African Writers Festival
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
9:30 am—3:30 pm
McCormack Family Theater, 70 Brown Street, Providence
In the almost six decades since Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart and brought African writing into the consciousness of the West, African writers have firmly cemented their place in the global consciousness. No longer seen as simplistic voices that stand in for a continent, African writers are examining everything from technology to war to sex and desire to the politics of culture. They are not only recorders of history but in recent years, have reinvented what it means to be public intellectuals. The five writers at our festival are representative of the new generation of African writers and thinkers who are called upon to offer insights and to comment on global affairs. In the spirit of James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and other black writers of the civil rights era whose eloquent anger produced works and provoked conversations as pertinent today as they were in the 50’s and 60’s, these writers, who are all American residents (and citizens in some cases), provide unique perspectives meaningful to present day discussions on blackness, race, police brutality, immigration and a host of other issues.
9:30 am – noon “The Writer as a Public Intellectual” — a panel discusion, featuring Uwem Akpan, Okey Ndibe, Chinelo Okparanta, EC Osondu and Namwali Serpell
12:45 – 3:30 pm Literary readings by Uwem Akpan, Okey Ndibe, Chinelo Okparanta, EC Osondu and Namwali Serpell
Sponsored by Literary Arts, this project has been made possible by the Brown Arts Initiative, with additional support from the departments of Africana Studies, Comparative Literature, and English, the Office of Global Engagement, Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and the Watson Institute (Africa Initiative).
Uwem Akpan’s first novel, Say You’re One of Them, was the winner of the Commonwealth Prize (Africa Region), the PEN Open Book Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Published by Little, Brown in 2008, it made the Best of the Year list at People magazine and nine other magazines and dailies across the US. It also made The New York Times’ Editor’s Choice List, and Entertainment Weekly listed it at No. 27 in their “Best of the Decade.” It was also a 2009 Oprah Book Club selection. Uwem Akpan was born in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. He attended Creighton and Gonzaga universities in the US and the Catholic University of East Africa in Kenya. He received his MFA from the University of Michigan in 2006. His stories and short autobiographies have appeared in The New Yorker, the Nigerian Guardian, the Hekima Review, America and O, The Oprah Magazine. He has taught English and writing in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and the US. In recent years, he has served as a fellow at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; at the Institute for Humanities at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and at the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library in New York. He divides his time between Nigeria and Georgia, USA.
Okey Ndibe is the author of two novels, Foreign Gods, Inc. (named by The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Mosaic magazine as one of the ten best books of 2014) and Arrows of Rain, and of a memoir, Never Look an American in the Eye: Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American. He is also the co-editor, along with Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove, of Writers Writing On Conflicts and Wars in Africa. Holder of an MFA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he has taught at Brown University, Trinity College, Simon’s Rock College, Connecticut College, and at the University of Lagos (as a Fulbright scholar). He was a Black Mountain Institute Fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2015-16. Ndibe is also a journalist and columnist whose writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, BBC Online, Al Jazeera Online, La Republica, Financial Times, Fabian Society Journal, and the Nigerian Daily Sun, where his widely syndicated weekly column appears. He is currently working on a novel, Native Tongues.
Chinelo Okparanta was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. at age 10. She is the author of the novels Under the Udala Trees (2015) and Happiness, Like Water (2013). One of Granta’s Six New Voices for 2012, she was a finalist for the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and was short-listed for the 2013 Caine Prize in African Writing. She is a 2014 O. Henry Award winner, a 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Fiction Book Award Winner, and a two-time Lambda Literary Award winner for Lesbian Fiction. Her work was nominated for the 2016 NAACP Image Awards in Fiction as well as for the 2016 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award in Fiction. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, and The Kenyon Review, among others.
E.C. Osondu is a Nigerian native who is a winner of the Caine Prize and a Pushcart Prize. He is the author of a novel, This House is Not For Sale, and of a short story collection, Voice of America. He is an Associate Professor of English at Providence College in Rhode Island.
Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer. She has been shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing, and won the prize in 2015 for her story, “The Sack.” In 2014, she was chosen as one of the most promising African writers in the Africa39 anthology, a project of the Hay festival. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award in 2011. Her first published story, “Muzungu,” was selected for the Best American Short Stories 2009. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Believer, n+1, Callaloo, Tin House, McSweeney’s, Triple Canopy, and the anthology Reader, I Married Him. Her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, was published by Harvard University Press in 2014. Her first novel, The Old Drift, will be published by Hogarth Press in 2018. She is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.