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Renegotiating the New African Canon:

Pius Adesanmi in Conversation with Nnorom Azuonye (Part II)



Nnorom Azuonye (NA): Still on your call for papers on the ‘third generation’ Nigerian writer, you pointed out the generation’s apparent preference for poetry rather than fiction. Later, in your essay “Nigeria’s Third generation Poetry, Canonization, and the North American Academy: Random Reflections” (Sentinel Poetry Quarterly, January 2005 #3) you write about the metonymization of “poetry as the face of third generation Nigerian writing.” Bearing in mind the huge success stories registered by novels such as Purple Hibiscus, Graceland, Everything Good Will Come and Sky-High Flames, Half-of a Yellow Sun, The Virgin of Flames and so on, when a ‘fourth generation’ of Nigerian writers arrive and a biography of the so-called third generation is written, might the biographers accord a higher credence to fiction rather than poetry, thereby following in the footsteps of Professor Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem, who argues in an interview with Chigbo Nnenyelike (September 25, 2005) that neither Soyinka nor Okigbo (as dramatist and poet respectively) put Nigeria on the global literary map; stating that “Nigerian literature entered the consciousness of the literary world through the medium of long fictional narrative or novels of Amos Tutuola and Chinua Achebe, which engaged the attention of literary critics for the better part of the 1950s and 1960s”? Or do you foresee a different critical and archiving future for the generation’s writers of both genres?


