Arts Review: Welcome to Nigeria – Aye Write 2017

CCA, 12th March

Nigerian writing is in vogue at the moment, and for good reason. Like many of their compatriots, the two speakers at this Aye Write panel, Ayobami Adebayo and Chibundu Onuzo, are funny, exciting and up-and-coming novelists. Adebayo’s debut novel ‘Stay With Me’ is a complex story of family life that starts with the introduction of a second wife in a marriage. Told through the eyes of both husband and wife, it is intended to “celebrate the women who get up and keep going”. It was listed for the Bailey’s Prize 6 days after its release, and the author says she keeps checking if her name is still on the website to make sure there hasn’t been a mistake.

Thought up first in a dream, Onuzo’s ‘Welcome to Lagos’ is an ambitious work about an ensemble cast of misfits who move to the capital city, and how they navigate the challenges they face there. Onuzo makes the clear distinction about a novel simply set in Lagos and a Lagos novel, in which the city has a role like it’s a character. Her novel clearly belongs to the latter category. Even from the short passages read, it would appear that both novels have a strong sense of self, a confident narrative voice, and a crucial spark of wit.

After reading sections of their respective books, the novelists run through a Q&A about their writing process and what it feels like to be writing during such a high point for the recognition of Nigerian books. Both women agree that the well-deserved praise that has been heaped on prominent Nigerian literature has helped getting more writers like them published, but also raise the important point that generalising can be problematic. Onuzo humorously shares the story of a panel she was invited to with a francophone West African writer, entitled ‘Love in a Time of Ebola’. “There’s a multiplicity of voices [in Nigeria],” Adebayo points out. “You wouldn’t have a panel comprised of people just from Stoke-on-Trent” Onuzo jokes. While the examples of panels with exclusively female authors might not prove the best prospect for the future, let’s try to emphasise this multiplicity of voices and appreciate writers like Adebayo and Onuzo for their talent rather than their country of origin.

[Louise Wylie]

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