Friday, 10 July 2015

Next in the Meet Series

The 'Meet' Series is my chance to interview anyone I would love to meet that is involved in African literature. And next in the Meet series is a writer from Nigeria, Diekoye Oyeyinka, whose debut novel, Stillborn, I first found out about last October

Published in Kenya by East African Educational Publishers in 2014, Stillborn is a historical fiction, which tells the story of Nigeria over six decades (from 1943 to 2010) through the lives of five characters - Seun (the narrator); his uncle, Dolapo (a civil rights lawyer); his uncle's friend, Emeka (a war deserter); his lover, Aisha (a refugee from the religious clashes in Jos); and a corper, Nneka - sent from Enugu to serve in Jos.

This is a beautiful story, with an old school vibe - indeed I found Diekoye's writing to be more in the vein of classic African literature, such as the works of Achebe and Thiong'o. Diekoye's inspirations are also present in the chapter titles. Look close enough and you will notice each chapter is named after a Fela Song. For a true literary experience, the author recommends making the playlist, sitting back and reading Stillborn to the soundtrack of Fela. 

Well, a few months ago I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Diekoye via Skype, where we spoke for over 2 hours on the pronunciation of his name (Dee-ye-koye), the two versions of Stillborn (the EAEP version and the soon-to-be published 'world' version), his journey to becoming a writer and being published, his favourite African novels, the Fela vibe and more. 

Really enjoyed speaking with Diekoye, and honestly if it wasn't for the time (it was around 2am, probably closer to 3am if I'm being honest), getting to that point where my level of coherence was dipping, and that whole thing of needing to be up in a few hours for work, the conversation may have continued for at least another hour. Well, here's a sneak peak at our 2 hour plus interview:

So now this is probably going to be unfair, it’s like asking a parent to decide which of their children they love … 
Diekoye: Aisha!

Really! Just like that? You didn’t even have to think!
Soundtrack to Stillborn
Diekoye: Seriously, I don't know why. If you notice, she’s the only one that had a section named after her in the first book. Even though it’s not really about her, it’s about Emeka. I don’t know why I just loved that character.

Wait, Stillborn is about Emeka? 
Diekoye: To some degree, yes! Emeka is the only character that is in all the sections and he is supposed to be how Nigeria’s happened – everything just seems to be a mistake but yet he just seems to keep going forward. Someone described him as a Nigerian Forrest Gump, and I was like ‘oh yeah! That’s true!’. 

And Dolapo is supposed to be what Nigeria should have been – like everything just seems to just be aligned for him, he has all these things just given to him, all these resources (Emeka just gives him his wealth). He never even proposes to his wife, she just agrees to marry him - even though he pisses off right before the wedding. 

So Dolapo is supposed to be what Nigeria should have been because of all the luck we have as a nation in terms of resources, but Emeka is what we actually are – we just keep stumbling from one tragedy to another without really knowing what is going on.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Another New Release for 2015: Chinelo Okparanta's 'Under the Udala Trees'

... and they just keep on coming. Another new release for 2015. This time from Chinelo Okparanta with her debut novel Under the Udala Trees. Published by Houghton Mifflin it's out September 22nd. Here's a synopsis:

Inspired by Nigeria's folktales and its war, Under the Udala Trees is a deeply searching, powerful debut about the dangers of living and loving openly. 

Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls. When their love is discovered, Ijeoma learns that she will have to hide this part of herself. But there is a cost to living inside a lie. 

Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees uses one woman's lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope - a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life and truth and love.

