Tuesday, November 15, 2016 9:11 am
By Tade Ipadeola
November is the month for the Lagos Arts and Book Festival, popularly called LABAF. This year, the country’s oldest, continuously running book festival honoured Professor Femi Osofisan, first rate intellectual and artist, for his prodigious contributions to our literature, our music and our sensibilities.
Freedom Park, the main venue for the week-long celebrations came alive with many book stands. It was while trawling through the various book stands that I happened upon the new print run of John Pepper Clark’s category-straddling book – America, Their America. Now with a foreword by Professor Biodun Jeyifo, one of the finest scholars our continent has produced to date, America, Their America drew me like a charged magnet.
I don’t know if it is possible to have better timing for the re-issuing of this particular book. For once, everything about America as discerned by J.P Clark when the book was originally written has come to the fore for the whole world to see by the light of time and day. Discernment is a gift. When a writer possesses it sufficiently, he writes often as a man dancing to the beats of a very distant drum.
As discernment is a gift, a verdict is a weighty thing to utter. As lawyers know, sometimes, who makes a pronouncement matters every whit as much as what is pronounced. A writer’s verdict, in a sense, is ineffably subtle even when clear. Unlike courtroom verdicts with their prescriptive burdens, a writer’s verdict does not have minions to give it effect. Only time suffices. It is the truly blessed writer that lives to see his verdict vindicated after the long wait.
About the book itself, I must say the veritable Biodun Jeyifo has said most of the things worth saying. What was always true of J.P Clark and his chosen subjects is the courage he has always brought to bear in making his submissions. A warrior’s pen dares imperium and empire and routs them. Ages pass, the ways of men appear to change or not to change but the writer, with a steady gaze, sees through chicanery and chance.
It isn’t the only time J.P Clark will be proven right this year. I remember the old man’s verdict on Shakespeare’s copious body of work. He restated his position as recently as 2014 when I paid him a courtesy visit at his Apapa home, that there was no way Shakespeare alone could have written all the works ascribed to him. This year, Cambridge University announced that they would be assigning joint authorship between Shakespeare and Marlowe to some comedies previously described as Shakespeare’s alone.
There are many reasons a writer should envy J.P Clark. He brought Ozidi to the world at large, deployed prose to daunting effect, made lyric and narrative into memorable blends and engaged critically with the writing that came before and after him. But holding the reissued America, Their America in my hands, now in its third incarnation, I realized I will envy him, most of all, for this: that J.P Clark, in three words, described three centuries of America as accurately as Galileo did the earth when he reportedly insisted “eppur si muove”. The three words of Galileo have sometimes been doubted, some historians say the words were merely ascribed. The three words by J.P Clark lay before us beyond all doubt his own. If we are wise, they would become our own, too.