Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Imagining ourselves into existence: First ever Abantu Book Festival in Soweto a roaring success

Words and images by Thato Rossouw

My Own LiberatorUnimportanceSweet MedicineAffluenzaNwelezelangaThe Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesRapeFlying Above the SkyNight DancerBlack Widow SocietyThe Everyday WifeOur Story Magic

 
“A conquered people often lose the inclination to tell their stories.”

These were the words of former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke at the inaugural Abantu Book Festival, in discussion with readers about the importance of black people telling their own stories and having spaces where they can share them with one another. “We have stories to tell, they are important, and they are liberating in nature,” he said.

 
Moseneke’s words came as a preamble to compliment the authors Thando Mgqolozana and Panashe Chigumadzi, and the rest of their team members, for organising a festival that not only celebrated black writers, readers, pan-African book stores, and online platforms that celebrate African literature and narratives, but also gave them a safe space to speak freely about the issues they face in their struggle to liberate themselves.

The festival, which was themed “Imagining ourselves into existence”, came as a result of Mgqolozana’s decision early last year to renounce white colonial literary festivals. In an interview with The Daily Vox in May last year, Mgqolozana told Theresa Mallinson that his decision to reject these festivals came from a discomfort with literary festivals where the audience was 80 percent white. “It’s in a white suburb in a white city. I feel that I’m there to perform for an audience that does not treat me as a literary talent, but as an anthropological subject,” he said.

 
The three-day festival took place at two venues: the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre, which hosted free events during the day, and the Soweto Theatre, which hosted events in the evening. These evening festivities cost R20 per person and featured over 50 poets, novelists, essayists, playwrights, literary scholars, screenwriters, performing artists and children’s writers from across Africa and the diaspora. Some of the writers and artists who were present at the festival include Niq Mhlongo, Unathi Magubeni, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Thandiswa Mazwai, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Lebogang Mashile and Chika Unigwe, among many others.

 
The first day of the festival began with a discussion featuring four black female Fallist writers, Dikeledi Sibanda, Mbali Matandela, Sandy Ndelu and Simamkele Dlakavu, titled “Writing and Rioting Black Womxn in the time of Fallism”. The discussion covered topics ranging from the role of the body, particularly the naked body, in challenging old narratives, to writing and rioting as acts of activism. It was then followed by a highly attended talk with Justice Moseneke entitled “Land and Liberation”, a concert by the group Zuko Collective at the Soweto Theatre, as well as speeches and performances at the opening night show.

Some of the riveting discussions at the festival were titled: “Land and Liberation”, “Women of Letters”, “Writing Today”, “Cut! Our Stories on Stage and Screen”, “Ghetto is Our First Love”, “Creating Platforms for Our Stories” and “Writing Stories Across and Within Genres”. The festival also included seven documentary screenings, poetry performances, a writing masterclass with Angela Makholwa and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, and performances every night at the Soweto Theatre by Zuko Collective.

 
Dr Gcina Mhlophe gave the keynote address at the festival’s opening night, which was preceded by the singing of the decolonised national anthem and a rendition of the poem “Water” by poet Koleka Putuma. Mhlophe reminded the audience that, while it is important for us to celebrate young and upcoming artists, it is also important to remember and celebrate those that came before them. She sang and told stories about people like Mariam Tladi and Nokutela Dube and spoke about their role in the development of the arts. Dube was the first wife of Reverend John Langalibalele Dube who was the first President General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which was later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).

 
The festival ended with a sold-out event at the Soweto Theatre that featured a discussion on “Native Life in 2016” between Chigumadzi and I’solezwe LesiXhosa editor Unathi Kondile, facilitated by Mashile; a performance by Zuko Collective; and a Literary Crossroads session with Unigwe, facilitated by Ndumiso Ngcobo.
 

* * * * *

The hashtag #AbantuBookFest was on fire for the duration of the festival and long afterwards:


 
Facebook gallery

Book details

2017 Caine Prize for African Writing judging panel announced

2016 Caine Prize for African Writing judging panel announced

 

The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesLusaka Punk and Other StoriesThe Gonjon Pin and Other Stories10 Years of the Caine Prize for African WritingA Memory This Size and Other StoriesThe Caine Prize Anthology 2009: Work in Progress and Other Stories

 
Alert! The five judges for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing were announced in London recently.

The Caine Prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English. Previous winners include Zambian author Namwali Serpell, Sudan’s Leila Aboulela, Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina, South African Henrietta Rose-Innes and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo. This year’s winner was South African author Lidudumalingani for his story, “Memories We Lost”.

Dr Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Chair of the 2016 judging panel, said the following about Lidudumalingani’s winning story: “This is a troubling piece, depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”

The 2017 judging panel will be chaired by award-winning author, poet and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes. The panel will consist of the 2007 Caine Prize winner Monica Arac de Nyeko, Professor Ricardo Ortiz, author and human rights activist Ghazi Gheblawi and Dr Ranka Primorac.

Parkes said he is “ecstatic” to have been asked to chair the panel and to work with “this incredible assembly of judges”. “I have been a consumer of fiction from Africa for close to four decades, revelling in its range, its humour, its insights and dynamic linguistic palette,” he said.

Parkes added: “There is, of course, the selfish pleasure, as an editor, of getting a first look at some of the finest writing coming from the continent and its foreign branches.”

Press release:

The Caine Prize for African Writing has announced the five judges for the 2017 Prize. The panel will be chaired by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, award-winning author, poet and editor. He will be joined by the 2007 Caine Prize winner, Monica Arac de Nyeko; accomplished author and Chair of the English Department at Georgetown University, Professor Ricardo Ortiz; Libyan author and human rights campaigner, Ghazi Gheblawi; and distinguished African literary scholar, Dr Ranka Primorac.

The 2017 Chair of Judges, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, said: “I have been a consumer of fiction from Africa for close to four decades, revelling in its range, its humour, its insights and dynamic linguistic palette. So, I am ecstatic to be asked to chair the panel for this year’s Caine Prize and look forward to working with this incredible assembly of judges. There is, of course, the selfish pleasure, as an editor, of getting a first look at some of the finest writing coming from the continent and its foreign branches.”

The deadline for submissions to the 2017 Caine Prize is 31 January, 2017. Publishers are encouraged to submit qualifying stories in good time. Submissions are welcome year round and late submissions will be entered into the competition for the following year.

The judging panel will meet in May to determine which entries will make the shortlist. An announcement confirming the shortlist will be made in mid-May.

For the first time in the 18-year history of the Caine Prize, the award will be announced on Monday, 3 July, at Senate House, London, in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which is celebrating its centenary.

“Memories We Lost” by South African author Lidudumalingani won the 2016 Prize and is included in the Caine Prize 2016 anthology, The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things, published by New Internationalist in the UK and supplied as a print-ready PDF to several African co-publishers.

Commenting on “Memories We Lost”, Chair of the 2016 judging panel, Dr Delia Jarrett-Macauley, said: “This is a troubling piece, depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”

Ends

 
Related stories:

Book details

  • The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2016 by Caine Prize
    EAN: 9781566560160
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

Jacket Notes: Christa Kuljian talks about her latest book Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

Published in the Sunday Times

Darwin's Hunch•Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race, and the Search for Human Origins
Christa Kuljian (Jacana)

When I studied the history of science at university in the ’80s, I learned that science is often shaped by the context of the time. So when I began research for Darwin’s Hunch, I was curious to find out how the changing times had shaped the search for human origins. For over a century, scientists rejected Darwin’s theory that humans evolved in Africa, but today it is widely accepted.

One of the fascinating things I found was that anthropologist Raymond Dart has a lot in his papers that he did not share with the world. Many of his scientific practices were shaped by colonial thinking. Dart collected human skeletons in an effort to understand what he called “race typology”, which he believed held clues to evolution.

Paging through his documents, I learned the disturbing story of how one of those skeletons came into his collection, a story that remained hidden in the archives for 75 years, and which showed how scientific methods at the time treated human beings as specimens.

Phillip Tobias was Dart’s successor as the head of the department of anatomy at Wits Medical School so it was interesting to learn more about his relationship with Dart. I delved into some of Tobias’s papers as well, and it was surprising to see how his thinking on race and human evolution shifted from his youth in the 1940s through to his death in 2012. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, it was one of Tobias’s colleagues, Hertha de Villiers, who helped to shift scientific thinking away from Dart’s race typology. It was fascinating to learn about this accomplished scientist and her work.