A New Online African Feminist Quarterly: The Wide Margin

Last night, I came across this fascinating online African feminist journal, and I just had to share. The Wide Margin describes itself as: 
'a new online quarterly collection of essays which focus on discussion and critical thought about social, economic, political and cultural issues through a feminist lens.' 
The first issue was published at the beginning of the month with the editorial, Feminist While African, explaining how The Wide Margin:
'seeks to imagine living a feminist life while African, thinking and creating through and beyond the work already done by the many feminists working in East Africa, and Africa as a whole as well as its disapora.'
I knew I was going to like this journal the second I saw the tagline 'Feminist While African', but as I read the Editorial, I couldn't help but think that this was a space that could discuss some of the issues I constantly struggle with as a young Black/Nigerian/African Feminist:
"'Feminist While African" explores how we (Africans) have come to understand feminism, how we are involved (or not) in feminism, how we interact with feminism, and how we have learned and continue to learn about feminism."
Of course it obviously helped, that female writers got a shout out for the way their novels were 'written with fierce female voices'. 
'In the past 5 years, feminist discourse has exploded online ... and especially on social media as well as in the street. Women and feminist-allied men are continuously positively discussing policy and legislative issues affecting women as well as the labour of living with everyday sexism ... Recent novels like the Folio Prize nominated, Dust, by Caine Prize winner, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya), Kintu, by Commonwealth Prize winner, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Uganda), Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, are written with fierce female voices and imagine new ways of African women inhabiting the modern world. 
The first issue 'explores a diverse range of perspectives on learning, (mis)understanding and practising feminism; from embracing our defiance of how we are expected to be, to how we became to be feminists, to how we relate to each other as feminists.' What's there not to love!!!!!

In addition to the Editorial, there are six essays and a cartoon. Unfemiliar Territory explores feminism from the perspective of a man in the process of educating himself about the movement. I love that The Wide Margin is involving men in its discussion and its use of comics to do so. At work, one of the projects I work on is related to engaging men in addressing sexual and gender-based violence, and one of the things I am currently trying to do this year is to produce a series of blog posts related to men's engagement in this field (trying to move beyond 20,000 word reports - for this one output, at least), where each series has a guest editor who writes a short piece on a topic of their interest, which we send around to hopefully get diverse perspectives on the issue. Maybe it's my bias towards blogging, but cartoons, blog posts, social media and the likes are great ways to ensure issues are being discussed in formats that are more accessible to a wider variety of audiences.

As for the essays, they  include, 'The Political is the Personal', where Sara Salem goes beyond presenting 'an individualistic account of [her] feminist journey' and instead discusses some of the 'broader debates within feminism ... that have been central to many feminists [and] feminist movement.' As well as Nyaboe Makiya, who in 'African Woman Seeks Feminism for Survival', explores how the role feminism played in her ability to think critically about how and why as a woman she behaved, and was treated, a certain way by society and men. She ends by asserting that:
'As a woman, feminism is essential for me not only to survive, but to thrive as a human being.'
Anyways, if it wasn't clear by now, I'm saying check out The Wide Margin. The essays are honest and relatable, the writing is beautiful. and the accompanying illustrations (which I'm really loving) also add to the narratives from the essay.

Friday, 3 July 2015

What are your Africans Books to Inspire?

Tonight (Friday 3 July) I will be sitting, along with a host of other people, at the British Library listening to journalist Hannah Pool in conversation with Africa39 writers Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Ndinda Kioko, Nadifa Mohamed, Chibundu Onuzo and Nii Ayikwei Parkes, as they speak about books and inspiration. I've had my tickets for this event since around May, so to say I am excited is an understatement!!!! What's cool is that in the lead up to the event, the Africa Writes blog have been sharing contributions from journalists and writers on their African books of inspiration

Broadcast journalist, Zeinab Badawi, writes about how Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is her choice - as it 'captures the complexities of an era that gave rise to the colonial governments in Africa and laid the ground for the subsequent struggles that ensued.' While writers photographed for the awesome #100DaysofAfricanReads series also shared their top 3 titles from African literature. Writer and Editor, Toni Kan names Ben Okri's The Famished Road, Sefi Atta's Everything Good Will Come and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. For Kan, The Famished Road makes his list 'because of its epic scale and the riotous mix of myth, magic and realism.' As for Wanjeri Gakuru, her top three are Yvonne Adhiambo Owour's Dust, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and Mariama Bâ Scarlet Song. Why Scarlet Song? Well, 'Mariama documents Cinderella's Unhappy Ending with muted melodrama.'

