African Writers no Longer Feel Obliged to Address Issues

At the end of October I was at the Port Harcourt Book Festival, along with 22 of the writers featured in the new Africa39 anthology (Bloomsbury), which I have edited. As with any festival, the best conversations happened after the events – over meals or late at night, outdoors in the muggy air. Here’s what I didn’t hear being discussed: the plight of being an “African writer”; the burden of having to address “issues” in fiction; the lack of a reading culture.

It struck me then, and even more so now that I am back in London answering exactly these kinds of questions about the book, that gathered here was a group unbothered by the ambiguities of identity, unconcerned with externally assigned labels and more likely to identify “international” by interactions within the continent than those with the global “north”.

The launch of the anthology in Nigeria, and the gathering of writers and publishers at the festival, illustrated just how refreshing it can be to shift one’s gaze and relocate the centre. Here’s what I did hear being discussed: Bibi Bakare-Yusuf gave a sneak peak of her Cassava Republic’s new romance imprint, Ankara Press; Lola Shoneyin was in the midst of preparations for her Ake Arts and Book Festival this November; there was debate over the Etisalat Prize for first novels and the big-money purse of the Nigerian LNG prize; three winners of the Caine Prize shared the life-changing and sometimes downright strange (proposals of marriage and “festival stalking”) aspects of their experiences; Shadreck Chikoti was gathering support for a science-fiction workshop in Malawi; and the founders of the Jalada Writers Collective, not yet two years old, with its plans to sponsor a Nairobi-based writers fellowship, illustrated that the best is probably yet to come.

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Article by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey

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