Another of Dart’s theories was that humans are naturally violent. He based this idea on the fact that ancient human ancestors were carnivores and he believed that they used certain bones as weapons to kill their prey. This idea was so popular in the 1960s that it spread to millions of people via Robert Ardrey’s book African Genesis and the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dart’s research inspired another young scientist, Bob Brain, based at the Transvaal Museum. Brain concluded that human ancestors did not choose certain bones as weapons, but that those bones remained in the fossil record because they could not be easily chewed.

By the late ’80s and ’90s, genetics had begun to play a big role in understanding human origins. Research with mitochondrial DNA led to the finding that all living humans had shared a common ancestor in Africa as recently as 200,000 years ago. While the changing science is engrossing, it is often the scientists themselves, and the times in which they live, that are most revealing.

Book details

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature in glittering ceremony

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 
Season of Crimson BlossomsAbubakar Adam Ibrahim: The man, his dreams and prize

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who emerged from Nigeria’s generation of “intellectual terrorists”, recently won the Nigeria Prize for Literature. The award ceremony in Abuja was nothing short of grand – Michael Jimoh was there

Soon after the Swedish Academy delighted Nigerians with news that Wole Soyinka had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in October 1986, a national tragedy followed to dampen whatever excitement there was to savour of that historic feat. Dele Giwa, a stylish journalist and one of the founding editors of Newswatch, was letter-bombed. His demise, Soyinka later mourned, turned “the euphoria of the Nobel Prize into ashes in our mouths”.

When Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, winner of the 2016 edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature, met and spoke with the press on Friday, November 25 in a clinically-clean, modest meeting room at the Protea Hotel, Maryland, Lagos, he briefly experienced the same emotional low as his senior colleague 30 years ago. His father, the one person he would have wished to be around to share this one unique moment with him, had died eight months before. In recounting it, Ibrahim’s voice became understandably low, his mien more pensive; a few journalistic heads drooped on shoulders, an expression of collective grief shown to individuals in moments of distress.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

But four days later, on Tuesday, November 29, this time in Abuja, at the NAF Conference Centre in Kado, part of the Federal Capital Territory, there was no such emotion. Instead, there was celebration, celebration and recognition of an achiever. It was a mood of unpunctuated happiness from the moment MC Richmond Osuji took up the microphone to start off the public presentation of the award to Ibrahim mid-morning. The location was ideal, a quiet and easily accessible part of Abuja, with ample parking and uniformed security on guard from start to finish. The decorated tables with real white roses could have made anyone conclude that a wedding reception was about to begin.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

Indeed, there was a union – not of man and woman, but of business and literature. And the result of that joint effort was evident before all by way of large posters in the lobby and in the hall: A medium shot of Ibrahim welcomed guests, his winning novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms, published by Lagos-based Parresia Publishers, beside him with the sponsor’s logo, a stylised NLNG, in smaller letters at the top.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

Season of Crimson Blossoms is Ibrahim’s first novel and won the gas company’s $100,000 prize easily, trouncing 171 other entries by Nigerian authors home and abroad. In its tradition, NLNG had come all the way from Port Harcourt to honour the laureate publicly at a venue of his own choosing.

Though he was schooled and once lived in Jos, Ibrahim has resided and worked in Abuja these past years, where he is Arts Editor of Daily Trust. Fortyish with a contemplative look reminding one of F Scott Fitzgerald’s brooding visage in one of his rare sober moments, Ibrahim has said that nothing took him to writing, “I grew into it. The only thing that came naturally to me, almost as natural as breathing, was writing.”

From that first love, the Mass Communication graduate from the University of Jos has never looked back. A collection of short stories and a novel later, Ibrahim has, in the words of an acquaintance, “consistently developed himself”.

