A song out of the bag: the Publishing of Igbo Poetry in Nigeria


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The aim of this paper is
1. to explore Igbo poetry as a genre that has been experiencing a rapid growth in Igboland (Nigeria)
2. survey a few of the publications in circulation
3. consider how they feed on orality and how the targeted audience impacts on the contents.

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A song out of the bag: the Publishing of Igbo Poetry in Nigeria

  1. 1. A song out of the bag The publishing of Igbo poetry in Nigeria Françoise Ugochukwu The Open University
  2. 2. The aim of this paper is • to explore Igbo poetry as a genre that has been experiencing a rapid growth in Igboland (Nigeria) • survey a few of the publications in circulation • consider how they feed on orality and how the targeted audience impacts on the contents.
  3. 3. Abstract • Exploring the development of written poetry in Igbo • Its authors’ background and intentions • Its targeted public • its publication till date • Compared with poetry publications in English
  4. 4. Contents 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. The development of publications in Igbo Poetry development in Nigeria – some landmarks A University-born poetry A subordinate status A long history of Igbo writers publishing in English And a new generation of poets Basic hindrances to publishing affect poetry The Igbo preference The question of standard Some publishers of Igbo poetry Marketing & Distribution The curriculum obsession The targeted public A world yet unknown
  5. 5. The development of publications in Igbo • 1933: Omenuko, the first novel in Igbo • 1961: the Onwu orthography • 1967: 3 novels, no written poetry, no play • 1967-1970: Biafran War
  6. 6. 1970s: Igbo Renaissance 1977: new federal language policy 1986: 70 novels, 11 poetry collections, 25 plays
  7. 7. Poetry development in Nigeria – some landmarks • • • • • • 17th century: first written Hausa poetry 18th century: first Fulani written poetry 1957: Ulli Beir starts Black Orpheus 1958: J.P.Clark & A.Irele start The Horn 1961: Okigbo’s Heavensgate 1962: Osadebay’s Africa sings – poems already published separately • 1992: Hausa poetry very much alive on both public & private scene
  8. 8. A University-born Igbo Poetry with Achebe Chinua Agu O.A. Chime Uchenna Chukuezi Anelechi B. Egudu Romanus Emenanjo E. Nolue Ikwubuzo Iwu Nwadike I.Uzoma
  9. 9. Nwoga Donatus † Nwankwo Ogbalu F.Chidozie † Okoro L.C. Ogbulogo C.U. Udechukwu Obiora Uba-Mgbemena Asonye Ugonna Nnabuenyi † Uzochukwu Samuel
  10. 10. A subordinate status • Igbo studies – a devalued currency • Poetry – a “useless” occupation • A.Quayson, 1997: “The work of Tutuola, Soyinka and Okri along with others from Nigeria can be said to have done more for a knowledge of Nigerian culture outside (…) than any of the texts in local languages.”
  11. 11. A long history of Igbo writers publishing in English since 1789 Chinua Achebe Olaudah Equiano † Romanus Egudu Ernest Emenyonu Dubem Okafor Cyprian Ekwensi Flora Nwapa † Chukwuemeka Ike Buchi Emecheta Obiora Udechukwu Adaora Ulasi Christopher Okigbo† And others Chukwuma Azuonye With only a few Arthur Nwankwo poets among them
  12. 12. And a new generation of poets • • • • • • • • Chimamanda Adichie Jenna Akuchie Nnamdi Azuonye Nnorom Azuonye Benedicta Mbanuzue Odinaka Nwamadi Chimalum Nwankwo Ebele Uche-Nwakile Onyeji Chibo I.O.Dike-Ugwu Azuka Nzegwu Oke Ikeogu And others Still publishing in English both in & out of Nigeria
  13. 13. Basic hindrances to publishing in Igbo equally affect poetry Identified in 1973 in Ife University • Lack of printing skills and facilities • Lack of willing investors • Lack of public interest • Existing publishing management problems • Competition from international publishers
  14. 14. • Prof. Adamolekun, 1984: “hundreds of manuscripts have been accepted for publication some years ago but because of limited printing facilities the books could not be produced in Nigeria.”(Okoro 2002) • Today, most of these problems have been overcome. Even poetry is being published locally.
  15. 15. The Igbo preference 1. Theatre 2. Novels 3. Short Stories 4. Poetry Possibly determined by audience choice, is fast changing, with a swelling of new poetry collections on the market.
  16. 16. The question of standard • The Official orthography is still being challenged in recent publications • Achebe has been championing the cause of dialects • Ugonna : “we insist on standard Igbo so as to give the language the needed cohesion and stability for continued growth and development.” • Uzochukwu: “The standardization of Igbo has come a long way & we don’t want to stir up the hornet’s nest again.”
  17. 17. Some publishers of Igbo Poetry • • • • • • • • • • University Publishing Co. , Onitsha Oxford University Press, Ibadan Spectrum Books, Ibadan University Press Ltd, Ibadan Fourth Dimension, Enugu Totan Publishers, Owerri Macmillan (Nig.), Lagos Longman (Nig.), Ikeja Evans (Nig.), Lagos Malthouse Press, Lagos
  18. 18. Marketing & Distribution • • • • • Authors footing the bill Book launching School/University programmes Market stalls & bookshops Books kept in the town they get published • Poor printing quality but more affordable • Book market hit by “otanisi” • The role of the African Book Collective
  19. 19. The Curriculum obsession Kole Omotoso, 1973: everything published in Nigeria suffers from the national obsession with school programmes. Alain Ricard, 1995: “the literary milieu is strictly controlled by a few linguists writing the texts they then put on school program, to their own benefit and to the potential detriment of literature (…), and of readers whose igbo literary experience will now be limited to a school experience.”
  20. 20. The targeted public: Writers’ wish • Uzochukwu writes to keep “our moonlight plays, our poetry (…) in print for posterity.” • His target audience is “students at the tertiary level.” • One of his works has been recommended for the Senior Secondary School Certificate. • He also wants to encourage the public to read for pleasure. (The Sun News online (Nig.), 17th May 2005
  21. 21. • Ikwubuzo said he writes mainly for his students of Igbo, to guide them in their studies • He also wishes to entertain • “Secondly, I educate the society through my writings.” (The Sun News online, Nigeria, 27th Sept.2005)
  22. 22. Books in circulation A world yet unknown • 1986, A.Ricard: “Nigeria is the first producer of books in Africa, but one would need to be very clever to give a figure for its publications.” • 1992, A.Gérard: “The outside world’s faulty and fragmentary perception of publications in African languages does not mean they do not exist.”