Friday 10 October 2008

Nigeria: A Literary source of Nobel Prize impressions

The impressionistic Nigeria

Nigeria creates such great impressions on people and one can say those who have been gifted to write about Nigeria have written articles, books or blogs of great interest and regaled us with intriguing views of Nigeria.

It is becoming evident that many who have drawn their inspiration from Nigeria have gone on to win literary prizes around the world including the Nobel Prize in Literature 1986 [1] which went to Professor Wole Soyinka [2].

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 [3] went to a mind seemingly inspired by Nigeria but living in a French citizen - Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio [4] whose French father was a doctor in the British Army in Nigeria during the Second World War.

An enduring impression

At the age of 8, Jean-Marie and his family moved to Nigeria and though from the records we read of his life, he was only there for 2 years till they returned to Nice, France in 1950, one can only imagine what an impression living in Nigeria had on the young boy.

As it goes, it was during the month-long voyage to Nigeria that he started his literary career with Un long voyage and Oradi noir but it is amazing that 41 years after leaving Nigeria, in 1991, he writes Onitsha [5, 6], in French which was later translated to English in 1997 for Bison Books, which from the synopsis appears to be autobiographical about his youthful appreciation of the horrors of racism and the cultural differences between the locals and their colonial masters.

Impressions of Onitsha

Onitsha [6] is quite significant in many ways and though I have never visited the town, I learn a lot about the place from reading Chike and the River [7] by Chinua Achebe [8] (He is probably quite deserving of a Nobel Prize) in secondary school and it is supposed to be across the River Niger [9] from Asaba [10], the old colonial capital of the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria.

Beyond that, Onitsha has a literary past where stories were published in pamphlets, books and other publications and sold at the Onitsha main market, in the 1950s and 1960s and though the names are not that well known, the Indiana University has an archive of about 170 pamphlets in what is known as Onitsha Market Literature [11].

More impressions to be made of Nigeria

However, the core point here is not so much about the Nobel Prize in Literature but the fact that Nigeria offers an amazing array of very rich inspirational sources for writers, in my case, I still remember quite fondly [12] my youthful days in Kaduna and Jos in Northern Nigeria and like Chxta writes today in False Literacy [13], we find ourselves trying to learn commonsense from self-help books that make successes of the writers and affirmed fools of the readers when there is more to reading and expanding ones knowledge in reading other material.

In some ways, I have been rebuked, but in all, it appears one has to dust off those old Nigerian books and novels as well as review a few of the contemporary material, there might not be a Booker Prize or a Nobel Prize in it for us, but there would definitely be a greater appreciation of Nigeria – we need that more than anything if we are to change that great country for the better.


[1] The Nobel Prize in Literature 1986 –

[2] Wole Soyinka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 –

[4] Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[5] Onitsha, J. M. G. Le Clezio, Book - Barnes & Noble

[6] Onitsha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[7] Chike and the River: Chinua Achebe: Books

[8] Chinua Achebe - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[9] Google Maps view of the area between Onitsha and Asaba

[10] Asaba, Nigeria - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[11] Onitsha Market Literature – Indiana University

[12] Blogs about my childhood memories

[13] Chxta's World: False literacy

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