When it was announced that this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival (AABF) would be held in Lagos, two emotions gripped me: surprise and joy.
Surprise, because well…why would anyone want to hold Ake Festival anywhere but in Abeokuta? On the other hand, I was joyous because it seemed the founder Lola Shoneyin had heard my unspoken prayers and chosen to bring the excitement to my doorstep. I had always wanted to attend the festival but the unflattering state of my bank account discouraged me from making the trip to Abeokuta.
Ironically, my bank account wasn’t sharing in my excitement. So I chose to volunteer. I sent in an application, and waited. And waited. And waited. Until it came. A rejection.
“We thank you for your interest in Ake Festival…” So went my hopes. I shrugged off the disappointment and moved on.
But I had no idea the fortunes the good Lord had in store for a lapsed Christian like me.
Long story short, I found in my hands the money for the Ake Festival registration. I was going to Ake after all.
Three days, bulging with events like an overstuffed sack, came and passed like swift breeze. I met up and chatted with friends, gulped the wisdom and creativity of writers/poets, sneaked glances at some authors I was too shy to approach and struck up conversations with those I could when my nervousness let up. Boring as I have been told I am, I managed to glean a few life lessons from attending the Ake Festival, which I’m happy to share with you.
- For a Creative, a Room Full of Other Creatives is Heaven
The atmosphere on the second floor of Radisson Blu, Ikeja was electric. It buzzed with ideas and conversations and arguments and laughter and camera lights. I found the panel discussions and book chats eye-opening. The panel discussion on This Issue of Blood pushed into my consciousness the pressures women face as regards mensuration; and I fell in love with Mona Eltahawy’s carefree use of the F-Word and the clear-headedness and fierceness of her activism. Toni Kan’s chat with Bisi Adjapon on her book Of Women and Frogs was scintillating. I enjoyed the inflections Bisi utilised to breathe life into her characters, most especially her funnily inquisitive lead character.
The book chat featuring Nnedi Okoroafor and Tochi Onyebuchi and anchored by Afopefoluwa Ope was a visual and intellectual delight. I admired the camaraderie both authors exhibited and the insightful thoughts they shared about their respective journeys as writers. Being in the halls and listening to those authors and poets and artists talk was satisfying and brought to life again, a part of me that had been dead.
- Attending a Book Festival without Money to Buy Books Breeds a Hellish Feeling
I knew what was in the offing when I went to the Ake Festival without an if-not-filled-to-the-brim-but-at-least-decent-enough-to-buy-interesting-titles bank account but I didn’t expect it to hit home too painfully. When I stepped into the bookstore, my eyes roved and followed the shelves that were chockful of books. I took out books, ran my eyes over the covers, flipped through a few pages and then put the books back where I found them. I still feel pain recalling that moment.
- When All Else Fails, Passion (And a Good Life Partner) will Keep You Going
On the last day of the festival, Lola Shoneyin, while thanking her team and volunteers and sponsors, shared how the festival wouldn’t have held if not for the constant support of her husband Olaokun Soyinka while they were both struggling with personal issues. This also brings to mind the book chat with Betty Irabor and Frankie Edozien wherein Frankie (while buttressing Betty’s revelation that her husband was the biggest reason why she didn’t let her struggle with clinical depression swallow her whole) spoke on the importance of a genuine and supportive partner, even for members of the LGBTQ.
And suffice to say Lola’s enthusiasm would have lost steam hadn’t she been passionate about the festival.