The tail end of 2013 was an eventful time for the author of Tenants of the House, Dr. Wale Okediran, because for the second time, his reading tour of the USA was sponsored by the Arik Air, a tour that saw the former ANA president read in New York, Atlanta, Boston, Rhodes Island and Los Angeles: once in a lifetime chance for a writer based in Africa.
The idea was for him to read from his offerings, especially the seminal novel, Tenants of the House, an exposé on the political shenanigans in the National Assembly. It was a tour that delighted the cockles of Okediran’s heart. “It was a mixed grill of audience that I had,” Okediran begins. We are chatting in Minna, Niger State. “Half of the readings was done in the university campuses, while the other half was in public areas, like restaurants, where I had audience with people from all walks of life,” he reveals.
In the university setting, Dr. Okediran read at the prestigious Harvard University, where he engaged students and staff of the university. “At Rhode Island,” he says, “I went to Preston College. In New York, the reading took place in an African restaurant. Of course, the African roots weren’t missing there. Also, it was a continental affair. Says Okediran, “I interracted with Africans and Asians from all walks of life.”
Restaurants in the US plays serve many functions beyond eating and drinking, as we have in this part of the world. In Atlanta, too, Okediran’s reading took place in a restaurant. “In all, it was an exciting moment,” says the medical doctor.
The most exciting part of it was when he met one of Nigeria’s famous writers in the US, EC Osondu, who took him to his English Literature class, where he read and answered questions on Tenants of the House. It was a three-day reading that was, nonetheless, tasking for the Nigerian.
Perhaps Okediran’s Tenants of the House is the most promoted fiction in Nigeria, in recent years, for it is one novel that has made the author go round major cities in the country on a reading tour, spanning three years so far.
Comparing the experiences garnered in the process is something the Abuja-based writer talks about with relish: “The foreign audience is more exposed and takes literary events more seriously than us. As a result of the exposure they have over there, they revere authors. So, most of my readings were jam-packed with audience. In Los Angeles, I was surprised that people travelled two hours to attend the reading. The questions asked by the audience showed that they audience was more attune to literary events.”
However, it wasn’t without occasional hisses. “The only drawback I had,” he says, “was that many of the Nigerian writers in the Diaspora were very sceptical about the future of the country and, as such, most of their questions revolved around issues, such as, how Nigeria will survive, why Nigeria should be divided, and what not.”
So, does a reading tour add to the acceptability of a book? Okediran responds in the affirmative: “Yes, it does. For example, I started with a nationwide tour whereby I took the book round Nigeria; I visited almost all the major universities in the country. Apart from the fact that the reading exposed people to the book, many universities recommended the book as text for their students.”
The popularity of Tenants of the House, no doubt, skyrocketed because of those readings. In the University of Lagos, for instance, the work has the rare distinction of being recommended for use by three different departments: English, Law and Political Science.
“The sales from the book multiplied during and after my tour,” he declares without smug. The US edition of the book was released in 2012, after which it went on sale on www.amazon.com. “That made it more available online to a wider audience.”
If you think that’s all you have to reap from reading tours, you have another think coming. An Irish film company has just concluded plans for a film adaptation of the fiction. “Almost everything is ready for that,” Okediran tells me.
Besides, for three years, the former parliamentarian has been sponsoring the Ebedi International Writers Residency programme in his home town, Iseyin. The only of its kind in Nigeria, the writer is just beginning to count his blessings one by one. “We have attracted international writers from outside the country, such as Uganda, Ghana, Zambia and South Africa, and we have had a mixed grill of both established writers and up-and-coming writers, and most important has been the interaction with the students from Iseyin town, which has led to the discovery of many talented writers from the town, some of who have gone ahead to write their own works,” he remarks.
In three years, Okediran’s Ebedi has graduated 35 writers; needless to say hundreds of students have benefited from the tutelage of the resident writers. Now, he has secured a plot of land to build a permanent site for the residency programme to replace the bungalow of three flats. “Once we are able to build the permanent site, the residency will be on its own ground,” he intones.
Presently, he has been having some distractions delaying new creative works: writing biographies of eminent Nigerians. “Once I am through with that, I will be able to do a sequel to Tenants of the House. Whereas Tenants of the House looks at the parliament, the sequel will look at the executive arm of government,” he says.
The 2010 release was trailed by controversy, having washed the dirty linen of fellow parliamentarians in the public. Is he now courting another controversy? He stifles a laugh.
“After the release of Tenants of the House, some people suggested that we need to engage our elected officials the more, from the lawmakers to the executive and the judiciary,” he hints. Well, that hint could be another hit.
By Henry Akubuiro