Surprises. That is what I would remember the last day of the Ake Festival for.
I was surprised to discover during the first book chat that the author of Lights Point Noire, Alain Mabanckou, has been exiled from his home country of Congo (Brazzaville) for more than six months and counting. Who would have thought that novelist Okey Ndibe gets harassed by the DSS each time he visits Nigeria because of his column in The Sun newspaper?
Kola Tubosun moderated the book chat with both Okey and Alain and was also on the first panel discussion of the day.
This was a last minute decision, but I am glad I listened in on “How the Media Approaches New Writing.” Some days earlier, I had teased Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, the panel’s moderator that he needed to lobby to get people to attend as Ngugi wa Thiongo’o was discussing simultaneously about Prison Stories with Kunle Ajibade and Molara Wood. Contrary to Oris’ projection of only 4 people in attendance, about 40 people showed up to listen to how bloggers James Murua and Kola Tubosun as well as the head of the Arts Desk at Guardian, Anote Ajeluoruo, review books and their authors from completely different perspectives.
Melancholy started to set in early afternoon. The final book chat of the festival featured author of the Moor’s Account, Laila Lalami. It was great seeing her in person and listening to her speak about why she decided to tell this particular story.
Still, the sadness weighed in heavily. These last few days had surpassed everything I had imagined about the Ake Festival and now the events were winding down. The panel on home and displacement with Teju Cole, Yewande Omotoso, and Sarah Ladipo Mayinka with Wana Udobang as the moderator added nostalgia to the mix. Ake had become home and now we had to go.
Ngugi came to the rescue with his lively demonstrations and conversation with Okey Ndibe early in the evening. So much love and praise were showered on him, and he reciprocated the feelings of endearment. Reinvigorated, I was determined to savor the last bits of Ake that were still outstanding.
The Palmwine and Poetry evening injected energy back into the Cultural Center, and it will be hard to forget the words of poet extraordinaire, Titilope Sonuga, on what a woman is and what she is not. At the end of the evening, it was with grateful hearts and knowing smiles that we gave Lola Shoneyin, the Director of Ake Arts and Book Festival a standing ovation.
Yes, the discussions, chats, and guests had been amazing, but she was a hostess that refused to tire out. Professor Femi Osofisan echoed our thoughts in words of praise and prayer pronounced in the Yoruba Language. Then Lola took to the mic and revealed more surprises.
The wife of the Governor of Kaduna State, Hadiza Isma El-Rufai had been with us all along from the fiction workshop to the evening of poetry. The 26 volunteers that supported the Ake core team were selected from over 100 applicants and had been in Abeokuta since Sunday.
A lot of work, sacrifice, and giving had been put into this year’s edition. Attending was totally worth it. For weeks to come, festival attendees will showcase on social media their collection of autographed books, selfies with the literary stars, and quotable lines from their favorite authors and panelists. This will be rightfully so, as even after the closing party, there is lot more to be said about #AkeFest2016.
Here are some pictures from the closing party: