Power is the ability not just to tell
the story of another person,
but to make it the definitive
story of that person.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TedTalk 2009.
Since I started this little blog I have got to play around with social media and discovered the power of cyber communication, #AshTags, connections and sharing. In fact, there are plenty of ways to make good use of social media without having to throw pieces of your personal life on the public network and show your face off.
I follow of Africa Writes on Twitter and that’s where I bumped into the call for volunteers for this year’s special event celebrating the memory and the legacy of Nigerian-born writer and academic Buchi Emecheta, who spent most of her life in the UK and died last year in January, leaving an empty space in the Nigerian literature. This is an special event by Africa Writes which won’t replace the yearly festival organised by the Royal African society with the support and in partnership of other organisations (more info here). I couldn’t help jumping into this, after all I don’t work on Saturdays and London is not too many miles away.
The all-day event was hosted in the Brunei Gallery Auditorium and Suite, at SOAS University of London last 3rd February 2018. I reckon I would have liked to be a student there back in the years if I had had the opportunity, but I was altogether much pleased to attend the event as a volunteer and take this very special opportunity to give a little contribution and enjoy the event at the same time. Of course I was expecting most volunteers to be young students, but it is great that more people can get involved in different ways during these cultural events, from young students to adults with a passionate interest, from professionals to academics.
The one-day program was packed with activities including workshop, readings and, of course there was also space for a West African lunch nicely served with delicious jollof rice and a pinch of spice; music and dancing flavoured the final part of the day schedule.
The event included the official launch of Buchi Emecheta Foundation primarily managed by her son Sylvester Onwordi and the newly set up Omenala Press which for the occasion was displaying and selling some really good editions and re-publications of Buchi Emecheta’s books. I was looking for something more recent, knowing quite well her first works, so I picked The Rape of Shavi with its captivating cover, which is now in my reading list.
For those who knew Buchi Emecheta as a person (there were some of her fellows in the audience) or simply as a writer, this was a great opportunity to enhance her legacy; for those who were new, this was a chance to discover a remarkable voice, a feminist, although she was not particularly fond of the word feminism itself (“I am just a woman”).
I felt there was so much going on during the day, remarkable speakers and panelists rotated on the auditorium’s stage, notable voices from around the world sharing excellent talking on the literatures of some African countries and on the publishing world, bringing up inspiring topics of discussion: the importance of memory against forgetting, cultural representations and diversity, power and culture in the contemporary or postmodern world.
This demonstrated that literature is so much more than reading novels and good books from Africa that still may not easily find an easy way through publishing. Literature is a tough cultural work capable to produce critical thinkers, sensitive humans who care about the environment around them and the people, respectful individuals able to act with good judgement. Cultural education can create a better society and a better civilization, although this may sound like an utopia to the majority.
There was always some Q&A time between one session and the following one, and at some point somebody from the audience stood up and said “Please don’t forget about the Caribbean!”. People need books, and art in general, to feel represented, to find multiple stories and multiple identities, to address diversity and eliminate default positions on interpreting the otherness.
If you wanted to break a little from the auditorium discussion, you could jump upstairs and enjoy some marvellous work of art in the Legacy of Biafra Exhibition, housed in the Brunei Gallery, featuring African paintings, archival material and audio-visual installations (this is free and open to the public until 24th March 2018, worth visiting). Artist Marina Elphick was also there with her wonderful batiks, some of those were commissioned by Collins Publishers used to illustrate the front cover of Buchi Emecheta.
Among the event’s speakers:
Irenosen Okojie, writer
Prof. Carole Boyce Davies
Veronique Tadjo, novelist and poet