At various times an electrician and a football wannabe, he never deviated from his avowed métier. If anything, he has lived the dream of writing, thus bringing to reality what the incomparable Frenchman of American history, Henry David Thoreau, once said of dreams. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined,” Thoreau mused centuries ago, “he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

The gathering of literati, diplomats, company execs, politicians and common folk in Abuja that Tuesday morning confirmed Ibrahim’s “success unexpected in common hours”.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 10pm, but the capacious hall was packed to the rafters in no time, and late arrivals had only standing space. After a mandatory frisk by security at the entrance, guests arrived in pairs and in groups or alone, filled the chairs, most of the women in hijab setting off their well-defined faces, the men in babban riga with caps caved in on one side. Female children with beaded hair and lale-designed hands complemented the northern ambience of the event.

“This is the first time a writer from northern Nigeria is winning the prize,” a longtime resident of Abuja, and president of Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi told me. To Abdullahi, therefore, Ibrahim’s prize is “an affirmation of so many writers in the north who have been writing without the opportunity of promotion.”

Abdullahi’s veiled comment alludes to the fact that writers in the north get far less traction than their southern counterparts whose proximity to Lagos, culture capital of Nigeria, gives them more exposure and publicity. However, the presentation more than made up for whatever publicity mileage Ibrahim may have been denied in the press. It was the most attended and most high profile literary event in recent memory in the Federal Capital Territory.

The MD of NLNG, Tony Attah, led a retinue of senior staff, including Dr Kudo Eresia-Eke, the GM External Relations. Dr Bola Afolabi, Group General Manager of the gas company, represented the GMD of NNPC, Dr Maikanti Baru. The British High Commissioner, Peter Arkwright, sat all through the event, just as two diplomats from the US and Spain did. Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed filled in for the Federal Government, calling Ibrahim “my friend” several times even though he may only have heard of him days before. It helped no more when, in his well-delivered acceptance speech, the laureate swiped at the Federal Government, declaring that “no civilisation or people achieve anything without imagination. The dire state of the Nigerian nation is a testament to this fact. We are not only conditioned to abhor imagination and creativity but to stifle it.”

Ibrahim’s creative spirit was momentarily stifled some time in Jos where, after a sectarian clash in 2008, his house was razed – along with all his books. Despite that, his dedication to writing only got stronger. “He is particular about his craft,” Mallam Denja Abdullahi recalls of the author.

The president of the writers’ body insists he is not surprised Ibrahim won the most prestigious literary award in Africa. Equally not taken unawares is the laureate’s younger sibling, Abdulkadri Adam Ibrahim.

Anyone could easily mistake him for the writer, the same visage and height, and even build. Abdulkadri has followed his sibling’s writing career closely, right from the beginning. “I wouldn’t say this is a surprise because he has been winning other competitions before. I had my fingers crossed that he was going to win and when it came, I wasn’t surprised.”

The winning entry itself, Season of Crimson Blues, published by Parresia Books under the competent headship of Azafi Omoluabi-Ogosi and Richard Ali, is a riveting love tango between a notorious, dope-dealing, hard-eyed criminal, Hassan “Reza” Babale, and a middle-aged widow, Hajiya Binta Zubairu. Though these two dominate the story, others come alive with the realism of Flaubertian characters. Mallam Haruna, a comical figure dying of suffocating jealousy, is one.

He it was, burdened by unrequited love, who hastened to Munkaila, son of Binta, with gossip about his mother’s fornication with a loathed neighbourhood crook. From then on, nothing could avert the tragedy that wound around Binta’s family like a soiled turban.

Ibrahim has a mastery of language and he deploys it expertly. In one scene, the author describes Reza and Binta, spent after making love: “the lovers lay on the bed watching the ceiling fan turning, slicing the air like an indolent scythe”. In another passage, we read of “memories eddying in little swirls around” Binta’s mind.

Season of Crimson Blossoms comes across as one of those ancient oriental tales by moonlight, complete with djinns, fragrances, incense and perfumes, sometimes used to cover up the “objectionable stench of fornication clinging” to the long-suffering widow.

It is not for nothing that the panel of judges wowed with deserved praise for Ibrahim’s novel. By a unanimous decision, they plumped for Ibrahim’s gripping tale of romance and tragedy.

