London's Africa Writes 2017 was a playground for the African literature aficionado.
Strolling around the British Library, authors, publishers, performers, and fans mused on the form of the short story, toasted the legacy of great women writers, partied in the space between poetry and hip hop, and launched bright new novels and collections - all with African writers set powerfully as the default. Organized by the Royal African Society, the festival offered a theatrical performance of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, an intimate conversation with novelist-sapeur Alain Mabanckou, an exhibition of East African kanga textiles, and more than one lit-lover could absorb over the course of three summer days in London. With too many to list, here are our top five favorite things that happened at the fest:
GT’s Top Five Fave Moments from Africa Writes:
1 | When we couldn’t get into Mostly Lit live. The London-based trio behind Mostly Lit, a podcast “at the intersection of literature, millennial wellness and black pop culture,” stopped by Africa Writes to meet their listeners and do their thing in the flesh. But the venue was packed, and we were left among the unlucky fans who didn’t get to see the show. It’s all good, though - we’re happy that the Lit crew sold out their event. Just save us a seat next time, innit?
2 | When afrobeats won at the opening R.A.P Party. Founded and hosted by playwright and poet Inua Ellams, the R.A.P Party is a “nostalgic, no clutter, no fuss, straight-up” spoken word night where performers respond to their favorite hip hop songs. In between poems, DJ Sid Mercutio served up all the jams, from Rihanna’s new “Wild Thoughts” to Lauryn Hill’s “Zion.” But the crowd didn’t go up for any other song the way they did for Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba.” Arms flew up, hips dropped to the floor, and a unified Ayyyy let Mercutio know to let that track rock. It was clear: hip hop brought them to the party, but afrobeats started it.
3 | When Magogodi oaMphela Makhene told it like it was. One of the talented writers shortlisted for this year’s Caine Prize, Makhene spoke truth about how important it is for Africans - particularly African women - to tell our own stories: “I am a black South African woman,” she said, “and those are identifiers I rarely see on the page. That is a serious problem because [then] others’ idea of who you should be dominates… [it] informs institutions… it’s important to know that you are an active agent in history, in culture. You are capable.” Mic drop; slow clap.
4 | When Alain Mabanckou bonded with the world’s next fashion star. After reflecting on his beautiful novels, being real about the practicalities of working as an African writer, and calling out the need to shift our aspirational views of Europe, the Congolese author (known for his immaculate style, resemblant of the dandy aesthetic of Congo’s sapeurs) was asked to select the best dressed person in the room. After a couple of well attired audience members volunteered themselves for the honor, the writer exclaimed, rushed into the crowd, and returned to the stage with a young man who stole the show.
5 | When everybody LOLed at Nigerians. Reading from her short story “Bush Baby,” Caine Prize nominee Chikodili Emelumadu said, “Nigerians are masters of the Drive-by Salutation,” poetically shading the Nigerian custom of “dropping by” for looong visits without calling ahead. A warm ripple of laughter streaked through the crowd. We got the feeling that, despite not knowing them, we were surrounded by our people. Laughing with the writer and our peers, we sat back and settled into what we came to Africa Writes to experience: the deep pleasure of African stories.
Twitter version: Africa Writes was a sunny, open, important space for exploration.