Pius Adesanmi (PA): Like your first question, I would like to address this one at multiple levels in the hope that a coherent picture would emerge. It is true, as I claim in the essay you mention, that poetry was the genre of choice of the generation in its first decade - I am thinking here of the period extending roughly from Voices from the Fringe in 1988 to 2000. Olu Oguibe’s A Gathering Fear, Sesan Ajayi’s A Burst of Fireflies, Uche Nduka’s Flower Child, Obu Udeozo’s Excursions and Stimulus, Esiaba Irobi’s Cotyledons and Inflorescence, and Toyin Adewale’s Naked Testimonies were some of the well-known early collections then in circulation, and were at the centre of a fledgling newspaper critical tradition at the local level. Poets such as Chiedu Ezeanah, Amatoritsero Ede, Maxim Uzoatu, Maik Nwosu, Ogaga Ifowodo, Remi Raji, Obi Nwakanma, Lola Shoneyin, Temilola Abioye, Nike Adesuyi, Unoma Azuah, Nduka Otiono, Toni Kan, and Angela Nwosu, who were yet to publish books at the time equally had considerable media visibility. The only novel by any member of the generation that attracted some attention at the time was Omowumi Segun’s The Third Dimple. Then, after 2000, the novel exploded and came to international attention through the phenomenal successes recorded by the novelists you have cited. This, however, takes nothing away from the fact that more poetry is still being written and published locally than prose narratives. More and more poets are coming to national prominence. Yet in less than six or so years, the novel has effectively become the international face of Nigeria’s third generation writing and we need to problematize this situation by asking hard questions. Why is it that after Niyi Osundare – and Tanure Ojaide to a lesser extent, no Nigerian poet has attained international canonization? For we must distinguish between the circulation of poets like Remi Raji, Ogaga Ifowodo, Amatoristero Ede, Afam Akeh, Obi Nwakanma, and Uche Nduka in Euro-American reading and writer-residency circuits and real disciplinary canonicity. If you look at this situation from another perspective, why has the Chris Abani of Daphnes Lot all but disappeared behind the Chris Abani of Graceland and his subsequent efforts in prose narrative? A number of factors are at work here and each deserves scrutiny. There is, of course, the traditional mass appeal of the novel as a genre. It is the one genre that tends to move quickly beyond specialised academic-literary circuits and reach out to mass audiences. This also means that the structures of packaging, promotion, and dissemination are massively tilted in favour of the novel. Look at the Oprah Winfrey book club. Any book she selects becomes as popular as coca cola and sells by the millions. How many poets have ever made Oprah? Always novelists and memoirists, in essence, prose writers. That is why even if Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz may be world famous Nobel poets, none of their works can match the popularity and mass appeal of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters will always have a broader audience than his Idanre and Other Poems. If you can forgive his psychoanalytical, proto-Lacanian theoretical hallucinations, our friend Obiwu recently made the same observations with regard to the gross disparity of visibility between Chinua Achebe’s fiction and his poetry. So, the situation is not different with third generation Nigerian writing. Less than eight novels in less than eight years by less than eight writers have almost completely eclipsed more than fifteen years of effervescent poetic production. For the international literary and cultural community, Nigeria’s new writing is Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, Abani’s Graceland, Atta’s Everything Good Will Come, Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation and never mind that Segun Afolabi, Diana Evans, and Diran Adebayo, belong more specifically to an Anglo-Nigerian stratum. You will observe that I have not included Ike Oguine’s A Squatters Tale, Unoma Azuah’s Sky-High Flames, Akin Adesokan’s Roots in the Sky, Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain, Dulue Mbachu’s War Games and the novels of Jude Dibia. I have not cited them because those fine novels are not part of the internationally consecrated canon and this introduces a major dimension of the problem: international prizes. International prizes are fantastic in that they reward excellence and promote our literature via visibility. But the downside is that we lose the crucial agency of determining our own canons: they are pre-selected and determined for us from outside. And it so happens that our novel attracts the attention of these external privilegers and canonizers than our poetry! I must, of course, point out that we, Nigerian literati and culturati, are part of the problem. We cede discursive control too easily to external agents. Apart from Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem, who is the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Ernest Emenyonu, Femi Osofisan, and Niyi Osundare, how many established Nigerian critics, young and old, have ever deemed it necessary to devote even a paragraph to the new writers in their published, refereed critical outings? Nigeria has an expansive clan of elderly first generation critics in the US. How frequently do you encounter their opinions on anybody writing after Ben Okri? It is so bad that in a recent lecture he delivered at the Nigerial Academy of Letters (NAL), the same Shuaibu Oba Abdulraheem quotes a concern I expressed in a 1997 lecture I delivered in South Africa and Lesotho. Permit me to quote him in turn: “Meanwhile, we cannot paper-over Pius Adesanmi’s justifiable disquiet about the apparent fixation with the works of the older generation of writers and the consequently ‘loud silence’ with which the ‘established’ (literary) critics greet the efforts of the new writers”. This situation has not changed much. As recently as a few months ago, a critic of Chinweizu’s calibre was able to declare to a journalist that Nigerian literature after 1989 is a famished field! Nothing has happened after that date according to him! Is this not tragic, sobering? The same applies to the recent books of the established critics: you hardly find anything beyond the Osundare-Osofisan-Iyayi-Ojaide generation. You will have to go to Charles Larson’s The Ordeal of the African Writer to find anything on our generation. What does that tell you? And up and coming commentators within the generation… how many of the emerging critical voices are really working very actively on their own generation? I am talking about full length scholarly work in international peer reviewed journals. Niyi Okunoye did some work in the past on the poetry of Oguibe; Obododinma Oha did some work on the poetry of Lola Shoneyin and Uche Nduka. The only full length scholarly essay on the poetry of Toyin Adewale, as far as I know, was published over three years ago by Chris Dunton in English in Africa. At the last convention of the African Studies Association in Washington DC, our brothers Maik Nwosu and Obi Nwakanma went to give papers on Christopher Okigbo! I couldn’t help wondering to myself, as we interacted at the hotel lobby, why they didn’t come there to give papers on the generation. This is why your Sentinel Poetry initiative is capital. Sometimes I think you grossly underestimate the enormity of what you have started. Sentinel is the only avenue for placing international focus on the poetry. Otherwise, the way I see things going, the history of this generation may be written for us as the story of a few spectacular novels that won international prizes. If we allow that history to be written for us, not only will the poetry be ‘disappeared’, we may also be told that our generation’s literature was the product of the few ‘exiled’ or translocated writers. You know why I have put ‘exiled’ in inverted commas! I’m being careful: my dissentient brothers, Otiono and Ifowodo, may be prowling in the neighbourhood!


NA:  Talking about the so-called western validation of Nigerian writing, let us discuss something quite disturbing. I have spoken to several writers of the generation you call Third Generation, and wondered why their books were not being reviewed enough if at all in the Nigerian press. I have been severally informed that the publications or journalists they tried to interest in these books demanded the good old ‘brown envelope’ or no deal. Are you aware of this problem? If it is true, are we at the threshold of a tragedy?


PA:  Thanks for drawing my attention to this. Now, this is extremely disturbing and I sure hope it isn’t true. I am certainly hearing this for the first time. You did not indicate if the writers you spoke to are based at home or abroad. That could provide some indices, considering how touchy discussions of location often become among these writers.


NA: Yes, the three writers who have mentioned this to me are all living outside of Nigeria. As you indicate, there may be a point in the location of the writers.


