Thursday, September 22, 2011

GUEST POST: Introducing Omoseye Bolaji – An Intriguing African Writer

As most of you know, I have almost solely handled this blog. All articles, reviews, interviews and others have been from me. This is my first Guest Post. Rahpael Mokoena is a book critic and a South African and wants to introduce to us the 'intriguing African writer', Omosoye Bolaji, a writer from Nigeria. This is more like a South-West connection.

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By Raphael Mokoena
Omoseye Bolaji (right) with  Pule Lechesa
Omoseye Bolaji, the South African based versatile Nigerian writer, is an intriguing wordsmith. He often baffles readers and critics. Is he a “serious, committed” African writer, or otherwise? What is his literary legacy? Why is he often dubbed a “grassroots oriented” writer?

Yet, many serious literary critics and commentators take him (Omoseye Bolaji) serious; to the extent that over half a dozen different studies (books) have been published about his literary work. The academics of the rather conservative University of the Free State were also in unison when they conferred the Chancellor’s Medal of the University on Bolaji in 2007.

It is clear enough that that just like in the world famous case of British writer, Dorothy Sayers, most of Bolaji’s readers will always associate him with Mystery/Detective works. Indeed, Bolaji has created one of Africa’s best known sleuths, Tebogo Mokoena, who features in seven published books – from Tebogo Investigates (2000) to Tebogo and the pantophagist (2010) See selected works at end of this article.
Despite the great success and the popularity of the “Tebogo Mystery series”, especially in South Africa, it would be wrong to pigeon-hole Bolaji, or his corpus of writings in this way. Bolaji’s versatility as a writer often works against him, as he is a novelist, short story writer, journalist, poet, biographer, playwright, essayist, literary critic, etc.

I for one feel that Bolaji’s contributions to sparkling literary criticism/essays, has been largely undermined. His two major books of this ilk, Thoughts on Free State Writing (2002) and Miscellaneous Writings (2011) are powerful and eclectic enough to earn him a solid reputation as a skilful literary critic/writer. Thoughts on Free State Writing, though published almost ten years ago, is an intelligent work containing well thought-out chapters on subjects like African fiction, Books for children, Literary criticism, Poetry, Biographies, African renaissance, vagaries of Education etc.

Omoseye Bolaji’s latest published work, Miscellaneous Writings (2011) is already being described by some pundits as a breathtaking work of art containing many short dazzling essays. At least half of these essays involve world, African literature, but there are many other topics brilliantly brought to life by the author in this new work. Topics, or, and protagonists covered in this new work include: DH Lawrence, Lewis Nkosi, The Allure of Father Xmas!, The National English Literary Museum (Grahamstown), Steve Biko, Nigerian and South African Writers, Camara Laye, Dambudzo Marechera, NMM Duman, Gabriel Okara, Facebook, Ola Rotimi, The tormentone, Gordon Banks, Horrific Murder/Rape, Segun Odegbami, The Illustrators, Teboho Masakala, Musical Maestros, Sheila Khala, Relativity of Poverty and others.

Omoseye Bolaji’s reputation as a poet is also limited, despite the fact that his poems are often evocative and dazzling, and they have been reviewed liberally across the board. Bolaji has actually published three books of poetry (see list below)

Bolaji has published only one play – The subtle transgressor, a drama which has been put on stage a number of times. The published play itself, especially the Sesotho edition, was reportedly a “fast-seller”. Translated into Sesotho by poet and literary critic, Pule Lechesa, Joo, letsa Shwa-Letla Botswa has been quite a success.

Bolaji's 2011 Book
This short introduction to the literary contributions of Omoseye Bolaji can not be complete without mentioning other general novels published by him (as distinct from the “Tebogo Mystery series). Bolaji has written and published other interesting works of fiction like Impossible Love, The ghostly adversary and People of the Townships. The latter (People of the townships) is considered by many to be a quite important work in South African Black Literature.

I hope this piece will inspire others to do more research on Omoseye Bolaji and his published works – for one thing, there is no shortage of interesting articles on the man and his work on the internet. Let’s all learn more about the man dubbed “The Black African master of the unexpected”!

A SELECTION OF BOLAJI’S WORKS:     
The Tebogo Mystery series 
  • Tebogo Investigates (2000) 
  • Tebogo’s spot of bother (2001) 
  • Tebogo Fails (2003) Ask Tebogo (2004) 
  • Tebogo and the haka (2008) 
  • Tebogo and the epithalamion (2009)
  • Tebogo and the pantophagist (2010)) 

Poetry  
  • Snippets (1998)  
  • Reverie (2006)  
  • Poems from Mauritius (2007)
Literary essays/criticism 
  • Thoughts on Free State Writing (2002) 
  • Miscellaneous Writings (2010)  
General novels
  • Impossible Love (2ooo)
  • The ghostly adversary (2001)
  • People of the townships (2003)
Drama  
  • The subtle transgressor (2006)

48 comments:

  1. Good to read of a great African writer

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  2. Great post! I wonder if his books are avaialbel in teh US; folks are always looking for a great new detective series!

