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.

Guest Post: Ngugi – The Afternoon Sun in London

Written by Efemena Agadama who has come to London from Nigeria to study. He often contributes articles on human rights issues to his Amnesty International blog and is interested in writing for theatre production.

Also, today is Efemena’s birthday.
Happy birthday!
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Writers are like the early morning sun that must be seen no matter how little up there in the sky, while great writers are like the afternoon sun that is not only seen but strongly felt.  And it was the afternoon sun that Ngugi Wa Thiong’o threw on the stage of The 20th Century Theatre in London at the just rolling off month of March.

It was an evening that was eaten up by the night yet the 20th Century Theatre hall was the exact inside of a floodlight, glowing with the rare fragrance of the professor of letters.  Do you still remember the sweet and never fading fragrance of “Weep Not, Child?”  If you do, what about the flowery sight of “The River Between;” the enjoyable themes of “A Grain of Wheat;” and the fountanous “I will Marry When I Want.”  In fact, there are countless works of this great writer that you ought to read.

As I said, the evening was eaten up by the night with everywhere full of diverse people from different gardens of literature. Are you thinking of poets, playwrights, novelists, philosophers, tourists?  Ha! There were more from other disciplines.
Ngugi flowed in his rosy conversation about his new book: “Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir.” He also discussed themes and stories behind some of his previous works.  It was the best of evenings and of nights in London for some time now. Questions were asked, questions were shot, questions were fired and questions were streamed to him like the gentle flow of water after a soft rainfall and the white-haired Ngugi smiled as he answered them, not just as a writer but as a white-haired professor of letters. I saw on that stage the sixty-six unwritten theories of how a white-haired professor should be in his old age.
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He later did book signings before the sweet curtain was drawned and everyone was glad that the fertile garden of letters who has received many awards shone beyond writers’ expectations.  Let me whisper to you some of his numerous laurels: Distinguished Africanist Award from the New York African Studies Association (1996), the Fonlon-Nichols prize (1996), the Zora Neale Hurston-Paul Robeson Award (1993), the Lotus prize for Afro-Asian literature (1973), UNESCO first prize…… (1963), East Africa Novel Prize (1962). 1965 Dakar Festival of Negro Arts and the East African Literature Bureau, both for his “Weep Not, Child”.
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Although, the event has just rolled up, the sunlight still lights the stage of that reverred 20th Century Theatre to this hour.