the writers anchored the workshops, other seminars on media, publishing and children's literature were handled variously by Dr Reuben Abati, Bibi Bakare of Cassava Republic and Bankole Olayebi of Bookcraft.

The workshops which were attended by aspiring writers, students and children came to a climax when Prof. Soyinka read for the children. Many of the children who were elated by Soyinka's presence also used the occasion to ask questions bordering on creative writing, religion, culture as well as Soyinka's experiences as writer and activist.

For having attracted literary icons since inception of the festival, Mrs Kalango restated the vision of the GCLF, saying that her dream is to revive literature and give creative writing a boost all over Africa. Kalango, however, attributed the success of the festival so far to the financial support by Rivers State government. She commended Governor Amaechi whose government has always promoted literature and writers and pledged that subsequent editions of the festival would be greater and bigger than the past ones.

During the awards/ gala night hosted by Amaechi at the Government House, all the writers in attendance were honoured in three different categories. But Vice President Namadi Sambo whose visit to Rivers State coincided with the period of the festival gave awards to Professors Soyinka, Ike and Elechi Amadi. It was equally significant that the organisers honoured the late writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, with a posthumous award,which was received by his wife.

The awards night equally saw the guests being treated to A Feast of Return, a poetic dance drama by Odia Ofeimun, but directed by ace director Felix Okolo. The guests had earlier been thrilled at Hotel Presidential to Femi Osofisan's latest play, Love's Un slike Lading, directed by Dr Emmanuel Emasealu of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port Harcourt.