As 2011 Garden City Literary Festival Begins

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This year’s Garden City literary festival kicks off today in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital. The idea behind the festival instituted and sponsored by the Rivers State Government and managed by the Rainbow Book Club, in collaboration with other partners, is to rejuvenate the dying reading culture among the youths in the state.

This year’s edition of the festival, according to Executive Director of Rainbow Book Club,Mrs Koko Kalango, will be a week-long programme with the theme: “Literature and Politics” and sub-themes which include “The Niger Delta in Literature; Lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement, Gender, Politics and Literature” and “Literature on War in Africa” among others.

Chinua Achebe is expected to deliver a keynote address through video at this year’s opening ceremony while America’s Rev. Jesse Jackson is to speak on lessons from the American Civil Rights Movement.

Femi Oke, a former CNN inside Africa correspondent, Ken Wiwa, Chimeka Garrick and Ankio Briggs will be in attendance, while Ama Atta Aidoo, a Ghanaian writer will moderate the session on gender.

Other special features at this year’s festival will include the 4th Garden City book Fair, International Literature Conference, book readings, writers’ workshops, interactive sessions, drama presentations and special sessions for children.

Governor Amaechi in his message to the 2010 edition of the festival, stressed the need to support literature and education in the state and the country as a whole. He noted that “As we reflect on the past five decades and look ahead to the future, the legacy we hope to leave for the next generation is one of an enlightened society that has achieved development through education. Books and reading are an integral part of that. It is for this reason that the Rivers State Government continues to sponsor the Garden City Literacy Festival.”

Sharing similar notion, the Vice Chancellor of University of Port Harcourt, Professor Joseph A. Ajienka in his message during the same edition said “the Garden City Literary Festival is gradually crystallising into a major cultural movement that is certain to positively impact on the intellectual climate of Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta of Nigeria.

I can not agree less with the views of these two personalities in the state. A broad and balanced education can only be attained through reading as in today’s literary world. Academic success, securing employment and personal autonomy depend on reading and writing proficiency.

Reading is an active mental process which makes one think more and becomes smarter. It is a fundamental skill builder as books help clarify difficult subjects by providing information that goes deeper than just classroom discussions.

Reading is a skill that begets many other skills because it constitutes a key part of our capacity to increase our potentials. It gives one a glimpse into other cultures and places as books expand one’s horizons by letting you see what other cities and countries have to offer even before one’s visit.

In spite of some other benefits of reading which space will not allow me to mention here, there is still an alarming prevalence of poor reading culture among the Nigerian populace.

Experts are of the view that almost all young children develop the ability to understand spoken language. But majority never learn to read unless they are taught to. That Nigeria has a poor reading culture, simply put, is therefore, an indication that majority of Nigerians are struggling.

Studies have also shown that the best way to stop reading failure is to teach reading in an organised systematic and efficient way by knowledgeable teachers using a well designed instructional approach.

There is, therefore, the need for a comprehensive design of teacher preparation for reading instruction founded on a curriculum that defines the knowledge and skills necessary for effective practice as it is vital to improve classroom instruction.

It is necessary to note that building libraries and stocking them with books in every nook and cranny in Nigeria will not stop reading failure as they are for those who can read.

I quite agree with experts’ view that more libraries and more books without adequate attention to the wholesale improvement in reading will not do any good. This is because those who can read go into the libraries and come out richer while those who cannot read go into the libraries and become more confused, frustrated, annoyed with their parents and teachers for failing to teach them to read. In the process, they become erratic and sometimes distracted.

The best way to reduce poor reading habit is for government to set up a panel to choose a good research based on reading programme for the country; train reading specialists and all serving teachers through in-service to teach reading in their special subject areas.

This is why the plans by the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi to institutionalize the Garden City Literary Festival in the state is a laudable one.

Vivian-Peace Nwinaene