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Ben Okri. Photo credit: David Levenson / Getty.

Ben Okri will headline the 2019 African Book Festival in Berlin, curated by Tsitsi Dangarembga, where panels will be moderated by Brittle Paper founder Ainehi Edoro, the Berlin-based writers Musa Okwonga and Clementine Burnley, and TV literary programme host Denis Scheck.

The event—funded by Hauptstadtkulturfonds, presented by the literary agency InterKontinental, and themed “Transitioning from Migration”—will be held from 4-7 April 2019, at the historic cinema Babylon, Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 30, 10178 Berlin, and will feature “the finest writers, and artists from Africa and the diaspora to give talks, panel discussions, readings, interviews, theatre and spoken word performances and concerts.” This year’s focus will be on Southern African writing, particularly Zimbabwean.

The inaugural festival in 2018, curated by the Nigerian novelist Olumide Popoola and featuring 40 writers, focused on Nigerian writing. The 2019 event “will gather artists from 21 countries of the world,” up to 46 creatives.

Ben Okri, Nigeria’s only winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction, in 1991 for The Famished Road, is the author of ten novels and numerous collections of poetry, essays and short stories which have been translated into 27 languages. The vice president of the English Centre of International PEN, he has received the Commonwealth Writers‘ Prize for Africa, the Aga Khan Preis, and the Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore Preis.

Tsitsi Dangarembga, curator of the 2019 African Book Festival in Berlin.

At the festival, Ben Okri will present his newest novel The Freedom Artist, “a penetrating examination of how freedom is threatened in a post-truth society,” as Caine Prize winner Namwali Serpell will her highly anticipated debut novel The Old Drift, hailed as the Great Zambian Novel.

From the press release:

Among the guests is one of South Africa’s most prolific and acclaimed writers, Zakes Mda, who has already published 29 works of prose, drama and poetry and won major literary prizes like the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Also engaging with and reclaiming history are Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (House of Stone, Atlantic Books 2018) and Panashe Chigumadzi (These Bones Will Rise Again, Indigo Press, 2018) exploring Zimbabwe’s forgotten past through fiction and creative non-fiction. South African journalist and acclaimed writer Fred Khumalo and South Africa’s leading feminist thinker Pumla Dineo Gqola can be expected to give fascinating insights during panel discussions.

Thando Mgqolozana is not only present as a novelist, but also as co-author of the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated feature film INXEBA. The Wound (2018) and as the founder of the Abantu Book Festival in Soweto. Novelist and poet John Eppel and performance poet and musician Chirikure Chirikure are among Zimbabwe’s most prominent master craftsmen in verse. The latter will perform a concert blending the power of his lyrics in English and Shona with the sounds of the Mbira. Christopher Mlalazi – novelist and playwright from Zimbabwe who is currently based in Mexico – will be back in Germany after his fellowship at the House of Literature in Hannover in 2013-15.

Writer and publisher Shadreck Chikoti will offer a perspective on Afro-Sci-Fi and publishing Malawi while Zimbabwean writer and journalist Fungai Tichawangana will contribute from his experience as editor and literary facilitator.

The African Book Festival will also summon some young up and coming writers to the German capital. Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker based in South Africa who has just published her very promising magical-realist debut novel The Theory of Flight at Penguin South Africa last year, but does not rest on the critical acclaim of her first work and is already busy finishing her third novel.

Sue Nyathi and Ijangolet S Ogwang are young women writers making a name for themselves in South African literature. Both their works deal with issues of (im)migration xenophobia in South Africa.

Yet not all participants are coming from the south of the continent. Last year’s curator, German-Nigerian writer Olumide Popoola will be back for the Opening Round Table exchanging her curating experiences with Tsitsi Dangaremgba and seasoned publisher and editor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey.

Nigerian writers Sefi Atta and Chiké Frankie Edozien will represent the west-African literary giant, while Senegal-based Ghanaian writer Ayesha Harruna Attah will celebrate the March release of the German translation of her historical novel The Hundred Wells of Salaga.

Writer and publisher Elma Shaw from Liberia, publisher and scholar Bibi Bakare-Yusuf from Nigeria, literary blogger and podcaster James Murua from Kenya, co-founder of the Hargeisa International Book Fair Jama Musse Jama from Somalia, and editor and publisher Yana Makuwa will share their expertise and experience in the literary field.

Actor and chef Ayindé Howell and independent scholar Syl Ko from the US will offer new perspectives on Black veganism while poet, novelist and activist SchwarzRund brings a Black German, queer perspective to the table.

Amazing poetry performances can be expected from Sudan-born and US-based Safia Elhillo who was listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30” and was awarded the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, Harriet Anena from Uganda who has been awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, and actor Donald Molosi from Botswana.

Ainehi Edoro, founder of Brittle Paper, will moderate events at the 2019 African Book Festival in Berlin.

Here is a full list of the guests:

  • Ellah Wakatama Allfrey [ZWE / UK]
  • HarrietAnena [UGA]
  • Josephine Apraku [DE / GHA]
  • Sefi Atta [NG / USA]
  • Ayesha Harruna Attah [GHA / SEN]
  • Bibi Bakare-Yusuf [NG / UK]
  • Magda Birkmann [DE]
  • ShaNon Bobinger [DE]
  • Clementine Ewokolo Burnley [CMR / UK / DE]
  • Panashe Chigumadzi [ZWE / ZA]
  • Shadreck Chikoti [MWI]
  • Chirikure Chirikure [ZWE]
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga [ZWE]
  • Jude Dibia [NG / SWE]
  • Franza Drechsler [DE]
  • Ainehi Edoro [NG / USA]
  • Chiké Frankie Edozien [NG / USA]
  • Safia Elhillo [SDN / USA]
  • John Eppel [ZWE]
  • Pumla Dineo Gqola [ZA]
  • Ayindé Howell [USA]
  • Jama Musse Jama [SOM]
  • Fred Khumalo [ZA]
  • Syl Ko [USA]
  • Yana Makuwa [USA]
  • Zakes Mda [ZA / USA]
  • Thando Mgqolozana [ZA]
  • Christopher Mlalazi [ZWE / MEX]
  • Donald Molosi [BWA]
  • James Murua [KEN]
  • Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu [ZWE / ZA]
  • Sue Nyathi [ZWE / ZA]
  • Ijangolet S Ogwang [KEN / UGA / ZA]
  • Ben Okri [NG / UK]
  • Musa Okwonga [UGA / UK / DE]
  • Jörg Petzold [DE]
  • Olumide Popoola [NG / DE / UK]
  • Denis Scheck [DE]
  • SchwarzRund [DOM / DE]
  • Namwali Serpell [ZMB / USA]
  • Elma Shaw [LBR / RWA]
  • Emmanuel Sigauke [ZWE / USA]
  • Fungai Tichawangana [ZWE / KEN / USA]
  • Venice Trommer [DE]
  • Novuyo Rosa Tshuma [ZWE / USA]
  • Flora Veit-Wild [DE]

Musa Okwonga will moderate events at the 2019 African Book Festival in Berlin. Image from God Is in the TV Zine.

Tickets are available through the InterKontinental online shop ( and the Babylon web page

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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