In other Words… AiW news and April’s wrap

As we move through the changed circumstances, timelines and spaces of now, our round-up of ‘other words’ – news on AiW’s radar, collated from across our platforms – has moved to a monthly edition for April.

Please be in touch with any other ways and means that AiW can best support today’s opportunities and challenges. And with continuing wishes for your health, peace and safety…

April’s top posts and pages – #PastAndPresent


… falling in with the sense of newness, both of opportunity and facing challenges presented by going virtual…
(click on headings to jump the page to:)

(Are Books Essential?)

Film and TV
Visual Art & Gallery Spaces
Awards & Congrats
And also #OnOur(Lockdown)Radar
Poetry, Performance, Research
(and look for the /\ to come back to the contents)

Virtual Fests

Serious online Fest love this month for Afrolit Sans Frontieres – born via South African author and curator Zukiswa Wanner’s WhatsApp messages with her writers’ networks,  looking for ways to stay creative and connected while social distancing. This amazing initiative will run monthly until the lockdown ends! 

Season #2 – from April 20-27, themed “What I Wish You’d Ask Me”, co-curated by novelist and essayist Maaza Mengiste and Wanner – kicked off to supercharge our April, after the huge success of the first season in March

Season #3, already announced as running from May 25 – Africa Day – to June 1, has as its theme “Future, Present, Past” and will be co-curated, with Wanner, by Mohale Mashigo -South African award-winning singer-songwriter, novelist, and former radio presenter. 

For more on every writer’s session, snapshots of each season, and emerging news, see James Murua’s Literature Blog, Afrolit Sans Frontiere’s media partner.

Also looking ahead to finding “amazing everywhere” at the Virtual National Arts Festival (South Africa, Makhanda and beyond) from 25 June-5 July.

We are so excited for this 11 days of online creativity that will span both South African and international arts scenes. A pay-per-view platform will be made available soon, where you can buy tickets for specific artists and artistic sessions. This year’s all-female NAF team explained how the first-ever virtual edition of the Festival would work in an informative ‘Talk to the Team’ webinar on 21st April. Watch the webinar on YouTube here.

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Books News

Books conversations in April seem to highlight a double pull: as well as the availability of broadened spaces for energised literary activity and action coming forward online, so has the importance of supporting books communities negotiating and adapting to the starker local and material realities of the #lockdown.

Modjaji Books’ call for independent e-platforms that will benefit indy and local, on the back of the incalculable risks for June as distributors also negotiate our nows resounds – as Amazon dominates, open for, but de-prioritising sales of indy books; as closed bookstores can neither sell nor buy books; and as new releases enter the limbo of a #Covoid. This is not an unfamiliar story that we’re hearing from many smalls and indys we love across the continent, each also informed by the complex chains and local particulars that support the common endgame – books being at home with their readers. 

As we’re loving the expanded sense of now-available-wherever-the-internet-goes chats and readings from writers, we are acutely aware of following up – in all the ways and means possible, to extend one such appeal from South Africa’s late April lockdown and to support the voices of the small publishers, booksellers and an independent book trade, mindful of the importance of local particularities:  

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A question for our times… Are Books Essential?

These books conversations have also been informed by the ongoing conceptions around the indispensability of what books – of all kinds – can be, mean, voice, allow…

Need we ask which side you would come down on?

The debate – what counts as ‘essential’ during a coronavirus lockdown – has accelerated through the month in South Africa as the government prepared to downgrade its lockdown measures and widen its ‘essentials’ list into May. This has provided a touchpoint for the possibilities of collective action, as well as bringing out the oftentimes polarised nature of the arguments, and the presences of historical and cultural memories around the issue, particularly as other print media outlets in the country began to see the impact of a ‘nightmare month’ for an already beleaguered industry. 

Revolving around the ‘global’ question, put by Jacana early in the month –

…gathering momentum about the significance of books resulted in an Open Letter from 358 authors, academics, and readers, asking that all books be available for trade at Level 4 of Lockdown, to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and the South African National Coronavirus Command Council.

We’ve also seen the heartening news of a number of re-openings as a result, including the announcement by the Book Lounge (in Cape Town) of their opening from May 1st.

