“Corridors of storytelling” in contemporary African culture: Small Magazines at Africa Writes – Sunday July 1st, 2018

AiW Guest: Sumayya Lee.

AiW note: This is the fifth in a series of posts for Africa in Words exploring the networked series of research, events, and discussions, ‘Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas’. Here our Guest, Sumayya Lee, discusses the panel held at the 2018 Africa Writes Festival in London, when the network hosted a conversation featuring Dhaxalreeb Magazine, AFREADA, Bakwa Magazine and others.


Dr Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol) and Dr Chris Ouma (University of Cape Town) convene the AHRC funded research network, ‘Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas’. They’ve hosted events in Cape Town (April 2017), Kampala (August 2017) and Bristol (January 2018), to, as they state, explore the relationship between small magazines and the construction of affiliation, identity and civic participation.

africa writesThese conversations continued this summer at the Africa Writes Festival in London, in and through “the corridors of storytelling” which the network sees small magazines create, focusing on their role in contemporary African literary culture. As a writer, I am always interested in the ways in which we share our stories and so was looking forward to the roundtable with academics, like Dr Kate Wallis of the University of Exeter, and practitioners from Dhaxalreeb Magazine, AFREADA and Bakwa Magazine.

Dr Ouma opened by expressing his interest in Black Internationalism and his curiosity regarding collaborations that are not defined by the state. Small magazines, in his opinion, go against the grain and yet seem to be ephemeral in nature – websites, he reminded us, come and go. Dr Wallis’s presentation of her research into pan African literary networks also raised questions about the sustainability of small magazines while pointing out the unique relationships that they make possible.

The panel responded with great passion. Dr Jama Musse Jama (Dhaxalreeb) pressed home the importance of protecting the cultural heritage in an environment where arts and culture are at the bottom of the list of priorities. As founder of the Hargeysa Cultural Centre and Hargeysa International Book Fair in Somaliland he spoke of critics complaining that “he was talking about books when people were dying”. In such situations, he insists we are forced to make art a priority and to give people tools to utilise local knowledge.Small-Magazines-collage-2

Nancy Adimora spoke of her love for story leading to the creation of AFREADA in December 2015, an online magazine which provides a platform for readers to find writers and vice versa. The website, which boasts a quarter of a million readers from around the world, is concerned with helping people find time in their busy lives to enjoy African narratives. She was frank about the challenges of digital spaces and the extreme competition for readers’ attention. AFREADA then is not just about the words on the page, but experiencing the magazine. “It is not enough to just have good stories. Drawing people to your website requires ensuring it has aesthetic appeal as well as ease of use.”

Bakwa Magazine – the brainchild of Dzekashu MacViban, founded in November 2011, as MacViban says on the magazine’s website, to ‘fill the lacuna created by the absence of literary and cultural magazines in Cameroon’ – continues to challenge the ways Cameroonians consume and produce literature. MacViban acknowledged the sustainability issue and suggested that awareness of the evolutionary nature of the internet was crucial. This awareness allows for the possibility of finding new ways of expansion and reinvention. From Bakwa’s perspective, this involves communicating with other magazines, constant adaptation and finding the balance between online and real-life activity in the form of live events, readings, workshops and mentoring.

small magazinesIn closing, Dr Krishnan questioned the effects of these magazines compared to that of anthologies and Dr Jama reminded the audience and the panel that on the continent, large swathes of the population were still without the internet ability ought to be in traditional forms as well. “The power of an online magazine, apart from instant accessibility lies in its ability to respond almost instantly to current issues” Ms Adimora countered, while Dr Wallis’s remarks provided much food for thought: “One of the most powerful differences between small magazines and a traditional publication like an anthology is that the former enables the conversation to continue in ways that an anthology cannot.”


img_0951Sumayya Lee was born in Durban and has worked as an Islamic Studies teacher, Montessori Directress and Teacher of English as a Foreign Language. Her debut, The Story of Maha (Kwela, 2007) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book – Africa and longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Award. She is one of the judges for the 2018 Writivism /Kofi Addo Prize for Creative Non Fiction and is also part of the Advisory Board at Writivism.



Sumayya’s is the fifth post published by Africa in Words in a series that come out of conversations between a new interdisciplinary network of researchers and literary producers examining the circulation and production of small magazines in Sub-Sahran Africa. We’ve been following this AHRC Research Network, ‘Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas’, convened by Dr Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol) and Dr Chris Ouma (University of Cape Town), reflecting the development and range of events that have opened and continued exploration of the possibilities of the small magazine form.

Read the first post in the series: Sarah Smit ‘Finding Affiliations: Reading Communities, Literary Institutions & Small Magazines’.

Read the second post in the series: Nathan Suhr-Systma ‘“A secret history of the nation”: Small Magazines at Writivism 2017’.

Read the third post in the series: Aurélie Journo ‘Archiving Small Magazines: AWA Digitisation and Exhibition in Montpelier.

Read the fourth post in the series: Penny Cartwright Flexible Forms and Publics: Moradewun Adejunmobi and Stacy Hardy on Small Magazines.

And watch this space for more to come…

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