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E. E. Sule

Nigerian Correspondent

December 2006

The Open Forum for Creative Writers in Keffi

Keffi is a struggling city with an L-shape geography. It is a 20-minute drive from Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. Politically relevant in Nasarawa State because it has produced the first executive governor of the State and other top functionaries, Keffi is the home of Nasarawa State University, which in turn is the home of The Open Forum for Creative Writers. The university, just six years old, is located on an undulating land, along Akwanga road.

Zaynab Alkali, the initiator of the Forum, chose the name “Open Forum for Creative Writers” in order to throw the door open for people other than students of English Department who take courses in Creative Writing and would consider the Forum a natural avenue for them to seek practical experience. Herself a famous northern Nigerian writer—her novel, The Stillborn brought her fame—she considers the Forum as her pet project through which she can help young men and women discover themselves as writers and artists and public speakers.

The Forum thus is a weekly gathering of unregistered men and women, excited that they have got something creative and eager to share it with others. To be specific, these youngsters come with pieces of their works in stage drama, poetry, short fiction, music and oratory. A common feeling that runs through them is enthusiasm, not just for sharing their works, but for having Zaynab Alkali, the famous writer they have heard about—her books are read in secondary schools—sitting patiently listening to their works and offering kind criticisms where and when necessary.

The Forum meets every Wednesday, except public holiday, at 4 pm local time. Since most academic classes on the campus are held in the morning, that hour of late afternoon is usually the best time for the students and lecturers. They come in ones, in twos, in threes and more. Mostly, their steps are bouncy and some la-di-da friends do begin to dine out about their creative stuff before they even arrive at the venue. A 50-seat hall is the venue of the Forum that comes alive, first, with noises of arrival, second, loud ovations and shouts of excitement, and three, noises of departure.

Zaynab Alkali, a professor of Creative Writing and deputy vice chancellor of the university, is always punctual to the weekly event. Often with her are Professor Olawumi Akinwunmi, Dr. Umelo Ojinmah, Dr. Ibrahim Shuaibu and Dr. Usman Kareem. Some lecturers, not keeping profiles as regular attendants, come in occasionally. There are regular comers from the city like Isaac Attah Ogezi, a lawyer and a literary critic.

The orderliness of activities is predicated on people writing their names and the pieces they have to present. Usually it is a long list. Consequently, each presenter is advised to spend not more than five minutes having the stage. Poetry is the leading genre: almost everyone attempts to write a poem and brings it to the Forum. Most of the poems bear the marks of beginner-writers. Some students read short stories. Others come to the stage to perform their songs, which are mostly traditional. The high point of the event is the stage drama time. The regular faces on the stage are Angela Agwu, Eucharia Okoye, Osemimo Osemobo, Oscar Ogedengbe and Eucharia Kwagha whose playlets are always interesting.

After every performance, be it in whatever genre, constructive criticisms are invited from the audience while the performer or reader is still on stage. While the criticisms are often useful, the performer or reader is told that it is not compulsory for him or her to take them. The drama unit has significantly improved because of the criticisms they get.

At 6 pm., the event is over and the students leave with happy faces. The fulfillment they get is surpassing.

The Forum has a bigger dream that transcends reading and performing on the university campus. The Forum will take creativity to youngsters in secondary and primary schools. In the near future, schools will be contacted to give dates that readings and performances can be held in their premises. This is not only to bring creative entertainment to the pupils, but also to stir creativity in them and possibly help them form creative writing clubs in their schools.
 

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