PA: In that case, the view of the said writers may have been conditioned by the underlying tensions – hardly ever publicly admitted but everyone somehow feels it is there – that determine the relationship and interactions of the home-based and the foreign-based writers. The closest this came to a public unfolding was the controversy generated by the NLNG prize. You cannot be unaware of the overwhelming sense of targeting and victimization felt by those based abroad. In fact, if you are thinking of “decapitation”, that is where you should look at. A certain domestic protectionism results in a situation where writers based abroad are basically declared foreign writers by the politics of that prize. But it’s a huge leap from these circumstances to the brown envelope and I am not willing to make that leap until there is evidence.


NA: Evidence of demand for ‘brown envelopes’?


PA:  Well, yes, because all the times I’ve been home - and you know I go frequently - I always left with the impression that the newspaper review culture is still healthy. Of course new people are now in charge and the landscape is markedly different from what you and I left behind. The regular review voices back then were Obi Nwakanma, Wumi Segun, Bose Shaba, Remi Raji, Nduka Otiono, Niyi Okunoye, Obododinma Oha, Toni Kan, Lai Adeniji, Mike Jimoh, Akin Adesokan, Chris Omozokpia, Sola Balogun, Chiedu Ezeanah, just to mention those. Odia Ofeimun frequently stormed  the arena to do his usual overkill like he did when he devoted two pages of a newspaper article, “Postcolonial Mayhem and the Death of Reason” to demolish me sometime in 1996. We used to talk of writer-critics back then because of the heavy presence of writers in that critical league. The idea of ‘brown envelope’ then was beyond imagination. We were a very closely knit group, always coming together alternately in Lagos and Ibadan. After I left, I heard about, met, and subsequently became very good friends with Chux Ohai, and I think he is doing an excellent job. I also have high regards for active reviewers like Henry Akubuiro and Macphillips Nwachukwu, all actors who came after we left. And there is Diego Okenyodo too, who is doing a fantastic job with his Bookshelf column for The Weekly Trust. It is impossible for me to imagine the brown envelope culture rearing its head among this current crop of actors, who are all gentlemen doing a good job in my opinion. These men cover any writer who deserves attention. During my trip home last summer, it was impossible to pick up a newspaper without encountering a piece on Sefi Atta, even though she lives outside the country. They covered her generously. If she had had to service the level of coverage I witnessed with brown envelopes, she would have been completely broke! So, until I have concrete evidence to the contrary, I choose to believe in the reputation of the guys on the ground. I must however admit that some awkward things do happen, which makes you wonder. Take the mysterious silence – I am almost tempted to say silencing – that has enveloped every book published by Ifowodo. You know, Madiba got only one review at home by Toni Kan and The Oil Lamp went almost completely unnoticed by home reviewers. So, you just wonder, “till” like Femi Kuti, “you turn to wanderer!” Don’t forget, also, that the triumph of cyber culture may also be part of the problem. When you and I were back in Nigeria and the generation’s discourses hadn’t moved to cyberspace, we had to argue everything on the pages of newspapers: all our reviews, all our quarrels moved from beer parlours in Lagos and Ibadan to the pages of newspapers. Now, when people spend a week shouting themselves hoarse over Purple Hibiscus or Beasts of No Nation in internet discussion groups like Krazitivity and Josana, there could be a resultant disinclination to go ahead and review them in the traditional format. Take a critic like the very productive Emmanuel Ejah Sule, he does his reviews almost exclusively for listserves. He would have been publishing those fine pieces in the traditional spaces ten years ago. I’ve just finished reading Beyond Boundaries: Cyberspace in Africa, a fine book edited by Melinda Robins and Robert Hilliard. It’s amazing how the internet has changed things and how unaware we are of its surreptitious re-engineering of our field of cultural production.


NA: Recently, somebody asked me what the main form of poetry in Nigeria is called. It reminded me of a question I posed to Chimalum Nwankwo in an uncompleted and unpublished interview with him in 2003. I had asked him why Nigerian academics have not devised, named and established a form of poetry that would be instantly recognisable both by its name and its structure as either African or Nigerian. I cited the examples of the Japanese Tanka, and Haiku, the Indian Naani and the French Kyrielle. Nwankwo, obviously irritated by that question, dismissed it as one of the issues in criticism he calls an “anxiety to name,” stating further that “the notion of theory and form and the habit of systematization is part of the Western propensity to name and reduce for ultimate mass production. Art is not a science…It would be quite sad, if the awesome diversity and free-play which mark all African cosmologies become bent into that stifling and artistically horrid and beaten path.” Do you agree that it is unreasonable to imagine a named African or Nigerian poetic form?


