In June 2013, Jalada Africa formed as a result of conversations between 22 young African writers drawn from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Nigeria. They were in Nairobi, Kenya, participating in a Creative Writing Workshop. This convention was designed by the acclaimed Zimbabwean editor, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, with the collaboration of Kwani? Trust and Granta. Ellah facilitated the teaching together with two British writers, Nadifa Mohamed and Adam Foulds. What pulled the young writers to organise, was an urgency to have a creative space they could define and control, where they could build the right support for the production of their stories. Since then, Jalada has grown, first by embracing more artists and writers from the continent, and secondly by taking advantage of the digital realm to publish bold works. From this, the work of the Collective has expanded reading experiences and diversified audiences for African art and writing.
In the introduction to Jalada Africa’s first print anthology, the Jalada 05/Transition 123 Fear Issue, a collaboration with Transition, the Harvard-based publication founded in Uganda in 1961, Ellah Allfrey expresses the ambition that inspired Jalada, which is a desire to form an eclectic and supportive community of artists. She speaks about initiating “a conversation that would give the Jalada Collective its name, its shape, and its voice: a collective that now draws on editors, translators, production teams and, most importantly, writers in a true Pan-African collaboration of independent, self-sustaining creativity.” This print issue represents this spirit through an offering of stories, essays and poems that tackle the various shapes that fear and fearlessness take in our shared humanity. This historic collaboration between Transition and Jalada has succeeded in harnessing the synergy between a preeminent, institution-based literary publication and an avant-garde, grassroots publication, effectively expanding and redefining our modes of connection through art and literature.
As impressive as this new project is, there have been progressive wins, starting from the very beginning, when Jalada published its first digital anthology, Sketch of a Bald Woman and Other Stories, just six months after its formation. The anthology featured twelve stories that explored insanity in geographical, familial and psychological landscapes. Jalada actively promoted the launch on social media, seeking spaces where it could hold conversations on the immediacy of insanity in our lived experiences and how this is imagined.
Another bold anthology was Afrofutures. The stories published in this anthology presented an African future which covered, but also went beyond, the continent’s present questions on globalisation, class, gender, poverty and identity. This anthology also saw the introduction of the Jalada Prize, which was awarded to three prose writers and one poetry writer. This landmark publication featured, among its many offerings, a panel discussion between writers Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar on the subject of Afrofuturism, and an artistic collaboration between writer Binyavanga Wainaina and visual artist Wangechi Mutu.
The Language and Translation Issues, explored the continent’s rich linguistic heritage by experimenting with the politics surrounding language. The editors were looking to understand how languages are packaged and consumed, with the aim of revitalising writing in those that were marginalised. The Translation Issue involved the translation of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s short story, The Upright Revolution or Why Human Beings Walk Upright, into over 65 languages, with 44 being African, effectively making it the most translated short story. For this, Jalada sought translators and editors from across the continent and the diaspora. This unprecedented collaboration between translators and editors led to rave reviews in major papers and outlets such as The Guardian and Bookslive, as well as a critical essay on the Collective by writer and English Professor Mukoma Wa Ngugi. The success of these projects led to invitations to various forums, including a PEN International-UNESCO Publishing Seminar, where the realities of publishing in local languages were discussed.
With this clear commitment to work, Jalada has pushed itself out of an online space to physical spaces where they meet and talk to their audiences. This shows best in the just concluded Jalada Mobile Literary Festival, where the collective organised a literary tour across Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Congo and back to Kenya again, covering 12 cities and 4,500 kilometres. This travel involved street performances, presentations in schools, panel discussions in cultural spaces as well as an active selling of books by African authors. The intention behind the tour was to go where audiences are, as opposed to traditional book festivals which are fixed to locations that are not accessible to everyone. It offered a chance to map literary landscapes as well as to understand the intersection between these spaces which go beyond national boundaries.
Through this dynamism, Jalada Africa continues to establish its footprint on the continent and beyond, proving just how far artists can go when they join hands and work together.
Kiprop Kimutai is a writer and an editor with Jalada Africa. His fiction has been published by Kwani? Trust, Jalada, Painted Bride Quarterly, No Tokens, Acre Books, Caine Prize and Farafina. He is currently working on his debut novel, The Bantam Chicken Project.