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  3. How is it that I've not heard of this author? Most intrigued by his detective series. Must ask someone in SA to get us a copy. Thanks to Mr. Mokoena.

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  4. Exhilarating to see this here. Excellent blog on literature. seems a pity though that we writers/lovers of literature can be so ignorant about each other, no matter how accomplished

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  5. I can't believe that all the great articles, reviews, interviews here over the many months have been written by one person! This shows extraordionary love for literature. Has the blogger published books, and what genre?

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  6. @PM... there are a lot of authors whose works are not promoted, perhaps it doesn't fall in the circle of 'African Stories'.

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  7. @Marie, I hope they are. South Africa has a vibrant literary market and they push into other markets in Europe and North America.

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  8. @RK... thanks. Yes, we usually don't search for others. We sometimes prefer to work in our small area which helps no one.

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  9. @Anon... This is my blog and it is a place where I share my love for literature. Thus, everything here is personal to me. I love literature, though I have no training in it.

    I have had some poems published at various sites, and in anthologies. Check my Publications tab at the top of this blog. However, I don't have a single-authored book to my name. Not yet.

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  10. A black African author churning out detective books? How commendable
    (SOQAGA)

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  11. @Anon... people are ready to write all sorts of books if the publishing houses would not discriminate against the non-poverty/war/hunger stereotypes that has pervaded our markets.

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  12. RAPHAEL MOKOENA writes:

    I'm happy to see my article here. Literature should be universal, and of course as africans we must celebrate our authentic writers. I can see some of the respondents here want to learn even more about Bolaji's detective series. they can check my article "Omoseye Bolaji and the African detective genre" on internet

    http://www.palapalamagazine.com/2011/02/omoseye-bolaji-and-the-african-detective-genre.html

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  13. thanks Raphael for contributing this and unveiling to us another great African writer.

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  14. Yes Mr. Raphael Mokoena. I think I have similar view with respect to the work of Omoseye Bolaji. Indeed Chief Bolaji is a great writer. For several years til date, he has contributed immensely to Education and Journalism to the Peoples of South Africa, Nigeria and Overseas, through his Literary Works, especial Grassroot Literature. We need more skillful people of such caliber to make the world a better place. Chief Bolaji, more palm oil to the palms of your hands. 8ta!

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  15. The blogger here, Ntate (as we say in South Africa) Nana Fredua-Agyeman has done very well to amplify further the trends in international African literature. We writers from the many dozens of countries in Africa should try to come together to spread awareness of our great wordsmiths, and pungent literary works

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  16. AARON writes:

    I like the expression “This is more like a South-west connection” alluded to in the very beginning, introduction to this great article. That’s what it is indeed – “South-west (literary) connection!”

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  17. @Sirsteve17: thanks for this comment. I am glad to have been introduced to Bolaji.

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  18. @Pule, thanks for your comments and encouragement.

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  19. Ignorance (even in literature) can be shocking indeed. I remember when the renowned American writer, Toni Morrison won the Nobel Award for Literature, a famous fellow American said: “WHO IS HE?” not knowing that Morrison was a woman! With the internet now, there is no reason for such ignorance these days! We can not read all the books available but we can at least do some research on key writers through the internet

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  20. The blogger here (Ntate Agyeman) is well advised to put his countless book reviews, interviews, essays etc here together and publish everything in book form. What a boon this will be for African literature!!! (From Tebogo)

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  21. a big big new introduction to this writer.

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  22. @pule lol. That story is real funny. I remember when Mario Vargas won, I had to start searching and reading more about him.

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  23. @Anon, thanks for your advise. This being the second or third time I am receiving this, I guess I'll have to work on that.

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  24. GEORGE REFLECTS:

    Arguably my favourite among Bolaji's books is Tebogo and the Haka (2008). This novella is a classic of a mystery story!

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  25. Thanks for this great guest post - I've added the author's works to my wish list. He's published so many works, and they sound really great. I'm surprised he's not more well known! Although, I just noticed he's not listed on Amazon.com at all. Ridiculous! I hope I can find some of his works while I'm here in SA!

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  26. I suppose thats one of the joyss of literature. WE can always discover good writers anytime. Camara Laye was on the scene before I was borne, a great African writer but I just discovered him a few weeks ago - am re-reading his African Child book again now

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  27. @George, I hope his books are widespread in circulation.

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  28. @Amy: That's ridiculous indeed. Let's wait for some responses on this.

