“Students (who) are empowered to write are students empowered to enrich their own lives”....
“This experience has changed the way I will write for the rest of my life.“ —
SS3 Student, Queens College, Lagos.
Positive ‘celebrity’ role models for young people are arguably elusive, which is why the presence and mentoring provided by two of Nigerian’s literary icons, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and Gabriel Okara to students at the award ceremony of the NLNG sponsored Nigeria Prize for Literature last Monday was suc a great inspiration. The well-attended ceremony during which the winner’s plaque was presented to the winner of the $100,000 prize, the writer, environmentalist, Adeleke ‘Mai Nasara’ Adeyemi made such an indelible impression in the minds of hundreds of young people at the event. For the first time in the seven year-history of the Prize, the award took a different form from the usual Gala Night. And it was a fitting departure, as it brought Literature closer to young people, those who will eventually form the bulk future writers and thinkers.
The Nigerian Prize for Literature was established by the Nigeria LNG to support and encourage the writing and publishing of Literature in the country and, ostensibly to motivate young people who are gifted in the art of the written word to exploit their talents. But this is perhaps the first time young people will feel the impact of the life changing fame and fortune that can be achieved as they came face-to-face with writers, academics, and a good collection of people in the knowledge industry. The award for literary excellence given to Mai Nasara also taught the young people that achieving their dream is possible, if only they strive hard to reach their goals.
And how best could this have been taught than to bring them in contact with the award winner and famous writers like Soyinka who also performed a mentoring rite during the programme? The annual award, which is run on a four year cycle, celebrates the three genres of Literature. In 2011, a cycle closed with the competition for the prize in children’s literature. The decision to change the format to public presentation of the award ceremony where students and young people are invited to witness the celebration of excellence in Literature would ultimately encourage and capture the imagination and the impressionable minds of students. It will ultimately motivate students to become interested in Literature.
As an educator and a writer, I found it intellectually stimulating to expose students to the world beyond the classroom. But the challenge of teaching creative writing to young people have always been defeated by the influence of pop culture, which has continued to drive away students further from engagement with the written word. Pop culture, without doubt, has an undisputed influence on the attitudes of young people today. This is evidenced everyday by the way young people act, dress and generally behave. But big literary awards like the Nigeria Literature Prize if properly organised like this year’s programme can have a profound effect in reviving the dwindling culture of reading and writing in students.
One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of the awards to Mai Nasara and the special session that had Prof. Soyinka fielding questions from the students.
As the world literary giant answered the questions, one could see a young student writer’s fingertips tremble with the beauty of expression as she wrote furiously the power of ideas and writing tips as it flows from the mouth of the oracle of the written word, Soyinka . The over a hundred students at the event shared a wavelength until the event ended.
In his introduction, the Nobel laureate provided the biography illustrating the diversity and breadth of his works, inspiring the students to achieve literary greatness. Although, the famous author’s written voice has resonated through contemporary literature, his spoken voice as he answered students questions was as coy, delicate and elegant as his demeanor. He spoke of the faith of the writer in pursuit of art, noting how isolation required of a writer increases his delight in social interactions. He told the students how his writing began with interest in creative things. He admonished the students not to write for the sake of awards but essentially to express their feelings. After the event, a line of students with the copies of the winning book, The Missing Clock, in hand waited to have them autographed by Mai Nasara. With a renewed creative vigour, they left the event anxious to actualise their potentials as writers. The promise of literary success coursed through their bodies, from their hearts to the tips of their fingers.