African Literature Festivals Not to be Missed

By Mariga Thiothi

Against popular sentiments decrying the death of literature globally and the lack of reading culture in Africa, African literature continues to grow and thrive. The current trend sees the increase in the number and variety of literature festivals popping up across the continent in recent years signifying a renaissance and a movement towards promoting African content by Africans.

The festivals have grown from ideas and single day events to multiple day events with international partners and participants. People are travelling across Africa and the world and Africans are no longer waiting for foreign recognition. They’re reclaiming control of their own narratives as an important step towards decolonising cultural and academic spaces.

In light of the upcoming Macondo Literary Festival in Nairobi this weekend at the National theatre, UP Africa has curated five exciting literature festivals to put in your calendar for this year and next.

Hargeysa International Book Fair

Photo: Hargeysa International Book Fair

Founded in 2008, the book fair has grown to be the biggest book and literature event in the Horn of Africa attracting thousands of people from across the region. Held in July, this year’s edition attracted professionals including writers, journalists, researchers, publishers and artists from 23 different countries. The book fair which ran over five days had a series of events which included chess matches, concerts and a circus. The main literature events hosted over 91 panelists who were on 46 panels discussing various topics including gender in literary spaces, the role of the youth and the role of the media. The festival also included “Meet the Author” sessions which enabled them to meet various current prominent authors. The sessions also included music performances and poetry sessions as part of promoting oral tradition, and one of the unique highlights of the weekend was the book launches of over 20 local authors in sessions conducted in Somali. The fair is growing bigger and better and is now firmly on Africa’s cultural and literature map. Going in line with its tradition of hosting a guest country (a different country chosen each year) Egypt was chosen for its close historical ties with Somalia and presumably Egypt’s symbolic ties to the festival’s overall theme of ‘Coexistence.’

Writivism Festival

Photo: Writivism

Writivism is Uganda’s largest literary festival. Started in 2012 by Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, Naseemah Mohamed and Kyomuhendo A Ateenyi. ‘Writivism’ is a mash-up of writing and activism and the festival was created to celebrate and promote African literature. Writivism has two literary prizes, which are Writivism Inaugural Youth Prize for Rukiga Writing and Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction and the Writivism Short Story Prize, an annual literary festival, a residency for writers, school outreach and an online mentorship program. This year’s winning stories were Maserumo by Resoketswe M. Manenzhe (South Africa) and The Valley of Memories by Frances Ogamba. The contest is open to Africans from all over African and from the African diaspora.

Nkabom Literary Art Festival

Picture: Nkabom Literary Art Festival

Nkabom Literary Art Festival (Inkfluent) started as open mics and evolved into a multi- medium exploration of contemporary literature through various forms. Four years since its inception, the seven day experience in two cities, Accra and Lomé, includes book readings, panel discussions, mobile artist residencies, performances, exhibitions and a concert. The festival is open to artists exploring new forms of expression addressing social themes, marginalisation and designing potential futures (the latter based off the work of the artist, poet, mathematician and scholar Dr. kąrî’kạchä seid’ou on designing a new world specifically Africa, with awareness around the relationship and power elements between the Global North and South. The festival is collaboration-centred and has featured hundreds of different artists since it was started in 2013 and this year it hopes to have collaborations from more countries as artists from 20 different countries have thus far shown interest in participating in it.

Poetry Africa International Festival

Photo: Poetry Africa International Festival

The University of Kwazulu-Natal, through its centre for Creative Arts is hosting its 21 Edition of the Poetry Africa International Festival. The festival will feature poetry and spoken word performances and community outreach programs. As part of their expansion of performers, apart from hosting numerous local acts, this year, they’re hosting New York poet Miles Hodges, Spanish veteran poet and cultural activist, Eduard Escoffet and Hannah Yanovska, the founder and curator of the International Ukrainian-African Literature Project. The festival has been made possible due to collaborations with the Alliance Française, eThekwini Municipality and Ukrainian Association of South Africa.

International Book Fair of Algiers

Algiers International Book Fair “SILA” is not only Algeria’s biggest literary event but the biggest literary event in the Arab world—with a record attendance of 1.7 million in 2017. The book fair has conferences, writing workshops and exhibitions. The 2018 fair had over 1,000 publishers from 47 countries including 314 Algerian publishing houses, alone. The Ministry of Culture banned some books from the exhibition citing Algerian laws which ban “books that undermine state symbols and glorifies violence, terrorism and racism.”

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