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A Life in Words: Bernardine Evaristo (R) in conversation with Otosirieze Obi-Young (L) at Freedom Park, Lagos.

A Life in Words: Bernardine Evaristo (C) in conversation with Otosirieze Obi-Young (L) at Freedom Park, Lagos.

The 2019 Lagos International Poetry Festival took place from 30 October to 3 November. Founded in 2015 by the performance poet Efe Paul Azino, author of For Broken Men Who Cross Often, this year’s festival, themed “A Wild Beautiful Thing,” featured five days of panels, performances, film screenings, and workshops. Events were spread across three venues: Freedom Park, for the panels; The British Council, for the spoken word night; and MUSON Centre, for another night of performances.

The festival offered three workshops: one, on fusing poetry and fiction, led by Brunel Prize founder and Booker Prize 2019 winner Bernardine Evaristo; a second, on craft, by the American Nigerian Brittle Paper Award for Poetry 2018 winner Itiola Jones; and another, on the poetics of desire, by Logan February, the Nigerian author of Mannequin in the Nude. There was also a masterclass, taught by Kaveh Akbar, the Iranian American author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf and Purdue University professor.

The panels showed new ways of thinking, creating, and exploring. “Wild Geographies” was an irreverent, funny, and ultimately powerful conversation on modern femininity, with the Egyptian poet, essayist, and Instagram sensation Salma El-Wardany and the Ghanaian blogger Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, founder of the award-winning Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, moderated by the Nigerian performance poet, journalist, and advocate Wana Udobang.

“In with the New” focused on new Nigerian poetry, with February, JK Anowe, winner of The Brittle Paper Award for Poetry 2017 and author of Sky Raining Fists, and Ebenezer Agu, Editor-in-Chief of 20.35 Africa poetry anthology series, moderated by Otosirieze Obi-Young, Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper and winner of The Future Awards Prize for Literature. Following the screening of her intergenerational poetry and translation film project Mother Tongues, the British Ghanaian poet Victoria Adukwei Bulley sat with Azino to discuss language, culture, and heritage.

“The Hassles of Getting Published” revealed trends and developments in Nigerian and British publishing, with Evaristo, Enajite Efemuaye, Managing Editor at Kachifo Limited, and Richard Ali, co-founder of Parresia and author of The Anguish and Vigilance of Things, moderated by Obi-Young. Ali was also in conversation with Tjawangwa Dema, discussing his collection and her Sillerman Prize-winning collection The Careless Seamstress, moderated by Emory University associate professor Nathan Suhr-Sytsma.

“Urban Innovators,” meant to also feature the musician Banky W, saw documentary filmmaker Deji Akinpelu in conversation with OluTimehin Adegbeye, winner of the 2019 Gerald Kraak Prize. In attendance, too, was African Arguments Deputy Editor Ayodeji Rotinwa.

For “A Life in Words,” Evaristo was in conversation with Obi-Young: a recap of Evaristo’s four-decade career, from her theatre activism in the 1980s to her founding of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize and The Complete Works to her formally innovative novels to the most recent, the Booker Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other, which made her the first Black woman so honoured.

During the nights, there were performances by the Antiguan Canadian poet Tanya Evanson; the South African poet and cultural worker Natalia Molebatsi; the Nigerian performer Bash Amuneni, author of There Is a Lunatic in Every Town; the South African Busisiwe Mahlangu, author of Surviving Loss and founder of the literary NPO Lwazilubanzi Project; and the Nigerians Tobi Abiodun, the Heritage Bank spoken word advert sensation, and Chika Jones. The musician Brymo, unarguably the most popular in literary circles, crowned one of the nights with an absorbing set.

Here are photos from the festival, credited to Victor Adewale.

PANELS

Wild Geographies: A Conversation with Salma Elwardany (L) and Nana Darkoa (C), moderated by Wana Udobang (R). Freedom Park.

Wild Geographies: A Conversation with Salma Elwardany (L) and Nana Darkoa (C), moderated by Wana Udobang (R). Freedom Park.

TJ Dema's (L) conversation with Richard Ali (R of photo), moderated by Nathan Suhr-Sytsma (R). Freedom Park.

TJ Dema’s (L) conversation with Richard Ali (R of photo), moderated by Nathan Suhr-Sytsma (R). Freedom Park.

A Life in Words: Bernardine Evaristo (R) in conversation with Otosirieze Obi-Young (L) at Freedom Park, Lagos.

A Life in Words: Bernardine Evaristo (R) in conversation with Otosirieze Obi-Young (L) at Freedom Park, Lagos.

The Hassles of Getting Published: A Conversation with Jite Efemuaye (L), Bernardine Evaristo (C), and Richard Ali (R of photo), moderated by Otosirieze Obi-Young (L of photo). Freedom Park.

In with the New: A Conversation with Ebenezer Agu (C), Logan February (R), and JK Anowe (R of photo), moderated by Otosirieze Obi-Young (L). Freedom Park.

In with the New: A Conversation with Ebenezer Agu (C), Logan February (R), and JK Anowe (R of photo), moderated by Otosirieze Obi-Young (L). Freedom Park.

Itiola Jones (L) and Kaveh Akbar (R) in conversation. Freedom Park.

Itiola Jones (L) and Kaveh Akbar (R) in conversation. Freedom Park.

A Life in Words: Bernardine Evaristo (R) in conversation with Otosirieze Obi-Young (L) at Freedom Park, Lagos.

PERFORMANCES

Wana Udobang.

Tanya Evanson.

Brymo.

Kaveh Akbar.

Salma El-Wardany.

Chika Jones.

Victoria Adukwei Bulley.

Brymo.

Logan February.

TJ Benson.

TJ Benson.

Nana Darkoa (centre, lower row), Wana Udobang (centre, upper row), and Lola Shoneyin (right, upper row).

Brymo.

WORKSHOPS

Kelechi Njoku.

RECREATION & AFTER-PARTY

JK Anowe.

Salma El-Wardany.

Itiola Jones and Ebenezer Agu.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he sits on the judging panels of The Miles Morland Writing Scholarships and of The Gerald Kraak Prize. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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