The Wanderer is not (yet) dead…

I’m back in London… a week or so after I returned to my neck of the midland woods, where strange accents flit like birds from tree to friggin’ tree… This evening at the National Library, Wasafiri hosted another in the series of events marking its 25th Birthday Anniversary (1984 – 2009). The event, themed “THE BOOKS THAT MADE ME” had Helen Cross, Diana Evans, Aamer Hussein, Caryl Phillips and Marina Warner talking about books that influenced them / made a significant impact on their lives/careers as writers. Each writer talked about two books – they read excerpts, shared anecdotes and revealed just-in-what-ways these books made a difference in their lives. The discussion was moderated by Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of The Independent.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of train-journeys, names, faces, and camera-flashlights for me. Thursday the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Fellows (of whom I am one) read at the Coventry International Festival of Literature, alongside Dorothea Smartt. I was meeting Dorothea for the first time (but certainly not hearing about her for the first time). She read from Ship Shape, her new collection. Our wonderful host was Jonathan Morley, Publisher, Heaventree Press

The day before, Wednesday, I made my way to Coventry. No, Warwick. No, Coventry. OK, to be precise, the University of Warwick, which, as the strange geographical designs of these interesting Englishmen would have it, is actually closer to Coventry than to Warwick. I went to listen to the poets George Szirtes, Zoe Brigley and Luke Kennard read. I have exchanged correspondence with George by email for a few years now, so when I saw on his facebook page news of the event, I made up my mind to go, especially since Coventry is just a 25 minute train from Birmingham. It was a pleasure meeting him and his wife, Clarissa, who’s an artist /painter. It was a great pleasure meeting them, and I found it hard deciding who (of the couple) was nicer/warmer 😉

Also met the poets (and academics) David Morley and George Ttoouli

Luke Kennard teaches at the University of Birmingham, I presume his office is only a short distance away from the Cadbury Fellows’ Office. I first came across his name in a Times Ten Rising Stars of British Poetry List. In 2007, at 26 he was shortlisted for the the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection), the youngest person ever to bag that honour.

Three very different poets, different in their themes and approaches and tools, different in their reading styles, but all very accomplished. And I was amazed at how the ‘performance’ of their work gave life to Words.

Saturday morning I found myself on the road to Oxford, to attend Day 2 of the 3-day Marechera Celebration, at Trinity College, Oxford. Lest I start to gush over my time in Oxford (people who know me well know that my verdicts on events/books/movies that I absolutely enjoyed attending/reading/watching consist chiefly of blisssful declarations of near-orgasmic proportions, strained painfully between melodrama and incoherence) shall we simply agree that I very much enjoyed my time in Oxford, watched over by the stubborn ghosts (plural, yes) of Sir Dambudzo Marechera, the Alaiyeluwa of Experimental African Fiction.

Yes I did.

Brian Chikwava was there, to launch his (debut) novel, Harare North, and Tinashe  Mushakavanhu, who has been my facebook friend for a bit and who I was meeting for the first time. Elleke Boehmer, Alastair Niven, Flora Veit-Wild, James Currey, Heetan Bhagat and many more. And Chimanimani, who set our feet on fire till the early hours of Sunday morning

I am to be found at most of these events with my camera, trying to blind people with my flash. Thus far, mission not accomplished.

I ‘wrant’ (write+rant) this from my ‘hideout’ on Penywern Road. I discovered this ‘Hotel Street’ (the same way Mungo Park ‘discovered’ the River Niger) last week. The hotel that I stayed in the last time was fully occupied today, so today I moved two blocks (that’s American, right?) and found a new nest. With wifi and breakfast. And a cosy bed hopefully with a pouch for restless dreams…

The only challenge with these places is the amount of time it takes to negotiate with the shower buttons. Twist-turn-twist-push. Cold water still. Since I do not want to be found frozen dead in a London hotel room, I have to exercise patience, and prayerfully coax the hot water out. But it never fails to come. Eventually. Perhaps that is the way of this land, the aggressiveness that works in Lagos is impotent here…

Later today, I shall return to Birmingham, for my final week as a Cadbury Fellow… which reminds me, I have yet to visit the famed Birmingham Chocolate City, Bournville or wharever-is-called…

It is half past 1 in the morning, or as I’ve heard the English say, “half-one”. Goodnight!


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