Obari Gomba is an award-winning Nigerian writer who teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University if Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is the 2023 winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature.
Obari Gomba teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and is an Honorary Fellow in Writing of the University of Iowa (USA). He is a recipient of Rivers ANA Distinguished Writer Award, Halogen Award for Poetry, and Kangaroo Poetry Festival Poet of 2018. He is a two-time winner of both the Best Literary Artiste Award and the First Prize for Drama of the English Association of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His works include Guerrilla Post (Winner of ANA Drama Prize 2018/ Shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2018), For Every Homeland (Winner of ANA Poetry Prize 2017/ Shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2017), Thunder Protocol (Winner of ANA Poetry Prize 2016), Length of Eyes (Shortlisted for ANA Poetry Prize in 2013 /Shortlisted for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2013), and Pearls of the Mangrove (adopted as a ‘Book of the Festival’ for the 2011 Garden City Literary Festival and the 2019 Festival Poetry Calabar). He curated an anthology featuring 35 writers from 33 countries, entitled A Piece of Daily Life, for the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa (USA) in 2016.
His poetry has been featured in Re-Markings: A World Assembly of Poets and The Second Genesis: An Anthology of Contemporary World Poetry. His poetry has been published in international journals such as Prosopisia, Sentinel, Maple Tree Literary Supplement and Eleven Eleven (which listed his ‘Gun Policy’ in the 20 Best of the Net for 2016). He has read his poems in the United States at Shambaugh House (University of Iowa), Dubuque Museum of Arts, Oaknell Retirement Centre, and Kirkwood. In Nigeria, he has read his poems at Alliance Francaise in Enugu, Lagos International Poetry Festival, Lagos Book and Art Festival, Abuja Writers Forum, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Port Harcourt Book Festival, Art Republic/Art-in-My-City Exhibition in Enugu, History Concourse in Port Harcourt, and CORA Book Party for the Nigeria Prize for Literature, etc. He has also read his poems and discussed literature (and politics) on media platforms such as Radio Rivers FM, Nigerian Info FM, Rhythm FM, Radio UST FM, Garden City FM, Unique (Uniport) FM, NTA, and CCTV Africa.
His poems were performed by the Portland Stage Company in Maine USA in 2016. His other writings have also appeared in Matatu, African Review, Africa Oil+Gas Report, Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, Oja, Third Text, Jeltan, ANA Review, Culture Digest, Crucible, Working Papers, The Muse, Mgbakoigba, , New Age, Lagos Review of Books and Society, This Day, The News, amongst others. There is a chapter on his writing in Masterpieces of African Literature; and his works have been reviewed/mentioned in 234 Next, The Guardian, The Guardian Life, This Day, The Sun, National Life, Punch, Nigerian Tribune, The Nation, Ago, to mention but a few.
His work, as a teacher at the University of Port Harcourt, has deepened his interest in human capital development. Beyond teaching in the classroom, he also offered service as a moderator for Christopher Okigbo Foundation/Conference; as a facilitator/resource person to the International Writing Program’s MOOC; as a panelist for Iowa Book Festival; as the LOC Chairman of the 3rd International Conference on Tanure Ojaide; as the Festival Coordinator of the Gabriel Okara Literary Festival; as a moderator at Lagos International Poetry Festival; as a moderator at Lagos Book and Art Festival; as a writing workshop facilitator for Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital, Port Harcourt Book Festival, and Niger Delta Creative Writers’ Workshop; as a judge for Port Harcourt Carnival and Bayelsa State ANA; as a book reviewer and editor for Hornbill House of Arts; and as a resource person on advocacy to the Ministry of Economic Planning of Delta State in conjunction with ODA/UNDP. He understands that a knowledge-based society is crucial to development in the 21st century.
Dr Obari Gomba is the 2021 Global South Visiting Professor
Haneefah: Welcome to LITVO Journal. Congratulations on your recent achievement of winning the Nigeria Prize for Literature. This is the fifth time you have contested for the Prize. How did it feel when you did not win the prize the other times and what is the motivation behind your coming back every time till now that you have won for the NLNG contest?
Obari Gomba: I competed each time to win. I also know that the decision of every book-prize jury is final and must be respected. I have always been guided by cautious optimism. Essentially, a writer’s job is to write and keep writing regardless of the verdict of a jury.
Haneefah: How did you start out as a writer? What is the story behind your passion and successes as a creative writer?
Obari Gomba: In 1992, I was a member of a religious fellowship for students. On a certain Sunday evening, the topic of our discussion was “Creativity.” I was a literature student in secondary school, and it occurred to me that I could develop my capacity to write poems and plays and stories.
Haneefah: What does Playwrighting mean to you? How will you define Playwrighting and Stage Play? I ask this because in Nigeria, playwrighting and stage play seem to be receding, especially as a result of the rapid growth of the movie industry and its shows on TV?
