By Toyin Akinosho

How do we break out of the global darkness?

How do we escape Trumpland, Boko Haram, ISIS, and Nigeria’s insistence of ruling as the global poverty capital?

How do we make our way out of the tunnel into sunshine?

Welcome to our 20th anniversary Festival.

It’s the 21st LABAF in the 20th year of the inauguration of this event.

And the fourth one that will span an entire week.

LABAF was conceived as a three day, weekend of book readings, in 1999, the year of our return to democracy.

It was inaugurated as an art filled, open air weekend fiesta, at the then new Jazz 38, close to the Beach in Lekki, hosted by Mr. Tunde Kuboye.

We wanted to raise the consciousness for literacy as a tool for engaging the constructs of democracy. But we wanted to make books look cool.

In the Fifth year, we started filling the week leading to the weekend fiesta. We added the BookTrek, on the Monday leading to the weekend, as an outreach extension service, to take The Book to students in secondary schools.

Then we added the Publisher’s Forum, a full day affair, on the Thursday before the weekend, as a space for publishers to share ideas. As you well know, the more enriched the Publishing sector, the better the book.

In 2004, we started creating themes for the Festival, picking specific books which address the chosen theme and constructing panels to interrogate the theme. 15 years ago, which was also a year into the second term of the first administration of the 4th republic,  the theme of the Festival was What Happened to Our Democracy; Literature in the Service of Nation Building.

2005 came with the theme Narrations of Survival. At the centre of that event was the epic conversation between two of Africa’s notable broadcast reporters and authors. Nigeria’s Chris Anyanwu, author of Days of Terror and South Africa’s Antjie Krog, who had penned Country of My Skull. Their books had captured a terribly dark period of time in each of their respective countries Molara Wood, author and journalist, moderated that discussion.

That same year, in 2005, we incorporated the Kiddies’ Programme. If you are intent on popularising reading, the place to focus most is the mind of the 12-19 year old. We welcomed, as the co-conspirator in this, the Children and the Environment CATE organisation, founded by Sola Alamutu.

At this year’s LABAF, CATE will celebrate its 20th anniversary.. It so happens that it was created in the year that LABAF was birthed. But our paths crossed only six years after it was created, That was 14 years ago, when CATE organised LABAF’s first Kiddies; Programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been through a number of themes since 2004.

But the last few years have recurred with darker and darker themes. In 2016 we examined The Terror of Knowledge. In 2017, we reviewed Eruptions: Global Fractures and Our Common Humanity.

Last year, we decided to take a break from focusing majorly on books that testify about the sinister nature of humanity and put to the searchlight on stories of Renewal. That is why we had Renewal: Building a World That Works for All. As we rounded up the most difficult four years in the 20 year democracy, and prepared for elections we took the view that we should get another upbeat theme.

Emerge; Breaking into the New is our guiding theme for this year.

Awam Amkpa, Global Professor of Social and Cultural Aesthetics at the New York University, has flown in from New York to shed several points of light into the notions of Being and Becoming and the larger issue of Emergence. We want to thank Professor Amkpa, whom I have known for close to forty years, for accepting to do this at terribly short notice and those of you who know CORA, you know he is not being paid.

Professor Amkpa’s address will segue into the first panel, addressing The Return of Hope through reviews of Rutger Bregma’s  Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There, Tunde Leye’s Afonja: The Rise, and  Ta-Nehi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Office?

The first of these texts seeks a path to Utopia; the second reconstructs a past that was deemed glorious and a third, examines a brief flicker of hope in the last few years, the Lagos Book and Art Festival hopes to provide a lamp to the lingering darkness

We continue to examine Emergence with the first panel on Saturday, featuring reading and discussions around Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph & Tragedy of Israel,  and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. With these texts, we argue that the old shapes the new in different ways. One book is a magically narrated autobiography of a girl from a household of meagre means who makes it to Princeton and then to the White House, A second is a candid telling of the story of a people disregarded by Europe as trash, who emigrate back to their ancestral land and pave the streets with gold and a third is a fictional awork by the grandson of a US soldier posted to Vietnam and his illiterate wife from the rice paddies, who takes advantage of sound education to work his way to literary privilege. If these are not stories of Emergence. What are?

I can’t exactly explain all the 26 panels in the 51 events of this Festival. And this afternoon is not about my speech.

We are already in the fifth day of the Festival and 14 of those panels have featured already.

Welcome to the Lagos Book and Art Festival 2019.

Let us use the instrumentality of the published book to light our way out of the dark.

Lagos, November 2019