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After the Storm: NLNG Poetry Prize’s Report and Matters Arising

There are dangers of catholicity, and there is a peculiar academic
delusion that is incumbent on professors of literature to praise
anything ever produced in the past.

– David Daiches, Critical Approaches to Literature (1967). p. 267.

It is true, I think, that these are times when the financial rewards
for sorry writing are much greater than those for good writing.

-Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction.” Ed. John Hersey.
The Writer’s Craft (1975). P. 47.

And a great writer – forgive me, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, I’ll lower
my voice – a great writer is, so to speak, a second government.

-Alexander Solzhenitsyn “Nobel Lecture.” Ed. John Hersey.
The Writer’s Craft (1975). p. 141.

Prior to 10th of October 2009, when the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Prize for Literature, the biggest literary prize in Nigeria, was to announce a winner (this year the prize was for the best volume of poetry), the literati in Nigeria had great expectations. But it was not without some mixed feelings; the panel of judges had earlier released a long list of nine, with the promise that a shortlist would follow, but the shortlist, eagerly awaited, never came. Though it seemed unusual for some, the generality of contemporary literary minds in Nigeria waited fervently for the winner. Arts journalists, working in a tradition of vibrant literary journalism, had upped the tempo of expectations by profiling the listed writers, making juicy insinuations and getting people to bet as to the poet that would emerge the winner. Then the day came with a shocker, at least for those who eagerly expected that they would become winners, or their friends, or their relations, would become winners. The panel of judges rolled out an impressive report, a really impressive piece of contradiction and shocker: the nine volumes long listed (the report calls it a “shortlist of eleven”; two had been disqualified on technical grounds) were well rooted in the literary tradition in which they were produced but none of them was fit to win the prize! The report recognises that “the variety of subject matter covered by this year’s entries implies that literary creativity is still an active ‘participant’ in discourses over the state of the nation” and goes on to conclude that “the poets [‘shortlisted’] have worked within the ‘tradition’ of social commitment that has been a defining feature of African and specifically Nigerian literary creativity.” Half of the report focuses on the individual volumes, specifically naming the authors, and outlining what it considers each poet’s unique “personal voice or poetic idiom”. Then an anti-climax suddenly surfaces, announced by a subtle, almost inconsequential criticism: “the poets of the present time have taken advantage of, but have not really extended the resources available in the existing literary tradition.” The real anti-climatic hammer sounded tough and severe: “The Panel of Judges looked for a body of poetry of high seriousness and an all embracing vision that reaches beyond social satire and a private quest for meaning, and decided not to award this year’s literary prize for literature.”

Reactions were swift. Rage and outrage, already part of the aesthetic dimension of these contemporary poets, defined, underpinned almost all the reactions. Various in tones and tenors, like the overflowing poems of these enraged poets, the reactions ranged from the rational to the irrational, certainly more of the irrational, and suddenly the NLNG Prize for Literature acquired new connotations. Even poets who had rushed their works through the printing process to enter the contest are now convinced that the prize was no good for Nigerian literature. NLNG was castigated for disparaging writers. Some poets and writers based outside Nigeria, denied participation by the NLNG Prize’s infamous exclusionary clause, seized the opportunity to tell their home-based counterparts: “See, it served you right!”

I respond here as a scholar of new African writing in English, especially the poetry genre. I have been mapping, exacting, critiquing and discoursing the artistic responses of these new writers to the overwhelming existential challenges they have had to face as young people in the unbearable years of military despotism in Nigeria. My inquest is into the historicism, political, material, cultural, psychological, even individualistic, which is inextricably tied to their variegated craft. With a severely critical sensibility, I have tried to locate the forte, as well as the failing, of these new writers; to feel the fire, as well as the faint, of their individual idioms; to fathom the infiniteness, as well as the limit, of their rage. For this group of writers, as Niyi Osundare has said elsewhere and as we have seen in their responses to the report, are angry men and women, weepers and lamenters for a collapsed nation, for the stark fact that there is no more life to be lived in their country, that the only option, though self-damaging in a way, is to take to their heels to the global market square, to embrace a dispersal-narrative, only so they could survive. So these writers, today, after that spell of rage and elegy and total resignation to fate, are of globalised spirit, intensely nostalgic, still nationalistic, now focusing on the entire malady of Africa, as the recent award-winning short story of E.C. Osondu shows.