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  29. I find it interesting that many half baked people in the literary biz underestimate the importance of reviewers and critics. Simply put, if not for these people most books will be published without any real perceptive readers seeing them or reading them. Take 2 great African writers for example - Marechera, and Laye (referred to above by a commentator) If
    critic Flora Wild Veit had not promoted, written so many books on Marechera, many of us would not realise what a fine writer he was;
    also note how Doctor Adele King has promoted, written brilliant books on Camara Laye. In the case of Bolaji he has been lucky that critics
    and writers like Raphael Mokoena, Flaxman (who has published 2 books on Bolaji), P Lechesa, Hector (whose book on Bolaji is the best) and
    of course myself have promoted his works.

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  30. @RK: thanks for this comment. I agree that critics and reviewers do a lot to promote writers. Even when a book receives negative review, people will like to read it for themselves.

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  31. I like the comment: "even when a book receives negative review, people will like to read it for themselves."

    How true

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  32. and yet people will virtually insult you for expressing your opinion.

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  33. The critic should not worry about the bile that will come his/her way, so long as he/she is being intellectually honest, sensible and contributing to the literary hoard. Many great African writers began to dislike each other because they were "pulling apart" each other's work - eg Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Chinweizu, Lewis Nkosi (arguably Africa's strongest ever literary critic) But in the end the substantive criticisms, good and bad, stand on their own and form a permanent body for scholars and readers to cherish forever. Those writers not noticed by critics fall by the wayside
    - P LECHESA

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  34. thanks Lechesa for the encouragement.

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  35. MOTSHWARI MOFOKENG writes from Johannesburg:

    I am glad that Free State writers are promoting literature in an international level - the likes of Bolaji, Lechesa (critic) etc who I know personally. This blog is doing a great job for African literature. keep it up

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  36. Ahem...if my small research on internet is excused, is the blogger here (Nana...) the same gentleman who studied at an American University, Ohio, a few years ago??

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  37. Wonderful, revealing comments here. Makes following literature worthwhile. So much ignorance around, and perhaps too many writers! (though very small compared to Africa';s populations) I salute the hard working committed, brilliant blogger (From Susan, a poet from Kimberly)

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  38. @Rasebeli, '... perhaps too many readers!' I agree with you here.

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  39. Hold on. Raseleleleli (whatever your real name is)please refrain from tarnishing this excellent blog with aliases and such tricks. We can see through such deceptions, at least some of the loyal readers of this blog. You need to decide whether you want to be Raseleleleli or Susan. Please man, if you're a man, we don't have time for such tricks. i suppose you authored other posts above too. don't waste our time here. I apologise to loyal readers for this. I'm sure you can see the tricks above.

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  40. @Anon, thanks for pointing this out. I noticed some something and I've sometimes not published all the comments because they were too similar. Will work on this.

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  41. RASELEBELI KHOTSENG writes:

    I have been too busy – unlike the uncouth, manner-less, anti-literature lout and rabble-rouser who wrote comment 45 above; but I can tell good readers of this blog that some weeks ago, I explained to the respected blogger what happened as regards comment 42 above here…he advised me then, to put my email to him on his blog here, which I am finally doing today. Those who really love African literature can also take the opportunity to check out my blog. So here is my email to Mr Fredua-Agyeman weeks ago, and his reply….


    “My dear brother in literature.

    I wish to protest against the horrific attack on me on your blog, by a faceless person suggesting I am a suspicious character. It was crude, unnecessary, spiteful and
    completely unacceptable. There are so few of us African blacks promoting literature, and we should not fight ourselves. Like you, I am a blogger on literature, and I have published a book of poems - see links below. I love blogs on African literature, as they are so rare!
    As far as I know, your blog, together with that of Deon's in Cape Town, are the best in the whole of Africa. As regards my blog, it is nowhere as good as yours, though it is respected worldwide like yours. As you can see below, I rarely write any articles there myself, but for
    years encourage literary experts to contribute pieces. All that happened in the case of the lady (on your blog) is simple enough among book lovers here. When they love a blog link they tell you, text you - "oh I tried to send a comment, it did not go through, can you put it on that blog for me, here's the text." Simple and innocuous. Nothing sinister. I can assure you that the only few comments I made on your blog were those that had my photo, and when I tried to help susan. Or is it that some crude people don't want South Africans to follow your blog?

    Links.

    1. http://openlibrary.org/works/OL15551637W/Hold_back_your_tears
    2. http://blackafricanliterature.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2011-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&updated-max=2012-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-08%3A00&max-results=16

    Raselebeli

    Mr Fredua-Agyeman replied my email as follows:


    “Hi Raselebeli
    Thanks for the explanations. I'd have been glad if you had put this on the blog. However, sorry for this. I understand your point. And we shouldn't even start quarreling among ourselves.

    Your friend in the arts
    Nana

    Nana Fredua-Agyeman

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  42. It's been quite some time I read this piece again! It seems a lot has happened since then; the unnecessary spat above for example. But readers of Omoseye Bolaji's fiction will be happy that his new work, Tebogo and the Bacchae is out! Reviews of the book can be found on the internet. Continue to relish literature!

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