As the saying goes there’s a book in everyone of us waiting to jump out. But not everyone could be Oscar Wild. That’s a relief I hear you cry! Here comes support Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual festival of books and literature which showcases established and emerging literary talent from Africa and the Diaspora, is back for its fourth year running this summer (from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July) at the British Library.
The 2015 festival guarantees to bring together over 50 novelists, poets, publishers, translators, critics and other thespians in the world of African literature to open up the continent’s fertile literary terrain. The footnotes reads like so: “This year’s festival will once again present a unique opportunity for our audiences to engage with their favourite African writers and books, and to discover new ones through our exciting programme”.
The festival would also feature book launches, readings, author appearances, panel discussions, youth and children’s workshops. Amongst this year’s headline draw are Nigerian-born Ben Okri, Booker prize-winning author and one of the most known and respected of African writers. Okri will be discussing his extensive range of literary work of 10 novels, including the Booker winner The Famished Road. And the controversial Journalist, author and commentator Eritrean-born Hannah Pool, hosting an evening of books and inspiration, when a selection of writers and personalities will share with the audience their favourite African books, varying between classics all through to their latest published work?
The festival will feature 13 sessions - both free and paid for. However, two sessions stands out for me: Firstly, “Emergent Discourses on African Literature” (Free); because it deals with homogeneity, how publishers treat African writers as one and the same, ignoring the wide diversity of written and oral literature stemming from the continent and the diaspora. This session will feature presentations by PhD students and other researchers who are exploring different areas of this field of study - from the development of post-colonial literature through to present-day African narratives and the changing landscape of the publishing industry.
The second session that stands out for me is “Meet the Publishers”. A recently published study titled “What Happened” commissioned by the writer development agency “spread the word” to look into diversity in publishing, revealed that Black and Asian authors in Britain are being ‘shoehorned’ by a predominantly white publishing industry into writing fictions that conforms to a stereotypical view of their communities. This session, “Meet the Publishers”, is apt as it is for unpublished writers of African origin to present their work to different publishing houses, to discuss what they look for when considering new work, share the do's and don’ts of pitching and other insider tips, and get professional feedback on the spot.
The organisers maintain that they deem it fit to organise a fourth because last year’s Africa Writes attracted over 1,500 attendees – many of whom had not attended Africa Writes (77%) or visited the British Library (28%) before. And now with over 30 sessions they are hoping for a record breaking attendance for 2015.
Royal African Society, 36 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD