By Josephine Agbonkhese
Mrs. Gbemi Shasore is Executive Publisher at Quramo. That is her official title, but what she is in actual fact is the moving spirit behind Quramo’s book publishing business, producer of Quramo’s ground breaking documentary about the creation of Nigeria as well as convener of the annual Quramo Writers Prize which is now in its 3rd year.
In this interview, Gbemi talks about the prize award ceremony which holds on Sunday December 15, the expansion of the finale into three days long Quramo Festival of Words (QFest) among other issues.
Another Quramo Writer’s Prize award ceremony is imminent. On December 15, the 3rd QWP winner will be unveiled. How does this make you feel 3rd time around?
I feel very proud of what we have accomplished and the spotlight that we have put on literature, literacy and the arts culture in Nigeria. It is a big task, and one that would have been difficult to do alone. Over the years, we have made some rewarding connections and collaborations with many creatives in the industry and I know that this award will go even further to cement its place in our popular and literary culture.
The Quramo Writer’s Prize has remained true to its vision,as an avenue for discovering unpublished authors. Will this change in the future?
I think that is a unique aspect of this prize, and while I don’t see this necessarily changing in the future, I definitely think that the standard and quality of writing of the unpublished works we receive will grow so much that it wouldn’t matter that they are ‘unknown’. This is one of the goals of the prize itself.
The QWP prize is worth N1m with the possibility of a publishing contract. A million naira can seem like a lot of money for a budding author.
The prize money serves as a form of a writer’s advance which, again, is not a common practice in the Nigerian publishing industry, because the book market is so unpredictable and there is an inherent risk in publishing a book because it might not sell well. We give this advance also as a retainer because making a good book takes time, up to a year, so, in that regard, the writer is compensated for his time as he works on the book and do other things.
Your judges for this year are Toni Kan, Molara Wood and A. Igoni Barrett. How independent are they and does Quramo Publishing have a say in the final choice?
We believe in a transparent judging process, so our judges are independent. However, we oversee the process to ensure that our vision for the prize and the winner is ultimately met.
We have seen many prizes take off and then fizzle out. What are the plans to keep this prize sustainable into the future?
It is impossible to predict the future, but I will say that we are very committed to this platform. It is not something we are dabbling into but a strong pillar of our company’s vision. We hope to continue to succeed by strengthening our networks and partnerships and being as innovative as the environment might require.
Samuel Monye’s book was launched at the 2018 event. Is another launch set for this year?
We have a series of book readings, talks and panel discussions planned that will improve on the previous year’s format.
This year’s unveil has been expanded into a three-day Quramo Festival of Words aka Qfest. Run us through the line up?
There will be book readings with amazing authors, master classes with some of our most brilliant minds, conversations with notable personalities, panel discussions around publishing and documentaries as edutainment, an open mic night, film screenings, the unveil of the Quramo Writers’ Prize, books at our QBook Café and, a collaboration with an IDP camp where we get to put some faces to the people who have had harrowing experiences and now recovering from insurgency.
From publishing to documentaries and now a three-day festival, what other surprises should we expect?
We are always innovating and creating and trying to come up with new things.
You are also a writer and playwright. Where do all these come from and how do you find the time?
As a little girl, I loved to partake in theatre and dance productions. When I went to school in America, I took part in stage production of Ola Rotimi’s ‘The Gods Are Not To Blame’ and I auditioned for the role. I have always loved to be involved in acting and stage productions and I think I have found my calling. I have written two books, In Her Own Right, about Abimbola Fashola’s time as first lady and an upcoming book for young adults about the history of Nigerian money. I also produced three stage plays over the years and a documentary. Because I am passionate about this, and it is my calling, I make the time.
Last year’s award ceremony was a celebration of the arts with books and music and drama. What do we expect this year?
Very much the same, we have created an exciting and concise award ceremony and we are happy with the way it works out, but we always try to come up with surprises.
Finally, what book did you read last and why?
I re-read Possessed and APOG, both by my husband this year, as a way to reconnect with the story, especially with the release of the documentary earlier this year.