If you are a bookwork and love African writers, publishers, poets and all things literature, then you were probably at the annual Africa Writes: literature and book festival event at the British Library, between Friday 30 June to Sunday 2 July 2017.

But if you couldn’t make it, all is not lost. We got you! Our book contributor, Vanessa Thomas, was there and shares a roundup of the literary weekend.

Every summer, the Royal African Society organises Africa Writes, a platform for emerging literary talent across Africa and its diaspora, connecting London with African writers and narratives to challenge preconceived notions of the continent. The event attracts literary nobility, in previous years they’ve hosted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Okri, Warsan Shire, and many more, and this year, its 6th, was no different.

The festival kicked off on the Friday, with international poet and playwright, Inua Ellams’ Rhythm and Poetry Party, aka the R.A.P Party. Picture the main gallery of the British Library, full of melanin, Matugga Rum, and hip hop! It was lit! It followed a simple concept; poets like Kei Miller, Yomi Sode, and Fatimah Kelleher came on stage, performed their poems and then selected a hip hop tune that inspired them. Chords were struck with poems on grime, feminism, Grenfell Tower, and more, and hips swayed and heads bobbed to classics from Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, Lauryn Hill and King Stormzy. I doubt the British Library has ever seen such bass and beats. In fact, people were protesting when the music was switched off at the end of the night.

With a lead like that, the weekend had a lot to live up to, and it certainly did. Saturdays’ line up included a ‘Meet the publishers’ session where budding writers pitched their stories and ideas to key players in the industry, receiving feedback and insider tips; Africa Writes take on Dragon’s Den. Helon Habila discussed his book The Chibok Girls an investigation into the rise of Boko Haram and unheard stories from the community.

Throughout the day, attendees could view Autograph ABP’s part of The Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles exhibition, which included photographic portraits and writings of black people in Britain in the 19th century. The evening ended with brilliant tales in Dreams and Deceptions: A night of storytelling, where Mara Menzies shared The Illusion of Truth and Maimouna Jallow’s adaptation of Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.

Sunday gave the opportunity to celebrate the life and works of trailblazing Nigerian writer, Buchi Emecheta, who sadly passed in January 2017. The session, ‘Remembering Buchi Emecheta’, involved a panel of people who knew Emecheta personally, who talked about her life and literary journey from Delta State Nigeria to Britain.

A Buchi Emecheta Bookclub followed, where fans discussed and celebrated their favourite Emecheta works. Look out for our feature on Buchi Emecheta soon.

The event was an opportunity to highlight a number of recently released books, including offerings from JJ Bola, Olumide Popoola and SA Smythe. Bola’s debut, No Place To Call Home, explores the journey and challenges a family in Congo face as they leave for Europe.  Known for his poetry, Bola stated that this novel “reads like music, and is in fact just one long poem”. Read our review of Popoola’s debut novel, When We Speak of Nothing.

The Mostly Lit podcast trio, Rai, Derek and Alex, led a session to explore what writing black is, why authors like Chinua Achebe chose to write in English rather than their mother tongue, whether the English language truly articulates Black expression, and slang. As expected it was a humour filled and thought-provoking afternoon, with plenty of audience interaction.

The final, and headlining event of the weekend, was ‘Alain Mabanckou: In Conversation’. Mabanckou is a pioneering Congolese writer whose work spans two decades and delves into language and politics.

It was also wonderful to see black-owned businesses trading, like New Beacon Bookstore (Britain’s first black bookshop), Dorcas Creates (seasonal cards, pins and lapels), and Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, where you could snack on Okra fries.

As I left the event with my backpack full of new books and goodies, I reflected on the many workshops and exhibitions I attended, and marvelled at how multifaceted and rich the continent is. I am counting down the days until the 2018 event.



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