Listen to a Londoner: Professor Femi Osofisan

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere.
If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

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This interview was conducted by Efemena Agadama for Little London Observationist. Efemena is a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. He normally contributes articles to his Amnesty International blog.

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Professor Femi Osofisan

Oh! See how the stage drums are welcoming Professor Femi Osofisan.  He is a renowned playwright, poet and novelist with the pen name “Okinba Launko,” who has won the Folon-Nichols Award, ANA prize(s) for literature and poetry, regional Commonwealth poetry award, City of Pennsylvania Bell Award for Artistic Performance and several other awards and appointments spanning several continents.  He has published over 50 literary works, and has also been part of the revered literary story of London.

LLO: What interests you most in or about London?
FO:
I am generally excited about big cities, about the environment they offer for creativity, experimentation, and adventure—as well as for their opposite, death, destruction and atrophy. You are constantly challenged, as an artist in a big city, by this threat of death and/or rejuvenation. London to me is like that.

LLO: You have published over fifty respected plays.  How does your inspiration come?
FO:
From politics, that is, from history as daily experienced. The aim is to make the present and the future better for all of us.

LLO: Tell us some of the countries where you have performed your plays.
FO: 
The UK, Germany, the USA, Sri Lanka, Australia, Canada, plus different African countries.

Taken while Professor Osofisan was directing JP Clark’s OZIDI at the Arts Theatre at the University of Ibadan.

LLO: Over the years, Nigerian and African writers have identified with London.  Do you find London as an interesting environment for Nigerian and African writers?
FO: 
It should be, given the large population of African and African Caribbean people in London. The city also has a long history of creative activism in the arts.

LLO: Do you find that literature from a different culture, such as English or Greek, tends to influence the themes and styles in the work of African writers?
FO: Yes of course, just as the reverse is also true. The best works anywhere always transcend their geographical and temporal frontiers, to speak to humanity all over the world and in all ages. Artists drink from all sources. That is how all cultures thrive, from the cross-pollination with other cultures.

LLO: What advantages can theatre professionals derive by performing their plays and organizing literary activities in London? 
FO: The usual advantages: well-mounted productions with skilled directors and actors; a good publicity; plus a fairly good pay.

LLO: Which London library interests you most?
FO: I have been using the same library for years—and this is the SOAS library, by Russell Square. Its collections on my area of interest are simply breath-taking!

LLO: What is your advice to inspire the new voices in African literature living in London to succeed as writers?
FO: 
The same as I give to all aspiring writers everywhere, whether African or not—namely, that the best way to write is by writing, and reading. Read as much as you can; and never stop writing.

LLO: Do you have upcoming events being planned for London to keep our readers timely informed?
FO: 
Not in the immediate coming months, I am afraid. But I shall probably be delivering this year’s Pinter Lectures at Goldsmiths in October. 

LLO: And kindly tell us how to purchase your literary works (poems, plays and novels).
FO: 
Most of them are published and sold in Nigeria, and can be purchased from The Booksellers bookstore run by Mosuro in Ibadan. They have a website, I believe. But in the UK, the best contact for my works is the African Books Collective, in Oxford.

Thanks Professor Osofisan and Efemena!

If you are interested in reading more about Professor Osofisan, visit his website: http://femiosofisan.org/default.aspx

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

Written by Efemena Agadama, a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. 
He normally contributes articles to
his Amnesty International blog.

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“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

From top left: Lily Mabura and Namwali Serpell;
From bottom left: Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, and Ken Barris

As London remains the global city of literature, where the great minds of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, George Elliot, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Milton, and Keats once held sway, the sweet voices of Africa shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for Africa Writing converged at the prestigious Travel Bookshop at Notting Hill on July 3, 2010.

But this time around, it wasn’t the flag of the English literature that they hoisted, though with due respect to the English literature.  It was the brightly coloured rainbow flag of the sweet African literature; the literature where words of wisdom, onomatopoeic rhythms, drama and compact plots entwine to weave the beautiful honeycomb of a unique world literature that has been the love of other world literatures.

