Some say the Fidelity Bank Creative Writing Workshop -—that convened June 17-24, 2011 at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka— was poorly organized. They argue that the organizers were trying to cut costs.

They say this, I think, because the workshop slated to end on Saturday, June 25th, was abruptly cut short; and was made to end on Thursday, June 23rd. And had any participant booked a flight for Saturday, no one knows what could have happened if they were unable to rebook on short notice. Participants had been informed in their invitation letters that their transportation fares wouldn’t be refunded. And it is unlikely that stranded participants would have been compensated for any inconvenience.

Did Fidelity Bank reduce the budget for the annual creative writing workshop?

Some believe this because there seemed to be insufficient funds or manpower to print out revised versions of participants’ stories and facilitator’s lecture notes. For participants were found scurrying about with flash drives looking for cyber cafes to print out their works. Facilitators managed to hand out lecture notes on the closing day.

Again, the internet network signal at UNN’s Continuing Education Center – the guest house where participants and facilitators lodged – was intermittent. They also argue that the menu was monotonous. The restaurateurs seemed to be counting portions, given that none of the participants and/or facilitators was allowed to drink more than a bottle of the 50cl Renaissance University water per meal. No one was allowed to order an extra serving of the meat or fish at the CEC restaurant. The menu contained high calorie foods, they argue. And most people feared they would inevitably add more pounds to their weight before the workshop ended.

To be fair, maybe the organizers simply didn’t have money to afford accommodations that weren’t mosquito-infested; or a decent banquet hall where total darkness, due to power failure, wouldn’t have thrown everyone out of the literary evening/closing event. It was a funny sight to behold: artists reading their poems with a torch light.

No one is sure though, if it was parsimony or frugality that led Fidelity Bank to contract amateurs from the music department at the Nsukka Campus to perform throughout the event. The complainants weren’t expecting to see Egypt 50, or Asa, or Shino Peters, or Indie Arie; the cost could have been preposterous. But many objected to hearing campus choristers. They couldn’t wait for the band to stop playing.

Despite these shortcomings, there were some who were less disappointed. They had no lofty expectations. No previous workshop experience with which to compare Fidelity Bank’s program. The sheets were clean and the food was tasty, at least. So what if the intercoms were funny? What did it matter that Irene answered from room 222 when you dialed the laundry number at 131? They say it’s alright that participants weren’t given a program of events until the third of the six-day workshop. This is Nigeria after all. It was okay that participants scurried about and appeared for events at African time. This group argues that participants have no right to complain about the absence of a per diem—even though they agree that they would have used the stipends, if they’d been given them, to buy more books. They agree that it would have made a difference if publishers were invited to speak and to display their books. But they still wonder why Fidelity Bank failed to launch Dreams at Dawn, an anthology of writing from past participants, at the closing event as promised. And they wonder if they’ll get the copies of the anthology that were promised them.

The aforementioned dissenting voices blend into a chorus of gratitude on only one matter—the quality of the facilitators. If you ask every one of the participants, they will tell you that Helon Habila, Jamal Mahjoub and Diana Evans were wonderful. Their cheerful and patient dispositions made the workshop worthwhile. The lessons were insightful and the assignments, stimulating. The participants enjoyed the tour of ancestral grounds in Lejja village; and many felt that the workshop was an awakening for them, a turning point in their lives as writers. They praise the facilitators for their perseverance, patience and grace in spite of Fidelity Bank’s ineptitude. And they’ll all tell you that the camaraderie developed at the workshop was priceless.

It’s a good thing they made the most of it.

Read another blog post on the workshop HERE


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