Africa Writes Festival 2018 @ The British Library

Africa Writes at a glance from Africa Writes on Vimeo.

I had been keeping an eye on the Africa Writes programme and was able to make it for a day andcto attend 7th edition Festival, from Friday 29 June to Sunday 1 July 2018.

Africa Writes has a team of people from the Royal African Society and a group of volunteers. They have a schedule of activities and workshops around the year, their blog and twitter is constantly updated, they organised the Celebrating Buchi Emecheta back in February this year, but Africa Writes is the big event that promotes African contemporary literature by bringing together influential voices from Africa and its diaspora. I decided to attend as a guest and got myself a Saturday pass (12£) just before everything got completely sold out.

This year the festival opened on 29th June with Yomi Ṣode’s one-man show COAT exploring themes of identity, migration and displacement, the even got fully booked a couple of days before and I missed that. 

Africa Writes was held in one of the right side building of the British Library, facing the main entrance, but I couldn’t help paying a visit to the main hall, at least to drink some water from the disposable paper-plastic cones in an exceptional sunny day in London and check if there was any interesting event going on or coming up.
The exhibition dedicated to Captain James Cook, The Voyages, is open until 28 August 2018, tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance but there are also free online resources available on the website. The little BL shop is currently showcasing a good selection of titles related to migration and explorations.

Since I had already purchased the festival pass, I decided to opt for an additional  free exhibition on the day instead, and headed to the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land, which is open until 21 October 2018 and dedicated to the colonial Caribbean migration and diaspora which started in the ’40s. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about some influential voice and listen to the sound of the Caribbean jazz and Calypso: feminist poet Una Marson, artist and textile designer Althea McNish. You can see some manuscripts and read some extract and verses by George Lamming, Sam Selvon, Andrew Salkey, Derek Walcott, Jean Rhys and many others.  The experience of settling in the United Kingdom and the political projects contributed to the emergence of diasporic artistic expression. Many immigrants between ’40s-’60s didn’t stay permanently in Britain,  they struggled for their rights as citizens. With the Common Immigrant act in 1962 social exclusion became a political reality based on “prospect of employment”.
I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of the exhibition but I took with me what I could and stole some snapshots:



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In June 1948 the Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Dock, Essex, carrying hundreds of people from the Caribbean. Some had never been to the UK, some had fought during the first World War, some were excited about the “Mother Country”.
The Empire Windrush became the symbol of social strife and British multiculturalism, which inspired Songs in a Strange Land.

Leaving the main building and heading to the Africa Writes, visitors were welcomed by some colourful stands and the book fair with old publications and new launches where you could find some independent publishers and stores.
The New Beacon was established in 1966 and was the UK’s first black bookshop & publishing house and was at Africa Writes with a selection of fiction and non-fiction.



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Ayesha Harruna Attah presented her third novel, The Hundreds Wells of Salaga, dedicated to women’s lives in 19th century Ghana.

Akwaeke Emezi talked about her recent Freshwater based on her mother’s interview which found only one editor and decided to cut words but leave Igbo language and proverbs.

Leila Aboulela, Sudanese writer based in Scotland, presented her Elsewhere, a collection of short stories, she shared with the audience her experience of becoming a writer coming from a completely different background and she spent some time signing a few copies of her book.


We met the Caine Prize shortlisted writers Nonyelum Ekwempu, Stacy Hardy, Olufunke Ogundimu, Makena Onjerika, and Wole Talabi.

Book launches, panels, roundtables and workshop kept everybody busy on Saturday and I guess there was more going on on the second and last day of the festival, which I missed.

Africa Writes is a great event to discuss, read, get updates and learn more on identity, intercultural representations, migration and so much more and although the focus is on Africa and its eminent diversity, there’s also so much to learn about the rest of World. It’s a great event for academics, students or for people that are simply interested or passionate about African literatures and art and want to keep informed.

2018 Africa Writes Programme

@AfricaWritesUK on Twitter

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