On August 1, 2017, Brittle Paper will be seven years old. To mark our anniversary, we are organising a series of events, among which are Facebook conversations with writers, editors and founders of literary initiatives. This is the first of our anniversary conversations.
The 2000s was a renaissance period in African literature, the blossoming of a generation of powerful voices retelling the stories of the continent. Building on this, the 2010s has seen the ushering in of a younger, vibrant generation whose language is urgency, whose currency is innovativeness. In these seven years, Africa’s literary culture, its modes of expression, has expanded considerably, mostly in the form of new initiatives.
In 2010, our literary culture blog Brittle Paper was founded by Ainehi Edoro; the interview blog Geosi Reads was founded by Gyasi Geosi. In 2011, Bakwa magazine was founded by Dzekashu MacViban; the listicle blog Book Shy was founded by Zarah Nesbitt-Ahmed; Kalahari Review was founded by Derek Workman. In 2012, the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) was founded by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani and began administering the Glenna Luschei Poetry Prize, the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets, and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize which was founded by Bernardine Evaristo; AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, the continent’s first science fiction anthology, was edited by Ivor Hartman; James Murua’s Literature Blog was founded by James Murua. In 2013, the Etisalat Prize for Literature was established; the Ake Book and Arts Festival, organized by Lola Shoneyin, held for the first time; Kwani? launched their Manuscript Project; the Miles Morland Foundation awarded its first set of scholars; the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation opened its BN Poetry Award to all Africans; Short Story Day Africa, with its themed anthologies and a prize, was founded by Rachel Zadok, Nick Mulgrew and Efemia Chela; Jalada was founded by writers from Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and has since undertaken groundbreaking projects in translation and a mobile literary and arts festival. In 2014, Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara, edited by Ellah Allfrey and introduced by Wole Soyinka, was launched; the Writivism Festival, with its prize, was begun by Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire’s Center for African Cultural Excellence (CACE); the LGBTIQ anthology Queer Africa: New and Collected Fiction, edited by Karen Martin and Makhosazana Xaba, won the LAMBDA Literary Award for Fiction Anthology. In 2015, Expound magazine was founded by Wale Owoade; Praxis Magazine for Arts and Literature was founded by Tee Jay Dan and Jennifer Emelife and launched its thriving poetry chapbook series the following year. In 2016, Storymoja’s 421,696-reader gathering broke the world record for the largest gathering of people reading from the same text and the same time; the Gerald Kraak Award was created by Jacana Literary Foundation; the Huza Press Prize for Fiction, Rwanda’s first national literary prize, was founded by Louise Umutoni; the Abantu Festival, for black writers in South Africa, was founded by Thando Mgqolozana; the Nyanza Literary Festival was founded by Jacque Kerubo in Kenya; Africa in Dialogue was founded by Gaamangwe Joy Mogami; Enkare Review was founded; books by Africans, Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, for the first time earned million-dollar advances. In 2017, the Nommo Awards, run by the African Speculative Fiction Society (ASFS), announced its first shortlists; The Mboka Festival was founded in The Gambia; the intercontinental dialogue platform La Shamba was co-founded by Zukiswa Wanner; Abdulai Sila’s The Ultimate Tragedy became the first book from Guinea-Bissau translated into English; Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death was optioned for a TV series by HBO.
And these are only most of the highlights in the decade so far.
From literature being adapted to film—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation, Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died—to literature being sampled in music—Adichie and Warsan Shire’s respective collaborations with Beyonce—a bridge is being built between African literature and global pop culture.
The reinvigoration on the poetry scene is, arguably, that the most thrilling of all these. Formerly a genre that trailed prose in sublime production and ubiquity, the injection of fresh blood, a shift in tradition and language and remarkable management of prizes and initiatives has ensured the reduction of this gap. Poetry now thrives in spite of its relative paucity of institutional support.
Most crucial to our literature in this decade is social media, a phenomenon on which the critic Ikhide R. Ikheloa has done much work. In addition to allowing for connection and community-building, social media has, primarily, been an outlet for new writing, particularly by young writers who lack access to—and most times the craft needed for—traditional publishing outlets. Facebook and Twitter have proven indispensable: the former has been utilized by writers, critics and readers for some of the most important conversations on the literary scene; the latter has been used by Christina Mbakwe to provide insight on feminism, as did Kwame Dawes in reaching young poets. Another example is how a series of tweets, Teju Cole’s “Small Fates,” offers a reinvention of 1900s French journalism. Or how a Facebook post, Adichie’s 9,000-word “Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” became a book that debuted at No 4 on The New York Times Bestseller List.
For the conversation titled “2010s: The Decade of African Literary Expansion,” we have as guests six of the continent’s notable writers, editors and founders: Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, founding director at Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation; Gbenga Adesina, winner of the 2016 Brunel International African Poetry Prize; Gaamangwe Joy Mogami, founding editor of Africa in Dialogue; Kiprop Kimutai, member of Jalada Africa; Wale Owoade, founding editor of Expound; and Sibongile Fisher, winner of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize.
We invite the literary community to be part of this.
2010s: The Decade of African Literary Expansion.
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, founding director at Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation.
Gbenga Adesina, winner of the 2016 Brunel International African Poetry Prize.
Gaamangwe Joy Mogami, founding editor at Africa in Dialogue.
Kiprop Kimutai, founding member and editor at Jalada Africa.
Wale Owoade, founding editor at Expound.
Sibongile Fisher, winner of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize.
Otosirieze Obi-Young, finalist for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the 2017 Gerald Kraak Award, editor at Brittle Paper.
3 August 2017.
Brittle Paper’s Facebook page.