Su’eddie Vershima Agema is a poet, editor and Executive Director at SEVHAGE Publishers. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, Agema speaks on the forthcoming Benue Books and Arts festival coming up on the 20th of June.
You seem to have gone into hiding literarily, what have you been up to?
Well, I have been up to a lot. On the family front, I have been busy from afar with being a dad and being a husband to my awesome wife, Agatha. I am working towards attaining a second Master’s in International Education and Development. On the literary front, I am completing work on two works, a short story and a poetry collection. My children’s book, Once Upon a Village Tale was shortlisted for the ANA Prize for Children’s literature last year and we will be releasing it in June at our Benue festival in June, all things being equal. But more than these all, I have been working on ways to better promote our writers and writings. This led me to found the African Writers Society of University of Sussex with my friends, Jennifer Agbaire, Sarah Egbo and Olusegun Sangowawa. We have done loads of work, including a writers’ café with Dapo Oyewole, an international development actor and phenomenal sound mind. On the SEVHAGE front, we are working on new books and promoting literature. We just started peace clubs and literary spaces in schools in Benue. So, I have been busy.
You, alongside other partners, are organising a festival in Benue State. What is it all about and when is it coming up?
Yes, it is what I just hinted at a few seconds ago, the Benue Book and Arts Festival. It is part of the SEVHAGE Presents series of literary interventions to help in literary awareness and societal redefinition through the arts. This is the second in the series with the first done in 2015. This year’s event takes place in Makurdi from June 20th to 22nd, 2019. We are glad to be partnering with the University of Sussex, Eunice Spring of Life Foundation, Arojah Concepts, Adinya Arise Foundation, Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative and Women Right to Education Programme. The theme for the festival is ‘Changing Narratives.’ It is focused on building narratives that can help expand discourse beyond the conventional, particularly in the light of growth, personal and communal development.
Could you give us the lowdown of what writers should expect at the event?
It is a full cast featuring award winning sensation, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, author of The Whispering Trees and Seasons of Crimson Blossoms; Professor Dul Johnson, the author of Why Women Won’t Make it to Heaven and winner, ANA Prize for Fiction 2017; Dr. Maria Ajima, a multiple award winning writer and critic, leading voice in Northern Nigerian literature; Agatha Agema, a poet, delightful fiction writer and author of The Enchanting and other poems; Adedayo Agarau, an author of For Boys who went; Ahmed Maiwada, an award winning poet and author of We are Fish; sensational writer and prolific author, Chuma Nwokolo, author of Diaries of a Dead African; Isaac Attah Ogezi, award winning playwright and national legal adviser of the Association of Nigerian Authors; Innocence Silas Sharamang, double winner of the Korea Nigeria Poetry Prize; Servio Gbadamosi, ANA Prize for Poetry 2015 and Shortlist, Wole Soyinka Prize 2018; the literary administrator and author of City of Memories, Richard Ali; short story writer and social media influencer Eketti Edime; Bizuum Yadok, poet and author of King of the Jungle; T. J. Benson, award winning author of We won’t fade into darkness; spoken word maestros Bash Amuneni and Efe Paul Azino; spoken word diva and amazing poet, Daisy Odey; Seun Odukoya , the author of Saving Dapo; Jide Badmus, engineering poet and author of Scriptures; Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, multiple award winning poet; bestselling author, Alexander Ochogwu; publishers and editors, Amara Chimeka and Maik Ortserga; award winning poet and media enthusiast, Aondosoo Labe; short story writer and award winning poet, Debbie Iorliam; lyrical spoken word artiste, Oko Owi Ocho; poets Torkwase Igbana, Ene Odaba, Ciara Ogah, and Biachi Anointing; literary administrators Odoh Diego Okenyodo and Sam Ogabidu, poets in their own right; the teenage sensation Chiamaka Jessica Onumaegbu, among several others. Yes, I will be there coordinating with a team of committed individuals led by Andrea Adoo Kwen, Oko Owi Ocho and Otene Ogwuche.
Are you telling us that there is going to be everything for everybody?
Yes o! It will feature workshops, panels, book talks, theatre productions, art exhibitions, a concert, UK schools fair, and a very big book sale with crazy discounted rates. We have loads of publishers coming and we will be importing several books, so on that level, you are covered. There will be theatre production for two nights by the thrilling Arojah concepts, a spoken word slam on the last night. There will also be a rock concert. Importantly, there will be workshops because we need to increase the capacity of our people. There will be three writing workshops on Fiction with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Spoken Word with Efe Paul Azino and Poetry with Chuma Nwokolo. Three other workshops, one for prisoners, another for corps members and a third for photography with Nelson Apochi Owoicho, which will be announced in the future. The writing workshops will be open to everybody. Interested participants will have to send a mail indicating their interest, the particular workshop and sample of their writing in the genre to [email protected] Selected participants will be notified and asked to pay a non-refundable fee of N2,000 for the workshop. There will be a spoken word slam on the final day of the event worth N100,000 and open to any spoken word artist from around the world. The prizes for the SEVHAGE Literary Competition 2019 will also be announced. New books will be unveiled to the public with engagements from the authors including Su’eddie Vershima Agema’s Once Upon a Village Tale (Shortlist, ANA Prize for Children’s Literature 2018) and Alexander Emmanuel Ochogwu’s Scarlet. What else? Loads of room for interactions, competitions on the spot and more than enough literary fun. I should emphasise that if there is a book that you would need or have been looking for, you can send us an email at [email protected]… We will find a way to get it for pickup at the festival.
As far the festival coming up this June, how prepared are you?
We have reached advanced stages for the festival. Most of our guests have confiremd attendance and the workshop curriculum has largely been laid out. We are finishing talks with the hotels and fine tuning details of other aspects. We are more than prepared and are awaiting all our guests, from far and wide.
SEVHAGE Literary Competition is also going to be part of the event line up. What are the guidelines?
The competition is for short stories, poetry and creative non-fiction. Generally, it is open to Nigerians aged 18 to 35 for the main competition. For short stories and creative non-fiction, we are looking for works that are 2,500 words maximum, one single entry. For poetry, it should not be longer than 40 lines. There is a category for secondary school students too. We have something for everybody! Anyone who needs further information can just google SEVHAGE LITERARY PRIZES 2019 or send an email to [email protected] Generally, the deadline for submissions is 26th May, 2019.
What are the criteria for attendance, as in, registrations and so on?
Registration is free, though for control purpose and proper registration, which would guarantee some freebies, we will want those interested to register by using our eventbrite. Alternatively, guests can send an email to [email protected] We are looking forward to having as many attendees as possible. We will probably be giving some reward to the first 50 people to attend.
For the first timers to Benue State, of what help would you be to them, as far as accommodation is concerned?
Makurdi is generally not an expensive town so guests would not have issues. Anyone who wants to attend can send us an email at [email protected] to inquire about hotel rooms or tell us their specification or budget. For someone who is willing to pair, there will be accommodation options of up to N2,000 a night. So, with N6,000 or a bit less, you can have three nights covered. For those who need single rooms, depending on your standard, there are rooms from N4,000 to N15,000. It depends on your specification and of course, your budget. Our team is set to ensure that the event is a-ok and guests are well covered. We would have designated buses to help with mobility. So, if you register for the event with Eventbrite as stated above or just send us a mail, we can work out a plan for your budget.