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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Dallas Jamboree

Daily Times, blog | April 17, 2012 - 7:48am | By Obiwu

Almost everyone had flown into Dallas, Texas, ahead of my arrival late on Thursday night, April the twelfth. The clock was striking twelve. The event was the 38th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association (April 11-15), a jamboree of sorts because of its strong Nigerian contingent of literary scholars and creative writers. Though the Southern Methodist University, its Dedman College, and its programmes hosted the ALA 2012 conference, most of the presentations and other schedules were held at The Adolphus, a hundred-year old hotel that is reportedly famed for being haunted.

My publishers called during my layover at the Charlotte Airport, North Carolina, to report that Okey Ndibe asked for me. "Your friends are here," they said. "Many people want you to sign their copies of Tigress." The official book signing for Tigress at Full Moon would not be until Friday afternoon. I should have anticipated that some early birds would want to have their copies of the book signed a full day in advance. Competing schedules had necessitated my travel itinerary to be planned according to the two events in which I was involved at the conference. The plane landed at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport at 10:40 pm. Determined not to make a straight drive to my hotel, the shuttle van took us on a maze ride round all the hotels in downtown Dallas to drop off other passengers before taking me to The Adolphus. I checked into my room on the fourth floor, trudged around the lobby and bar, and then headed back upstairs to sleep off with the television watching over me.

My publishers' phone woke me at 11:00 am on Friday to announce that Professor Zaynab Alkali, the groundbreaking Nigerian female novelist, was waiting for me to sign Tigress for her. I hadn't seen her since she co-hosted (with Al Imfeld) the creative writing workshop at the University of Maiduguri and the subsequent Vultures in the Air anthology tours in 1995. It was wonderful to meet up with her again in Dallas. Old-time friends and fresh-new faces came to my book signing, including Chielo Eze (from his sabbatical leave in Germany), Chimdi Maduagwu (from Lagos), Oby Okolocha (from Benin, Nigeria), Jude Okpala (from San Antonio), Camillus Ukah (from Owerri) - all of whom I was meeting for the first time. Then there was the contingent of scholars and friends whose presence made the occasion more fulfilling: Helen Chukwuma, Ogaga Ifowodo, Anthonia Kalu, Okey Ndibe, Maik Nwosu, Elizabeth Nyager, and Irene Salami- Agunloye.

My publishers, the African Heritage Press (New York), had planned a multi-pronged celebration of their 2012 successes with food, drinks, posters, and related expositions. I, therefore, shared the signing event for Tigress at Full Moon (2012) with Professor Ernest Emenyonu's biographical narrative, Uzoechi: A Story of African Childhood (2012), and Dr. Safoura Salami-Boukari's critical study, African Literature: Gender Discourses, Religious Values, and the African Worldview (2012). Basil Njoku, lead spokesman for AHP, informed the gathering that his company was working hard to put out other ambitious titles before the year's end.

As a side attraction to the simultaneous book exhibitions at the venue, Dr. Otrude Nontobeko Moyo (from Wisconsin-Eau Claire) introduced me to the poetry collection of the South African youth music star, Ntsiki Mazwai's Wena (2010). I also acquired Dr. Chinyere Nwahunanya's massive, six hundred-page volume, From Boom to Doom: Protest and Conflict Resolution in the Literature of the Niger Delta (2011). I couldn't resist acquiring two autographed copies of Zaynab Alkali's fiction, Cobwebs & Other Stories (1997) and The Initiates (2007).

Ogaga Ifowodo led a reading of three Nigerian writers on Saturday morning, which was dubbed "Holding the Center with Words." I opened the room-packed session  with readings from Tigress at Full Moon. Maik Nwosu read a poem and a short story, and Ogaga read a short story.

But ALA 2012 wasn't all about books and dogon turenchi. The presence of Louisa Uchum Egbunike (from London), Shalini Nadaswaran (from Australia), Kevin (from Albany), Iwuagwu (from New York), Okey Ndibe, and Chielo Eze added color to the Friday night dinner that AHP organised for its authors and friends at The Adolphus restaurant. Maik, Chielo, and I struck out on Saturday afternoon to stakeout a steakhouse at the pulsating downtown Dallas, where we dealt with smoking dishes of sirloin, tilapia, chicken, and fried mushrooms over wine and dark Texas beer. Okey Duru, my childhood friend and Dallas businessman, compounded my Saturday afternoon consumerism by taking me home where his wife and daughters thoroughly spoiled me with a largesse of African salad (abacha,  oil-bean, and stockfish) downed with Hennessey, which preceded a course of pounded yam, Ofe Owerri, stockfish, and more Hennessey.

I arrived late to The Adolphus, too heavy to sway the ballroom floor where Professors Helen Chukwuma, Maureen Eke, and Abiola Irele were holding court. "Do you dance, Obiwu?" Ogaga asked, scoping the floor for the missing Maik. "The big masquerade does not dance without libation," I responded.