The limited re-opening of the bookselling chain in South Africa is a welcome and joyful chink in the otherwise closed doors of the #lockdown. While things are shifting, we’re still not out of the woods, nor are we looking to go ‘back’ to anything: part of the ‘essential’ debate involves the discrepancies and valuations of the many layers, spaces, labour, people and costs, often not especially visible, involved in the production of the book-in-hand, as well as ways to move through and past the #Covoid safely and with each other in mind.

As we do, and as open stores remain limited by social distancing measures or are still closed, indy partners, such as the wonderful African Books Collective (ABC) – an African owned, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for books from Africa (who have also made their publishers’ content available this month) – can provide legitimate alternatives to global conglom dominance:

And adding the as ever salutary wisdom of the small, indy press as we move through the books #Covoid –

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Film and TV

If you’re in need of a good watch – film and TV – look no further!

African Arguments has provided a fantastic line-up of African films and television programmes available for streaming from the comfort of your own sofa!

Once you’ve made your way through those, Namwali Serpell has curated a list of five speculative films from Africa (see Brittlepaper) – Stream it – Speculative Africa! – for the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. Originally intended for screening in March, in conjunction with the paperback release of her “a dazzling genre-bender of a novel, an astonishing historical and futuristic feat”, The Old Drift, as described by Chinelo Okparanta (featured in our ‘Festive Faves‘ last year and reviewed by Charlott Schönwetter here), due to Covid-19, the Wexner Center has provided links for streaming the films here.

Maaza Mengiste had some wonderful film news in April! The Shadow King (2019) is going to be adapted for the screen by film director Kasi Lemmons.

In an April 16 DEADLINE article, Lemmons said: “Maaza Mengiste’s mesmerizing novel takes my breath away […] The imagery is so rich and powerful and the characters so vividly drawn, it naturally lends itself to adaptation. I’m very honored to be a part of bringing this brilliant book to the screen and I’m thrilled to be working with everyone at Atlas.”

And finally – a new cinema podcast series celebrates ‘Women in African Cinema‘ (on Vimeo). Africa in Motion, one of UK’s largest African film festivals based in Scotland, showcased the podcast to help with the tedium of lockdown this month: Lizelle Bisschoff and Stefanie Van de Peer’s bitesize, 15 mins podcasts are based on their book Women in African Cinema: Beyond the Body Politic (Routledge, 2019). There will be a new episode each week, each based on chapters in the book. Catch up with the first episode here – and check out their Women in African Cinema bibliography.

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Visual Art & Gallery Spaces

Galleries and museums continued to offer a wide variety of exciting digital initiatives to satisfy April’s creative cravings as Covid-19 continues to impact our lives.

Afikaris, contemporary African art gallery, presented the impressive  virtual exhibition “Dialogues, techniques mixtes sur papier” on their Instagram, from March 24th to April 27th.  The exhibition (still available) includes video presentations and images of works on paper by artists such as Salifou Lindou and Onyis Marin.

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 8.38.13 AM

Addressing the opportunities and challenges facing young art organisations on the African continent, ZeitzMOCAA, Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (South Africa), hosted a dynamic IG conversation between their Executive Director and Chief Curator, Koyo Kouoh and Meriem Berrada, Artistic Director at MACAAL – Museum of Contemporary African Art Al Maaden (Morocco) on April 28th. You can re-watch the insightful #MuseumHeadToHead convo here.
Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 6.48.01 PM

And the Norval Foundation (based in Cape Town) continued to roll their terrific series of #60SecondArt clips on Instagram:

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Awards & Congrats

Shout outs and celebrations to:

– Mangaliso Buzani, who was awarded African Poetry Book Fund’s 2019 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry, for his collection “a naked bone” (from one of our featured independent publishers, Deep South Press).

– Just when we didn’t think Zukiswa Wanner could get any better, she became the first African woman to receive the Goethe Medal this April, awarded for “outstanding contribution to cultural exchange”! A well-timed and well-deserved recognition! In her Cheeky Natives takeover (on 30th April), Wanner said that she would like for the Goethe medal to open the possibility of some funding beyond her extensive social capital/general-highest-slay-ness for the next seasons of Afrolit Sans Frontieres.

We are also super excited about this :


And in two accolades for Cassava authors:
– Akwaeke Emezi won the Otherwise Award for their beautiful, complex novel Freshwater (Cassava Press, 2018), the UK launch of which, at the Africa Writes festival in London, was covered for us so evocatively by Sana Goyal. Once called the Tiptree Award, Otherwise celebrates speculative fiction that encourages the exploration and multiplicity of gender.

