By PRISCA SAM DURU
It was all accolades for literary icon, Professor Elechi Amadi who recently turned 80, as the literati gathered at the University of Calabar to celebrate the renowned writere.
Prof Elechi Amadi, famous for his bestselling novel, The Concubine, as well as other bestselling titles, had his 80th birthday (March 12), celebrated alongside another literary giant, Professor Ebele Eko, a poet, eminent scholar and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar. Prof Eko who is also renowned as the biggest authority on Amadi’s works, clocked 70 and was celebrated in a variety of activities as she retires from the University of Calabar.
Guests at the event all praised the duo for their immense contributions towards the growth of African literature.
It was in recognition of the giant strides of both icons that the annual International Conference on African Literature and the English Language (ICALEL) was held.
The event themed “African Literature, the English Language and the Environment,” kicked off with the ICALEL Conference on May 6. As it was customary, the conference featured the usual papers presentation revolving around the theme. The entire package included the conference and a gala night which featured a command performance of Amadi’s play ‘’The Woman of Calabar by ELS students, to the admiration of the audience. The event also attracted several people in the academia and beyond and like many literary conferences, was prone to possibilities.
Professor G. G. Dara of the English and Literary Studies Department, Delta State University, popular columnist and currently a member of the National CONFAB who gave the key note address, ignited the first fire of controversy in his presentation titled ‘Literature and the Environment’. But Dara, who spoke mostly extempore, left many astounded as he chose to go historical and ‘upturned’ all known logics especially in biblical history.
His assertion that Egypt was the cradle of civilization and that the civilization as powered by blacks, elicited an acerbic response from Dr. Peter Onwudinjo, a lecturer at the ELS department. Dr Onwudinjo confronted him with the fact that the race in Egypt as at that time, from historical and archeological findings, were not blacks. Dara parried the question and said another conference should be held to further explore the issue.
On his part, Dr. Emmanuel Adedun, the deputy dean, Postgraduate School, University of Lagos and currently a visiting professor, Department of English, University of Education, Winneba, Ghana and one of Eko’s many protégés, said the Urhobo authority on oral literature should infact have titled his keynote as a ‘deconstruction of the Bible’ in light of his ‘dissection’ of many biblical accountsincluding the fact that the Garden of Eden was actually sited in Tanzania!
But ICALEL, founded over three decades ago by Professor Ernest Emenyonu (now US-based) and others including the retiring Eko, is no stranger to controversies. He drew the best literary and sometimes most unconventional writers from across Africa and beyond and was a major global gathering especially in the 1980’s.
It provided many a literary enthusiast and aspiring writer an opportunity to catch a glimpse and to be inspired by leading literary figures such as Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Ayi Kwe Amah, Kofi Awunor, Chinua Achebe, Zulu Sofola, Wole Soyinka, Bessie Head, Cyprian Ekwensi and hundreds of eminent writers. While launching a 656-page book, titled “The Masterpieces of African Literature (Volume One), a collection of reviews of 100 of the best of African literature”, Eko, one of the last persons standing among the ICALEL organizers, said she was committed to keeping the spirit alive. .
Dr. Idom T. Inyabri, a young lecturer in the department who worked with the Head of Department Dr. Stella Nsa towards the success of the conference, said the theme was quite apt. “It has keyed into the global issues of our time. More importantly, it has shown that the conference is sensitive to the development of African literature, and provides an opportunity for critics and writers to engage on the emerging study of the eco-criticism, eco-linguistic and green cultural studies.”