Writers in Nigeria and abroad recently gathered at the Ocean View Restuarant, Lagos to witness the closing of the annual Fidelity Bank creativity writing workshop in a brief but pleasant ceremony.
Top echelon of the bank was there, led by the MD/CEO Mr. Reginald Ihejiahi, who told the gathering that the bank was pleased to be associated with the literary renaissance in the country. He said that no country will progress without paying attention to its thinkers, which the writers represent a significant proportion of and his bank's willingness to continuously invest in the workshops.
The facilitators too were there, led by Commonwealth Writers Prize winner and regular anchor Helon Habila. This year he was joined by British Sierra Leonean Aminatta Forna (also a commonwealth prize winner) and American poet Sally Keith to facilitate the workshop.
The event was a culmination of five days of training for some 27 writers of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. It is the 5th year Fidelity Bank is holding the creative writing workshop in Nigeria and this year, they did it with a difference.
Hundreds of entries were received from hopeful writers eager to tap in to the experience of the established writers coming to town--some 600 entries or so. Thirty lucky ones were chosen and twenty-seven made it to the workshop venue in Lagos.
With the sour aftertaste of last year's workshop still lingering--it was a phenomenal disaster characterised by poor organisation, poor choice of venue and other sundry issues-for those familiar with the spectacular fallout of that workshop, this year, to borrow the Nigerian parlance, their doubts were cleared.
The writers were hosted at the impressive Dover Hotel in the Lekki area. Preparations have been made in advance for the individual participants who arrived the venue July 8, and the one who had a problem was quickly addressed and accommodated. The bank's Head of Community Relations, Mr. Uche Ogbonna was on hand throughout to ensure that participants' needs were duly taken care of.
The workshop started July 9th with an interactive session between participants and facilitators. And then the classes were broken into three based on what individual participants applied for; fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, each handled by one of the facilitators experienced in the field.
Participants were put through their paces Monday to Friday with classes in the mornings and interactive sessions with facilitators in the evenings. Breakfast, dinner and launch were timely and lavish such that participants' only worry was creativity. They had to turn in some work to be critiqued by fellow students and the facilitators during the course of the workshop.
The groups came together Thursday night for dinner and a reading session. Three participants from each group were chosen to read their works. It was a sample of what would come the next day, at the closing ceremony.
That event was compeered by Dr. Emman Shehu, President of the Abuja Writers' Forum, who had nothing but praise for the organisers of the workshop, for what he said was their commitment to the growth of literature in Nigeria. He was offered a hand by Lagos based writer Toni Kan, who introduced the workshop facilitators.
Some of the participants including Benedictus Nwachukwu, Michaela Moye Julius Bokuru, among others, read from their works to the admiration of the audience while Tonye Willie-Pepple's emotive poem summed up the experience of the writers at the workshop.
They paved the way for the big masquerades; Helon Habila, who having praised the bank for taking on his recommendation on how to improve the annual workshop and sparing no expense in seeing that it was successful, proceeded to read a steamy section from his latest novel Oil on Water. Aminatta Forna followed with her reading from her book, The Memory of Love while Sally Keith read from her poetry collection, Dwelling Song.
Mr. Ihejiahi presented certificates to the 27 participants, who were full of praise for the organisers. In the separate votes of thanks, participants Abubakar Ibrahim and Hauwa Machunga, both praised the bank for investing in the development of writers in the country and promised, on behalf of their colleagues, to make the workshop experience count.
The event came to a close with the launch of the anthology of works from previous workshops titled Dreams at Dawn, edited by Helon Habila. The books were unveiled by the combined team of the bank's CEO, the three facilitators and veteran poet Odia Ofeimun.
All in all, it was a workshop worth the millions invested in it, and Nigerian literature is certainly the better for it.