What do we do in times of uncertainty (such as the current global pandemic)? #WeTurnToBooks!

For our first ever Instagram Live series, #WeTurnToBooks, we invited a number of literary critics and authors prominent in the African literary sphere to speak about the power of literature, reading, and writing during moments of crisis. Our very first guest was Jeanne-Marie Jackson-Awotwi. Jackson-Awotwi is an assistant professor of world literature at Johns Hopkins University, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale. Her first book, South African Literature’s Russian Soul, was published in 2015, and her second, The African Novel of Ideas, is now in production with Princeton University Press. In addition to her broad expertise in Anglophone African writing, she works across Russian, Afrikaans, Shona, and Anglo-Fante intellectual traditions. Her work can be found in a wide range of academic journals, as well as public-facing venues such as n+1, Public Books, 3:AM Magazine, Africa in Words, The Literary Review, and Bookslut.

Jackson-Awotwi chatted with Brittle Paper‘s founder and editor-in-chief Ainehi Edoro on April 11, 2020. Their conversation ranged from the books and genres Jackson-Awotwi found herself turning to in these times, the capacity of the novel to capture historic moments, and ways to stay connected to literary communities in the midst of a lockdown. We even got a chance to say hello to Jackson-Awotwi’s “co-worker” — her son Benji!

Below is a list of books and sites Jackson-Awotwi mentions in her chat, including some reading materials for young readers.

  • Poetry by Togara Muzanenhamo (Jackson-Awotwi specifically mentioned “The Pool,” which is available here:
  • This Carting Life, a poetry collection by Rustum Kozain
  • Afrikaans poetry by Nathan Trantraal and Ronelda Kamfer (available in translation on Poetry International; translations of Trantraal’s work are also available on Asymptote
  • Shona poetry by Peter Muzira, available on Munyori
  • Videos of poetry performances on Cape Town-based InZync Poetry’s Facebook page
  • Vatmaar, by A.H.M. Scholtz (in English, A Place Called Vatmaar)
  • A Spy in Time, by Imraan Coovadia
  • Triangulum, by Masande Ntshanga
  • Akan children’s stories, by Nana J. Opoku-Agyemang, available through African Books Collective
  • Florence and Watson, a trilingual children’s book in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa by Rob van Vuuren and Danielle Bischoffa

If you missed the chat, watch it below. It is also available on our Instagram TV channel @brittlepaper.

Huge, huge thanks to Jeanne-Marie Jackson-Awotwi for kicking off our #WeTurnToBooks series!