PA: I agree with Chimalum Nwankwo at some levels and disagree with him at some other levels. I can understand his irritation, which is reminiscent of Soyinka’s dismissal of the Western obsession with compartmentalization and classification in Myth Literature and the African World. That said, the anxiety to name is not Western, every tradition has it, the only difference lies in who has historically used the gun boat to translate that anxiety into a planetary nightmare. If you look at Yoruba oral poetry for instance, every distinct genre has a name based on its structure, form, and modalities of actuation. The ewi is different from the ijala: those are forms of poetry not named for us by the West. I do agree with Nwankwo, however, that there is no way to go about naming modern African poetry in English, French, Portuguese, etc without it being in response to certain Western propensities. I don’t exactly see the utility of such a venture. Nigerian poetry in English is a sufficient category for me to work with.


NA: I recently read Stars Die, by Emeka Agbayi. Most of the preface to that collection was a lamentation over the state of publishing in Nigeria and his personal frustrations in getting his book published. I sensed he was expressing the pain of every young writer in Nigeria today. What is your assessment of the policies, politics, and economics of publishing practice in Nigeria today? Is the future of the Nigerian book in crisis?


PA: I am hearing about this writer for the first time. Thanks for mentioning him. And I thought I was current! But I can relate to his experience with publication. Sadly, it is the rule and not the exception, especially when the focus shifts to our generation. You are probably aware of the story of the generation’s most famous manuscripts! After Ogaga Ifowodo, Akin Adesokan, Obi Nwakanma, and my cousin, Sanya Osha won ANA prizes in the early 1990s, their respective manuscripts were “accepted” for publication by local publishers. Ogaga’s “Red Rain”, Adesokan’s “Roots in the Sky” and Nwakanma’s “The Roped Urn” and Osha’s “Serving Time”. I believe it was Heinemann in Ibadan that accepted Ogaga’s manuscript. Then came almost a ten-year agony of wait! I recall accompanying Ogaga a few times to Heinemann’s office in Ibadan in the mid-1990s and we left the place discouraged after each visit. Frustrated, Ogaga approached the folks at Malthouse who also “accepted” his manuscript and the whole agony started all over again. Akin ended up publishing his through a private initiative on Toyin Akinoso’s label; Ogaga went to Kraft and the book came out as Homeland and Other Poems. Close to fifteen years later, Nwakanma’s poetry collection has finally been published! And, of course, I’ve banned the same Nwakanma from telling me anything about his biography of Christopher Okigbo until it is published! This is practically the story of every writer you and I know. A comatose economy has combined with the cultural illiteracy of successive administrations to suffocate the publishing industry and literature has suffered the most. Don’t you have nostalgia for those names that ensured you read literature books when you were in secondary school: Heinemann, Longmans, Fontana, Evans Brothers, Onibonoje, Macmillan, Cambridge, etc? The foreign ones left and the domestic ones abandoned literature for the more profitable textbook publishing. Do you know of any serious creative text published by Spectrum for instance? Muhtar Bakare’s Farafina,  Steve Shaba’s Kraft Books and Promise Okekwe’s Oracle Books have moved in to prevent a national catastrophe but there is still so much to be done. There are other concerns such as Lola Shoneyin’s Ovalonion House, Nengi Ilagha’s Treasure Books but they publish sporadically. Chuks Iloegbunam and I shared a room during a conference in Wisconsin two years ago and he told me about his own publishing outfit. I hope he has sustained it. These private efforts are inadequate. Have you seen Odia Ofeimun’s last three books, Dreams at Work, London Letters, and A Feast of Return? He sent me copies when he released them and I couldn’t believe my eyes: although the poetry is vintage Odia, the books are aesthetic disasters in terms of packaging. If a towering writer like Odia cannot get a publisher at home… that tells the story eloquently. This is why self-publishing has become a permanent feature of our literature and this, despite its advantages, has an adverse impact on quality. Anybody with 50,000 naira can now walk into a printing press, come out with, say, 500 copies of a collection of poetry and begin to make noise in Krazitivity, Josana, and Ederi as one of the happening writers in town. Na we dey for ground! The other downside to this is the move towards the West for publication. Toyin Adewale’s Aromaforscherin was published in German in Germany. I read the manuscript, “The Explorer of Aromas”, sometime in 1997 and it is yet to be published in Nigeria. I don’t know if Tolu Ogunlesi has published anything in Nigeria. Chika Unigwe’s novel has been released in - is it in Dutch or some Belgian language? If we had a thriving publishing industry and its circumambient sustaining institutions, maybe it wouldn’t have been necessary to go to that extent. The future, I am afraid, does not look very good for the Nigerian book if, by that, we are referring to the development of a sustained, thriving, institutionalised publishing industry at home.


