Africa Writes 2015: Programme Summary

AT3A5010Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual literature and book festival, returned for its fourth year running . The festival took place from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July at the British Library.

Africa Writes showcases established and emerging literary talent from Africa and the Diaspora. The 2015 festival once again presented a unique opportunity for visitors to engage with their favourite African writers and books, and to discover new ones through our exciting programme.

Africa Writes 2015 highlights included ‘Meditations on Greatness: Ben Okri in Conversation’ in which the Booker prize-winning author discussed his vast selection of literary work. Hannah Pool led a conversation with other writers and personalities as they shared and discussed their favourite titles of African literature in ‘African Books to Inspire’.

In our event ‘Meet the Publishers’, aspiring African writers had an opportunity to meet people in the industry and gather all the information needed for getting a piece or book published. Our popular annual translation symposium focused on Love, inspired by the widely praised multi-lingual Valentine’s Day Anthology by Ankara Press. There was also an exciting programme of free book launches, readings, talks, panel discussions, performances, children and young people’s workshops and an international book fair.


Africa in Translation: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Our annual three-panel symposium curated by Wangui wa Goro and Mbuguah Bekisizwe Goro of SIDENSI with support from Afrikult. (Marcelle Akita, Henry Brefo and Zaahida Mariam Nalumoso) aims to dispel myths about Africans and romance, and explore the impact of translation and its cross-cultural constructs of love on contemporary African literature.

Emergent Discourses on African Literature

Chair Carli Coetzee (Editor, Journal of African Cultural Studies) brings together exciting new scholarship from PhD students and early career scholars that opens up ideas of and approaches to ‘African literatures’

Meet the Publishing Industry

Would you like the opportunity to present your work to editors and literary agents for professional feedback? Our panel of experts discussed what they look for when considering new work; the shared the do’s and dont’s of pitching and other insider tips. With Bibi Bakare-Yusuf of Cassava Republic Press, Sarah Ream of The Pigeonhole and Jacob Ross of Peepal Tree Press.  Chaired by Rebecca Swift, Director of The Literary Consultancy. In collaboration with The Literary Consultancy.

African Books To Inspire

Journalist Hannah Pool presents an evening of books and inspiration as she invites a selection of Africa39 writers to share their favourite African literature titles – from classics to new work.

Romance in the Digital Age

How does one define a romance novel? What is ‘African romance’?  Our panel discussed the changing nature of romance publishing, examining how current modes of digital distribution are opening up new possibilities for authors and publishers across Africa.  With publishers Bibi Bakare-Yusuf of Cassava Republic Press and Gersy Ifeanyi Ejimofo of Digitalback Books, and Africa39 writers Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Ndinda Kioko.  Chaired by Emma Shercliff.

From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah Williams

Launch for Frances Mensah William’s debut novel, which follows under-achieving PA Faye Bonsu’s journey from Hampstead to Ghana to find love. Chaired by Margaret Busby.

African Creative Non-fiction?: Moving the Boundaries

What are the creative possibilities of non-fiction? What is the relationship between poetry and memoir or between history and travel writing? Ellah Allfrey talked to non-fiction writers about their writing process and the blurred lines between genres. With Pede Hollist, Jackie Kay, Kwasi Kwarteng and Noo Saro Wiwa. In collaboration with Commonwealth Writers.

Contemporary African Lyrics: Poetry in Performance

Multilingual poetry performances from emerging voices, including Elmi Ali, Cristina Ali Farah, Melissa Kiguwa and Nick Makoha (joint winner of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize 2015).  Hosted by Malika Booker. In collaboration with Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

The 2015 Caine Prize Conversation

The shortlist for the 2015 Caine Prize, an award associated with mapping new directions in contemporary African writing, this year included one past winner and two previously shortlisted writers.  The five shortlisted authors – Segun Afolabi, Elnathan John, F. T. Kola, Masande Ntshanga, Namwali Serpell – were in conversation with 2009 winner E. C. Osondu and Guardian First Book Award winner Petina Gappah.

Meditations on Greatness: Ben Okri in Conversation

Leading voice in African literature, Ben Okri has published ten novels (including the Booker prize-winning The Famished Road) as well as collections of poetry, essays and short stories.  He shared his reflections on the theme ‘Meditations on Greatness’, before being in conversation with editor and critic Ellah Allfrey.

New Nigerian Fiction

Launching A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, Irenosen Okojie’s Butterfly Fish, E. C. Osondu’s This House is Not for Sale and Obinna Udenwe’s Satans and Shaitans, Ike Anya talked to four debut novelists about their new releases and asks ‘what is new Nigerian fiction’?

Charting New Platforms, Ideas and Forms: The Place of Literary Magazines in African Literature.

Literary magazines or journals from Transition and Black Orpheus to Chimurenga and Farafina have shaped the production and reception of African literature.  Editors showcased their latest issues and shared their commissioning processes, while reflecting on the form, reach and influence of literary magazines for African writing today.  With Kinsi Abdulleh (SCARF), Kadija George (Sable), Billy Kahora (Kwani? and Chimurenga Chronic) and Ndinda Kioko (Jalada).  Chaired by Nana Ya Mensah (New Statesman).

Observing the ‘White Gaze’:  Who Do We Write For?

How does a shifting nexus of race and economics shape the writing and publication opportunities open to African writers? How is the growth of new publishing initiatives on the continent changing the ways in which literature from Africa is read, produced and valued? Using Toni Morrison’s idea of the ‘white gaze’, this panel explored and contested the narrative that contemporary African writing is created by the global publishing industry.  With A. Igoni Barrett, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire and Ayo Sogunro.  Chaired by Dele Fatunla.

Sunday by Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor

A staged reading of Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor’s bold and haunting inter-generational drama. When Mary comes out to her mother and grandmother, tragic events long buried in the past threaten to break out, consume and destroy relationships in the present.  Seen through the eyes of a family based in London, Sunday is a powerful exploration of love between Nigerian women, sexuality and religion.

Workshops for children, young people & families included:

Gbagba with Robtel Neajai Pailey.

The Wedding Week: A Journey Through Wedding Traditions Around the World with Chimaechi Allan.

Storytime! With Louisa Bello.

Arts & Crafts with the Orishas.

Mapping African Literature: 1950s to now, with Afrikult.