[By Pelu Awofeso]

The 3rd Ake Arts and Book Festival (17-21 Nov. 2015) has now ended. Late on the final day, after attending one of the last sessions—a documentary on the life and times of the late guitarist and singer Fatai Rolling dollar—I walked over to the bookstore; after five days of talks around books and authors, I was curious to know which of the titles participants bought the most.

“It’s Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy,” the male volunteer behind the desk told me, almost as if he had been expecting the question. “After her first session ended, we noticed a rush for her book and we were wondering what was happening. Then after her second session, people rushed here again to buy more copies.”

The Mona Creed

I had an idea what had happened. Though I missed Eltahawy’s first panel discussion, I was in the hall with more than 100 other participants for her hair-raising second session, moderated by the broadcaster Kadaria Ahmed. Also on the stage was satirist and academic Pius Adesanmi, author of the recently published Naija No Dey Carry Last.

Eltahawy is unapologetically feminist and anti-establishment, and she has what many commentators describe as ‘very radical views’ about Islam and how it treats Moslem women. “I don’t give a f**k what you think of me,” she said at the onset of the session, which is I reckon will likely be one of the most memorable moments of the festival this year. A gale of laughter and applause erupted in the hall; the audience was game for more explicit statements like that, and Eltahawy didn’t disappoint.

She is especially pissed by the idea that a woman is seen as the sum total of “what she wears on her head (Hijab) and what is between her legs”. An Egyptian-American and columnist for the New York Times, she directs her writing and speeches to intentionally shock her audiences. Throughout the hour-long session, she kept the room cheery and alive with her take-it-or-leave-it comments about being female, self-assured and successful in the age of ISIL.

“Book Hauls”

“So, which other books sold?” I asked the volunteer. He scanned the tables for a moment and reeled out more titles: “The Nigerian and American editions of Oil on Water (Helon Habila); “Lagoon (Nnedi Okorafo); Season of Crimson Blossoms (Abubakar Adam Ibrahim); Black Ass (A. Igoni Barret). Also Born on a Tuesday (Elnathan John), but the publishers didn’t supply enough copies and the few we had sold out within hours. In short, all the titles promoted as “Books of the Festival” sold very well.”

This short list appears to be slanted in favour of Nigerian authors but that will be a wrong conclusion to make. Books by other African and international authors sold quite as much. Have a look at the following tweets by some of the bookish participants….