Last weekend I attended the 2016 Africa Writes Festival at the British Library alongside With Love From Ola. If you don’t know about Africa Writes, it is the Royal African Society’s annual literature festival where African writing is celebrated and showcased over a weekend. The festival features book launches, readings, author appearances, panel discussions and workshops!
I found out about the festival quite late last year but managed to attend one event and since then I was eagerly anticipating this year’s festival. It’s important to promote diversity in literature so I’m really grateful that that this festival exists because I always leave with fresh perspectives, new insights, a long list of authors and more books on my to buy list than I can possibly afford!
What I really love about the festival is that it is accessible with around twenty free events spread out across the three days on a variety of topics. The paid workshops/ events are also affordable or often free for students, retired people, freelancers, unemployed people and those on a low income which is considerate. You can find the full list of all the events this year on the website here. Unfortunately I missed the first day of the festival but below is a quick run down of Day 2 and 3.
The first event that I attended on second day was the panel event titled “There’s no such thing as a Black princess: Diversity in Children’s publishing,” which tackled the debate on diversity in characters, stories and the publishing industry. I don’t particularly read children’s books but I found the topic very interesting and the panel which included writers and publishers such as Veronique Tadjo, Kama Sywor Kamanda, Bibi Bakare Yusuf and Bhavit Mehta did not disappoint! Undoubtedly the highlight of that panel was Kama Sywor Kamanda who is a French speaking writer and poet from the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the audience had to listen to the translation of his responses, his energy and laughter was extremely infectious even when the translation didn’t fully capture the essence of his speech. The icing on the cake were the stories that he related about the appeal of his work worldwide especially in India where readers connected with the thread of magical realism that runs through his works. His contributions on the panel highlighted the shared memories and stories that connects us worldwide and the role of literature in ensuring that those narratives are shared and celebrated.
The second event that I went to was The 2016 Caine Prize Conversation which was another panel event featuring the 2016 shortlisted writers including Abdul Adan, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Tope Folarin, Bongani Kona and Lidudumalingani. At this point in time the winner of the prize wasn’t announced yet but on Monday Lidudumalingani, who is a South African writer and film maker was announced as the winner for his short story ‘Memories we lost’. At the beginning of the event there was a short reading from all the authors and Abdul Adan’s reading of ‘The Lifebloom Gift’ was memorable for a lot of reasons! It was funny and skillfully written and I love that it was based on his experiences of being ‘randomly chosen’ at airports for pat downs and it illustrated for me the thin line between reality and fiction for some authors. I found the inputs from Lesley Nneka Arimah and Tope Folarin around the limitations of the ‘African Writing/ Writer’ label insightful and I love that Tope Folarin cited Iranian films as a source of inspiration. Bongani Kona’s speech on the issue of legitimacy in writing stories around certain experiences and stories such as rape or abuse was deeply moving for me and it showed the incredible connection and tenderness that authors often have with the stories they write. Lastly, kudos to the chair as well who did a great job throughout!
Unfortunately I couldn’t buy the Caine 2016 Book on the day – the card reader wasn’t working- but I will order it on Amazon as soon as it is released and do a book review on the it, alongside Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe which I got from the book stalls.
- Sidenote: With Love From Ola and I also met Ayo Sogunro, a Nigerian writer and social critic on the day and it was a major fan moment for us.
I switched it up on the third day and attended a workshop instead of panel discussions. The workshop titled ‘Endings and Beginnings’ was by Yewande Omotoso who is the author of ‘Bom Boy’ and ‘The Woman Next Door.’ I can’t describe how happy I am that I attended this workshop because it was extremely helpful! I haven’t been writing fiction for a long time and my current projects are all non-fiction based so this was a much needed workshop and it eased a lot of my fears about writing. I also loved listening to the inputs of the various writers in the room. Yewande’s style of conducting the workshop created an amiable atmosphere and she had so many great insights so my notebook was full my the end of the workshop. I’m looking forward to trying out the 1000 words a day writing commitment which is perfectly timed based on the goals that I’ve set for July I set in my June Journal.
The only regret I have this year is that I missed the African Books to Inspire session on Sunday which featured Abdilatif Abdalla, Yewande Omotoso, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Akala sharing their favourite African literature titles. Otherwise another festival the Royal African Society and the need and importance for festivals such as Africa Writes cannot be over stated.
‘Part of the job of the writer is to move people.’ – Yewande Omotoso