The 2008 Garden City Literary Festival, held on the campus of the University of Port Harcourt from September 24-27, was a fitting inaugural to an event that some art connoisseurs expect to become one of the premier annual gatherings of authors, publishers, and lovers of literature on the African continent. The theme for the inaugural festival was “Writers Without Borders”.
The brainchild of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the festival is sponsored by the Rivers State and organized by the Rainbow Book Club.
Last year’s first literary festival starred Professor Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel laureate in Literature, Ghanaian poet-cum-novelist, Professor Kofi Awoonor, and Dr. Elechi Amadi, one of Nigeria’s most prolific and widely read novelists. In addition, the festival featured such writers as Professor Okey Ndibe (author of Arrows of Rain), Ms. Kaine Agary (author of Yellow Yellow and winner of the NLNG-sponsored Nigerian Prize for Literature), and the American writer Ms. Petrina Crockford.
In a goodwill message, Governor Amaechi stated that the 2008 festival would “stir interest in literature and inspire a reading culture.” The University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) Vice Chancellor, Professor Don M. Baridam, saw the festival as providing “literary workers and the general public a unique opportunity to re-examine our cultural values and disappearing reading habit.” Mrs. Koko Kalango, founder of Rainbow Book Club, waxed nostalgic about Port Harcourt’s “rich heritage in education and culture,” but also sounded the need for a new push “to preserve our society from the high cost of illiteracy.”
As host, Governor Amaechi presided over the opening ceremony of the 2008 chapter of the Garden City Literary Festival. More than 1000 people, many of them students and lecturers at UNIPORT, attended the opening event. In addition to the governor’s opening remarks, the ceremony also featured short speeches by Professors Awoonor and Soyinka as well as a dance performance by a Qurious, youth group.
The evening of September 24, 2008, Governor Amaechi again hosted the festival’s guests to a banquet at Government House, Port Harcourt. The evening featured songs, dances and a command performance of Dr. Amadi’s latest work of fiction “The Woman of Calabar”.
One of the most popular features of the 2008 festival was the harvest of workshops in fiction, poetry and non-fiction/journalism. Hundreds of young, budding or aspirant authors signed up to take one workshop or another. Ndibe, Agary and Crockford led workshops in fiction and non-fiction.
A smaller selection of participants was treated to master workshops in fiction and poetry given by Professors Soyinka and Awoonor.
Numerous workshop participants spoke about the various ways in their creative outlook as well as knowledge of the mechanics of writing were enriched. The workshops were designed to address both the challenges posed by each genre of creative expression and to equip prospective writers – as well as those seeking to deepen their experience as writers – with the tools and strategies often deployed by writers to translate their imaginative dreams into complex and compelling work.
The festival was tailored to meet the needs and goals of a wide variety of participants. In addition to workshops for maturing writers, the festival also included Crockford’s highly useful workshops for secondary school teachers as well as for secondary school students themselves. Ndibe also offered a session on folktales to primary school pupils.
The three major guest writers – Soyinka, Awoonor, and Amadi – held individual interactive sessions where they fielded questions pertaining on their own styles, creative processes and thematic concerns as well as their views on the state of African writing and the role of literature in the larger social environment.
Another significant aspect of the 2008 GCLF was the participation of numerous local and international publishers both in the book fair as well as a seminar on publishing. Thousands of book lovers had the opportunity to buy books from a wide selection of booksellers and publishers, often at discounted prices. In addition, the festival promoted an interface between aspirant writers and publishers.