One bulb at a time
“One bulb at a time. There was no other way to do it. No shortcuts ― simply loving the slow process of planting. Loving the work as it unfolded. Loving an achievement that grew slowly and bloomed only three weeks each year.” ― Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards, The Daffodil Principle
To say I don’t know how I got here would be me lying to you…worse, to myself. I do know and I remember every step I’ve taken to get to this place. It’s a Sunday evening, a day after the last day of the 2019 Crater Literary FestivalEnugu, and I find myself bone-tired. Congratulatory texts keep pouring in on my Whatsapp but I’m in no mood to respond yet. I’m not even in a celebratory mood. This body just wants to rest and revisit the memory lane.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a dreamer; building a world and projecting a future I would very much like to live in but it took me a while to learn to put in the work and when I eventually did, there was no looking back for me.
When I moved permanently to Enugu for work, I yearned for certain things like book or art festivals, book clubs, anything that had to do with books. This isn’t because I’m the smartest person in every room. No! I simply enjoy learning. My nature demands it; my profession as a librarian demands it more.
Unfortunately, my job at the time was a busy one, and leave of absence wasn’t a policy in my workplace. This meant I couldn’t even travel for events like Ake festival which happened far away in Abeokuta at the time.
However, fortune smiled on me and I discovered a book club in Enugu –Liber Book club. Fun loving book generals! God bless them all. It was here that I met people who share the same love I have for books. We had all sorts of literary discussions and conversations about book and literary festivals in south-east. It was –and still is – hard to understand why a region that has blessed the country, continent and world with literary giants, lagged behind in events that promoted literature and the likes. Everything seemed to be happening in Lagos and a good number of youths in south east were drawn to those ‘everything is happening in Lagos.’ Of course, in those discussions we traced every failure back to the state governors…and rightly so. However, at some point I decided to take the bull by the horn and hope that the state government tows in line eventually. Hahaha! If wishes were horses…
Before I chronicle my journey as a festival manager for Crater Literary Festival Enugu, I would like to acknowledge that before I started Crater Literary Festival, some individuals in Enugu had come together to create and organize an Enugu literary festival. In fact, I was privileged to be part of two different groups but unfortunately none of them went through with the plan.
In July 2017, I woke up one day and while carrying out my daily tasks, I mulled over the possibility of organizing a literary festival in Enugu. The more I thought about it, the more it began to look like a decent idea but the problem was, I have never organized anything –not even a Sunday school gathering –and I had no money.
If there is anything I had learnt in those literary festival groups I belonged to, it was that
money was important for events like this. So it was either I get sponsors or persuade my
m/billionaire father or boyfriend to bank roll me. Problem was, I had none of those.
Anyway, undeterred by the bleak reality before me, I called over a couple of team mates who were assisting me in developing Crater. I told them about the idea and they were game. We were like excited blind goats that could smell the dew on grass but had no idea if the smell was coming from the right direction. Regardless, we fell headlong into it –fund or no fund – with the theme ‘Life in My City’ (Believe me, I still cringe at this theme).
First of all, we established that we were not aiming to be like Ake …yet. We weren’t even sure if people would attend. I mean, its books! Who cares about people coming together to listen, read books and recite poetry? Ahyaya! We had no idea. Liber Book Club alone wasn’t enough to make it look like anything was happening. But we had to make it work.
So Amanda Madumere, Florence Ugwu, Nnanna Okpanku , Oluchi Mbah and I got to work. Since we were starting small with a target crowd of 30, we drew a budget and found the best deal we could get on everything we needed. I reached out to the Enugu State Library Board and sought their permission to use their field. I wanted an outdoor event since it was harmattan season and I wanted it to have a Coachella kind of feel.
Hahaha. First mistake!
I called in a lot of favour and reached out to friends and family (immediate and extended). God bless them all. I raised sixty thousand Naira which adequately covered the food (cooked by Florence Ugwu and Amanda Madumere), snacks, drinks, canopy, and chairs. Everything was ready.
For speakers, we carefully selected them across different areas: Library (Dr.Mrs I.J Ibegbulam), Publishing ( Mr Asomugha of Abic Publishers), Writing (Nnamdi Anyadu, Writer, friend and member of Liber Book Club), Oral Literature ( Amarachi Attama who was later represented by her assistant). We also reached out to some spoken wordartists who graciously agreed to perform: Chizi, Ihuoma Stephen, and the UNEC theatre group, Joyful Family Theatre.
For the authors, we put out a call on social media for interested authors to hold their book reading and got wonderful authors. Abigail Anaba who read her book ‘Switching Play’ , and Chinyere Anoke who read her non-fiction book ‘Single, fruitful, fulfilled ‘ turned up for the festival and brought their A game with them. I won’t forget Richard ‘Richie’ Asiegbu of Urban radio who graciously anchored the festival despite his tight schedule. We also held a literary competition for our first e-anthology but only a few entries were worthy of publishing as an e-book so we ended up publishing the few good ones on the Crater blog.
On the 2nd of December, 2018, the maiden edition of Crater Literary Festival held at the Enugu State Library Board. Of course, entry was free but we encouraged attendees to come with at least one book for donation to the Enugu state library board. A good number of the attendees complied; others smiled and murmured their excuse. The ushers smiled back and offered them seats nonetheless. Nothing spoil!
The festival went smoothly and we finished our program in good time. Some attendees hung around afterwards to discuss with authors and speakers. According to them, they all had a nice time and looked forward to another festival in 2018. I was elated and in high spirit till I discovered that we neglected one important aspect of every event.
WE DID NOT SET UP A REGISTRATION DESK. TRANSLATION: NO EMAIL OR PHONE NUMBER OF ANY OF THE 33 ATTENDEES. Rookie Alert!
“It's one thing to talk to a vet about something, but when you're talking to a fellow rookie going through the same struggles you are, you kind of understand it and you grow together like that.” ― Kyle Kuzma
Encouraged by the attendees of the first Crater Literary Festival, I decided to stick out my neck once again. This time around, I wanted something bigger than the first festival. It wasn’t going to be a one day festival. We were going to make it two days.
Now, I needed funds. God knew I had exhausted my favour bank in 2018. Started with Google search and found some grants. I applied for some whenever I came out of the haze called procrastination. Weeks later, emails started to trickle in and the response was of two kinds: No reply and ‘We are sorry to inform you that your application was not selected…’ Only two were kind enough to tell me the reason I wasn’t selected. ‘One literary festival was not a good enough track record,’ they said.
Silly me, silly me. I had already gathered a team and there I was with no money for a festival which I promised would be bigger.
To explain better, with funding, festival coordinators can get trending and hottest authors who
would pull their own crowd to the festival. Their aura makes a fan out of even non-literary people.
It’s amusing to watch but hey! Bless their hearts.
Undeterred once again, we proceeded with plans and set the theme ‘Landscape of Creativity’. This time around I reached out to the growing Enugu Literary Society, Association of Nigerian Authors, Enugu Chapter, and the biggest Art festival in South East ‘Life in My City Art Festival (LIMCAF)’. Hahaha I know what you’re thinking and I wish I could say it’s a 100% coincidence that our 2017 theme is the same as that of LIMCAF.
Enugu Literary Society gave us access to their members. So before we knew it, we had all slots covered for performers. Budding publishers from Lagos reached out and requested for book reading slots for their authors. We held a literary competition and made an e-anthology for the festival. Our panel sessions and panelists were selected,contacted and confirmed.
Now back to fund. Our target audience was 80, so we drew a budget and it would cost us a three hundred and twenty –four thousand Naira to carry out a successful festival. We took a look at our options and decided to crowd fund. We believed we had something good going and that somehow, we would find individuals gracious enough to donate and support to the festival. We were right. We got a few but good donations. At first, even with over a hundred retweets, we didn’t get any money except for words of encouragement. However, we got a request from someone who wanted to award a literary prize in honour of her mother who loved to read. Mrs Paula Chinwe Okafor Prize for Creative Non-Fiction was born. This was huge for us. We planned the award and disseminated the information. The awardee wanted to ensure we were transparent in our dealings and we opened our lean books. Apart from the cash prize of a fifty thousand Naira for the award, the awardee also donated a Hundred Thousand Naira to the festival. The ministry was moving. Now we had something to start.
One night, for no reason at all, I decided to tweet a story about a woman who had lost her brother in the civil war and the effect it had on her and her family. I ended it with #FictionAt12am.
Mehn! Unexpectedly, that twitter thread racked in numbers. The thread went viral. It was scary and exhilarating for me considering how I closeted I was about my writings (Some of my articles are signed off with a pseudonym).
Why am I mentioning this thread? Wetin concern am with the festival?
Well, one Saturday morning I got a call from a strange number. The person on the line had read the thread and had checked my profile. She ( although at the time I had assumed I was dealing with a male. Patriarchy, yay!) had seen my go-fund plea and because she enjoyed my thread, she pledged a hundred thousand Naira to the festival.
I was stomped. I couldn’t believe it. Just like that, a total stranger donated because of a Twitter thread. I was over the moon because it made me appreciate the under-utilized skill I have.
Two hundred thousand Naira out of a budget of three hundred and twenty –four thousand Naira. That was good.
I have to explain something. Festivals are expensive. Our budget was for a mini festival
centered around the Enugu and south east community. All I wanted to do was promote
the local creative people in Enugu and south east. I felt that bringing internationally
acclaimed writers would eclipse the local ones who are struggling to gain recognition. If
I had planned on bringing big names, our budget would have run in millions. However,
I’m a firm believer in starting small especially since this was new to most people in
Enugu. My plan was: hold a festival, sample opinions, and see how well the festival is
received before restructuring the concept.
We got a total donation of two hundred and eighty-three thousand Naira for the festival. It was good but not enough so we had to trim and call in some favour once again. Mr Ken Ike aka the Slam master and coordinator of Enugu Literary Society graciously gave us the Sam Nwaneri Hall with access to sound equipment at a good discount. I have to mention that he has been of good support to the festival and literary activities in Enugu.
On the 7th and 8th of December 2018, the festival held successfully despite a few hiccups which I have to mention. For every event I hold, I learn a huge lesson from unexpected areas. This time around, I learnt it from a good number of my ‘team members’ who let me down in every way you can imagine. Few of them showed up and helped in any way they could. Unfortunately for me, law school happened and they had to leave. Others who showed up, albeit reluctantly, but I appreciate the few times they graciously assisted. I wasn’t paying anyone so I had no hold on them. This I understood and decided to carry my burden myself. I made a call for volunteers and got the help I needed. Unfortunately at the time, the damage had already been done on my body. As a result, I fell ill on the second and last day of the festival. It was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Having emerged winner of the 2018 Fate
Foundation/Facebook Digital Entrepreneur in Enugu, I was to fly to Lagos on the 9th of December for the final national pitch. I was so ill that I could hardly remember the events of the festival let alone travel for a pitch that I wasn’t prepared for. It was horrible.
Only a few people took notice of my condition at the festival because I did my best to mask the fact that I was dying. A friend of mine, Festus Adibe drove me from the festival to a pharmacy to pick drugs so that I could at least manage myself for the rest of the day. It helped. I was under so much stress that year.
In addition to the festival, we collaborated with LIMCAF and held a mini art exhibition which was curated by Ifedilichukwu Chibuike. I never expected the work that came with it, nevertheless it was a good training and experience for me. I learnt that one does not just hold an art exhibition just for the heck of it. I planned a mini art exhibition without contacting or inviting potential buyers. The artists who displayed laughed and forgave my naivete. I was also given me a crash course on hosting art exhibitions.
2018 Crater Literary Festival Enugu was successful but despite the encouraging comments of our 147 attendees, I was reluctant to host another edition of the festival in 2019. I take my health serious, so any little health scare I get makes me wary of any activity that could trigger it again. Crater Literary Festival isn’t an international event, yet the work that goes into it can be back breaking. As a result of the past stress I had in planning the first two, I decided against hosting Crater festival in 2019. I intended to rest and plan better for a 2020 festival.
"Rest but never quit. Even the sun has a sinking spell each evening. But it always rises the next morning. At sunrise, every soul is born again." ― Unknown (Poor chap)
Months passed in 2019 with my unwavering decision on planning the 3rd edition of the festival. However, in one of my discussions with my good friend, Dr Emmanuel Adukwu, creator of the prestigious Africa Week UK festival in Bristol, he asked about my plans for 2019 festival. I gave him reasons for not pursuing it that year and he simply said ‘you’ve hosted two consecutive crater literary festivals, why stop now? You host it in December which means you’ve had enough rest.’ He also suggested a collaboration between our two festivals. A festival that could serve as a bridge for creatives in each continent to connect.
Africa Week UK festival just as its name implies is a week celebration of Africa and Africans in University of West England, Bristol. It provides the opportunity for diverse ethnicity to get acquainted with and connect to Africa. It promotes African literature, arts, theatre, music, food. It was an opportunity for me to ease Crater Literary Festival Enugu into an international scene…so I grabbed it and began work immediately.
They say third time’s a charm, right?
Unfortunately for me, this change in plan happened in July. This meant that most grant and sponsorship windows for 2019 projects had closed. Once again, I had looming money issues. In addition to the international guests (courtesy of Africa Week UK) who had expressed interest at the possibility of attending the festival ―at their own expense― I also got emails from two South African authors who expressed interest in holding a book reading at the festival. I was over the moon. Crater Literary Festival Enugu was getting noticed.
With team mates, Laura Nnamdi and Ifedilichukwu Chibuike, I carried on planning for the festival and marking choice locations for tourism. I was hell bent on ensuring our international guests had a great time in Enugu.
Then one morning, I saw the news headline.
FG EXTENDS ENUGU AIRPORT REPAIRS COMPLETION DATE
The Federal government has extended the date for
the completion of the repair work on the Akanu
Ibiam International Airport, Enugu state from
December 2019 to April 2020. The Minister of
Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, made this known in
― Punch Newspaper October 23, 2019
Oops! This was a catastrophe I had no control over. The festival was scheduled to hold from 12th -14th December. There was no way I was going to encourage anyone to come to Enugu by road, be it from Owerri or Asaba airport. So we missed our chance to have an international festival. According to Mike Tyson, ‘’everyone has a plan till they’re punched in the face.’’ I took the punch and moved on. I had already committed and had got some individuals who pledged to donate to the festival. Before the airport issue, our budget was nine hundred and sixty-six thousand Naira. Afterwards we had to review it to suit our home audience and we ended with a budget of six hundred and ninety thousand Naira.
Recall that the 2019 festival was scheduled for 3 days. We had a writer’s workshop on the 12th and the festival on the 13th and 14th. In 2017 and 2018, I called in lots of favour and people graciously responded. In 2019, I desired to at least pay the team, volunteers and the theatre group a stipend for the valuable contribution of their time and talent. Alas, we were only able to raise one hundred and eighty-seven thousand Naira.
What to do?
What to do?
