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Eyeing mega bucks with children literature

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Eyeing mega bucks with children literature


A nominee for the 100,000 dollars Nigeria Prize for Literature, Uche Peter-Umez, speaks on his experience diversifying into children literature

After an eventful adventure in adult literature, Uche Peter-Umez seeks a niche in children arts. The author of several books — prose and poetry — especially, has won major national prizes and once got nominated for the Caine Prize. With the publication of his The Runaway Hero, his muse has stooped to conquer the young readers too.

And, despite the intrigues involved in switching from writing for adults to children literature, the story seems to be so far so good for the Port Harcourt, Rivers State-based author who works with a transport company.

The book is among the six nominated for the whopping 100,000 dollars Nigeria Prize for Literature founded by the Nigeria LNG. Other things being equal, a children — not childish, really — book may fetch him some N15m in the next few weeks when the prize will be decided.

But this is not Peter-Umez’s maiden attempt at capturing the mega deal that is otherwise called the Nigerian Nobel Prize. One of his works drew him close to the crest four years ago when a former artistic director of the National Troupe, Ahmed Yerima, won the prize.

Now, Peter-Umez is back in the ring, but he says this is far from being out of desperation.

He says, “It’s like once beaten twice shy. I don’t have much expectation because the other five contenders are very brilliant, gifted writers. So, you can’t take that away from them. What expectation I have is what they also have. As I tell people, I have been fortunate with many of the awards I have got over the years. So, I don’t know what the judges usually look out for but I think I have been fortunate in some of the prizes I have won.

“For this particular prize, I don’t think it’s a do or die affair. The most important thing for me is to have the stamina to keep developing my craft as a writer and being able to write enduring works - not just winning an award and at the end of the day nobody knows about you. Your work ends up on your shelf. Then your prize money, you use it to do one or two things. What I am saying is that I want to look beyond the prize.”

On why he diversified into children literature, he notes that he feels for the young ones because he they are being neglected.

“Most people focus on adults while little attention is given to children,” he explains. “Then I saw that the only way I could do this, since I don’t have a media house, is to write stories for children and hope that these stories get to as many children as would wish to read them.

“Usually, I like writing stories that are socially important. As Achebe said, people should write to correct ills, write to draw attention to denigration and all that. So I felt that the orphanage, the underprivileged, particularly in this case, children, are not being looked into. Their condition in the orphanage is very debilitating and I need to draw attention to the way people live in these orphanages. I feel that writing this book will, in a way, reawaken people’s interest towards looking at life in the orphanage. How bleak and how derelict they are.”

Many people who have tried to write for children ended up a woeful failure. Or, at least, their products practically fell off the shelf like a pack of cards. The reason, often, is that they failed to master the art of writing for young souls.

Peter-Umez has some advice for such people. According to him, writing for children and writing for adults have their own context. His words, “When I am writing for children, of course, I am very conscious about it and I am also conscious that I don’t need to make the characters to be too complex or the storyline too complex — but just a little complex.

“In a children’s novel, people/ children can read simple stories because you feel that their level of intellectual capacity is still little but in the adult you want your story to be very logical, realistic and very convincing. For me, it’s been a bit smooth because I’m not the type of writer who does so many writing activities at the same time. I do one after the other.”

Other books in contest with The Runaway Hero are: Aunty Felicia Goes to School by Philip Begho, Eno’s Story by Ayodele Olofintuade, The Great Fall by Chinyere Obi-Obasi, The Missing Clock by Mai Nasara, and Red Nest by Thelma Nwokeji.

On the panel of judges for this year’s prize, chaired by Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, are Professors Lekan Oyegoke, Yakubu Nasidi, David Ker and Ini-Obong Uko. - Nigerian news, entertainment news, nollywood, naija, Nigeria, West Africa

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Updated 7 Years ago

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