ADDRESS AT THE PUBLIC PRESENTATION OF PORT HARCOURT AS UNESCO WORLD BOOK CAPITAL 2014 & PUBLIC PRESENATION OF THE BOOK: NIGERIAN LITERATURE; A COAT OF MANY COLOURS
I am honoured to stand before you today to welcome you to this wonderful city of Port Harcourt and to the Garden City Literary Festival 2012. This year’s festival is special for several reasons: this is our 5th outing and we are looking at a very topical subject: Women in Literature, with a focus on Africa. This broad theme is interesting because it allows us to examine the work of women who are operating in the literary space – writers, publishers, booksellers, literary critics. We will also be looking at what women write about and how relevant female writing is to our modern world, plus we will be looking at the way women are portrayed in literature.
To tackle this exciting topic, we are joined by authors, critics, scholars and the reading public. We welcome our main guest writers – Veronique Tadjo, the Ivorian poet, songwriter, playwright and scholar, Doreen Biangana, author of Tales from Entebbe, from Uganda, Chibundu Onuzo the talented young author of The Spider King’s Daughter and Noo Saro Wiwa writer of Looking for Transwonderland; Travels in Nigeria. In addition, we have a brilliant line up of workshop facilitators, discussants in the symposium and seminars, exhibitors at our book fair and of course our visitors, who are the backbone of this festival.
We are also pleased to be presenting our book; Nigerian Literature, a Coat of Many Colours, which is a coffee table book highlighting the works of 50 prominent Nigerian authors. We are grateful that the foreword to this book is written by no less than President Jonathan while the introduction is written by Rivers State’s leading literature connoisseur – Governor Rotimi Amaechi. We hope this work will be a valuable contribution to Nigeria’s literary heritage.
There is another reason why Garden City Literary Festival 2012 is important; – this year, our beloved city of Port Harcourt has been chosen to be UNESCO World Book Capital 2014! This is both an honour and a challenge to our city and we stand on the platform of our 5th festival to announce our nomination to the world. Port Harcourt has some exciting times ahead.
Over the years we have featured writers of this great city such as; Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara, Igoni Barrett, Kaine Agary and Chimeka Garricks. On this historic occasion those of them present will join us in the symbolic unveiling of our beloved city of Port Harcourt as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.
This city has previously welcomed literary legends such as the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Koffi Awoonor, Ama Atta Aidoo, J P Clark and their younger counterparts like Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Adaobi Nwaubani and Zainab Jallo to the city for various literature programmes. Last year, we even had the privilege of hosting two important world figures as guests of honour – Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the Rev. Jesse Jackson the American civil rights activist.
But for every big name, there are several others, not so well known, but very important men and women, boys and girls, being groomed on this platform. It is our desire that the festival will continue to be a platform for expression and exposure of writers as well as a place where all players in the book chain industry – from readers to writers to publishers – will be able to meet, network, exchange ideas and do business.
The vision that I hope we all share for Port Harcourt is of a city where literary talent is nurtured and where reading and writing is the norm. A city where aspiring writers are encouraged to soar to new heights. A city where the writer is free.
We have said before that our work is a double edged sword – reading and writing. If you take a look at our logo, you’ll see that it has a map of Africa in it, with light emanating from Port Harcourt to the rest of Africa. This portrays the vision of the Rainbow Book Club to use literacy as a tool for development in Africa, beginning right here in the city of Port Harcourt. The light in the logo signifies enlightenment and that is what literacy does for a society.
A reading people is a thinking people. In a reading society, a thinking society, when we see a broken down fuel tanker, we do not take our buckets and go there to fetch petrol to sell for a little money. A thinking person knows that this a dangerous thing to do as a single match can start a blaze that can kill dozens of people in minutes.
A reading society is a thinking society. In a reading society, when ravaging floods turn our country into one vast swimming pool and our possessions are floating away before our eyes and we realise our livelihood is threatened, society as a whole would come together to find a solution to find a way to survive.
If four boys between the ages of 18 and 24 in your community are accused of anti social behaviour like stealing a laptop and a blackberry phone or even more serious allegations – like cult activity – what would a thinking society’s response be? Faced with such a situation, the thinking society would realise that suspects are entitled to a fair hearing in a court of law and if found guilty, then those suspects will pay the penalty according to the law. A reading society would not drag those suspects through its streets, beat them up, strip them naked, pour petrol on them and burn them like logs of wood. The reading society does not take the law into their hands, and kill people without mercy. No, that is not the response of a reading society, that is not the response of a thinking society.
Some people say this is the result of poverty and they ask, ‘does reading put food on the table?’ The link between reading and prosperity lies in the fact that we live in a knowledge economy. To cope with the demands of our present world, developing our human capital is essential. Reading is a sure way to access information. Information is power. Information exposes you to the stories and examples of others from which one may learn how to improve on their own life. More importantly, information opens doors that lead even the poorest people to new horizons.
Reading brings light. That is why our logo has a light from Port Harcourt to the rest of Africa. When light comes, darkness is dispelled and the society can develop. That is the task at hand. With Port Harcourt being nominated UNESCO World Book Capital 2014, the world now has its eyes on this city and we must stand up to the call to be a beacon to the world.
This is a call to humanity, a call to you and me. Don’t look behind you, there is no one there to take on the challenge. The challenge is thrown to you and me. We must work together to show the world that we are indeed a reading and thinking people.
In 2005, I quoted the saying that if you want to hide something from a ‘black’ man, hide it in a book. I don’t agree with the designation ‘black’ but this is not the occasion to postulate my personal ideology. I will repeat what I said in 2005, in this hotel, and that is that by the time the Rainbow Book Club is through with its work, the world will have to find somewhere else to hide information from the ‘black’ man.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Port Harcourt, UNESCO World Book Capital 2014.
Welcome to the 5th Garden City Literary Festival.
Welcome to the road towards a thinking society.
God bless the Garden City of Nigeria, God bless Nigeria!