Ben Okra (Copyright Ander McIntyre)
Ben Okri (Copyright Ander McIntyre)

Nigerian author Ben Okri OBE, whose novel, The Famished Road won the Booker Prize in 1991, visited Jesus College, University of Oxford on Monday 12th February as part of the annual Turl Street Arts Festival.

The student-run celebration of the arts has run for over 20 years, and in 2018 was extended to span two weeks. The Festival funds a range of arts-related events across three University of Oxford, Turl Street Colleges (Jesus, Lincoln, and Exeter). Members of staff work in conjunction with students to deliver a range of exciting opportunities to explore the arts. This year, alongside literary events, there were concerts of classical, folk and jazz music, interior design activities, arts exhibitions, dance workshops and drama opportunities.

“The Magic Lamp: Literature, Spirituality, Politics and Art”

Ben Okri's workshop (Copyright Ander McIntyre)

As part of his visit to the Turl Street Arts Festival, Dr Okri delivered a private workshop for Jesus College students on the architecture and archaeology of writing. Then followed a brief portrait session with royal photographer Ander McIntyre, before Dr Okri was hosted to tea by Jesus College Principal, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, and shown some of the Jesus College collections.

The highlight of the visit came later in the evening, with Dr Okri as guest speaker at the Chaplain’s Colloquium. The Chaplain’s Colloquium events at Jesus College are a series of talks organised by the Revd Dr Megan Daffern, led by guest speakers and followed by breakout conversation, engaging with issues of religion, faith and spirituality. They bridge all faiths and none and create safe space for joined-up thinking about matters of the soul and everyday life.

Focusing on his most recent book The Magic Lamp, Dr Okri explored connections between literature, spirituality, politics and art in a public conversation with Revd Dr Megan Daffern, to over 70 attendees.

Ben Okri:

“I had a magical time at Jesus College. The workshop with the students was something of a revelation for me; they were wonderful and responsive and bright. Our colloquium, which combined the felicities of the word, the image, and music, was interspersed with rich renewing silences. Our conversation about art, politics, and spirit will resonate in me for a long time.”

Jesus College Principal, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt:

“Jesus College is delighted to have welcomed Ben Okri as a distinguished contributor to the Turl Street Arts Festival. We are keen to develop a flourishing creative arts environment which sits alongside our reputation for teaching excellence, scholarship and research. Ben’s generous contribution to the Festival offered tremendous inspiration for our students and College community.”

The Revd Dr Megan Daffern:

“It was a real privilege to host Ben at Jesus College. His arresting use of words and images, and his profound imagination and creativity evident in both conversation as well as more formal contexts, were a richly inspiring resource gifted to so many of us throughout the day. He expanded our horizons and deepened our spirits.”