In this part of his interview on Cameroonian and African literatures, Professor Abioseh Porter talks about the Fonlon-Nichols Prize, which the African Literature Association (ALA) created to reward excellence in African creative writing.
The award honours Professor Bernard Nsokika Fonlon of Cameroon and retired Voice Of America (VOA) journalist, Lee Nichols.
Professor Abioseh, tell us about the Fonlon-Nichols Award.
Let me start with Lee Nichols, who used to be a correspondent for the Voice of America for many years. Many of us grew up in Africa listening to his voice on VOA. He was one of the founding members of the ALA and he did a great deal to disseminate African literary production and, in the process, he made several African writers known through the radio. Even though he was a journalist, he took such a keen interest in African literature that the continent owes much to him in that regard. He made sure that the proceedings of our annual conferences were disseminated to people in Africa.
He shared his love of African creative talents with Dr. Fonlon. Together, they expressed their love, care and concern for literary creativity in Africa, strongly defended human rights whenever and wherever the people of Africa stood deprived of them, and they both stood for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Lee Nichols used his access to the radio to give African literature wider hearing, while Fonlon formed
creative talents through his teaching. That explains why, several years ago, Steve Arnold, the late Richard Bjornson, and others, decided to honour these two men together as outstanding defenders and promoters of African literature. The Fonlon-Nichols Prize is awarded yearly to a writer, not only based on their literary production – which should understandably be of substance – but also on such a writer’s known defense of the rights of the individual. The amount of money that goes with this prize is very modest but the money is not so much what is of interest here. It is rather the ethical and cultural significance that this prize carries that really matters.
Who have been some of the recipients of the “Fonlon-Nichols Award”?
We’ve had quite a number of recipients so far. I can think off the cuff of names like Mongo Beti and Rene Philombe from Cameroon, who received it the same year, Were-Were Liking, also from Cameroon, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate from Nigeria, the murdered Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nurridin Farah from Somalia, the South African poet Denis Brutus, Niyi Osundare from Nigeria, Jack Mapanje from Malawi, Pius Ngandu from the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. When you look at the names of the recipients of this prize, you quickly notice that we have spanned the four corners of the continent. The Fonlon-Nichols Award Committee, of which I’m a member, meets and deliberates quite extensively before settling on a name for this award.
Some Cameroonians in the United States have created two websites, one dedicated to Fonlon and the other to the Fonlon-Nichols Award. Does the African Literature Association (ALA) intend to liaise with them anytime soon?
One of the joys I have as editor of both the ALA website and the ALA Bulletin is that I have been given complete independence to decide on matters of this nature. I think the Fonlon-related websites that have just been created will definitely be linked to the ALA website. Someone once described the ALA website as the mother of all African literature websites and so the Fonlon websites will definitely find their place on ours as well.