In an age where information is king, the internet is the kingdom.
These days the rising impact of the net has whittled down the quantity of traditional newspapers and magazines in print.
The world today is held by information and technology.
The times have changed, and are still changing. The rise of online literary magazines in Africa is a reflection of the fast changing times.
African Writing Online, Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Klorofyl, Kwani?, The African Street Writer, The Sentinel Magazine, and Saraba—are some of the budding online literary magazines in Africa today. The growing amount of their readership testifies clearly of how the times have changed.
It is easy now to access works of literature from the comfort of one’s room or wherever. It is easy now to read Akwaeke Emezi, or Chibundo Onuzo, or Anietie Isong. You don’t need to go to a bookshop before you take a bite or piece of their work. You would only have to do that when it involves a larger chunk of their work, say their book—the print version. But for works like their essays, short stories or excerpts of such, you can access these easily using your mobile device. All you need to do is Google it! And voila, you’re there mentally masticating the content of their works.
Reading hasn’t been this easy for us. The complexities have been pushed aside. You don’t need to have a large book shelf stacked with volumes of books. No. In your little android device or tablet you could have over two hundred or more ebooks, whether bought or obtained through free downloads.
On Instagram you can easily grab quantities of Tolu Akinyemi’s poetic bites and digest them with ease while scrolling on for more meal.
Through the internet you could meet Chigozie Obioma. Or you could learn about him. And so for me, through the internet I learnt about Obioma; and his award-winning The Fishermen novel. And what about Arinze Ifeakandu, the second youngest shortlistee in the Caine Prize history—I learnt about him from the internet, too.
Some of the online literary magazines we have today wouldn’t be in existence but for the internet. In essence I mean but for the internet some of them wouldn’t dare go the traditional route involving printing.
Two online literary magazines form the crux of this discourse.
Enter Saraba Magazine and Sentinel Magazine into the discourse. I’ll be writing about these two in this piece viz-a-viz the role of the internet in how they’re able to reach their audience.
a.) Saraba Magazine: Founded by Emmanuel Iduma and Dami Ajayi in 2009, Saraba Magazine has today grown to become a magazine known in virtually all parts of Africa and beyond. It has gone on to publish Nigerian writers like Uche Peter Umez, Elnathan John, Tolu Ogunlesi, Sokari Ekine, Victor Ehikhamenor, Jumoke Verissimo, etc in some of its editions.
The magazine places critical importance on publishing writers for the first time with a view to giving new writers a platform to express their voice and be heard by the world at large.
The magazine has also published poetry in chapbook forms. It has published chapbooks such as Velvet-Blue and other Uncertainties (February 2016) by Tunji Olalere; Attempted Speech and other Fatherhood Poems (September 2015) by Kola Tubosun; Epiphanies (May 2015) by Jumoke Verissimo; The Poet of Sand (September 2014) by Umar Sidi and several others.
The magazine also has a weekly issue apart from its core quarterly issue. Going back in time, I enjoyed reading its March 2016 issue where it published Hadiza Mohammed’s “The Good Helpers”; “The Prodigal” by Iyen Obehighe; “Migration in Benin” by S. I. Ohumu and several others. I will be referring to this issue in much of this piece.
In “The Good Helpers,” Hadiza Mohammed, an Abuja based Nigerian writer explored domestic issues bothering on gender sensitivity. In it she revealed a perennial problem seen in most African societies where girls are given more domestic chores to do at home and boys are allowed to do little or nothing. It is a touching and penetrating read. In it she showed how she and her twin, Maryam did majority of the chores at home such as washing dishes, sweeping the compound and so on whereas their elder brother did little to nothing at home, to paraphrase her.
Her complaint to her mother about these “pseudo-discriminatory” antics was welcomed with the reassuring words that girls will be paid by God in heaven. Indeed, instances like this abound in contemporary Nigeria irrespective of the impact of Western education and how certain Western traits have tended to wash off some of our culture. As regards this particular issue of segregating between the genders when it comes to house chores or family privileges, it is certain that much has not changed. If I should extend the pitch of the argument in Mohammed’s story, there are still in existence some traditions which disallow women from inheritance in their father’s property in most ethnic groups in Nigeria today.
