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Inadequate funding, writers’ residences great challenge for Nigerian writers – Obinna Udenwe

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By Sunday Elom

Winner of the maiden edition of the annual Chinua Achebe Prize for Literature, Obinna Udenwe has identified inadequate funding and writers’ residences as parts of major challenges facing Nigerian writers.

Udenwe, an author of a conspiracy crime thriller, ‘Satans & Shaitans’, was announced the first ever winner of the 2021 Chinua Achebe Prize for Literature for his latest published book, ‘Colours of Hatred’ at the Award Night of the Association of Nigerian Authors Convention which held at the Maman Vatsa Writers Village Abuja on Saturday November 6th 2021.

Although he expressed happiness and gratitude for the award, he lamented a lot of challenges facing Nigerian writers.

He said, “There are lots of challenges writing in Nigeria – you will have to think about electricity, think about economic problems, finances and comfort. Writing in Nigeria is difficult compared to other countries.

“In more civilized world, there are grants for writers, so you can get some money and stay off work for a month or more to write. There are residences where writers can go and lock themselves in for a few weeks to meditate and write.

“In Nigeria, as large as we are – in fact, we have one of the largest populations of writers in the world – yet we have just one residency, owned and funded privately by Dr. Wale Okediran. If not for Dr Okediran’s ‘The Ebedi International Writers Residency’ in Iseyin, Oyo State, I would not have the book. Because it was while at the residency, in 2014, that I deleted over 40,000 words from the manuscript and rewrote it to make it stronger and better.

“It took less than a year to write ‘Colours of Hatred’ in 2009 and close to ten years for rewrites and edits. Then there is the problem of marketing, publicity and book distribution.”

Udenwe, an indigene of Ebonyi State, who is also a civil engineer and a farmer beat two other writers, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s ‘The Son of the House’ and Chukwudi Eze’s ‘The Return of Half Something’ to emerge winner. He is also the founding editor of the Village Square Journal.

Recall that Udenwe’s ‘Colours of Hatred’ was also recently shortlisted for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021. But Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s ‘The Son of the House’ overtook him to win the prize.

Meanwhile, speaking on the new phase of fame the award has opened to him, Udenwe said, “I feel so delighted and honoured to be the first writer ever to receive this Prize – more so as it is instituted in honour of the late lord and father of literature, Prof. Chinua Achebe.

“Growing up, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God were great inspirations. The successes recorded by these two books showed me the possibilities inherent in storytelling. I learned how stories can change people and change how they are perceived, as well as entertain and leave lasting impression.

“It feels surreal now having to attach this legend’s name to my works. This is a great accomplishment for me.

“Colours of Hatred has been described as a book that marries the literary and thriller forms of storytelling. This form is a difficult one to pull off. It is a form, like genre fiction, that Nigerian academics find difficult to accommodate. So I am thankful that the book has continued to receive the recognition and love it deserves.

“I want to thank my family for their love, Nwamaka especially. I want to thank my publisher, Azafi Omoluabi of Parrésia Publishers Limited. My editors, Amara Chimeka of Purple Shelves and Tayo Keyede of Krosdut.”

The Chinua Achebe Prize for Literature was instituted in honour of the late literary legend and giant, Prof. Chinua Achebe by the Association of Nigerian Authors – the largest body of writers in Nigeria and funded by the Anambra State government to immortalize their illustrious legend, Achebe.

The Prize honours a book of prose fiction for its excellence, social, cultural and political relevance. The Chinua Achebe Prize for Literature is worth N1,000,000.

Obinna Udenwe’s ‘Colours of Hatred’ has been described as a rare work of fiction that skillfully combines the literary and thriller forms of storytelling and tells of a young Igbo-Sudanese woman who escapes the Sudanese war with her family only to return to Nigeria during the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha to face both political, psychological and family turmoil. That would lead to the downfall of this family.

The prize received over 40 notable entries from Nigerian writers both in Nigeria and in the diaspora.

Attendance at the award event included key personalities like Hon. Dr. Wale Okediran, Secretary General of the Pan African Writers Association, Prof. Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo, Chairman of the Advisory Board of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature and Professor of Literature at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Camilius Ukah the National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors and writers drawn from the entire 36 states of the federation.

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