Of History and Aporia
Baffled like everyone else, my immediate reaction was to put the judges’ decision side by side with history: what I saw was that the two were at variance, with consequences. The poets, the report tells us, are worried by “our common political concerns as citizens”; some of them begin from “the self as the starting point of knowledge and experience, with obvious consequences for the social vision.” It praises the poets for having “fresh insights,” for erecting “impressive verbal architecture,” for “combining words and images in new ways in order to see the world afresh,” for celebrating “the freedom of the creative spirit,” and for taking “satirical writing even further towards a tortured and cynical social vision.” The report also affirms that “Quite a few of the poets on the list have moved towards literary maturity.” However, this maturity is not worth rewarding because the poets had not produced any serious poetry that reached beyond social and personal issues. It is difficult to fathom what, for Heaven’s sake, the judges, intellectuals in the sphere of literature and language, mean by a poetry that should go beyond the social and the personal. Perhaps something magical, fantastical? But we have a history; a sense of where we came from, where we are now (even if we do not know where we are headed!); a literary history, a history of literary prizes. Where exactly can we point out that there is any poet or writer in Nigerian history, in African history, in the history of the world, that has won a literary prize with a book that is not socially committed, committed to the struggles of humanity? As the report says, the NLNG Prize has a history; it has given out prizes to books before. The last poetry books that won it, Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s The Chants of a Minstrel and Gabriel Okara’s The Dreamer, His Vision, are overtly socially committed. In fact, in an afterword, Okara, waxing strong with a new-found theory of social commitment, declares: “The poet, whose tool is the word basically, is a visionary, idealist, revolutionary, and a conformist non-conformist, or he is all of these (sic) put together in infinite number of permutations. It is the Word he uses as tool to bring about the transformation and regeneration of the present to meet the demands of his society.” Is it the same panel of judges that adjudged those poetry books as joint winner? Could this be the same panel of judges that chose Kaine Agari’s Yellow Yellow, praised as a unique (not in craft but social vision) narrative that touches the very nexus of the interracial unease caused by the exploitation of petroleum resources and human beings in the Niger Delta? If it was not, did the panel know of this history? There is a disturbing, really alarming, hiatus between the decision of the panel this year and what had obtained in the history of the NLNG Prize. For the sake of clarification, the judges should have explained that the previous winners who won on the strengths of their social themes, (whose craft, as far as I know, is not anything close to that of some of the poets listed) were errors of judgement! That the NLNG Prize, in 2009, has come a long way (!) and does not consider a book committed to social contradictions as worthy of winning it as the report implies sounds outlandish.

So here is a huge contradiction, very distasteful. It is especially so in a country where writers have won almost all the prizes in the world, from the Nobel to the Booker, from the Commonwealth to the Noma, from the ANA Prize to the  least local prize. There is therefore a vibrant history, a tradition, a commonplace, of prize winning in Nigeria; the books or authors that won those prizes are there for us to see, to read and, in spite of the judgement of each age, to measure their artistic worth. From what we know, what we have, it is not such a big deal for a work to win as to reaching beyond (whatever the limit) social and personal craft. A work of art, a creative piece, is either personal or social or both, indeed stronger as both. The author’s conscious craft, personal idiom, and exploits with the figuration of his/her chosen language is, as I prefer to argue, the biggest factor in determining the uniqueness of his/her work. This is what makes me return to the plays of Soyinka, to the poetry of Okigbo and Osundare, and to the fiction of Ben Okri. It seems with the kind of abstract hammer in the hands of the NLNG panel even these writers could not have won the prize, if they do really meant what they presented as the reason for not giving out the prize.

