The Executive Governor of Rivers State, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, was the chief host at the opening ceremony, with the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as chairman. Also in attendance were American civil rights activist, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, as well as Dr. Chidi Achebe who delivered the keynote address on behalf of his father, Professor Chinua Achebe. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Joseph Ajeinka, hosted this event at the Emmanuel Ebitimi Banigo Hall.
This year the festival took place over a six-day period rather than the usual 4 days. The venues used were the University of Port Harcourt and the Hotel Presidential. Headline writers invited, in addition to Professor Achebe, were Professor Ama Atta Aidoo, Mr. Ken Wiwa, Ms. Lisa Combrinck and Mr. Ilyas Tunc. Ms. Combrinck was unable to make it on health grounds while Mr. Wiwa sent his apologies as he had to participate in an event outside of the country. Several leading academics also took part in the three festival symposia.
There were the usual offerings of the festival, such as the Garden City Book Fair, writers’ workshops, interactive sessions with authors, drama performances and special events for children. GCLF 2011 was further beefed up with added events like three symposia, an open forum on the festival topic and two new workshops: Writing for TV and Radio and Directing for Theatre Practitioners, organized in collaboration with the British Council. This year, three plays were featured and the festival rounded off with a Jazz and Poetry evening for the first time.
The stage adaptation of Achebe’s A Man of the People was performed by students of the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Port Harcourt. The play was staged at both the Governor’s Lodge as well as at the Hotel Presidential. The battle of the sexes as depicted in Ola Rotimi’s Man Talk, Woman talk was performed to the public by the students of the Theatre Arts Department of the University of Benin.
As usual, children were an integral part of the festival. In addition to the drama/writing/art workshops that we have held in the past, the children also staged a play, Ama Ata Aidoo’s The Dilemma of a Ghost. The following role models, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rivers State Commissioners for Information and Education, Ms. Femi Oke (CNN Inside Africa Correspondent) and author Chimeka Garricks, read at different times to a varied group of children. Winners of the pre-event essay competition received awards as well as gifts donated by the Rivers State Sustainable Development Authority (RSSDA) on the last day of the event.
Overall, GCLF 2011 was an improvement on the previous three years with new frontiers reached. People will be able to count on yet more 2012 when we will look at the theme: Women in Literature.