Furthermore, as has been repeatedly canvassed by many feminists, the likes of Adichie, Bernadine Evaristo and so on, the girl child is denied access to education because of age-long barbaric customs; and by extension, women are denied many privileges in African societies today because of some of these customs and traditional value systems.
It is worthy of note referring to what Adichie said in a television interview. In it she referred to the instance of a woman who was referred to as “someone” else’s wife. These are instances where a woman’s identity must be reckoned with on the basis of her affinity to a man or perhaps on the basis of her attachment to another, as if she were a chattel picked off a market stall.
There are still ongoing debates over pressing issues like these amongst Nigeria’s intellectual class (if there’s something categorical like that I don’t know) and several African writers, other key policy makers in Nigeria and the continent of Africa too. And not to overlook the fact that Africa is part of a bigger world picture: this debate is ongoing in other parts of the world, third world nations in particular.
b.) Sentinel Nigeria
On its About Page in its site, Sentinel Nigeria says this:
“Sentinel Nigeria is an online literary magazine quarterly first published in February 2010. It features the finest contemporary Nigerian writing in the areas of fiction, drama, poetry, essays, reviews and interviews.
Sentinel Nigeria focuses on work by Nigerians, writers of Nigerian descent or association, wherever they may live. By ‘association’ we allude to writers who may not be of Nigerian descent but who currently live, work or study in Nigeria. Sentinel Nigeria also features a Safariscope section which features a window to the wider African writing.”
Sentinel Nigeria has a fiction, poetry, safariscope and essay section where it publishes its quarterly issues. In line with its mission to publish Nigerians or writers of Nigerian descent or those who come close to this definition by way of association, it has published the likes of Pearl Osibu, T J Benson, Regina Achie Nege, Tares Banigoe Oburumu, Uchechukwu Agodom and so on, all Nigerians. Yet it has a section for wider African writing called the Safariscope.
In Issue 14 of its publication, the magazine published Pearl Osibu’s short story, The Screaming and the Darkness which is a grave testament of a woman’s experience with unwanted pregnancy. The story is pictorial and highly descriptive, flowing pristinely like a high definition video clip before the eyes. Reading this story came with its surprises, its shocks, and its trauma. Here is one work of literature that stares you with its stark reality.
The central character, who writes in the first person pronoun, describes how she goes to the public bathroom to take her bath, and check if she was actually pregnant using a tiny script. When she discovers in the affirmative, she takes her bath and dashes off for her lover’s place. She describes her experiences on the road to Akin’s place. Akin is her lover. Her description of the road, her discussions with the okada driver who drove her down, her observation of the woman who smiles at her, the cars parked at Akin’s place indicate a riotous mind, and an adrenaline-high after discovering she was pregnant. The narrator’s experience is archetypal of what most young and single women experience when they discover they are pregnant—most perturbing and nerve-racking is the circumstance where the male lover does not show concern or empathy for the young woman as is the case in this short story.
Osibu’s short story reflects the ever disturbing societal trends in Nigeria. And this is part of what literature tends to look at, to analyse and x-ray. The writer through his pen explores the experiences of people in society, digs deep into their thoughts, fears and anxieties— what makes people tick and innumerable issues.
In the same Issue 14, an interesting story about aging is told. It begins with the narrator referring to an old woman who thinks about old age, her children and how they have grown up. The first sentence of the story is quite catchy. What is even quite interesting about this story is the psychological angle to it. There are numerous references to the old woman’s thoughts about aging. Does she experience an aging of her mind as well? Pertinent questions run through this work as one delves through entranced by the style the writer has used. The story is a panorama of what it means to be born in a typical Nigerian society and watch yourself grow up.