I'm really loving this series and the theme around inspiring books from the world of African literature. Through it we get glimpses of the variety of African literature out there - both classics and contemporary: a spirit child navigating the real world; love, life and everything in between during civil war; the life of a great warrior before and during colonialism; experiences from an adolescent girl and more.  And now in less than 12 hours, I (along with many others) get to listen to authors whose works I've thoroughly enjoyed reading, share with us their own books of inspiration. What better way to spend my Friday evening! Can't wait!!!!! 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

African Literature and Literary Magazines

Towards the end of last year, I put together a list of African (and diaspora) literary magazines which I was then meant to turn into a post on the landscape of African literary magazines. Well, a few weeks ago when looking through the AfricaWrites programme, I spotted that one of the sessions will be on the place of literary magazines in African literature. And just yesterday, WhatsOn Africa told us about Three African and African Diasporan Literary Magazines Everyone Should KnowThese included Black Orpheus, Bakwa Magazine and Brittle Paper. 

Honestly, sometimes all you need is that little nudge to get you to finalise a post you've been wanting to do. Some of the literary magazines out there include Chimurenga, Kwani?, Saraba, Transition and Wasafari to name a few, and as I wait in anticipation for the Africa Writes event (and a host of other others) - and to complement WhatsOn Africa's list - here's are ten more Literary Magazines from Africa and the Diaspora. Some are new, others have been around for a while - and there are a few which look like they are on hiatus, but they are all definitely worth a read.  

Banipal is a magazine of translation, exclusively featuring authors from the Arab world. Most of the works transalted are commissioned from works that have already appeared in the original languages in a published form, in books, magazines, newspapers or in online media. 

The Kalahari Review is a web-based, 'African-centric magazine' which publishes fiction, poetry, essays and humour piece. It 'provide[s] a space for Africa to speak for herself ... in all its triumphs and faults, beauty and ugliness'. It's interested in material that explores Africa and Africans in 'unique and avant-garde ways' and tells new stories from everyday life as told by the people that are living it. Overall, it aims to seek out voices of unique quality and provide them a space to show and develop their talent and is filled with a variety of styles of writing and art.

Klorofyl is an online magazine founded in 2009 'out of a
deep desire to create a magazine we would love to read'. It puts together the founders favourite things - poetry, brilliant photography, fiction and prose. youth, urbanity, Africa, the search for truth and a better life, and a devotion to REPLANTing with wholesome values. 

Lawino is an online magazine which began in 2014 and started by writers, to promote
writing from Africa, with particular focus on Uganda. It aims to be a platform to launch the careers of many writers, and to take advantage of developments in online publishing to deliver African short stories and poetry to readers all over the world. 

Mosaic Magazine was launched in 1998 and is a print tri-annual magazine that explores the literary arts by writers of African descent, and features interviews, essays and book reviews. Mosaic has featured writers such as Chimanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole among others and provides a unique space to preview upcoming releases through book reviews and author interviews - past interviews have been with Chinelo Okparanta and Nnedi Okorafor.

Munyori Literary Journal is a Zimbabwean-American literary platform that features work from global writers and artists. While munyori is shona for writer or author, the journal extends this meaning to represent all writers. The journal receives the bulk of its submission from Zimbabwe and the United States, but it has also featured works from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and the UK. 

New Contrast, which published its first issue in the Summer of 1960, is said to be South Africa's longest surviving literary journal. It started off as Contrast until 1989 when it became New Contrast. New Contrast is devoted mainly to publishing original work by South African writers and aims to provide a platform for writers (of poetry, prose and other literary works) to get their works published and to get help, if needed, to improve their writing. 

Omenana is a tri-monthly speculative fiction magazine featuring fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora. Omenana, Igbo for divinity, embodies an attempt recover Africa's wildest stories. Omenana bridges the gap between past, present and future through imagination and aims to 'shakes us out of the corner we have pushed ourselves into'.

Prufrock is a South African literary magazine launched in 2013 by four University of Cape Town graduates, which publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry in all of South African languages. 