NA: By the way, why are discussions of Nigerian writing all about poetry and fiction these days? Have playwrights stopped working or has Nollywood killed off the theatre?


PA: People only discuss what is happening and drama is just not happening on the same scale as poetry and the novel. At least not with the generation we have focused on so far. Chris Dunton and I discussed this at some length in our introduction to the English in Africa issue. We are also planning to mention it in passing in our introduction to the issue we are currently editing for Research in African Literatures. Drama is not just happening. Can you recall how many times since, say, 1990, that ANA judges have refused to award the drama prize because of the low quality of entries? Nollywood is but only one explanation. Economics also has a role in this. Drama is an expensive genre because convention expects you to produce the play at least once before publishing. The money is not there and the structures are rotten: I won’t even mention North America and Europe, anybody familiar with the infrastructure in Ghana, Togo, or Senegal would have a heart attack if they saw what people call ‘theatre auditorium’ at the University of Ibadan. It’s a disaster. The last time I saw a play there in the company of Lola Shoneyin, Nduka Otiono, and Remi Raji, we left mid-way into the production. The stench! This was in 2003 during one of my trips home. The new generation has no substantial corpus to sustain a robust discussion of drama. Really, apart from Esiaba Irobi and Biyi Bandele, who is seriously into drama writing? But people do discuss the older writers when they have something new. Wole Soyinka’s The Beatification of Area Boy and King Baabu were discussed, so were Tess Onwueme’s Tell it to the Women and What Mama Said. Tunde Fatunde has taken to writing in French and that takes his play out of discussion in Nigerian circuits. His last, La calebasse cassee, has only just been translated into English by Chris Dunton. It has been published in Southern Africa. We’ll discuss it when it arrives in Nigeria!


NA: You seem to be focussing more on academic essays and journal editorial work for some time now, is there a particular reason for this? Shall we expect a new book of poetry or a novel perhaps from you soon?


PA: Good observation. Very accurate. It is true that my creative writing has suffered exponentially since 2001, when my collection, The Wayfarer and Other Poems, won the ANA Poetry Prize and Promise Okekwe published it the following year on the Oracle label. Before then, my first collection had been runner up at ANA 96 in Kaduna. I was also working on a novel but graduate work in Canada slowed me down considerably. While interviewing for my current position at Penn State in February of 2002, certain things happened that were to sensitize me to the considerable divide that the North American academy creates between literary scholarship and creative writing, a very strange divide indeed if you come from the Anglo-Nigerian world. Remember I had just won the ANA Prize and the book was released by Oracle in January 2002. My Department at the University of British Columbia celebrated the prize and the publication as if I had won the Nobel! Everything was video-taped. I was the toast of campus newspapers, etc. I gathered all this and sent to Penn State in support of my application. That was a mistake. When I arrived for the campus interview, people started hinting that if I was a creative writer, maybe I was not suitable for the position after all. They wanted a scholar, not a writer. If I want to be a writer, I should have applied for an MFA job. What is this thing about being a poet? It was so bad during the interview process that I was almost on the defensive, almost apologising for being a poet! When I got back to base in Canada, I phoned a senior colleague and a very good friend of mine, Professor Bernth Lindfors, then in Texas. He wasn’t surprised. He revealed that he would have advised me to tone down the writerly side in an application for a scholarly position if he had known that I was going to try to push the writerly side. That was my rude introduction into the unhelpful divide between the writer and the critic in the US. From our own experience, you and I are used to having creative writers double as literary scholars in Nigerian English Departments; from Soyinka to Achebe, from Osofisan to Osundare, from Adimora Akachi-Ezeigbo to Zainab Alkali, it’s a very common practice in Nigeria and that’s what I thought I was going to do. I soon came to realise that conventional American Departments housing critical literary scholarship such as English, French, Comparative Literature, Spanish, demonstrate a funny hostility to the idea of a creative writer domiciled among them and claiming to be a scholar. Your creative writing counts for nothing in the promotional process. If your name is Maryse Conde, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Eduard Glissant, Ariel Dorfman, or Cherrie Moraga, exceptions can be made in such cases for obvious reasons. Otherwise, you have to find your way to an MFA programme. This scenario has affected me very seriously. But I’ve almost completed a new collection, “The Gift of an Error.” My friend, Chuma Nwokolo, released ten of the poems in my new collection on his website last year. I am going to do a final review this summer and then make up my mind if I want to publish it in Nigeria or release it in Canada. I have also almost completed my novel. So, despite an extremely productive five-year span in the scholarly world, I've been able to produce creative “notes from the underground”!; and they could see the light of the day in a not-too-distant future.


