Africa Writes 2014: Programme Summary

AfricaWrites-5875Africa Writes 2014 opened with a heady mix of femininity, politics and poetry on 11th July when Warsan Shire, London’s Young Poet Laureate joined an exciting line-up of voices to reclaim the feminine voice in literature.

The festival’s headline event was a conversation with leading Ghanaian novelist Ama Ata Aidoo, which was hosted by critic and linguist, Wangui wa Goro. Ama Ata Aiddo, says:

“I had always thought Africa Writes is a wonderful platform for African writers. So I’m absolutely delighted to be the key guest of the Royal African Society for this year’s festival, and I am looking forward very much to being in London for it.”

Other events throughout the weekend included a tribute to the late Chinua Achebe, widely acknowledged as the father of contemporary African literature. There were two sessions with shortlisted writers for The Caine Prize 2014, one of the most prestigious prizes for African short fiction. Also taking place during this festival were exciting debates about Imagining Africa, publishing Books for the Masses in Africa and  African & Diaspora Travel in the 21st Century. Africa Writes 2014 additionally included workshops for children, young people and families on the art of storytelling and creating great characters.


Africa in Translation: Poetry in (e)motion  

A three panel symposium  exploring the works of a range of African poets and their translators, as well as marking 25 years of the translation of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Matigari – analysing how meaning changes through time and tending to the pertinent theme of the future of translation.

Introducing ‘West Africa: Cultures of the Word’

Between October 2015 and February 2016, the British Library held a major exhibition exploring the power of the word in West Africa. Through a rich mix of visual items, sound, film and objects, it showcased West Africa’s complex and fascinating written heritage and oral literatures over the last three centuries. Dr Marion Wallace, the lead curator for the exhibition, introduced the exhibition’s key concepts, and showed images of some of its star items, in this informal session, that was opened to audience comments and discussion.

Literary Cross-dressing & the Diaspora

Panel discussion with poets, performers, playwrights and screenwriters Inua Ellams, Nick Makoha, Ade Solanke and Bola Agbaje. Moderated by Sheila Ruiz, programme manager of The Royal African Society. In this session, we explored work of African Diaspora writers who move between the worlds of poetry, drama and fiction, crossing over different literary genres and even delving into other art forms.

Broadening the Gaze: African & Diaspora Travel Writing in the 21st Century

Panel discussion featuring Noo Saro-Wiwa, author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria; Justin Edwards, co-editor of Other Routes: 1500 Years of African & Asian Travel Writing; and Andy Akinwolere, broadcaster. Moderated by Fatimah Kelleher, international social development consultant and writer. Exploring the contribution of African and Diaspora writers to the genre, this session asks: What space is there for the “African Gaze” in contemporary travel literature? How is travel writing by African and Diaspora writers changing the way the world sees/perceives the continent and the globe, and how much of the African experience is being documented through travel writing?

Chinua Achebe: Tributes & Reflections

A tribute to the father of contemporary African literature marking the launch of Chinua Achebe: Tributes & Reflections with editors Nana Ayebia Clarke and James Currey. Chaired by Maya Jaggi, cultural journalist and critic. In this collection of essays, Nobel Laureates Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer lead an international chorus of tributes to Chinua Achebe’s writing and legacy. The volume features 49 contributors and includes a host of other distinguished writers, critics, scholars and publishers all paying tribute to Achebe’s life and work, anchoring it within his activism and mediatory role as a great spokesman and defender of Africa.

KINTU by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Book launch of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s KINTU, winner of the 2013 Kwani? Manuscript Project. Chaired by Kate Haines, Associate Editor of Kwani Trust. In this ambitious tale of a family and of a nation, Jennifer  skilfully weaves together the stories of Kintu’s descendants as they seek to break with the burden of their shared past and to reconcile the inheritance of tradition and the modern world that is their future.

One Hundred Years of The Mugu

Book launch and discussion around Chuma Nwokolo’s How to Spell Naija and The Final Testament of a Minor God, marking the centenary of Nigeria’s amalgamation in 1914. Chaired by Dr Mpalive Msiska, Reader in English & Humanities at Birkbeck College. With a response from Chude Jideonwo, author of Are we the turning point generation? On this panel, Nwokolo will look to Nigeria’s next centenary with insights from Chude Jideonwo, whose ground-breaking collection of essays  examines the failures of leadership, calling on Nigerians, particularly of the younger generation, to let go of apathy and force leaders to be accountable.

Imagining Future Africa: Sci Fi, Innovation & Technology

Panel discussion focusing on African sci fi, speculative and fantasy writing. The session explored African literature’s relationship to innovation and technology. Participators included Ivor W. Hartmann, writer, editor, publisher and visual artist; Tade Thompson, writer and clinical director for Adult Mental Health at St James Hospital, Portsmouth; and Geoff Ryman, writer and senior lecturer at the Centre for New Writing, University of Manchester. With a contribution from Jonathan Ledgard, director of Future Africa – Afrotech Lab at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and author of Submergence. Moderated by Emma Dabiri, PhD researcher at Goldsmiths University and teaching fellow at SOAS.

An Audience with Ama Ata Aidoo

Ghana’s leading literary figure, Ama Ata Aidoo, in conversation with Wangui wa Goro, translator and critic.

Ama Ata Aidoo is a leading author, poet, playwright, academic and the former Minister of Education of Ghana. From Sissie in Our Sister Killjoy to Esi in Changes: A Love Story, Aidoo’s protagonists are women who make radical choices and defy traditional gender roles. Led in conversation by writer, translator and critic Wangui wa Goro, Aidoo reflects on her expansive literary career and discusses the main themes, which emerge from her works of fiction.