The British Council hosted Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Eghosa Imasuen and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, three heavyweights in new African writing at the Lagos National Theatre on Friday morning. It has been as part of the many activities that is the Lagos Festival of Books and Arts aka Labaf.
The British Council has been doing a series of events to support artists on the continent. I have encountered these events in Nairobi so I am a bit familiar with how they work. Respected professionals in a creative field get a panel where they meet folks on joining that field. This event, the fifth in the series, focused on the publishing industry and the career opportunities available in the field. It was moderated by an energy-filled Wana Odobang.
The event kicked off with Eghosa Imasuen giving an anecdote on how he got into writing while practicing as a medical doctor with some encouragement from his mom. His challenges were the usual ones that a writer starting out faces to get published and all. He eventually went on to give his journey from doctor to bank executive until he became COO of Kachifo Inc (they are publishers). He gave an organizational chart of the company and the different departments. This way he explained the different options available for a person seeking out a career in writing and/or the publishing industry.
The next speaker was Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who started her career as an academic. She came back to Nigeria from England for a job that failed to work out. As she spoke to people she realized that her countrymen and women didn’t seem to know what was happening in the African literary scene; they were busy claiming to read John Grisham as highbrow literature to her horror. She therefore set up Cassava Republic, and the rest is African literary history. Bibi’s presentation was less about the whole publishing system and focused more on the editorial side explaining the jobs of the people who were instrumental to a good book seeing the light of day. They include the proof readers, editors, layout artists and of course the writers themselves. Bakare-Yusuf’s insights in her business proved why many of the authors who have published with her have gone onto become African lit stars.
The final presentation was done by writer and journalist Abubakar Adam Ibrahim who told the audience that he has been passionate about writing from a young age such that he used to write love letters for his high school friends. At university he opted to study journalism to ensure his reclusive self could interact more with others. Upon graduation, he started writing articles for papers and short stories which led to his short story collection, the beautiful The Whispering Trees. He focused on the mechanisms of the writing career itself. He stated that the most important concern for a writer should be to build a body of work to present to the world. He warned of the pitfalls of social media, specifically Facebook, warning guests that they needed to spend more time doing actual writing.
With the presentations done, it was question and answer time. As expected in these types of events, many asked questions of the panelists that they knew the answers to; it was mainly for the opportunity to listen to their own voices I suspect. A question that piqued my interest was on book piracy in Nigeria. Eghosa conjectured that the book pirates may be using books to launder proceeds from illegal activities like drug trafficking.
P.S. I suspect that the traffickers were in the room on that morning and in a move to punish Eghosa for his revelations they stole his bag when he was signing books like Fine Boys (my review) for adoring fans on stage. He eventually found the bag in the washrooms without his laptop. Theft of a laptop at a public event on the first event in Lagos in my first time in the West African country. As a Nairobian I have to say that really made me feel at home. Thank you Lagos.