If the judges are humble enough to engage in self-criticism, an inward reflection, it would be clear to them how askew their judgement is, how injurious it portends to be, in the literary tradition in Nigeria. A prize, such as the NLNG Prize that claims to promote literature, that claims to discover new talents, should be awarded to any piece of literary shit as long as it is well crafted; the emphasis should be on whether the poems are well written or not. A writer’s vision ought to be sacrosanct to him/her: it is up to him/her to go social or personal or both. If the implication of the panel’s judgement is to urge new writers to produce works of art better than the existing classics in Nigeria, which have won prizes far better than the NLNG, then there is a chaos of perception. Of course any novelist may come out with something that surpasses Things Fall Apart or The Famished Road, any poet may come out with something that surpasses Labyrinths or Waiting Laughters (do not forget this is a subjective matter), but there is even no need for that because I think it is an error of criticism to measure a classic of one age by a classic of another age. Each age has its classics. Today there are readers who find what Uche Nduka writes far enriching, more meaningful (appealing is the word) than what Okigbo wrote years ago. Literature is not a domain of fixation. The return of historical and cultural considerations in literary theories should remind us that every genre historicises and is in turn being historicised; every history has its art, and art its history.

The NLNG Prize judgement is in isolation, one that is insidious. It traced the literary tradition of Nigerian literature and refused to award the prize to the new frontiers of this tradition. A better judgement, in my view, would have been to withhold the award on the ground of typographical and grammatical errors!

Interrogating the Canon
One of the implications of the refusal to award the prize, itself a topic of debate for quite sometime now, is that nothing artistically worthy is being produced by new Nigerian writers. In 2004, it was the fiction, riddled with grammatical errors. Now it is the poetry, perhaps error-free, but a minion to social commitment or individualism. Viewed from this angle, the judgement is a culmination of the criticisms, including mine, of the writing of our time, which mostly decry the weak, watery, literary expressivity of most so-called, self-important, award-craving writers of our time, and the absence, though not disturbing, of a collective vision, something akin to the Negritude movement or the Alter-Native tradition. Not disturbing because, as Harry Garuba and Obiwu explain at different forums, the beginning of the new writing was marked by a strong sense of dispersal, individualised idioms, wishful disconnect from the dominant tradition, and the infection of globalisation.

But does that denote an outright condemnation of the new writing, of all that is being written in our time? Does Charles Nnolim’s once controversial conclusion, after a cursory reading of some works, that the hero is dead in new Nigerian fiction imply the absence of great fiction in our time? Must the hero of Achebe’s age be the hero of our age? Does Tanure Ojaide’s conclusion sometime ago, even more controversial, that the poetry of our time is a mere footnote to the poetry of his time indicate the end of good poetry in Nigeria? How cogent it is to say the new poets have not taken poetry beyond the confines of the Alter-Native tradition? Someone somewhere too has said that the major problem of this era is that there is a lack of critical inquiries, in spite of the academic papers on new writing being published both in Nigeria and abroad. To some extent, these charges are true. They are vivid indicators that our period has its failings, its traditional flaws; it is a period that in responding to its peculiar challenges is bound to have shortcomings and excesses. What is often worrying is that the failings of this era are not put into appropriate contexts.

