My next few posts on ‘Africa in Words’ are going to be focused on things I’ve been up to ‘professionally’, rather than my ‘research’ – although the two have some nicely blurred lines and intersections. This is partly because I only have 3 weeks left living in East Africa and it is nice to use this space as an opportunity to share and document some of my time here. However, rest assured next month I do want to use the blog to share the ideas and questions I’m wrestling with in my next draft chapter, so more on this before too long.
As some of you know, I’ve been working over the last 6 months to set up a small publishing company in Rwanda called Material Books. The burgeoning Kigali arts scene has been a really inspiring place to be over the last 18 months – FROM the consistently creative and inspiring Ishyo Arts Centre TO Spoken Word Rwanda organizing Rwanda’s first literary festival and attracting huge audiences TO the hilarious Comedy Nayiti performed in a mixture of English, French and Kinyarwanda. Yet, I became conscious though that the opportunities for this creativity to be ‘published’ or made available in a format that could document or travel outside of Kigali were very few. And that perhaps with my 10 years experience of working in the publishing industry, I could do something about this. I officially launched Material Books at the Spoken Word Rwanda Festival at the end of March, and I’m hoping to publish my first titles in early 2013.
Last weekend Material Books hosted the award-winning Ghanaian writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes in Kigali for a public reading and discussion event, as well as workshops with secondary school teachers of English and writers. I partnered with the British Council who sponsored the events, and developed the teachers’ workshop in collaboration with ATER (Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda). A few highlights from Nii’s visit that I’d like to share:
- In the teachers’ workshop he suggested that students should be encouraged to make two columns of notes about a literary text – one representing accepted critical opinions and the other for their own opinion. Not only do I think this methodology could be a useful way of framing my own notes even at PhD level (!), this prompted an amazingly engaged debate about encouraging critical and individual thinking in the classroom and what the parameters of this might be.
- He demonstrated the immense power of poetry in performance at the cafe Shokola Lite on Saturday afternoon. Nii’s performances of ‘Unspoken’ (‘the truth lies in the unspoken’ ‘language is worthless without the patience to listen’) and ‘Mosquito Rules’ had the audience both mesmerised and then erupting with laughter.
- His articulate answers to a whole range of questions from the 3 audiences across the weekend including….his comment that Spoken Word can be more direct as an art-form because it is not mediated through an editor, but also that reactions from an audience can help you shape your own writing….his passion for contemporary Lusophone African writing and for Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter….his beautiful observation that ‘song can heal us in ways we can’t describe.’
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