The Port Harcourt Book Festival is an annual literary event in Port Harcourt organised by the Rainbow Book Club and endorsed by the Rivers State Government since 2008.
The festival began as the brainchild of Rivers State Governor Chibuike Amaechi, who thought it up as a means to propel tourism numbers and heighten literacy awareness in the city of Port Harcourt and its neighboring areas. Originally scheduled for September 8 each year, to coincide with United Nations’ International Literacy Day, the festival has continued to expand and has been highly rated since its debut.
The inaugural edition was held as a three-day event on September 24 – 27, 2008. It was dubbed Garden City Literary Festival, with its theme as “Writers Without Borders”. Special guests included Wole Soyinka, Kofi Awoonor and Elechi Amadi, along with writers Okey Ndibe, Kaine Agary and Petrina Crockford.
The second festival (“Nigeria: 50 Years of Post-Colonial Literature”), on September 23 – 26, 2009, hosted authors Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, J.P. Clark, Buchi Emecheta, A. Igoni Barrett, Sefi Atta, Lindsay Barrett, Toni Kan, Fela Durotoye, Tade Ipadeola, Jumoke Verissimo, Abimbola Adunni, and Joy Isi Bewaji. It was coordinated by UK’s Nana Ayebia Clarke, along with representatives from Book Builders and the British Council. Author Ngugi wa Thiong’o presented a keynote speech at the event which was titled Languages as Bridges:Building network against Linguistic Feudalism and Darwinism. The 2010 festival saw a change in its month of occurrence for the first time as it held between December 8 – 11, 2010. More than 1,000 people attended the event that year.
In 2011, the event shifted back to its initial period taking place September 12 to 17, 2011. Its theme was “Literature and Politics”. The festival was formally opened by Governor Chibuike Amaechi and former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku. For the first time in its history, it lasted for five days. Other prominent attendees were Chinua Achebe’s son Dr. Chidi Achebe—who presented the main speech—and activist Jesse Jackson.
The fifth Garden City Literary Festival, “Women in Literature”, was moved to October 2012, and held from the 15th – 20th. The Rainbow Book Club chose Hotel Presidential as the festival venue. GCLF guest authors such as Véronique Tadjo, Doreen Baingana, Elechi Amadi, Gabriel Okara and Prof. E J Alagoa were there to participate. There was also the launch of A Coat of Many Colours, a book put together by Mrs. Koko Kalango, alongside president Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Amaechi, both of whom contributed to its Foreword and Introduction respectively. Also joining the group were former Cross Rivers State Governor H.E. Donald Duke, Wole Soyinka, and Mrs. Ibim Semenitari. Towards the end of the occasion, the city of Port Harcourt was reaffirmed as UNESCO’s World Book Capital for the year 2014. In August 2013, Mrs. Kalango announced that the Garden City Literary Festival has been renamed Port Harcourt Book Festival citing reasons that the new name would assist in elevating Port Harcourt’s profile as a legitimate destination for all things literary.