Every period of literature anywhere in the world has the good and the bad. It is easy for a writer, a critic, who belongs to an earlier period to be blind to the failings of his/her time, to take a superior, even condescending, look at the subsequent periods. In that order, some English writers and critics sneered at emergent African (Nigerian) Anglophone writing during the first phase of modern Nigerian writing; in turn, some pioneer modern writers and critics, I mean of the Okigbo era, sneered at the writing of the Alter-Native tradition; similarly, the writers of the Alter-Native tradition have looked down upon the writing of our time. In a way, it is a practice, perhaps one that typifies the very critical nature of literature. But a comprehensive, critical, look at the entire canon of Nigerian literature is pertinent to any defining features of any period. As the canon unfolds right from the beginning of modern literature in English in Nigeria, we are faced with more chaff than grain. You will see that each period in the canon has its lows and highs; its numerous pedestrian works and few masterpieces. If Amos Tutuola had written his The Palm-Wine Drinkard in our time, even in Osundare’s period, it would have been thrown into the dustbin. But it made the canon, the classic of its time. In the pre-independence era, the Okora period, many literary works did not survive; others survived because eager European academics, looking for books to showcase the exotic parts of Africa, welcomed them into the canon. The masterpieces of that period are early Okara, early Achebe, Okigbo and Soyinka. In my view, any other writer of that period was on the pedestrian. In the era of the Alter-Native tradition, I can only see two engaging poets who have moved to that high level: Niyi Osundare and Odia Ofeimun; any other poet is of course an ordinary poet, at the low level, no matter the clamour of critical reception. In the area of fiction, I see only one singular voice: Ben Okri. In drama it is Femi Osofisan and Tess Owueme.

In this era I cannot see any outstanding performance yet in a literature that has just emerged, but certainly its uniqueness points to a great future. Compared to the past eras, this era stands out in the realisation of diverse voices and idioms; it is the most tenacious era, consistent in its variegated exploits, exposed to overwhelming opportunities after a long spell under military repression. But sadly the opportunities often show the way to failure. Good literature is being written in our time. But it is fragmented, fractured by the globalised machination, scattered, as it were, into different corners of the earth. Maybe eclecticism. No collective vision, nor theoretically collectivised or communally coherent vision. But with disparate tropes, the poets are centripetally pulled towards that nationalist imagination underpinning the entire gamut of Nigerian literature. Contrary to the unfounded, unsubstantiated, at worst, flippant criticisms of new Nigerian poetry, never before has there been a consciousness among poets of the same era in Nigeria to write differently from one another. So while you can use the term modernist for the Okigbo era, and Alter-Native tradition for the Osundare era, there is no such one nomenclature, it seems to me, for the new era. To think this is a weakness is an error. To study this era’s text and fathom the nature of its disunity is a critical imperative.

In the critical circle there are commendable efforts, great names: Dan Izevbaye, Charles Nnolim, Ernest Emenyonu, Ime Ikiddeh, etc; their successors are also great in their ways. But what are the outstanding critical and theoretical breakthroughs gracing our critical canon today in spite of these big names? From Formalism to Marxism, and now to Post-colonialism, Nigerian critics and scholars, it seems to me, have remained ordinary followers, receivers (not givers) of critical tools fashioned by others. Marxism, its most general, most superficial, indeed most inferior type (what Raymond Williams calls “the received formula of base and superstructure”), raged in Nigeria; now it is spent, and self-professed Marxists have opted to dine and wine with the very authorities they howled against. Given the domestication of Marxism in Nigerian literature, its loud proclamations, what spectacular contributions have Nigerian Marxist scholars made to the Marxist theory in the way scholars like Pierre Macherey, Frederic Jameson or Terry Eagleton have done? Now the vogue is Post-colonialism. As Nigerian scholars, very talented, embrace Post-colonial theories, we are yet to see any distinct, radical addition to the theories from Nigeria. Is it not true, as Chidi Amuta said in his 1989 book, that Nigerian literature, nay African literature, suffers from “The wilful suspending of the instinct for rigorous theorizing”? Perhaps like Ayi Kwei Armah and Chinweizu, we should ask ourselves in this twenty-first century (forget the charge of Afrocentrism): why are our theoretical and aesthetic values motivated from the outside, in spite of, for instance, our very experienced professors of English and Cultural studies being comfortable chairs at foreign, world universities? It is perhaps in oral/performance theories and feminist theories that we can say Nigerian female scholars have made useful, distinct additions. So the issue for me is not that this generation’s critics are lazy; it may be that they have inherited a tradition of laziness in the entire critical domain of African literature.

