Thursday, 8 November 2012

"Futures Carousel": New Books/Writings from Africa

On October 27 2012, I braved the cold London weather to check out the African Book Festival - a 2 day African literature festival, curated by Will Essilfie and Nii Ayikwei Parkes, celebrating books and contemporary writing, which featured readings and panel discussions with African writers, as well as African books sold at low prices.

On the day I went, there was a Publishing Panel with Ellah Allfrey (Deputy Editor of Granta) and Goretti Kyomuhendo (writer, former Programme Coordinator for FEMWRITE and founder of African Writers Trust), a showcase of new African writing, a non-fiction reading/talk with Hannah Pool (journalist and author of My Fathers' Daughter) and Musa Okwonga (sportswriter, poet, journalist, broadcaster), and a fiction reading/talk with Alastair Bruce (author of Wall of Days) and Aminatta Forna (author of several books including The Memory of Love). The publishing panel was especially insightful as both Ellah Allfrey and Goretti Kyomuhendo explored the oppotunities and gaps in African publising, and spoke in depth about what African literature needs. I especially loved it when Ellah Allfrey talked about the "imaginative potential that is out there", and when she said that "ours is the first generation with the power to make a change".

I have to say, I really enjoyed the "Futures Carousel" -  a showcase of new writings/books. 3 books and 1 poet were featured and each author (or representative of the author) had 10 minutes to introduce us to their works.

Amir Tag Elsir is a Sudanese writer who, in additon to  publishing 16 books, also studied medicine. The Grub Hunter was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arab Fiction in 2011 and was translated into English by William Hutchins. It was published by Pearson, as part of their African Writers Series (in 2008, Pearson brought back the Heinemann African Writers Series). Lynette Lisk from Pearson read an excerpt from the book which tells the story of a former secret service agent, who having been forced to retire due to an accident, decides to write a novel about his experiences. He starts to visit a cafe frequented by intellectuals, only to find himself the subject of police scrutiny.

My Life Has A Price is a memoir of survival and freedom written by Tina Okpara, in collaboration with journalist Cyril Guinet. It was translated from French (Ma Vie un a Prix) by Jolie Jodter and published by Amalion (an independent Senegalese publishing house). At 13, Tina, who came from a modest family in Nigeria, is adopted by Linda and Godwin Okpara and prepares to start her new life in France with her new family. Linda is the homemaker and wife to international football player Godwin Okpara, who played for French Club Paris Saint-Geramain as well as for Nigeria's national squad, the Super Eagles. This is Tina's story of her years of imprisonment, torture and abuse in the Okpara's home. An excerpt from My Life Has a Price was read by Kadija Sesay George (founder and publisher of SABLE LitMag), with a short Q&A with Tina Okpara after the reading.

Finding Soutbeck is Karen Jennings debut novel about the small town of SoutbeckA representative from the publishers, Holland Park Pressread an excerpt, in which Soutbeks troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbeck is still a divided town - the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant - and Finding Soutbeck is a novel about the real conditions that shape the loves of ordinary, marginalised people. This is a story that paints a thought-provoking picture of life in contemporary South Africa.

There was also a poetry reading from a very talented lady, Bridget Minamore. One on being a 90s child, and the other, which sadly she didn't get to finish, on the issue of skin lightening.

Another great thing about the events was the variety of African literature they had on offer. In addition to the three novels showcased, a lot of the Caine Prize Anthologies were on sale, as well books from the African Writers Series.There were actually way too many to mention and there were tons that I've been dying to get my hands on. Like The Granta Book of African Short Story, How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu and Dreams, Miracles and Jazz. They also aimed to make the books affordable - paperbacks were no more than £5 and hardbacks were no more than £10. I ended up getting Moxyland and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, True Murder by Yaba Badoe, and My Life Has a Price

Overall it was a great literary event, very insightful and I am definitely looking forward to the next one.

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