Obari Gomba: Playwrighting has always been an important form of Nigerian literature. Our only Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, won the coveted prize mainly for his drama and he was/is “chiefly recognized as a dramatist.” Nigerian writers have been in the business of drama for ages: Soyinka, Rotimi, Osofisan, Yerima, etc. This year, amongst the writers who made the longlist of 11 for the Nigeria Prize for Literature were Cheta Igbokwe and Abuchi Modilim, two young playwrights. Nigerian drama is alive and braving the difficulties of the economy and transitions of modernity. Modernity impacts on the production and transmission of art, and it calls for resilience and reinvention.
Haneefah: Writers often claim not to be writing for prizes only to see them featuring in one prize or another. What is the place of prizes in creative writing?
Obari Gomba: Every literary tradition requires a support system. Good publishing and promotion are as important as awards and prizes. Even though writers do not write only for prizes, they need prizes to reward creativity, energize the creative space, and call attention to books. We need more awards and prizes. I am grateful to the Nigeria LNG Limited for raising the bar; God bless them.
Haneefah: As a writer, how would define the relationship between fame and money with your writing?
Obari Gomba: I would rather be a famous and rich writer than an unknown and poor one. Every writer is at liberty to make that choice or any other choice.
Haneefah: You have won prizes for your poetry and drama. The Lilt of the Rebel is the winning book for PAWA Prize for African Poetry 2022, Guerrilla Post is the winning book for the ANA Drama Prize 2018 amongst others. Which of these genres do you connect more with?
Obari Gomba: I write poems from a place of agony, even the “happy” poems. I write plays from a place of joy, even the tragic plays.
Haneefah: The title of your play, Grit, is metaphorical. How did you come about the title?
Obari Gomba: I do not take book titles lightly. But Grit just came to me.
Haneefah: What purpose do you envision your play, Grit, to serve?
Obari Gomba: I want Grit to be the play that brought new momentum to Nigerian drama.
Haneefah: The play Grit metaphorically uses the family of Pa Nyimenu to portray the disunity in Nigeria and its devastated state. The issue of disunity has been as old as man within the family and in the society, thus portraying the inevitability of a flawed society. Do you think a flawless society is an illusion?
Obari Gomba: It is because we understand that humans are flawed that we insist on the pursuit of justice. Our wellbeing and happiness are tied to the development of a just and fair society. That is not an illusion.
Haneefah: Writers are natural satirists. Becoming Nigeria by Elnathan John for one; Pius Adesanmi is another. Literature, in general, is an elaborate social criticism. Does the Nigerian social structure respond as you would have wished to protest literature?
Obari Gomba: No, the response ought to be better than is. But our literature has remained a pillar of the crusade against bad governance. Protest must be constant; silence is surrender.
Haneefah: It is said that literature and politics do not see eye to eye. What is your perception of the relationship between Politics and Literature?
Obari Gomba: It is the writer’s job to see politics clearly and to interrogate society. If writing does not challenge abusive politics, then writing is complicit.
Haneefah: You are a lecturer of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Port Harcourt. How easy or hard is it for you to juggle writing and teaching?
Obari Gomba: If I have my way, I will simply write without the distractions or burdens of academic life. However, I understand the role of the university system in the production of knowledge and manpower. So, I do what I must do in a country where academics are maltreated by the government.
Haneefah: Truth be told, Man’s mind wanders limitlessly. I am certain your mind was tossing the NLNG dollars around before the win: “I will do this, I will do that, if I win.” What were they?
Obari Gomba: A man like me does not spend money before it is made or earned. Even hatched chicks must grow before they are eaten or sold.
Haneefah: What would you say about the advocacy of some established writers that the $100,000 prize should be split into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd?
Obari Gomba: Who are those established writers? I plead with them to persuade other individuals and organizations to institute more prizes. There are many persons and entities in Nigeria that can start their own prize administration and vary the models as they please. Every award or prize has its model. Let us all be inspired by the huge investment of the Nigeria LNG Limited in the Nigeria Prize for Literature.
Haneefah Abdulrahman is a writer, interviewer, spoken poetry artiste and podcaster from Nigeria whose work has appeared in Nigerian Review, Wisprout Project, Arts MuseFair, and elsewhere. She is a 2021 fellow of Ebedi International Writers Residency, a Pioneer fellow of Imodoye Writers’ Residency, and she was a Columnist at DailyTrust Newspaper. She is the Author of Shades of Becoming. She is the 2021 Winner of The Arewa Rising Literary Star. Born in Kaduna, Haneefah is an indigene of Kogi State. She is a student of English Literature at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. She is the Chairperson of the Kaduna Branch, Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, the 2021/ 2022 Chairperson of the Creative Writers Club, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria – Nigeria, the Editor-in-Chief of Literature Voices (LITVO) and the Editorial Assistant of the Moveee Magazine.