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Early this year, we shared a list of “The 100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers under 40” compiled by a body called the Nigerian Writers’ Awards (NWA). The title raised a good bit of controversy for readers who criticized the inclusion of songwriters and popular culture bloggers in a list celebrating writers. But if anyone was amused at how the list has Olamide and Linda Ikeji but not Akwaeke Emezi and Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, if anyone was scratching their heads at how they came up with some of the writers on the list, they did not show it too much. The list dropped and passed, largely ignored.

Last week, though, Chinenye Jennifer Emelife, co-founder and lead correspondent at Praxis magazine, was invited to the NWA’s awards ceremony. She attended the ceremony. In a review of the ceremony titled “Where Were the Writers at the Nigerian Writers’ Awards Ceremony?,” she expressed her dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the event.

It was finally time for the award presentations. I opened the Nigerian Writers’ Awards Facebook page to find nominations for each category and in my head, I was trying to place the winners when a loud cry startled me and indeed everyone else. I tilted my head, afraid of what might come after me, only to behold a woman clapping and crying and thanking God. Her son in the abroad had won the Nigeria Diaspora Writer of the Year, an award for which Teju Cole, Chigozie Obioma and Nnedi Okoroafor were also nominated. I immediately understood her outpour. What better definition of a miracle. I turned to my poet friend and asked her if she knew the author who had won and she shook her head: ‘Never heard of him until now’.

Brittle Paper wasn’t spared:

My sole consolation was that Ainehi Edoro of Brittle Paper won the Literary Blogger of the Year. How much more disastrous it could have gotten if it was otherwise. Yet, our pretty host had to kill my joy by asking if Ainehi was male or female.

Perhaps what was most illuminating about the essay were the hard-hitting questions she addressed to the organizers:

1. Where and how do you get your nominations?

2. Who are the judges for these awards?

3. If you are going to be introducing ‘new’ authors to us, can you at least tell us why you think they are most suitable for the awards for which they win? Like, ‘so and so is the Fiction Writer of the Year for her short story published in so and so which dealt with so and so…’

4. On what basis are these awards given? What exactly are the standards?

5. The Nigerian Writers’ Awards Ceremony is an event ‘celebrating Nigerian writers’ and for the umpteenth time, I’m asking where were the writers at the event? Where were Chuma Nwokolo, Lola Shoneyin, Igoni Barret, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Elnathan John, Chika Unigwe, Dami Ajayi, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Saddiq Dzukogi, Yejide Kilanko, Tj Benson, Pemi Aguda, Gbenga Adesina, Adeola Opeyemi, Chibundo Onuzo, Chinelo Okparanta? Where were Nigerian publishers like Su’eddie Vershima Agema, Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi, Kenechi Uzochukwu, Toni Kan and Bibi Bakere? And Nigerian critics and editors like Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Mazi Nwonwu, Jite Efemuaye?

6. And lastly and perhaps, more importantly, the one that demolished what was left of me: where was the food?

Read Jennifer Emelife’s full piece on Olisa.tv HERE.

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OTOSIRIEZE is a writer, literary journalist, former academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. A judge for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award, he is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective which has published two volumes: WE ARE FLOWERS and THE INWARD GAZE. He is the curator of ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness: ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016) focuses on cities in Nigeria; WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017) focuses on professions in Nigeria. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award, both in 2016, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts editing and writing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze.

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