– And Jumoke Verissimo’s brilliant novel A Small Silence (Cassava Press, 2019) – a powerful use of “memory to re-enact personal and, maybe, national trauma” (see our review of the novel by Temitayo Olofinlua) – has been shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society of literature’s Ondaatje Prize 2020, a prize that celebrates writing that best evokes the spirit of a place – the place: Lagos.

Our warmest congratulations to all the nominees!

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also #OnOur(Lockdown)Radar

Poetry – #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge
Ake Festival founder Lola Shoneyin launched the collaborative #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge on the Ake Festival Twitter account on Wednesday, April 1. 

“The way that this will work is that I will start by reading the first lines of a poem and then I will nominate an African poet from a different African country to take over and read the next few lines,” Shoneyin said. “That poet then nominates someone else so that over a twenty four hour period about sixteen poets will have read the poem around three times.” (

Shoneyin began with the opening lines of ‘Heavensgate’ by Christopher Okigbo, followed by the poets Wana Udobang, Logan February, Lebo Mashile, Titilope Sonuga, Lemn Sissay, TJ Dema, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Clifton Gachagua, Nick Makoha, Efe Paul Azino, Kayo Chingonyi, Kola Tubosun, and Natalia Molebatsi. 

‘When The Lights Go Out (For Some Who Are In South African Jails)’, by Mongane Wally Serote, was the second in the challenge, read by Maryam Bukar, Belinda Zhawi, Bridget Minamore, Dami Ajayi, Kadija Sesay, Koleka Putuma, Bash Amuneni, Poetra Asantewa, Chika Jones, Ola Elhassan, Isatoun Alwar Cham-Graham, Uche Nduka, Theresa Lola, Ogaga Ifowodo, Inua Ellams, Samira Negrouche, and JJ Bola. 

Performance – Watch #LockdownShakespeare
In the month that usually can’t help itself but mark a bit of boring bardolatry, in the celebration of what is conventionally held to be Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23rd, an initiative that is self-confessedly “not big on the whole Bard’s birthday thing“, looking to promote the work of South African theatre makers during the difficult Coronavirus lockdown period and to provide some modest financial support, put out a call for #LockdownShakespeare: 

Actors, we invite you to record yourself performing a monologue from a Shakespeare play of your choice (between 90 seconds and 3 minutes in length). Or maybe a sonnet? It can take any form and can be in any language!

…The videos are added to Shakespeare ZA’s resources pages for other theatre makers, teachers, learners and members of the public to enjoy!

Many of these videos are now included as Resources on the blog; and you can watch a selection of the videos in the What’s On section or on the dedicated #lockdownshakespeare YouTube channel.  

Research – Gathered experience, #LockdownDiaries
At the end of the month, we caught up with the uplifting Lockdown Diaries Project. Among tales of challenges and adversity, violent repressive measures, crime and anxiety, this research project, undertaken by a team bringing together researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of the Western Cape with interests in the politics of urban life and issues of political inclusion, draws from Adichie’s coupling of power and singularly voiced stories to rearticulate those relationships and humanity long present before the lockdown.

Lockdown Diaries aims to highlight to the multiply collective systems of support in Cape Town, inspiring connection and hope through stories of solidarity as it documents everyday experiences of the isolation period in Cape Town during the Covid-19 pandemic. Communicating via WhatsApp, 70 Capetonians have so far shared their insights on the impact of the situation on the diverse communities of this one city in lockdown.

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And in all the seriousness of now, we couldn’t leave the month and go into our next without noting the #lockdown edition of an old instagram bit-of-fun fave – tinged now with the challenges of distance and isolation – featuring some of our own faves:

Or scroll through the hashtag #BooksasOutfits or #BooksasOutfitsChallenge (aka rabbithole-of-all-the-hours-of-internet-we-got-in-one-day-fun) to guess at those which are closest to our hearts.

Through all, thank you for reading, and just being here with us! If there’s anything you’d like to see featured on the site, don’t hesitate to be in touch. We look forward to it, with all wishes for your continuing safety at this time.

Categories: AiW Featured - archive highlights, Announcements, News, & Upcoming

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