Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 29, December 2001 


What Cyprian Ekwensi meant to me

Kole Omotoso
Kole Omotoso is Professor of Drama at University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag XI Matieland, 7602 South Africa. email:

The first major city that began what was to be my wandering around the world was Onitsha, the market emporium on the eastern shore of the Niger. That visit gave me a novelette about the story of a young school girl who, after visiting her boyfriend during the holidays, left his house 'with a weight inside her', or words to that effect. I could relate to that story. I was a school-boy. We were already learning to write love letters from pamphlets sold in the Onitsha market that taught us How to Write Love Letters!

On a visit to Lagos I found The Yaba Roundabout Murders. Today, of course, there is no longer a Yaba Roundabout. That Ekwensi novelette taught me the importance of space in fiction writing. Ekwensi was putting on paper my environment and it was so delightful! During one long vacation, the Federal Ministry of Information where Ekwensi was an information officer, advertised holiday jobs for students. I was into my Higher School Certificate programme at Kings' College, Lagos. The advertisement had to do with writing and I thought it was what I could do. I was sent to go and see Cyprian Ekwensi. I was delighted. I knew the man. Well, I had read some of his writing. He must be dying to help me! Ekwensi took one look at me and asked me to leave his office since they already had the complement of the people they wanted. I obviously did not make any impression on him.

The next encounter with Cyprian Ekwensi was years later. I had spent three years working on contemporary Arabic Literature for a doctoral thesis for the University of Edinburgh, with additional supervision at the then Centre for Middle East Studies in Oxford and the American University in Cairo. It was during one of those visits to Cairo that I found a surprise, an Arabic translation of Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City, the story of a journalist in Lagos entitled Ahl-il-Madinah. I was thrilled. I bought two copies. I came back to teach at the University of Ibadan in 1972 and on the occasion of a Nigerian writers meeting with John Updike of the United States of America, I met Cyprian Ekwensi and gave him a copy of the Arabic translation of his book. He was naturally surprised to see it because he knew nothing of it. Over the next few years I attempted to track down translations of African writing into Arabic as well as tried to encourage more to be done. But that is another story.

Cyprian Ekwensi is important in Nigerian writing for many reasons, but especially because he believed in himself and made us believe in ourselves. Not just as writers. The writing is justly pan-Nigerian. This is as it should be. What is also important is that Cyprian Ekwensi published in Nigeria. He was one of the initial writers who published their works at home along with T.M. Aluko of One Man One Wife fame. These important writers initiated the story of Nigerian publishing.

It is no wonder then that Cyprian Ekwensi was such a strong supporter of the process that brought about the creation of the Association of Nigerian Authors, the now ubiquitous ANA. Sometimes, some commentators have given the impression that it was the work of one man. This is short of the truth.

On the occasion of the 80th birthday of Cyprian Ekwensi, I wish to say Long Live Ekwensi, to continue to charm us with our stories! [BPN 29, 2001, pp. 12]

^^Back to top

Return to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 29, 2001>>

home about us news resources subscribe
newsletter forum search

© Bellagio Publishing Network 2002-2005.

Go to Top Go to top
Go to top Go to Top