The Ake Arts and Book Festival organised by Writer and Women's Rights Activist Lola Shoneyin, took place in Abeokuta, Nigeria, November 19 - 24. The theme of the festival was 'Shadow of Memory.' It was an arts and literature fest featuring artists and writers from all over the world. The aim of the festival was to encourage arts appreciation and a vibrant reading culture in Nigeria. Children and adults had designated events and spaces to participate in arts exhibitions and discussions about issues regarding the Nigerian literary arts scene as well as worldwide trends. Artists, writers and literary heavyweights from all over the world attended the festival including: Wole Soyinka, Ayesha Pande, Pius Adesanmi, Remi Raji, Binyavanga Wainaina, Rotimi Babatunde, Teju Cole, Christine Watson, Marlon James, Tope Folarin, Ikhide Ikheloa, Syl Cheney-Coker, Sitawa Namwalie, Tolu Ogunlesi, Toni Kan, Yaba Badoe and Myne Whitman.
Some of the festival highlights include a session with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. He was engaged by four teenagers in a panel discussion. Another highlight was the stage adaptation of Lola Shoneyin's brilliant book, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, a brilliant adaptation by playwright and caine prize winning writer Rotimi Babatunde. with Femi Elufowoju as director. It was a delight to watch. I laughed a lot and took many pictures especially of the naughty bits Baba Segi was up to. I hope the play gains international recognition. Quite a few people I spoke to after the play felt it has what it takes to tour internationally.
Another highlight for me was the two day fiction masterclass led by Marlon James and Christine Watson. Both writers gave course participants some direction and many tips for their writing. I found their input on character, dialogue and points of view very useful. To cover what they did in five hours over just two days was quite impressive and very good value for money. The fee for the masterclass was 6,500 naira, approximately £26.
I was not impressed with the hassle it took to book hotels at Abeokuta where the festival is based. It was difficult to find information on the various hotels online and I kept going back to the festival organisers who became aware of the problem and were helpful with recommendations. Perhaps the organisers can form a closer working relationship with hoteliers in Abeokuta and get them to improve standards, particularly transportation services for their customers, their online presence and having wall mounted power shower heads in their shower rooms instead of just a bucket and a shower head you have to hold in your hand that often does not have good water flow. It would help to have a list of good hotels and their contact numbers, prices, facilities and some clear pictures of what the rooms and bathrooms look like. Hotels in Abeokuta are generally expensive compared to the same standard of hotels in Lagos. They do not offer much value for money in my opinion. For visitors to Abeokuta for the event who are not invited guests, transport to and from events is essential. Some thought should be given to this for reasons of convenience and safety. The two hotels I stayed at did not have cab hire services linked to them or had only one cab driver they knew of and if the driver was busy, I was stuck. Cabs do not generally ply that part of town (the housing estate) so I cannot just go out and get one. But a good number of hotels in Abeokuta are actually based on the estate. It was frustrating and at times scary getting to events and back particularly when events finish late into the night. and in fact I had to cut short my stay for these reasons. I'd originally intended to check out Monday morning (25 November) but I left on Saturday morning (23 November). It would also help to have some recommendations on places to eat in town for those who are adventurous enough to try, as hotel meals are generally expensive.
Despite the limitations of hotel facilities and transport issues which are external factors to the festival itself, Lola Shoneyin and her team worked against what must have been incredible odds to make the festival a success. Here's hoping the festival would be even bigger and better next year.
***Trying to upload pics but not having any luck at the moment. Sigh* Nigeria we hail thee! Will try later.