Three Demons: Prizes, the Media, and Destructive Narcissism
It should be emphasised here that every age, era, has its very few masterpieces and many pedestrian works. Usually, in a tradition that is critically active, perceptive critics, interpreters, analysts, even ideologues, must perform one pertinent duty: evaluating literary works and erecting a genuine canon. So far, it seems that Nigerian critics and scholars are good at this. Consistently, and with a degree of competence, the critics of the Okigbo era identified the best of their time. In our new era, what seems too obvious is that everybody is a writer and there are no critics. But there are critics. While the few critics are at work, the writers, especially the poets are increasing in a geometrical rate, with works that betray an alarming degree of mediocrity.

The real problem is not that everybody becomes a poet; it is that somehow bad poetry always finds itself at the centre of the literary scene. In the age of technology and neo-liberalism, every person can write and publish any trash; in the age of descriptive criticism, in which anything prescriptive is consistently attacked, any piece of poetry can be described as good. At different forums the question has been thrown around derogatorily by pseudo-poets that who sets the standards for good poetry. A self-important pseudo-poet has once written me off, in my very presence, as a critic who prescribes standards and consequently sees nothing good in his poetry even though, in his thinking, he is writing great poetry. I have also been accosted by some poets in northern Nigeria who think highly of themselves as poets (whereas indeed their poetry is pure dross) for not giving critical attention to poetry from northern Nigerian, i.e. their poetry. But these pseudo-poets will continue to write some trash, more trash, rush to Ibadan and other places, and get their poetry books published as long as they have the money to pay the printers posturing as publishers. The pseudo-poets will also pay some journalists to review the books on dailies, praising them as the newest dimension in Nigerian poetry; the most wonderful poetry written in recent times, and so on. Surprisingly this wonderful poetry will win a major award. In the end, a great poet is made. This is how great poets who people the Nigerian literary scene today come to be.

Out of many such great poets that emerge in Nigeria, only very few are in the business of crafting poetry. Some of these few are indeed good. For instance, the only engaging poetry I have read from Minna, the self-styled Ibadan of northern Nigeria, is from Gimba Kakanda, unknown, trying hard to get his poetry published. The argument by some people in the wake of the NLNG conundrum that all or most of the listed poets are unknown, are toddlers who should be learning how to write poetry, confounds me. So how long should they have been in the act of writing poetry? How long should they have been apprenticed? We must take into consideration the peculiarity of creative writing, indeed, any form of imaginative work. A work of art is great not because of the length of time spent on it or the years of its author’s apprenticeship, but by the talent behind it. Great talents defy the logic of apprenticeship, of workshop, of systematic learning. Honing one’s skills is a very personal thing. Some people became great with their first books; we have examples littering African literature. Chinua Achebe became great with his first book; he did not obtain an MFA before writing it; he did not even know that he was writing a great book. What about Ayi Kwei Armah? Not knowing that he would become a writer, he wrote his first book in the confines of his room, with a wounded conscience, after being rejected as a revolutionary fighter. It sounds to me preposterous for people to reach a conclusion that someone cannot produce great poetry or any work of art in his or her first published work. It is rare for a writer to produce a great work as a debut; it is also rare for a writer, like Ben Okri, to hit it after some attempts. No writer can write beyond the scope of his imagination and skills at a given time. If we accept that great imagination is behind every great literary work, which is the case, then we can explain why a writer may produce a great work of art at a particular time, given his level of imagination at that time, and equally produce a poor work of art at some other time. But this is only so with people who are worthy of being called writers.

That is not applicable to the pseudo-writers whose major concern is to write, publish and win award. It is a mark of pride (which of course predicts a fall) that a writer, even at the stage of production, already thinks high of his work, wills it to win an award, and indulges in all forms of manipulation and high-profile public relation in order to win the award. Perhaps the age of literary awards thrusts itself upon us. Perhaps it is hard for us, especially given the level of poverty in Nigeria, to resist the lure of money-tagged awards, such as 50-thousand-dollar NLNG Prize. While the awards, such as the NLNG Prize, only enrich individuals without promoting literature, Nigerian writers, it is clear now, have put so much hope and faith in the awards that the judges’ seeming blunder so devastatingly shook the psyche of the new writers. Everyone should have known: as there are many literary prizes today, so also there are many strange, even irrational, ways of awarding them. What can be more irrational than awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Prize for Peace because he has the INTENTION of bringing peace to the world?

Some of the responses of the long listed poets sound anguished and neurotic; they draw attention to themselves as worthy of but denied the huge money. Strictly speaking, a worthy poet after completing a volume returns to his writing desk for the next volume, not to a public arena to contest a panel’s refusal to award his volume an award. Any quarrel ought to be between analysts, commentators, critics and the panel of judges. If a poet thinks he is denied fifty thousand dollars, such a poet in my view is a hack. The noisy and noisome responses that follow the panel’s judgement are a sure pointer to the ethical and psychic failure of the literati in Nigeria, and, more importantly, a mirror that reveals in full the pseudo-writers of our time. In recent times, Nigerian writers, even ANA, are not known for standing up in protest against the establishment. Instead of protesting the hypocrisy of rebranding Nigeria, ANA dined with the Minister of rebranding. But when a fifty-thousand prize is denied, writers suddenly jumped up in protest.

I do not undermine the benefits and perks of winning a literary award. In fact, my volume, What the Sea Told Me, was entered for the prize. But entering a literary award should be like throwing a valued object into the dustbin. Once you have entered the contest, turn your back (you can pray, though) and do not even think of it until such a time that you are told your work has won the prize. I do not think a literary prize has a direct link with the making of a great literature; a work of art does not need to win a literary prize to become great. Literary prize is the least of the factors surrounding the greatness of Okigbo’s Labyrinths or Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of Wood or Osundare’s Moonsong. Award winners from ANA conventions have swaggered about, deluding themselves as great writers only to be forgotten or kicked off the path of the canon which has a way of unfolding by itself. The over-indulgence of the pseudo-poets in their perceived greatness, their shameless craving for awards, and their self-projection as great poets/writers have resulted in the picture, indeed a false one, of the kind of poetry written in our time. Listening to these award-mongers, one is convinced that there is nothing serious going on in the literary domain in Nigeria today.

Conclusion: the Way Forward     
So, let those who want to be real poets return to their desks, to their privacy, to their consciences, where the only prize is the rigour of writing, the quest to touch humanity, the desire to surpass the self. It is hard to accept: paradoxically, literary prizes, in Nigeria and abroad, have reduced the worth of our literature! Along with this is the phenomenon of hyper-publicity, where worthless works produced by those who have the power of the media and technology have been given undue praise. The overall effect on Nigerian literature is that the progress tends to be backward. While the technology of praise singing increases, while the pressure of the media is exacting because the entire world, afraid of metaphors, is growing towards laziness and feeble-mindedness, while poverty and hardship and the hypocrisy of Nigeria’s self-styled new publishing houses (sorry, we don’t publish poetry!) are waxing stronger against the new Nigerian poets, the only hope for Nigerian poetry and, indeed, creative writing is the revival of the critical tradition. Here, even the poets are implicated. It is hard to understand why the new poets who have made considerable progress such as Uche Nduka, Ogaga Ifowodo, Remi Raji, Chiedu Ezeanah, Obi Nwakanma, Afam Akeh, Maik Nwosu, etc, do not have consistent critical or theoretical formulations about one another’s works, or theorise their own creative processes. Why are these poets so timidly silent, so complacent, not given to critical debates that can define their own time? Take a look at any serious literary epoch and you will see that the writers are also the great critics of their time. Like Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi, for their time; like Osundare, Osofisan, Ojaide, for their time. It is also hard to understand why Kraft Books and others, which pride themselves as printers (sorry, publishers) of poetry in Nigeria today, cannot commission scholars to produce critical readers for their poetry books, especially those by poets that have shown considerable maturity. Is that not how Heinemann consolidates the critical tradition for its writers?

