Spotlight Features

Director's Spotlight: AKE Arts and Book Festival's Lola Shoneyin

Director's Spotlight: AKE Arts and Book Festival's Lola Shoneyin

Introducing the people shaping the literary festival world.

This week it’s Lola Shoneyin’s turn in the spotlight, Director of Ake Arts and Book Festival, who tells us about the Festival and the cultural scene in Nigeria.

GAOLF: How did you get involved in the LitFest world?

LS: The first edition of the Ake Festival took place in November 2013 so we’ve been around for ten years. I have been the Director since its inception. All that is changing soon though, as I explore new opportunities in 2023. I am a writer, reader, publisher (Ouida Books) bookseller and an aspiring documentary-maker. I spent a lot of my life teaching in secondary schools in the UK and in Nigeria, rising to the post of Deputy Head before saying goodbye to chalkface in 2012. Over the last twenty-five years, I have founded and run several cultural and literary initiatives like Ibadan Arts Renaissance, Infusion, Olongo Journal, and Ake Review.

In my writing life, I published three volumes of poetry, a novel, and four children’s books. I am currently working on a project called Northern Lights which involves writing books set in different states in northern Nigeria, where we have over 10 million out-of-school children.

To be able to combine all the things that are important to me – literacy, reading, Culture – is a daily gift. I have four children, two dogs and two cats. I live in Lagos, Nigeria

What do you love about the LitFest world?

I love the planning and all the activities that go on behind the scenes. I like the idea of putting on a show that makes people feel included, heard and nourished. Breathing the same air as authors and thinkers that I admire is a huge bonus for me. But best of all, it’s the magic that happens when you bring creatives, and thinkers together.

What would you like to see more of at Festivals?

More members of the general public don’t realise what they are missing.

What sets your Festival apart?

It is an Africa-focused festival that builds bridges internationally.

What is your favourite festival memory?

Definitely watching Ama Ata Aidoo sing along to the music of Queen Abeni Salawa at the festival music concert in 2017.

Aside from Covid-19, what has been your biggest challenge?

It is always finance. I think it is inevitable because no matter what you have, you always think of more things you could do with a bit more cash.

If you could have a festival panel featuring any authors dead or alive, who would you have and what would the topic be?

Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood — interviewed by Maaza Mengiste. The topic: Literary Prophecies and the Ghosts of the Past

Last book that you read and what are you looking forward to next on your reading list?

Bernardine Evaristo’s Manifesto On Never Giving Up.

Authors we need to know about from your region/country?

  • Bisi Adjapon’s The Teller of Secrets is a devastatingly honest coming-of-age about family, sensuality and loss.
  • Hadiza El-rufai’s An Abundance of Scorpions is a powerful novel about loss and a woman’s quest to restore her husband’s dignity gives us unique insight into the lives of women from northern Nigeria.
  • Leye Adenle’s The Beautiful Side of the Moon is a powerful and witty novel that is unflinching in its Nigerianness by one of the best speculative fiction writers of our time.

Favourite literary quote?

It’s not really a literary quote but it captures my approach to life and my work: “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.”  William Blake, Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion

Do you have any parting comments?

More than ever, in this crazy troubled world, we need the wisdom and light of wordsmiths and artists who can capture our better selves. I love playing my part in helping them flourish. I can’t wait to host my colleagues in Abeokuta later in the year. We’re very excited.