NA: You have recently assumed a new position as Associate Professor of English and Director, Project on New African Literatures (PONAL) at Carleton. Kindly accept my congratulations. What is PONAL all about then? How might it impact on writing, publishing, and criticism of African literature in general and Nigerian literature in particular?


PA: Thank you. I’ve been working quietly on the idea of PONAL in the last four years. I hoped that whenever I was ready to come out with it, there would be an institution willing to host it, fund it, and provide ancillary logistics. But let me take you into the thinking behind it all. We’ve mentioned a couple of names in this conversation: Adichie, Abani, and Atta from Nigeria; Vera and Dangarembga from Zimbabwe; Mpe and Baderoon from South Africa; Isegawa and Kyomuyendo from Uganda; Patrice Nganang from Cameroun; Waberi from Djibouti; Kossi Effoui from Togo; and Alain Mabanckou from the Congo. We have not mentioned North African names because your questions have not taken me there but don’t forget that the Francophone Maghreb is also one of my areas of competence since I have a holistic, continental coverage of that thing we call African literatures. So, there are lots of writers from the Maghreb that I could have cited within the informing dynamics of this discussion. Now, you and I have tried to explore and problematize some of the serviceable grids available to conceptualize the continental shifts and developments represented by these writers: from third generation to uhuru generation, from post-apartheid or post-trauma to migritude, from children of the postcolony to beur. Whether you agree with these categorisations or not, the point remains incontrovertible that they are indicative of seismic shifts in the African literary process. It is a continental development because the number of writers and works that have so far been processed for Euro-American visibility and theoretical postcolonization do not even minimally reflect the effervescence that is going on on the ground, mostly unknown here. African literature in Euro-America is still largely Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi, Gordimer, Beti, Oyono, and Farah. This is where PONAL comes in. It will be the first centre devoted exclusively to the study and promotion of the literatures produced by the new generations all over the continent. Within the limits of it’s resources, PONAL will sponsor panels and roundtables in meetings of the African Literature Association and the African Studies Association, sponsor special issues of journals, organize symposia and workshops with the concerned writers and critics interested, organize a visiting speaker/writer series. We have a functional website with a quarterly magazine, Gboungboun, a scholarly brainstorming forum, the PONAL Quarterly Forum and much more.  We will try to have affiliate Departments and writer organizations on the continent and execute joint initiatives with them in order to minimize the global divide. Above all, I am planning to co-sponsor a PONAL critical series with any well known publisher. With me as series editor, this could eventuate in one full-length scholarly book periodically by various critics on the third generation phenomenon. I’ve already had fruitful talks with a Becky Ayebia and Mukhtar Bakare. No commitments yet but we are talking very productively. During hiring negotiations with Carleton University, I mentioned the idea of PONAL to Professor John Osborne, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and Professor Larry McDonald, the Chair of English Department. They embraced it very enthusiastically and made firm commitments. They accepted to host and fund PONAL and went ahead to weave its Directorship into my hire.  The enthusiasm was so high that Dean Osborne committed three years of take-off funding directly from his office, while I shop for external funding to consolidate the project. I am definitely happy at the take-off of PONAL. The electricity around it is very high with so many colleagues identifying with it and giving a lot of support: Paul Zeleza, Ato Quayson, Chris Dunton, Harry Garuba, Rasheed Na’Allah, Onookome Okome, etc, etc. I hope I can count on the collaboration of Sentinel.


NA: Thank you very much for your making time for this conversation. I hope it is just one of many as we pursue our mutual interests in development of our literatures.


The Ponal website is at

The first instalment of this interview appeared in June issue of Sentinel Poetry as "Of Generations and Limits; Pius Adesanmi in Conversation with Nnorom Azuonye (Part I)"





Pius Adesanmi





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