BECOMING UPDIKE AT THE PORT HARCOURT BOOK FESTIVAL by Kenechi Uzor

BECOMING UPDIKE AT THE PORT HARCOURT BOOK FESTIVAL by Kenechi Uzor

“The worst thing about my disgrace last night,” I said to the group of writers, “was that Chibundu Onuzo had just finished listing her ideals for an eligible man.”

We were poolside at the Presidential hotel in Port Harcourt nursing hangovers, talking, clarifying how the night had ended, what we missed and in what manner and in whose company we had made it back to our rooms.

Her list was important to me, I continued, because she is Chibundu, and because women that fine usually went for modelling or acting, or singing, not this stressful, dreadlocked writing.

She said her ideal man must be Christian before being another thing. Now, I may not look it, considering our binges these past days, but I really am a Christian. I suspected she meant the Born-again kind, but as she didn’t specify, I didn’t think it mattered. So I ticked that requirement.

Next, she said looks were not overly important, and I thanked God silently, because my nose could have made things a bit difficult. I also liked that she wasn’t too particular about tribe and place of origin. Her eligible man, she said, must be between 26 and 28 years old. It was no matter for me, therefore, to reduce my age by three years, having decided that I could be any age for this woman. Like Twain said, Age is only a case of mind over matter, if one didn’t mind, then it didn’t matter.

Where my trouble began was when she said her man must be the type with ideas, someone she could talk to for two hours over the phone and not get bored. Now, I’m not adverse to intellectual banter, but I just didn’t see much advantage in two hours of that kind of intercourse. Still, I figured if the time came I could feign something to escape the trouble. I was confident.

The only problem now was to let her know, without being too direct, that I was all of those things on her list and maybe more.  What was the easiest way to show one had ideas and was very well read? I thought of the literary critics, and decided, for that moment, since we were in a literary festival, to become a critic; choosing of course, the natural fall guy of literature, the African writer, as my object of criticism.

So, I opened this my mouth and said to Chibundu’s general direction: ‘I don’t so much fancy African writing, I find it too pedestrian, lacking a certain quality I find in writings of people like, say, John Updike. I like well-crafted prose, books with sentences that sing.

Other writers were sitting round the table. Ukamaka Olisakwe, Bibi Bakare and Chibundu sat closest to me. I was pleased when Chibundu sat up with interest. Bibi Bakare drew closer and for some reason called Ella Allfrey from an adjacent table to come join the conversation. I had the floor and was ready to dazzle.

How was I to know that I was about to get myself killed in a million ways by a few merciless questions? Ella Allfrey even opened the salvo with a charming smile. ‘Hi, you were saying?’

‘I was telling them that I don’t so much like African writing?’

‘Oh really? Which of them exactly?’

‘Uhm, let me see…’

‘Have you read so and so?’

‘No I don’t think so, but I am sure I won’t like…’

‘How do you know when you haven’t even read it?’

‘Uhm, well, I just know…’

‘Well, who do you read?’

‘Uhm, I love John Updike and …’

‘Which of his books?’

‘Uhm, let me see…’

From this part, things got really bad for me. Questions were fired at my intelligence, shattering its form to reveal chunks of ignorance. The women had no mercy. At some point my writing credentials were implicitly questioned, which I tacitly defended, by mentioning Chimamanda, Binyavanga and Dr. Eghosa as some of the ‘many’ who knew and validated my work. My inquisitors’ eyes were not convinced. Of the trio I mentioned, only Dr Eghosa was present at the Port Harcourt Book Festival and I saw the women looking around for his whereabouts.

But, I saw Dr Eghosa first, some ways off, heading towards the restrooms. As the women had their sights and scopes on me, they didn’t see him. I knew I had to get to the restrooms too, and fast. The women protested my leave, detesting any form of reprieve. But I assured them that I really needed to pee and that i would be back.

I cornered Dr Eghosa at the urinals. ‘Mehn, Doc, where you dey since? Those women outside want kill me.’

‘Which women?’

‘Ella Allfrey, Bibi Bakare, Ukamaka and Chibundu, we were talking about…’

‘You and your opinions. Wetin you done go talk? I have told you to be shutting that your mouth. You go to argue literature with Ella and Bibi? You no get sense?’

‘Mehn Doc, just come do small damage control for me. You know I’m your man.’

Without even peeing, I hurried back to see that the trial had carried on in my absence and the jury now looked really keen against my acquittal. I found myself deflecting and parrying with words like, ‘What I was really trying to say’, and ‘What I really meant was’… but their shots kept hitting home and I just kept going down.

As I lay dying, Dr. Eghosa finally came on the scene, and I thanked the Lord for small mercies. But when the doctor began to bear witness, I found that I had thanked the Lord too early, for the good doctor did not bring me health, rather, in a few sentences, he succeeded in digging a deeper grave for me, covering it up with concrete slabs and stomping and dancing all over it.

More writers had joined us by the poolside as I told of the matter, and as I finished, all were in different contortions of laughter, pumping their fists and calling me Great Updike. Updike of Africa! For the rest of the book festival, Updike became my name.

That was how that Port Harcourt Book Festival went for me. Now I am wary of book festivals, of writers that ask too many questions and make intelligent men ignorant. But it is my mouth that I blame. I have warned it before— to desist from leading me to trouble it cannot bring me out of. I will go to Abeokuta in November for the Ake Literary Festival, I may sit with all these writer friends, but this time, I will not open this mouth!

 

Tope Folarin and Ukamaka Olisakwe
Tope Folarin and Ukamaka Olisakwe
Rotimi Babatunde, Okwiri Oduor, Tope Folarin, Ellah Affrey
Rotimi Babatunde, Okwiri Oduor, Tope Folarin, Ellah Affrey
Mrs. Koko Kalango
Mrs. Koko Kalango
Ellah Affrey
Ellah Affrey
hhhh
Hawa Jande Golakai, Zukiswa Wanner, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Chibundu Onuzo
Some Africa 39 writers and Ellah Affrey
Africa 39 and Ellah Affrey at PHBF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow us @sabinewsnaija

 

NOTE TO OTHER SITES/BLOGGERS: If you wish to lift an article from this site, be smart enough to seek PERMISSION via [email protected] ; CLEARLY credit staging.sabinews.com and DO NOT publish the FULL article on your site. Non-compliance will cost you N1million and will be met with legal action.

 

About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

Related posts

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *