“Fantastic,” I said. “Except for the bit when I stood on the stage before a room full of Lagos crème de la crème, in my funny pink party dress, while they read an outdated bio about me that did not even reflect my few modest achievements.”
“Did they mention me?” he asked, casually toying with his rubber crab.
“Typical,” he muttered, with a bitterness quite unbecoming in a small dog. “If you’d bothered to take me you’d definitely have won. And then you could have bought me a lot of rubber crabs”
“I don’t think they like dogs in Lagos,” I said. “I didn’t see any. Although one guy at the award dinner was wearing them on his robes.”
“If they’d had a chance to meet me, they might have changed their minds,” he snarled (a falsetto snarl, being a Chihuahua).
As for not winning, I’ve been practicing that for most of my life so I’m pretty good at it (I think my last prize was in Grade One for Good Progress, but sadly they don’t seem to give those out to grown ups). The organizers kindly told me that The Unseen Leopard put up a convincing fight for first place, beating over 400 books before losing to a worthy opponent. Sifso Mzobe’s Young Blood is a fascinating read, which scooped both the Sunday Times and the Mnet awards on its release. And I was consoled by their gratifying comments on The Unseen Leopard, reproduced below.
Besides, the Nigerians are a wonderfully embracing lot, and they all made a good show of being just as eager to be photographed with me after I proved to be not-the-winner.
What really struck me about the event was how much literature is celebrated in Nigeria. This was clearly a party that people wanted to attend, with an impressive line up of dignitaries including the ex president of Ghana; John Kufuor, Babatunde Fashola and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Governors of Lagos and Ogun states respectively; Professor Wole Soyinka to mention just a few. The sponsors not only paid for my and Sifiso’s flights and accommodation, but also the $20 000 prize – impressive by our standards but dwarfed by Nigeria’s literature prize of $100 000. Nigeria clearly loves both books and authors, and consequently has produced a stable of very fine writers over the years. Definitely something South Africa can learn from – our local press and bookshops still seem a lot more willing to promote overseas titles. Local novels seldom make it onto Exclusive’s New Books stand, for instance – they usually scuttle straight for the “African Fiction” shelves.
I met some hugely inspiring people, including Sifiso Mzobe, and Promise and Azubike Ogoduchukwu. Promise is an author and poet, who has done remarkable work to promote literature and reading in Africa through the Lumina Foundation as well as running an orphanage on the side.
He challenged the Nigerian government, which has been criticized for over-accommodating the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram, to decide whether it was on the side of the “philistines or our common humanity”.
He also condemned the trend of sharia law to relegate women to second class citizens, “stoning women for giving their bodies to whomever they please, as if anyone has the right over someone else’s body.”
Altogether a fascinating evening. And having the opportunity to experience the Lagos was something else, but more on that in another blog
Eid Shabbir: Professor of literature and chair of African Studies, International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan
Prof. Olu Obafemi: Professor of English and Dramatic Literature, UniLag
Liesle Louw: award winning journalist, South Africa
Dr Awo Asiedu: Acting Director of the School of performing Arts, University of Ghana
Jonathan Moshal: Professor of Comparative Literature, Cote D’Ivoire.
Remarks made by the judges on The Unseen Leopard
The novel is a fascinating read, gripping and the themes are universal. They are so maturely handled that one gets drawn in. The language is graceful, apt and the dialogue is brilliant. It’s a wonderfully elegant piece that works its spell on the reader. It’s really witty with a savage humour that makes the book timeless and terrific.
It is difficult to find a novel with such a rhetorical strategy that weaves nature—animals, plants, fauna, hideous caves and vast waters to portray a subject of the quest for the cause, motive, and the culprit of the death of a triangularly loved deceased. It engages the subject of capitalism and national patriotism. The language exudes lyrical beauty with a rare economy of words.
It is captivating and mature. Pitt demonstrates in this novel a competent command of language, with a text spiced with flashes of humour.