Reading “I Honoured you” by Regina Achie Nege makes the reader to feel the experience of the persona. It is a rich exploration of what a woman feels being a part of a man, and how dedicated she is to him. The persona is a woman who tells of her commitment to her husband in bearing him children, her perseverance with him during times of hardship, staying put during those times wearing just “an arm of wrapper” and during the times when all she had was “three blouses”. It is a poem where she howls and laments culminating in the penultimate revelation that despite all that she did; the husband still goes ahead to have a “new love.”
In Nege’s second poem in the same issue, “An Orphan’s Prayer” brings to fore an orphan’s daily plight, hawking wares along “rough roads” and returning home at night back to her mat where she prays.
One remarkable thing about these magazines, to wit Saraba Magazine, Sentinel Nigeria etc, is the penchant for giving platform to new and emerging voices in Nigeria. Reading through the various sections of a given issue that they release shows how bold and daring some of the stories told by some of the “new” writers can be.
In the same Issue 14 of the Sentinel Nigeria magazine, Tares Oburumu’s “April Splendours” is dazzling, startling and stylistically compelling.
“1994: the spells of flowers sprinkles peace…”—those lines flow with enormous revelry and dejavu. There are nuances here and there of the giftedness of Okigbo’s poetic styles in this writer’s work.
Apart from having read his “April Splendours” in Sentinel Nigeria, I have read some of this poet’s poetic pieces on Facebook and I find them fascinating, obsessing and sometimes obscure. But I must quickly add that the obscurity isn’t the kind that repels, rather it is of a cerebral kind, edgy and sometimes intoxicating. Yet I must also leave a caveat that the poetry that is highly obscure and difficult or even impossible for the readers to understand is no poetry, to reemphasize Niyi Osundare’s views.
In a poem simply titled, “Sarah Paul” Oburumu, startles us with the first word of the poem, “Copula…” I think it is worth reproducing herein the way he had written the piece:
she linked a
to her sex
and was found dead
in a blue stereo
One word that defines Oburumu’s poetry is “experimentation”. Experimentation heightened to the edge of beautiful ecstasy! And he can be quite limitless when he experiments. The result is poetry that is novel, not anywhere stale, simply moving, full of surrealistic life. Another distinct feature of Oburumu’s poetry is its “outlandishness”. This outlandishness is more gleaned from the imagery of his poems, and the imagistic atmosphere formed by matrixes of his images and their symbolic import. Much of his poetry is published on his Facebook timeline, not putting aside the fact that he has been published on other fora like literary journals, websites and so on.
In another of his poem, “Limits”, in part (ii) of same, Oburumu writes such poignant lines as “With a coat of saints; Love-bundle Tade/ left for us Saharan children As he look to/ prophecy and testaments”—stanza 5. One notices allusions to Tade Ipadeola’s Sahara Testaments (which won the 2013 NLNG Prize for Literature).
It is obvious how I started by saying few things about Oburumu’s “April Splendours” published on Sentinel Nigeria and how this took me to some of his poems published on his Facebook timeline. The drift was a deliberate one,– or better, on purpose. What I strove to achieve was to reveal some aspects of this emerging poet whose voice is distinct. And this cannot be wholly done by looking at just a piece of his work. Neither do I think that absolute justice has been done to the purpose pursued by mere superficial analysis of very few of his poems herein. As a way of summarising this analysis of this poet’s work, it is important dropping the link to his chapbook at his blog.
New and emerging voices from Nigeria grow everyday on the internet. On Facebook I have come to know so many promising writers, particularly those in the poetic genre, whose works imbue with the sense of delight in their mirroring of life’s realities, and in their scintillating and brilliant treatment of everyday topical issues through the writing medium. With the excellent works done by the people at Saraba, and Sentinel which forms the focal point of this piece, and the excellent works of other African literary magazines, I am certain these emerging voices will be given the much needed and deserving light.
PHOTO CREDIT: ONIS SAMPSON, 2017
ONIS SAMPSON is a young Nigerian lawyer, award-winning poet, essayist, playwright, scriptwriter, Author, and writer of diverse genres whose oeuvre is quite ineffable. His book of poems, A city is talking inside my head was recently published by Proofnet Publishers.