The greatest mistake, misconception, of our time is that we think literary prizes will be beneficial to our literature as a body of intellectual and critical tradition. Prizes thus seem to replace what ought to be a vibrant critical tradition. Increasingly, but sad enough, many writers’ organisations are emerging with literary prizes, other organisations, governmental and non-governmental, think they are helping to build Nigerian, African, literature by instituting prizes. It is certainly the wrong direction. NLNG’s 50 thousand dollars, for instance, only makes one lucky person rich and perhaps keeps him/her out of writing for the rest of his/her life. No huge amount of money can make someone become a better writer if that person is not instinctively, congenitally, cut out to be a great writer. No literary prize can make any poet or novelist of our time greater than Okigbo or Ayi Kwei Armah who did not consider prizes as important.

What I suggest, therefore, is that organisations instead of instituting awards should institute bodies that will be beneficial to the entire literary and intellectual sphere, such as creating writer’s fund that can be accessed by writers that have shown considerable maturity. Such writers can use such fund for research, for residency, and for travelling. A Nigerian writer based outside Nigeria, for instance, can use such fund to spend some months in Nigeria researching his/her next novel or play or poetry collection. For a direct effect on upcoming Nigerian writers, a body of professional editors and literary discussants should be established, funded, to read and assess the works of new writers and consequently recommend them to publishers. It is even more important to use such money to buy good books for public and school libraries (a writer is usually conceived in the library) for people to read inspiring works.  These measures are certainly far useful than raising the ego of any pseudo-writer with award money, with the pretence that Nigerian literature is being promoted, while indeed Nigerian literature seems to be dying in our universities. And if awards are to recognise the literary output of an individual writer, the monetary attachment should be inconsequential; the money a writer receives does not give him/her any fame, what gives him/her fame is the degree of public acceptance of his/her work and the capacity of the work to attract critical responses. One of the greatest problems confronting literature today the world over, the reason for the diminishing quality of literature globally, is that things, such as prizes, which ought to be free of monetary bondage, are being tied to the vainglory of money. If you disagree, compare this age with the age when there were no prizes, or when prizes were not tied to money (when a poet laureate was determined by name and fame), when literature was far, far superior to money!

    E. E. Sule is the pen name for Dr. Sule E. Egya, a lecturer in Department of English & Literary Studies, University of Abuja. He is currently a Georg Forster Fellow, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.

E. E. Sule
E. E. Sule
E. E. Sule is the pen name of Sule E. Egya, a professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies at Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University. He is a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and of the African Humanities Program. Besides academic work, Egya also writes poetry and fiction. His poetry volume What the Sea Told Me won the 2009 ANA/NDDC Gabriel Okara Poetry Prize, and the AWF/Anthony Agbo Prize for Poetry. His novel Sterile Sky was long-listed for NLNG Prize for Nigerian Literature in 2012, and won the 2013 Commonwealth Prize, Africa Region.


  1. Dami, I believe you are doing what writers in the continent should be doing – reviewing the stories on the shortlist and passing necessary comments. Your choice is also my choice, can you imagine! Icebergs has my blessings. Waiting is not as strong as Osondu’s Jimmy Carter’s Eye. Truly, you are a respected critic! Pls keep it up. This is how we can begine to be critiquing short stories. End of Skill is not as good as the rest!

  2. This is quintessential E. E. Sule! I love the scholarly, balanced argument in your essay. Where you didn’t absolve the NLNG judges, you didn’t acquit the poets, either. You seemed to be saying that while the judges were not right in their decision, the poets of this generation should not think all is Uhuru. They’ve to work on their craft to perfection. That I agree with you perfectly. How is Germany?
    Isaac A. Ogezi

  3. I wish the government could follow your advice. A writing fund is definitely better than prize money that only one person gets. It would surely help aspiring writers like myself.

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