Literary blog and archiving platform Brittle Paper turns 10 this year! Happy birthday BP! This month we take up their invitation to join their celebrations in their #DecadeProject with a post marking the last ten years as a significant decade in African writing and literary culture – from where we are, and with our vision.
What a way to party! – thanks BP.
So, we’ve dipped back into our archives, looking long and deep, to offer a list of 10 literary-cultural things, categories, dynamic groupings and constellations that have made their way online over the last decade or so through our site. (Full disclosure – we are only-just-very-nearly 9 yrs old this year…).
The Decade Project extends through September, with Q&As, essays, recipes, love advice from Dr Paper! and more… In the generous thought-space it is extending, #TheDecadeProject is reciprocally profiling other like online platforms. We’re already up with an essay-profile, “Africa in Words Amplifies Literary Voices Through Transnational Community Building”, by Lindsay Semel.
Semel’s focus on AiW’s driving, creative-critical thought-spring – the possibilities of our platform for amplifying voices, community and network building that we have the opportunity to offer – in itself speaks to wider concerns of BP’s online celebration of ideas. With gratitude, our listicle below includes our ten literary-significant, cross-pollinating and joyful gatherings from “the boom years”, in BP’s words, that have especially resonated and impacted with us, with our communities and readers, and that have reached out along the other tendrils of our common interests and online spaces…
1. Texts, Books, Literature: Reviews – Books
Our top category over the decade. Reviews of “books”, broadly conceived, and “literature”, expanded, remain at our heart, informing and widening our ongoing critical conversations about emergent literary cultures from the continent. Profiling new creative voices, as well as new critical perspectives on more established ones, reviews by team members and guest authors have covered an array of texts, interests, styles, and genres over the #BoomYears.
2. Getting it out there – literary activism and changing contours: indie presses, publishers & distributors/ booksellers
Turning to environments around and beyond the text, and those that are changing the landscapes of production and circulation in economies and space… Independents, “small” and home-grown outside the global conglomerates, risk takers, visionaries, collaborators, collectives – these mark the kinds of newness and alternatives making pathways into developing literary futures accessible, impacting the literary landscape and its shapes over the last decade.
Indie publishers and presses – some reader highlights through the years have been Modjaji Books, Deep South, Huza Press, Cassava Republic Press and their romance imprint, Ankara Press – booksellers, distribution methods, literary organisations, collectives and initiatives… we’ve long been interested in the varied forms of literary activism on the continent that amplify voices otherwise less heard and that provide exciting spaces for browsings, new discoveries and literary loves.
3. Literary criss-crossings in and beyond the academy – Academic Conversations
Even though we have expanded beyond our institutional roots in the academy, by virtue of the fact that Africa in Words is the brainchild of a team of five doctoral students working at the University of Sussex (UK) in 2011, we often have at least one foot in with the scholarly. The blog platform is one where we can share intellectual production and emerging research about literatures and activism, from both established and emerging scholars, out and beyond the academy’s towers and walls. And in a timely way (let’s face it – the scholarly process of getting work out can be s l o w!).
This blog category – Academic Research – also at our heart, includes monograph and academic book reviews – this year we published our first dual-language review of the “part anthology, part conference proceedings, part literary manifesto, Au-dessous du volcan“, edited by Maëline Le Lay and Alexandre Mirlesse (en Francais and English); and reviews of seminars, roundtables and academic events, as well as rich, generous Q&As with and by Profs and scholars.
Two standouts here are pieces responding to academic conference keynote lectures – to Binyavanga Wainaina’s “I am a Pan-Africanist, not an Afropolitan“, a keynote talk given at the African Studies Association UK in 2012; or those riffing on and developing Carli Coetzee’s “Unsettling the air-conditioned room: journal work as ethical labour”, at the 2018 African Literature Association Annual Conference in Washington, D.C..
The senses in which these conversations and research are motivated to move in, around and beyond the academy are also at the core of our series called Words on Teaching. Recently revived from our older archives, the series thinks broadly around the work of teaching and its possibilities.
4. Up close and personal – AiW Q&A
From the dawn of AiW time, our Q&As have been tracking more personal perspectives and insights into what goes into making up the “literary” of literatures now. Here we get into the creative worlds and processes of writers and makers, publishers and producers, literary scholars and intellectuals, film-makers and artists, as well as game developers, curators, composers, and entrepreneurs…
‘Words on the Times’ extends this spirit in an AiW Q&A subset curated specifically for the pandemic. Initiated in response to what Modjaji publisher Colleen Higgs dubbed the #COVOID for newly released books in the early stages of the lockdown, intending to continue to connect up the blog’s communities by sharing our changed nows and ways of working, our experiences of these unprecedented times.
Coming across our first copies of the weird-wild wisdom of Jungle Jim Pan-African pulp fiction mags in 2012, or documenting the first print issue of Chimurenga Chronic in 2013, our love for literary mags /zines, their cultures, readers, and all else they gather runs long…
This love’s come back to us, reiterated in many ways, more recently in a series of articles on AiW emerging from a project convened by Chris Ouma and Madhu Krishnan, ‘Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas’. Again, crossing academic and trade, critical research and creative practice in action, the project and articles came out of conversations between an interdisciplinary network of researchers and literary publishers exploring the circulation and production of small magazines in Sub-Saharan Africa.
6. On the Literary Prize
As an ubiquitous feature of literary and publishing culture, prizing African writing has had a central role to play in the last decade of literary production from the continent, focusing questions about narrative ownership and value, validity and redundancy – penetrating on into persistent issues and conversations for our contemporary moment – see “Prizes” .
In many ways centralising our critical position on prize culture, the (now) AKO Caine Prize for African Writing, based and funded from the UK, has brought attention to many of these debates. Perhaps one of the most visible prizes on these terms and tracing these geographies for the past 20 years in the field, it is one that has particularly been on our critical radar since we joined the “Caine Prize blogathon” in 2013, prompting our annual review series of the shortlist and think-pieces, often on the controversies of the Prize. We’ve also marked the establishment of other significant literary prizes – such as the Huza Press Award for Fiction – highlighting awards and nominees in our new monthly news and wrap posts: ‘In other Words…’
7. Visual Archives – the literary in the Visual & Performance Arts
Throughout our nine years, the literary and visual & performance arts have productively dialogued and cross-pollinated in a very AiW way across the site. Early event reviews and Q&As draw on an interest in the creative narrative spaces and makings across mediums – through adventures in film, theatre, the visual arts in gallery sites, exhibitionary spaces and curation practices, performance art and oral poetry – watch one of our most popular video posts from Ogbani Femi, aka ‘Mr Femi’, on the future of Yoruba oral performance here – high to low and all the brows in between.
Our books and texts reviews, too, reveal a leaning towards the activist political possibilities of the visual – see our review of Acts of Transgression: Contemporary Live Art in South Africa (Wits UP), or the Words on the Times Q&A from Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta – perhaps best known for his work as an artist and sculptor, which accompanies the review of his debut poetry collection, Skeptical Erections (Deep South), and draws Sapeta’s book as his “canvas”, his words as his “paint” (Tom Penfold); magazine cultures are, of course, deeply invested in the visual-textual cross, as is storytelling in graphics – comics and superheroes – as part of their political project.
8. Festivals, Fairs, Salons – and their cultures
Also longstanding is our critical interest in literary fests, fairs, salons and the “festivalisation” of literature, with their dynamic cultures, crossings of sites and spaces, and with them the developments in literary and cultural communities across Africa and its diaspora. Critical reflections – such as Zukiswa Wanner’s on 2014’s fourth Open Book (Cape Town), who has held the online literary festival space of AfroLitSansFrontieres open during the pandemic, and Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire on his experience curating Writivism – “Do African Literary Festivals Culture?”, or Matthew Lecznar on “This F-Word” at the fifth outing of Ake Art and Book Festival 2017 – share the blog category with individual event reviews, Q&As, and celebrations of these spaces of crucial debate, coming together and visibility – the blog category is here.
9. “Books in Your Ears” & Literary Sounds
This grouping of AiW posts gathers writing and sound – writing with sounds, to sounds, immersed in sounds – Warsan Shire told us back in 2013 how she writes somehow against other sounds in a positive sort of friction – the rhythms and cadences of oral poetry and performance… AiW’s relationship with literary sounds and the poetry of music has been a joyfully worn groove.
Appropriately, perhaps, our Q&As often feature literary sorts of sounds, such as with contemporary folklorist and percussionist Beautiful Nubia, the stage name for musician Segun Akinlolu. You can hear it in Petro Kalule’s wish for their “poems and music to…undo me, to unmake me”, and whose lyricism emerges in this beautifully evocative conversation piece with Esther Mirembe. Musicologist, composer, DJ-producer and musician Peter Adjaye’s recent Q&A, “Ceremony is Always Imbued with Sound“, which discusses his immersive soundscaping of Ojih Odutola’s exhibition, A Countervailing Theory at the Barbican Centre, brings out the exhibition’s narrative and literary qualities as it explores an imagined ancient myth conceived by the artist, set within a surreal landscape inspired by the rock formations of Plateau State in central Nigeria.
Putting books in your ears in a more literal sense, see AMLA Network Convener Gaamangwe Joy Mogami’s post where she shared with us her take on literary podcasts and her top 5 recommended listens – all instant AiW faves – and Lucky Grace documenting the makings of RadioBook Rwanda‘s multimedia, collaborative audio-visual texts.
10. Writing Mobilities – Travel Writing
Travel writing about Africa and its research has often been narrow and uni-directional, falsely dominated by narrative constructs bound by inherited privilege and structures of colonising, neocolonial gazes on the world, and resulting patterns of understanding it. AiW’s travel writing ventures over the years have deliberately journeyed away from this kind of map, amplifying African and African diaspora travel writing, both about Africa and the rest of the world, looking to generic crossovers and dynamic intellectual mobilities that draw and reframe travel of all kinds – body, mind, heart – and notions of place.
This compass would point to interviews – such as with travel writer Pelu Awofeso; reviewing Route 234: An Anthology of Nigerian Travel Writing or the disruptive maps of the 2015 association between Chimurenga’s The Chronic and Kwani? literary journal for their “New Cartographies“ Chronic edition; “Broadening the Gaze” – and to discussions on spaces for African travel writing at Africa Writes, or African Intellectual Mobilities at the University of York’s seminar series Finding Africa.
We’ve also journeyed through more conceptually literary and poetic travellings. In this grouping, for example, poet Tade Ipadeola reviews Kola Tobuson’s “poetry, travelogue and memoir” Edwardsville by Heart (2019), and in one of longtime blog friends Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike‘s conversations for AiW with Tobuson, he draws on the text’s maps itineraries, stories, and histories. Earlier this year, Tọ́pẹ́ Salaudeen-Adégòkè, writer, editor, literary critic and poet from Ibadan, Nigeria and co-publisher of Fortunate Traveller, a travel journal – reviews Ifedigbo Nze Sylva’s debut novel My Mind is No Longer Here, “ the story of four young men — Donatus, Haruna, Osahon and Chidi — connected by their obsession to travel abroad in search of greener pastures.”
To read more about our 10 African Literary Cultural Faves, make sure to follow us on social media via our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram! And check out Brittle Paper and follow them for updates on the #TheDecadeProject for the rest of September – #BrittlePaperTurns10.