Critics in general, and literary critics in particular, do what they do because of their love for the arts. This passion, however, does not always translate to positive public perception in wider circles. Many critics are sneered at, branded as “haters”, and often told to go create their own work if they are good enough. The importance of literary criticism is often underplayed in these parts, and to this extent, any attempt to reward those who take it upon themselves to critically analyse a creative process is worthy of commendation.
The Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Book Review was launched in 2015 on the occasion of the 17th Edition of the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), as a way of commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of Ken Saro Wiwa, who was a writer, human rights activist and literary critic. The prize was launched by the Committee of Relevant Art (CORA), promoters of LABAF, with the aim of deepening the culture of reading and engagement of content of literary works.
This year’s edition was open to students, academics, literary enthusiasts and the general public. Contestants had to review any four of twelve selected books authored by award-winning poet Professor Niyi Osundare, whose 70th birthday was celebrated in “literary style” at the 2017 Lagos Book and Art Festival. After a thorough evaluation of entries, Jerry Chiemeke emerged as this year’s winner of the Ken Saro Wiwa Prize for Book Review, with his spectacular reviews of the books “The Word Is An Egg”, “Random Blues”, “Tender Moments: Love Poems” and “Village Voices”, all poetry collections.
For his efforts at critiquing Professor Osundare’s work, Chiemeke is entitled to a cash prize of N100,000 (one hundred thousand naira). The winning reviews would also be published in popular media and reputable literary journals. The 26-year old, who enjoys a good following on Facebook, was conspicuously absent at the announcement of his prize winning; it is however hoped that he has been duly contacted and presented with the good news.
Jerry Chiemeke, lawyer, editor and critic, has been published in The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Viva Naija, True Nollywood Stories and Pulse Nigeria. He runs a column on Bella Naija where he critiques African literature on behalf of online publishing platform Okadabooks, and he also reviews Nollywood movies for a number of independent online platforms, including Loladeville and Syn City.