Learning Calabar

Notes from a Poet’s Year in Nigeria

by Anne McCrary Sullivan (Author)
©2022 Monographs XII, 116 Pages


This book represents a close engagement with vulnerable populations in the city of Calabar in southeastern Nigeria. Following the traditions of Clifford Geertz’ thick description, Elliot Eisner’s arts-based research, and Laurel Richardson’s poetic inquiry, Learning Calabar weaves prose and poetry in a hybrid form that evokes the everyday lives of gate keepers, grounds keepers, taxi drivers, cooks, and children with whom the author interacted during a Fulbright year. From the stance of a participant-observer, it traces her learning of history and the evolution of her understanding as she lived, along with her neighbors, in the chaos of governmental failure, extended power outages, and dysfunctional systems, aware that her privilege offered protections not afforded to her neighbors. This work opens doors to a long sweep of Nigerian history, while keeping a laser eye on people living now in the aftermath of that history, which is both culturally rich and politically torn. Written from the viewpoint of a learner, this book will be of interest to learners of West African history, cultural anthropology, ethnography, women’s studies, cross cultural studies, and poetic inquiry. Its vibrant voice and poetic renderings also make it accessible and engaging for general audiences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Advance Praise
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • My Finger Inquires of the Map—Where?
  • Learning Calabar I
  • Day Begins in Calabar
  • Order and Disorder
  • The Slave Museum
  • Chaos and Poetry
  • Nigerian Dresses
  • Geography Test
  • Nigeria
  • The Calabar Acrostics
  • Learning Calabar II
  • Effiong and Mary Slessor
  • Interlude: Oron
  • Creek Town Soon
  • Margaret Ekpo
  • Creek Town
  • Return
  • Carter’s Grove
  • Still Learning
  • The Ekorinim Suite
  • How to Take a Cold Bath
  • Harvest
  • The Walls of Calabar
  • Roosters
  • Laundry
  • A Place Called Biafra
  • Everything Depends Upon
  • Mary Making Moi Moi
  • Everything depends
  • The Children of Ekorinim
  • Mary Okoi’s Garden
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Further Reading
  • Useful Websites
  • Catalog of the Acrostics
  • Index
  • Postscript

Learning Calabar I1

Calabar was not a place I ever learned about in school. I could not have located it on a map. I did not know the richness of a culture that pre-dated the slave trade along the banks of the Calabar River or that Calabar was the fifth largest slave-trading port of West Africa. I did not know that Nigeria was a colony of Great Britain until as late as 1960 when it became an independent nation.

I did not know that this southeastern corner of Nigeria was once called Biafra,2 site of a bitter civil war that filled the U.S. news of the late 1960s with images of starving children.

I knew nothing of attempts at democracy that were time and again thwarted into dictatorship.

When I set out to spend a year living and working in Calabar, my ignorance was immense, though I had learned to locate it on a map and had given myself a crash course on current politics. En route to Calabar, I made a required stop in Lagos for a briefing.←3 | 4→


XII, 116
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. XII, 116 pp., 2 b/w ill., 12 color ill.

Biographical notes

Anne McCrary Sullivan (Author)

Anne McCrary Sullivan was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Calabar in Nigeria. She has an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College, a PhD in English education from the University of Florida, and is Professor Emerita of Interdisciplinary Studies at National Louis University.


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130 pages