And the revered voices were Namwali Serpell, Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, Ken Barris and Lily Mabura.  Oh! It was a lovely and endearing gathering.  They were so humble and social that you wouldn’t be able to identify them.  Even I couldn’t identify them.  However, I guessed on one – Namwali Serpell.  As soon as she entered with all smiles, complexion of a mixed race, pretty hair style and a modest gown, she hugged two members of the audience at the front row, and I was behind at the third row.  In fact, I felt hugged too.  I felt her hugging me with her pretty smiles.  And when she smiled at them, I still felt she was smiling at me.  Please, don’t laugh at me.  The aura of the African literature that the five shortlisted writers brought into The Travel Bookshop auditorium could make anyone feel hugged in such a situation.  Now I understand why people used to fight over Michael Jackson’s shirt during performance.  Look at me fighting over a hug in my spirit.

After a while, the moderator, Saara Marchadour hit the drum for the music of the day to begin.  She in her modesty asked them one after the other to read excerpts from their shortlisted entries.  Ken Barris started the drumming.  He stood up and began reading from his “The Life of Worm.”  Its reading had the professionalism of a news caster.  He cleverly alternated his eyes between the script and the audience.  Alex Smith read hers “Soulmates” with a very emotional tone; Sharp, clear and with subtle demonstrative cues of drama.  As she read, one could hear the words like the rendition of an actress on Shakespeare Globe Theatre during the performance of Macbeth this past June.  Olufemi Terry had a louder voice.  I think his body build added substance to his voice – softly audacious.  Then Namwali read from her “Muzungu”.  She read with a dramatic flow and a clear voice.  As she read one could see a reflection of all her travellings in her rising and falling tone.  And the fifth shortlisted writer, Lily Mabura with her creative candour, gave us a noble background to her story and set the fire aglow to signal the end of the reading sessions.

Thereafter, the respected and famous Saara Marchadour of the Travel Bookshop interviewed them on the stories and inspiration behind their shortlisted works.  And she opened the floor for audience members to ask questions.

It was lovely and very exciting.  Just being in the presence of these great writers is like being locked in a small room with a million and a million of Shakepeare, Wordsworth, Soyinka, Achebe and Coetzee.  These shortlisted writers have really re-hoisted the African literature flag in London and it now flies higher.  Really, London remains the world’s leading city in Arts and Literature.

London Art Spot: Fabienne Henry

 

Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Ireland, Canada and the UK. Sounds like a holiday wish list, but it’s actually all of the countries where this week’s featured artist Fabienne Henry has lived. Originally from Paris, she’s lived outside of France for most of her life.

After studying Law in Paris, Fabienne practised only for a few months. Law doesn’t travel very well. She lectured in Law for a while, spent some time as a French teacher and then a magazine editor (why not?) before settling into her current career as a freelance writer. As you can see from her creative images below, she is also a keen, self-taught photographer.

Living in London since last summer, Fabienne finds every stroll she takes and every event she attends a true delight. (It is London, after all.) However, she’s also very nostalgic of her time in Vancouver.  Ideally, the two cities would bump heads and Fabienne would live in Vancouver with the cultural aspect and the eccentricity of London.

For this week’s London Art Spot, she tells us about her blog “Lost & Found in London”, about the popularity of a certain piece of flour-less chocolate cake and shares photos of a woman eating ice cream in a burqa.

“Primrose Hill”  

LLO: Where are you from originally and how and when did you end up in London?
FH:
I’m originally from France but I grew up in Africa. I went to university in Paris and then went to Dublin to improve my English. I ended up staying there for eight years since I met a lovely Irish man who became my husband. We moved to Vancouver in 2003 and came back to Europe after three great years in BBC (Beautiful British Columbia). We landed in Yorkshire first, which was a culture shock for a city slicker. Thankfully, a work opportunity came up in London and we moved to the city in the summer 2009. 

“Brompton Cemetery”  

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
FH:
There is always something happening in London. I think that Londoners are very creative in many aspects of their lives: in the way they dress, in their food, in their hobbies… Plus London is so cosmopolitan; there are many different influences everywhere you look. How can you not feel inspired or creative when you live in London? 

“Garlic”

LLO: Do you remember when you first fell in love with photography and how has your style evolved since then?
FH:
I think I became obsessed with photography in my early teens. I was taking pictures mostly of family events and friends. I used to love that moment when I went to collect my film rolls at the photo shop. A moment of expectations that’s lost to digital nowadays. When I was 16 I bought a SLR Canon EOS with 2 different lenses and I started to take shots of almost everything. It was a costly hobby back then. Now I still photograph about everything and I mostly enjoy shooting unusual places or situations in London, Paris, Brittany, my daughter and food. 


