AiW note: Agbowó literary journal is an offshoot of UITES WRITE collective, which was founded by Habeeb Kolade and Dolapo Amusat, in 2015, to showcase literary work by University of Ibadan students and alumni.
The collective published electronic anthologies – the UITES WRITE Anthology and OCTOBER STORIES – featuring prose and fiction, and received numerous plaudits and a Student Initiative of the Year commendation by the Students’ Union. The goal, with UITES WRITE, was to create a community of past and present University of Ibadan students that use art as a tool.
As ambitious graduands, the founding editorial team decided to carve out a literary magazine and open up to Africa. While the scope was broader with Agbowó magazine, the aim was not all too dissimilar from that of the mother organization, which is to create a common space; in this case, for showcasing and celebrating African literary and visual art and, by that measure, engendering community.
We are delighted to share Habeeb Kolade’s Words on the Times, an AiW Q&A series inspired by the spirit of community and resilience, initiated to connect the blog’s communities of work and life through their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AiW: Could you tell us about your work and how your plans have been affected by the pandemic?
Habeeb Kolade: Our motivation for starting Agbowó was to build a resilient art platform that provides creative Africans the tools to reach and build their audiences. In 2017, Agbowó started out as a literary journal, catering to new African voices.
Four years on, we have grown into a full art organization, offering online publication led by Moyosore Orimoloye, a yearly magazine that launches every July, an art events platform – Artnschill – led by Ezim Osai and a publishing arm – Published by Agbowó – led by Olu Afolabi. Since our small beginnings, from our little community in Ibadan, we have now published works across all African regions and we look to keep growing.
When the pandemic struck and the lockdowns began in Nigeria, last year, we definitely were torn between whether people would write more, or would be too distraught to do much. Also, importantly, we were very careful as to how this might have affected members of our team and their other places of work. This was in addition to the political situations in Nigeria, where most of our team currently reside.
We had a few ideas around getting creatives to contribute to a body of work about the pandemic, but also decided that giving people the chance to be, in this unfamiliar chaos, was the best way we could support creatives, while leaving our channels open in case they have works to share.
The part of Agbowó that was most affected by the pandemic was definitely ArtsnChill by Agbowó. We had just concluded a series of Goethe-Institut sponsored physical events in February, and were planning to pick up on the momentum to create new events, when the lockdown was instituted. As a key revenue source for Agbowó, as well, it was quite sad we could not grow in that way.
In line with the rest of the organization, we chose not to simply come up with art programs just to take advantage of the pandemic and instead used the period to plan our team structures for the growth we are now anticipating.
It is noteworthy that, in 2020, we launched our publishing arm, Published, which has now had three publications. We also joined the few paying literary magazines on the continent when we instituted our payment regime and new submissions windows.
These were delightful milestones we crossed.
In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
Agbowó’s work has been driven by a remote team since inception. Our work had been conducted entirely online except when holding physical events. So, the pandemic did not change or significantly affect how we used to operate. Our processes were designed to be completely remote and we have continued to strengthen the mechanisms that make this possible. I am quite proud of the team at Agbowó.
For our events, we have been quite resolute about building for physical audiences rather than fully delving into online art events. While we have held a few online events, we have not quite yielded yet in refocusing on online events. We will continue to explore it as an option, but we love the experiences we have fostered through our physical events and are working to get back to those kinds of experiences.
In Nigeria, physical events have largely returned and restrictions are mild. We still need to be careful about observing the protocols, but very few organizations are still conservative about physical gatherings.
What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
I have been very proud of how people have banded together in this time of chaos. While the streets were calm, people had to face internal battles as well as conflicts in their ambitions. Families had to see eye to eye, and the distraction that mobility provided was taken away. We had to sit with our demons.
In Nigeria, hunger stoked the fire of many people’s demons. As businesses had to shut down temporarily or cut down on staff due to new working styles as well as budget cuts, many people definitely suffered. Jobs were lost and families were left stranded. The discomfort in homes was further rocked by financial insecurity.
Domestic and sexual-based violence rose. Education was at a standstill for most people and there was almost nothing to do. Waiting can feel like prison. Your liberties are limited. And unlike many situations, people had little control on when the waiting would be over. This uncertainty can be nerve-wrecking.
In the midst of this, funds arose to support people who were disadvantaged by the pandemic. It was heartwarming to see the amount of financial support, amidst other forms of support that came to the aid of Nigerians as well as other Africans, especially as governments strengthened their unreliability.
We at Agbowó were happy to participate in some of these initiatives to support people in our host communities. It was one of those instances where faith in humanity was justified.
How can our blog communities support you?
Having our works shared to help us reach a wider audience is critical to our growth. This year’s Agbowó magazine, themed “Chaos,” was released on July 22nd. We will be appreciative of every promotional support offered to reach a global audience.
We also want art enthusiasts to lookout for our work at ArtsnChill; we welcome organizers to share their art events on this platform, which we have created to curate art events across Africa. This is currently free. We want to make art events easily accessible to art enthusiasts. As the pandemic hopefully winds down, we want to get people to experience African art more.
Finally, we look forward to working with African writers seeking to publish their books; we are open to collaborations for purposeful publications with private and public organizations.
Agbowó remains committed to providing creative Africans excellent spaces to share their works and reach their audiences and we are happy to collaborate with organizations that are looking in this direction.
Click here for a visual of how Agbowó’s reach, in Africa, has increased.
Agbowó has a new schedule, for reading and responding to submissions, which is divided into four quarters, i.e., January – March, April – June, July – September, and October – December; see their submissions criteria here.
Habeeb Kolade is the Executive Lead and a founder at Agbowó, an art platform helping creative Africans reach the global audience through a literary journal, which publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction and drama, a yearly magazine, an art events platform, and a publishing arm.