The eagerly anticipated annual Port Harcourt Book Festival (PHBF), formerly known as the Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF), had its 6th run from the 21st to the 26th of October 2013 at the Hotel Presidential. The event, which is organized yearly by the Rainbow Book Club in collaboration with the Rivers State Government, had as its 2013 theme: Literature and the Creative Economy.
Joseph Ajienka, University of Port Harcourt Vice Chancellor, was the host at the opening ceremony, with the Executive Governor of Rivers State, the Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, as the guest of honor. Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, the former Minister of Education/former Vice President (Africa) World Bank, served as the keynote speaker at the official opening ceremony. Special guests included authors: Chika Unigwe (winner of the 2012 NLNG-sponsored Nigeria Prize for Literature), Binyavanga Wainaina (winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing), Titi Horsfall, author of From an Orphan to a Queen – Esther, Christie Bature, author of Exactly the Same Coin, Molara Wood, author of Indigo, and Julius Agwu, comedian and author of Jokes Apart – How Did I Get Here?. Others were Captain Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara, Alhaji Abdulai A. Abukari (Consul-General of Ghana, Lagos), Dr. Olusoji Popoola (President, Nigerian Booksellers Association), and Tade Ipadeola (2013 Nigeria Prize for Literature winner). Molara Wood, former editor of 234NEXT newspaper and Special Assistant to the President on Documentation, moderated the symposium that followed. Owing to the ongoing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike, the Hotel Presidential was the sole venue for all the festival events this year.
Back for popular consumption and enjoyment were the Port Harcourt Book Fair/Art Exhibition, Writer’s Workshops, Meet-the-Author sessions including author book-signings at the book fair and drama performances. An addition to the writers’ workshops was the scriptwriting workshop, facilitated by British Council representatives. The workshop was included in keeping with this year’s theme. Furthermore, in preparation for Port Harcourt’s tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital (WBC) next year (in 2014), several things were added on. A PH WBC 2014 booth was set up in the book fair where visitors could access information about the impending project. There they could also register their interest in partnering through various opportunities. All booksignings this year occurred at that PH WBC 2014 booth in a bid to draw more attention to the initiative.
This year role models who read to children were Chief Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs (Executive Vice Chairman of Moni Pulo Ltd. and founder of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili (former Minister for Education and former Vice President (Africa) World Bank) and Mr. Charles Gbandi (HR Operations Manager, SHELL). Meanwhile, Primary School children from schools around Port Harcourt fully enjoyed the Writing/Drama/Arts workshop offered by the Children and The Environment (CATE) team, headed by Sola Alamutu. As a pre-event to this year’s festival, a nationwide essay competition for Senior Secondary Students was launched, allowing students to write on the topic: Social Media & Youth Development. On the last day of the festival this year, the three competition winners received laptops, grants of varying amounts and a ‘bag of books’ each. The other students present at the ceremony also received bags of books donated by the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) to encourage them to read.
Three seminars held with notable guests as moderators or as discussants. The different seminar topics were: Literature and the Performing Arts, Digital Technology and the Literary Sector, and Cultural Heritage and the Sustainability of the Creative Industries. As is the custom, these seminar topics were offshoots of the festival theme.
Of note is the fact that Capt. Elechi Amadi launched his latest novel, When God Came, at the festival. It was an especially memorable event as this work constitutes one of the few sci-fi novels published by an African. The weeklong celebration of literature and the arts rounded off with the usual Jazz and Poetry evening that this year was turned into a tribute night in honour of two late literary greats, Prof. Chinua Achebe and Ambassador Kofi Awoonor who have both participated in our festivals in 2011 and 2008 respectively.
With the inclusion of social media as publicity this year, the Port Harcourt Book Festival has certainly come of age and is trending with the times. Based on an increased and broader demographic of visitors to the book fair, for example, the festival evidently gets richer yearly in content and scope. There were over 3,200 festival attendees this year.