“Field Game in Yorkshire Lavender, Terrington, North Yorkshire” 

LLO: Tell us about your blog, Lost & Found in London, and how you came up about the idea.
FH:
 I started blogging in 2004 when I was living in Canada. It was the beginning of the blog phenomenon back then and I loved this idea of endless possibilities. Plus there was so much to tell about life in Vancouver. Then I moved to Yorkshire and the blog became “Lost in Yorkshire”. I took a different angle: as you can imagine it wasn’t as fun or exotic to live in the middle of Yorkshire. For me anyway. My posts turned towards the cultural differences between France and England. A little bit like Stephen Clarke’s A year in the Merde reversed! Thankfully, Yorkshire is a beautiful place (no cynicism here) and I was able to illustrate my posts with nice shots of the Dales and the numerous National Trust Gardens (the English really love their gardens). When I moved to London, I needed a celebrating change so the blog became known as “Lost & Found in London” and I now enjoy writing and posting photos about my adventures in this great city. 

“Palisades, Brittany, France” 

LLO: What is your most popular “find” according to your blog or Flickr stats?
FH:
 My most popular picture on Flickr at the moment is a close-up on a flour less chocolate cake. Probably tagging with “chocolate” helped!

On my blog, the most popular posts are the ones where I speak about British clichés and also my twice monthly guessing game – “la devinette du mercredi”. I post a photo where one has to guess what it is or where it was taken.

LLO: With all of your travel, living in so many different countries and having multiple talents from photography to writing to teaching, what do you ultimately see yourself doing?
FH:
Moving around makes it difficult to adapt to a steady professional life. Hopefully this time we’ll stay a bit longer in London so I would be able to develop my taste for freelance journalism. I would love to write regular articles for papers or internet sites as I’m doing right now, but not as frequently as I wish to.

“Amazing Light in Vancouver” 

LLO: Share a photo with a great story behind it and tell us about it?
FH:
 Last August, I was wandering in the Southbank when I captured this scene:


I found these shots amusing and interesting because in France at the time was the heated public debate about the possibility of the burqa ban. It was a way of speaking about it on a lighter note. When you think about it, eating ice cream with a burqa on is not the simplest task!

“Molly on the Beach” 

LLO: Where is your favourite place in London to take your camera?
FH:
 I always have my DSLR with me at the weekend, and a smaller camera anytime in my bag. Basically all of London is a playground paradise for photographers. If I had to choose a place I’d say may be the South Bank.

“Ballerina” 

LLO: Is there somewhere in London that you go to get a taste of Paris?
FH:
 Paris and London are really two different cities in many ways, especially from the architectural point of view. From that perspective it’s difficult to compare the two. Although sometimes when I take a walk on the riverbank or when I cross a bridge I can catch some kind of Paris feeling. If you refer to the French atmosphere, then head straight to South Ken: you’ll feel that sometimes that French is the primary language over there. This is definitely the French quarter with the Embassy, the lycée, the shops and the French Cultural Centre.

“Prison Break @ Borough Market” 

LLO: Show us you favourite London image you’ve captured so far.
FH:
I like the colours and the few iconic London items on it.

Thanks Fabienne! 

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here. 

World AIDS Day

 
Today is World AIDS Day. Coincidently, I just finished reading a book in which the protagonist commits suicide after discovering that his lifelong habit of seeking out unprotected sex with random women had left his body infected with AIDS (The Company of Women by Khushwant Singh). I thought I would post on the topic since today seems to be the day to raise awareness.

Sunday Times article about possible plans to make HIV testing routine in this country stated that: “There are believed to be 77,000 people living with HIV in the UK. More than 25,000 people have developed AIDS and 18,787 have died.” The CIA World Fact Book listed countries by number of people  living with HIV/AIDS in 2009. African countries fill the top ten with the virus most prevalent in South Africa. The exception is India fourth and the US eighth. While the UK may not be extremely high on the list, a lot of people who come from high risk areas do live here and Brits travel to high risk areas as well.

The Metro highlighted a story the other day about Poipet, a border town between Cambodia and Thailand where sex trafficking is an issue and so is AIDS. Forced or voluntary prostitution also spreads HIV. A number of Western tourists who travel abroad where the underground sex industry is in easy reach are at a serious risk of bringing it home.

Mr Kumar thoroughly enjoyed “the company of women” and his life story was certainly interesting, but his suicide highlights the stigma that still exists around the virus (whether or not it is sexully transmitted) and the end of his life was early, tragic and full of regrets.

LINKS

Events in the UK

World AIDS Day 2009

The Company of Women