The countdown to Port Harcourt’s tenure as UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 formally began at the weekend with the conclusion of pilot programmes, such as the test run of book clubs, reading tree, and the Walking Book in Rivers State.

A book donation drive and participation in CARNIVRIV (the annual Rivers State Carnival) were also held to sensitize residents of the city on the project.

The week long Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 kicks off on Tuesday 22nd April 2014, but the main opening ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday 23rd April, which is the United Nations (UN) World Book and Copyright Day.

On this occasion when Bangkok hands over to Port Harcourt, the keynote address would be delivered by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. The opening ceremonies would feature celebrities reading to children, interactive sessions with some of Nigeria’s most celebrated authors, and a dance-drama directed by award-winning playwright Bikiya Graham-Douglas.

Bikiya, a Port Harcourt girl, is currently in the city scouting local talent to participate in this drama, titled Along Came the Book, which traces the role of information-sharing from our oral tradition to the written word, culminating in the PH World Book Capital.

There would also be the public presentation of The Walking Book, a communal story on the sights and sounds of Rivers State, written by children from across the 23 Local Government Areas of the state. Finally, visitors to Port Harcourt would be treated to the warm Rivers hospitality, which includes the display of a boat regatta and an excursion to Songhai Farms.

During the International Literature Exhibition between Tuesday 22nd and Thursday 24th April (tagged It’s a Small World After all), literature and literary efforts from around the world will be showcased to embassies and foreign missions in Nigeria, local and international book festivals, literary awards bodies, and key partners and stakeholders in the book chain industry.

There is also the Hay Festival initiative, tagged ‘Africa 39’, which features the selection and celebration of 39 writers under the age of 40 who have the potential to define the literature of an area or language. ‘Africa 39’ features writers from Africa, South of the Sahara.

Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainana spearheaded the hunt for about 100 names from the screening of the over 200 entries from Africa and the Diaspora, while the panel of Elechi Amadi, Margaret Busby and Tess Onwueme selected the final 39. The 39 writers would be commissioned to write for an anthology to be published by Bloomsbury with foreword by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and editing by Ellah Allfree.

The list of the 39 would be unveiled on 8th April, the first day of the London Book Fair and announced at during the opening ceremonies of the Port Harcourt World Book Capital programme.

The 39 authors have also been invited to the Port Harcourt Book Festival 2014, which would be mainly dedicated to the ‘Africa 39’ project. At this year’s festival the authors would converge in PH for a week of reading, debates and discourse around the city, after which they would participate in Hay festivals around the World.

As part of the book festival, 12 carefully-selected books will be featured in each of the months of the year. The books will be the subject of discussions on partner electronic and print platforms, while a play would be staged throughout the year based on each one.

Books selected for the first 6 months are: Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe (April), The Great Ponds by Elechi Amadi (May), This Child Shall be Great by Ellen Shirleaf Johnson (June), Ake by Wole Soyinka (July), Tomorrow Died Yesterday by Chimeka Garricks (August), Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie (September).

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