I had already committed to this so one way or the other, the festival had to happen. I looked into my goodwill bag and decided to reach in and grab as much as I could. Toochi Gabriel aka Tboi designed all the festival posters at no charge. Ogechi Gabriel provided us with two beautiful paintings for backdrop. With the help of my aunty, Dr.Mrs Ijeoma Ibegbulam and Barr. Onochie of UNEC, I got the Main Hall of the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. Getting that hall is not the easiest thing because it is always fully booked for year. I wanted a hall in an environment that is secure and has a guest house that is within a walking distance. I still held out hope that maybe the Christmas season would force the aviation minister to open the airport. A girl can only dream, right?
We were able to put up an event despite disappointments from so many quarters. The panelists showed up and delivered. Wonderful authors like Nnamdi Oguike who read his book ‘Do not say it’s not your county’ and Ositadimma Amakeze whom also launched his Igbo novel ‘Anu Gbaa Ajo Egbe’ at the festival had superb book reading sessions. Dr. Emmanuel Adukwu, Mr.Ken Ike, Ude Ufiem also got to perform their poetry. Maestro Theatre from UNN and Crater Literary Festival Theatre Troupe also got to show us that stage talent and creativity still thrives in Enugu.
I must confess that I am pleased with the 2019 Crater Literary Festival considering our late start and preparation (I am my harshest critic so this is huge for me).
The festival also got to host more literary awards and the judges for each award were carefully selected from Nigeria and diaspora. The awards include:
- Mrs Paula Chinwe Okafor Prize for Creative Non-Fiction (N200,000): Crater Literary Festival administered 2018 and 2019 Prizes.
- Dr Emmanuel C. Adukwu Prize for Literature (N50,000): 2019 maiden edition was administered by Crater Literary Festival and Africa Week UK for senior secondary students in Enugu.
- Loretta Ogboro-Okor Prize for Short Story Fiction (N50,000): 2019 maiden edition was administered by Crater Literary Festival and Africa Week UK.
- 2019 Crater Literary Festival/ iSERVE2050 Book Pitch Competition (N100,000): Funded by iSERVE2050.
In addition to the prize money, the bulk of their donation to the festival saved the event. In collaboration with Enugu Literary Society, we had a successful writer’s workshop at Techx Innovation Hub. Despite not having as much participants as we expected, the faculty: Ese Okereka, Dr. Emmaunel Adukwu, Mr.Ken Ike and yours truly, delivered wonderfully. The participants testify to this.
At the end of the festival, from our registration desk, we found out that we had a total of 169 guests. I was surprised because it looked less visually. I had made another mistake while reviewing halls for the festival. The UNEC hall was big; its sitting capacity should be over 5000 people but there we were, looking like Lilliputians in a giant’s sitting room. I didn’t think it would matter. I assumed the photographer would know what to do but I was dead wrong. It matters!
Speaking about photographers, I also learnt a lesson about how some Enugu businesses do not take agreement and contracts serious. A major sponsor company didn’t show up at the event to fulfill their own part of the deal. Thanks to mobile phone cameras, at least we got some pictures and videos for day 2 of the festival. I made sure to arrange a backup for day 3 of the festival and we had a smooth grand finale for 2019 Crater Literary Festival Enugu.
Organising and managing 3 consecutive annual literary festival in Enugu has been draining and rewarding to me. No, I don’t make money from it but I hope to in the 4th edition, if not for anything, at least to sustain the festival for six years, for fear I may have overdrawn my goodwill bank account.
I know what you’re thinking. Is she going to organise a 4th edition?
The answer is ‘yes, I am’.
In collaboration with Africa Week UK festival and Enugu Literary Society, we aim to host an international literary festival in Enugu this 2020. Proposals are ready; shoes polished for productive meetings. Once again, we have acclaimed creative people in the diaspora who want to experience South-east and we intend to build that bridge because it means more connection, collaboration and exposure for our own local creatives.
Therefore, if you are interested in being a part of 2020 Crater Literary Festival Enugu, Do not hesitate to leave a comment or email us at email@example.com.
This is #MyEnuguStory. Let’s make it yours too.
Crater Literary Festival Enugu