Ebedi International Writers Residence, Nigeria – Empowerment of Women’s Literature Through Writers Residency Programmes: The Ebedi Experience
Dr. Wale Okediran gave a presentation on the Ebedi International Writers’ Residence in Nigeria founded by him. Although it is open to both men and women, he explained that he especially encourages women to attend because they are so busy at home that need a residency to realise their literary dreams. He was convinced that if well organized, a residency would give women space to write. He said that the residency offers a conducive environment in a serene setting. The residency is free of charge and offers free medical facilities and a stipend. For one to qualify, one must have work in progress and be ready to spend 4-6 weeks at the residency. Writers are assessed midway and also given an opportunity to mentor secondary school students in Iseyin. They stay in private self-contained suites with a housekeeper at hand. Nursing/pregnant mothers are also encouraged to attend the residency by providing facilities necessary to keep them comfortable in their condition(s).
Dr Okediran gave the opinion that more than ever before, women writers, considering the several roles they play as mothers, wives, professionals and care givers, have had to struggle not only to write well but to also successfully market their works. He argued that it is on record that some of the bestselling works of the nineteenth century and contemporary period were authored by women. Florence Nwanzuruahu Nkiru Nwapa (13 January 1931 – 16 October 1993) was a Nigerian author best known as Flora Nwapa. She has been called the mother of modern African literature. Nwapa’s first novel Efuru published in 1966 by Heinemann Educational Books will be celebrating its 50th anniversary later this year.
Giving a bit of history of residencies, he said that the earliest artists residencies were The Corporation of Yaddo, founded in 1900 and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild in 1902, both established in the state of New York. Residency for writers generally is both necessary and expedient. It is not only a place of peace and tranquillity for the writer to articulate and organize his thoughts, but also a place for the cross-fertilization of ideas with other writers. He explained that while university based writers have writers clubs, creative writing courses and magazines, non-university writers need residencies to nurture and expand their creativities. He gave 3 types of residency – the self-directed residency where residents work on their own;
instructional/Structured residency where residents are involved in workshops with resource persons; and the mixed residency where residents are loosely monitored, like the Ebedi Residency.
Dr Okediran listed 6 residencies available in Nigeria – The Ebedi Residency, Iseyin, Oyo State (2012); UNIPORT Residency, PH, Rivers State (2014); Prof J P Clarke Residency, Delta State (2014); Prof Femi Osofisan’s Residency, Ibadan, Oyo State (2015); Prof Wole Soyinka’s Residency, Abeokuta, Ogun State (2015); and VirginRose Residency, Lagos (2016)
Giving outputs of the Ebedi Residency, he said that so far 65 writers have attended the residency out of which, 35 were women. On a yearly basis, the residency receives more applications from women than from men. Apart from their immense contributions to the mentoring aspect of the residency, it was confirmed that the ladies who usually find joy in literary interactions with each other are usually able to meet or exceed their literary targets at the end of their residency. To explain the experiences the participants enjoy, he quoted Ayodele, one of the residency participants,“You are here free of cares and then it helps when you see writers around. I’m a talker, I like discussing stuff to help my thought process. I sound people out so that I don’t sound too foolish, I say, okay, this might just work. I wake up early in the morning and I’m talking and she (Yewande) says, ‘I have quiet time’. At a point she goes, ‘don’t come into my room’. It has helped. I talk to Rukayat, too, I talk to Apophia—–Ayodele
The Ebedi Residency however has its own share of challenges. One of them is the difficulty in coming up with an appropriate Timing For The Residency. While it may be easy for male writers to decide on when to go for a Writers Residency Program, the same cannot be said of women writers especially the married ones who may also have a regular job. Motherhood and its challenges is quite often a stumbling block to women. On two occasions some women writers were allowed to attend the Residency with their babies. Once in a while, due to an emergency or a very pressing issue at home or in the office, we have had instances when a Writer had to either shorten her stay or prematurely abandon the Residency. Though still very minimal, a larger number of such cases were with Women Writers.
A major complaint by non-Nigerians residents is the high amount of pepper in their food. In one of the newspaper interviews, Apophia had this to say; “Some of the foods are the same like rice and spaghetti, but the way we prepare it is different. So I don’t take pepper and all the food in Nigeria is full of pepper’’
In view of the several roles they play as mothers, wives, professionals and care givers, women writers have had to struggle not only to write well but to also to find the time and place to write. Dr Okediran concluded that they have found solace in writers’ residencies where as in the case of Ebedi Residency, it has been confirmed that women writers have done very well. As a way forward, he pleaded a case for more writers residencies to be established especially in Africa by governments, corporate organizations and private individuals. But there is need for the existing residencies to be supported in order to achieve their desired goals of creating space and time for women writers to concentrate on their writing. They need it to improve their craft.