Kofi Awoonor was among 69 people killed by terrorists in Kenya.
Shortly after Tade Layo Ipadeola’s book of poetry, The Sahara Testaments, which, explores the frosty world of nature as a metaphor of the human condition, was Thursday morning in Lagos, announced as winner of the biggest literary prize in Africa—the NLNG Prize for Literature, the poet said tersely, “it is surreal, but I am grateful.”
The NLNG Prize was announced a day before Alice Munro, 82, the famous Canadian short-story writer whose primeval writings investigate the snarled dealings of the gender divide, of rural living, and of the frailty of memory, was declared winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. Ms. Munro, who was announced winner on Thursday, became the 13th woman to win the prize.
Mr. Tade Ipadeola, an occasional columnist for PREMIUM TIMES said he will build a library in Ibadan, his home town, in honour of late Ghanaian poet, Kofi Awoonor, who was gunned down in the terrorist attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall in Nairobi with his $100,000 [N16 Million]
The General Manager of Corporate Affairs at the NLNG, Mr. Kudo Eresia Eke, announced the winner at a press conference that held at the Coral Hall of the Ocean View Restaurant in Victora Island, Lagos.
Mr. Ipadeola, born September 1970 in Ibadan, graduated in Law at 21, from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. He beat two other poets on the shortlist- Ogochukwu Promise And Chidi Amu Nnadi- to win the prize.
The panel of judges spoke of his work “as a metonymy for the problems of Africa and of the …world” and alluded to its “striking marriage of thoughts expressed in the blending of sound and sense.”
But for the panel chairman, Romanus Egudu, a professor of English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu State, and former president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, The Sahara Testaments is an “exceptional and deliberate effort of the poet to explore transnational decimals and the role of Africa in shaping the world.”
Although the NLNG prize is the biggest haul for him yet, he is not new to literary laurels. Four years ago, in 2009, his poem ‘Songbird’ won the Delphic Laurel in poetry in Jeju, South Korea. He is also the second poet to win the NLNG prize after one of the pioneers of Nigerian literature, Gabriel Okara.
Poet and author Chiedu Ezeannah effusively welcomed the winning work, saying “it is like having Okigbo and Soyinka in one dizzying package.” He also congratulated the NLNG judges for “getting it right this time.”
Mr. Ezeannah said The Sahara Testaments is “a cacophony of delightful quatrains, lyricism and erudition in an effective alchemistry.”
Mr. Ipadeola has so far published three volumes of poetry – A Time of Signs (2000), The Rain Fardel (2005), and The Sahara Testaments (2012). He has also published short stories and essays.
He has also translated two classical Yoruba novels, by Daniel Fagunwa, into English: The Divine Cryptograph [Aditu]; and The Pleasant Potentate of Ibudo [Ireke Onibudo] both in 2010 but they still remain unpublished.
Last year, Mr. Ipadeola who is current president of the Nigerian section of PEN [International] the international writers group translated into Yoruba, as Lamilami, the first drama work of W.H. Auden, Paid on Both Sides. Auden, the Anglo-American poet, who died in 1973, is well regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century
This year’s prize received 201 entries that were first prunned down to 11 and then to the three that made it to the finals. It featured two female poets, debutante Iquo Eke and veteran Promise Okekwe. Okekwe made it to the finals. There was also a strong showing from writers in the diaspora like Afam Akeh, Obi Nwakanma and Amatoritsero Ede.
Last year’s prize was won by Belgium-based Chika Unigwe for her novel, On Black Sisters Street, making her the first foreign-based Nigerian writer to win the prize, which was hitherto reserved for Nigerian writers living in Nigeria.
Mr. Ipadeola is the second Nigerian lawyer, after Ogaga Ifowodo, now a professor of comparative literature at the Texas State University in the United States, to win a major literary Prize. Mr. Ogaga won the Association of Nigerian Authors’ poetry prize in 1995.