Q-zine is a bilingual (English and French) quarterly online magazine from Burkina Faso, by, for and about LGBTI and queer Africans and allies living both on the African continent and the Diaspora. Q-zine aims to provide an inspiring and creative outlet for LGBTI and queer Africans and allies to celebrate, debate and explore the creativity and cultural richness of queer life in and outside of Africa. Their ambition is to encourage LGBTI and queer Africans and allies to decide for themselves how they should be represented in the media and popular culture by being their own storytellers.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Next Weekend in London: Africa Writes 2015

Next weekend I'll be at the British Library in London enjoying the wonderfulness that is Africa Writes

Over the course of 3 days, the Royal African Society will return with its annual (African) literature and book festival. This year Africa Writes turns 4 and - I didn't even think this was possible - but it looks even more exciting than in the previous years!!!! From the headline acts - In Conversation with Ben Okri and an evening of inspiring books with Hannah Pool - to a host of free events, here are some of the many free sessions I am looking forward to attending next weekend.  

African Creative Non-Fiction (Saturday 4 July, 14:30-15:30) with Ellah Wakatama Allfrey  in conversation with four non-fiction writers - Pede Hollist, Jackie Kay, Kwasi Kwarteng and Noo Saro Wiwa - where they will look at the creative possibilities of non-fiction. 

The 2015 Caine Prize Conversation (Saturday 4 July, 16:45 - 17:45) where the five shortlisted writers will be in conversation with 2009 winner E.C Osondu and Guardian First Book award winner Petina Gappah. 

New Nigerian Fiction (Sunday 5 Jul, 12:15 - 13:15) launching four debut novels - A. Igoni Barret's Blackass, Irenosen Okojie's Butterfly, E.C. Osondu's This House is Not for Sale, and Obinna Udenwe's Satans and Shaitans. These 4 authors will be in conversation with Ike Anya on their new releases and what new Nigerian fiction is. I'm just going to say upfront - a lot of books will be bought, so I better not forget my book bag :).

The Place of Literary Magazines in African Literature (Sunday 5 July, 13:30 - 14:30) with editors from SCARF, Sable, Kwani?, Chimurenga Chronic and Jalada, and chaired by Nana Yaa Mensah of New Statesman, this session reflects on the form and influence of literary magazines for African writing today. 

A stage reading of Sunday by Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor (Sunday 5 July, 16:00 - 17:00). Same-sex marriage was declared legal across the US on Friday, facebook is celebrating pride with profile pictures, and Pride was yesterday in London. Seen through the eyes of a family based in London, Sunday is a powerful exploration of love between Nigerian women, sexuality and religion. 

PS. This is just a preview of some of the awesomeness that will be happening next weekend in London. Head over to the Africa Writes website for the full programme.

PPS. I've got a pair of tickets for Friday's event - African Books to Inspire - which I'm just waiting to give away :). 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

bookshy giveaway: Two Tickets for 'African Books to Inspire' on Friday 3 July

On Friday 3 July, as part of the Royal African Society's Africa Writes festival, journalist Hannah Pool will be hosting an evening of books and inspiration, welcoming a special selection of writers and personalities to share their favourite titles in African literature - from classics to the latest published work. At the event will be Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Ndina Kioko, Chibundu Onuzo and Nii Ayikwei Parkes. I am super excited about this event (and all of Africa Writes to be honest) and I will be sharing my own favourite titles, in the lead-up to the event.

... and if that wasn't exciting enough, I've got a pair of tickets to give away to my fellow lovers of African literature. So if you're in (or near) London, or are going to be London in July, and would love to attend this session, then why not join the giveaway.

For a chance to win, all you need to do is answer in one sentence the following question: Why do you want to attend the event, African Books to Inspire? 

It's also really easy to enter - all you need to do is share your answers either via Twitter (#bookstoinspire) or on my Facebook page (commenting on the post that will accompany this giveaway). 

Competition ends on Sunday 28 June and the winner will be announced Monday 29 June. Good luck and see you on Friday 3 July for a fun evening of books and inspiration :).