“The novel moves from its evocative and passionate first sentence,” the Professor Dan Izebvaye-led panel of adjudicators commented, “through a web of anxious moments to a tragic and painful conclusion with hardly a moment of respite”.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

Ibrahim comes from a generation of writers who senior journalist and writer Uzor Maxim Uzoatu classifies as “intellectual terrorists”. All of them are graduates of the University of Jos or have association with the city of Jos – the Helon Habilas, Obi Nwakanmas, Tony Kans, Dave Njokus, Richard Alis and others. So formidable is their intellectual prowess, it is said, that a UJ grad is almost always likely to win in a literary competition in Nigeria. At one time in a national poetry competition in the same year, Habila and Kan came first and third respectively.

Now teaching at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, Habila was the first Nigerian to win the Caine Prize for African Fiction, after Aboulela, a Sudanese writer and the first African to be so honoured. Ibrahim himself has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize. He has won the BBC African Performance Prize as well as the Amatu Braide Prize for Prose. And now, the Nigeria Prize for Literature.

Tony Attah put it aptly for both the winner and the sponsoring company in his speech as the number one man in the NLNG gas company. “With respect to the prize, wherever possible, it has been the tradition to celebrate the winner of the Nigeria Prize for Literature in the author’s homestead. By so doing, we believe that we bring the celebration to the people who contributed to making this author, to those who helped shape the experiences and personality of the winner, and to the place where his creativity was fueled. In addition to that, how best could we give today’s celebration its peculiar flavour other than to have it with family and friends of both the winner and Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas.”

The highlight of the presentation came much later, when Kudo Eresia-Eke asked to recognise the mother of the author. As she stood up, wearing a brown hijab, Ibrahim strolled dramatically from the stage for a long embrace with his mother. The ovation was loudest at this time. His wife also got an ovation, the woman who stood by the author all the way through.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim awarded $100,000 Nigeria Literature Prize in glittering ceremony

 

For every seated guest, young and old, man and woman, literate or not, there was a copy of Ibrahim’s novel gifted by the gas company as a gift, some with Ibrahim’s autograph. Giving out copies of winning entries is a long-standing tradition of NLNG. At a similar reception two years ago in Lagos, Tade Ipadeola’s poem, The Sahara Testaments, was passed out freely to guests.

The reason, according to Eresia-Eke, is for educational purposes. “For anyone serious about building people, whether ordinary individuals or communities or nations, the most important gift is education because it is what makes the individual, he becomes master of his own destiny … education is extremely important to us because a people denied education is a people denied all rights.”

Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist living in Lagos. He has worked with some of the major newspapers in Nigeria but now freelances.

* * * * *

 
Related stories:

Book details

Winners of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction announced

Winners of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction announced
WaterTerra IncognitaFeast, Famine and Potluck

 
Alert! “A Door Ajar” by Sibongile Fisher has won the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction.

TJ Benson is first runner-up for his story “Tea”, and Megan Ross is second runner-up for “Farang”.

Winners of the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction announced

 

The R10 000 Short Story Day Africa Prize – the continent’s most prestigious prize for an original piece of short fiction – is awarded annually to an African writer or African person living in the diaspora.

Previous winners of the prize are Okwiri Oduor from Kenya for “My Father’s Head” (2013), which went on to win the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, Diane Awerbuck for “Leatherman” (2014) and Cat Hellisen for “The Worme Bridge” (2015).

 
Read more from Short Story Day Africa:

She grabbed the wailing infant and threw it against the wall.

“A Door Ajar” by Sibongile Fisher has won the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction. Fisher’s story, which centers around two sisters trying to escape a gruesome family custom, explores the conflict between tradition and modernity. The raw energy of the writing impressed the judging panel, who were unanimous in their decision. It is the fourth speculative short story written by a woman to scoop the R10 000 prize, which was first won in 2013 by Kenyan Okwiri Oduor, who went on to win the following year’s Caine Prize for African Writing.

She is Tiv and knows no English.

“Tea”, TJ Benson’s love story in the time of exploitation, is first runner-up. Benson uses the relationship between a Nigerian girl and a German boy, who are thrown together in the worst of circumstances, to investigate what makes us different, and whether it is more important than what makes us the same.

Nèung
A cross the road from my childhood home is a stretch of ordinary
veld.

“Farang” by Megan Ross is second runner-up. Ross uses her considered prose to tell a story about the end of naivety, exoticism and otherness. Set in Thailand, “Farang” is part travelogue, part coming-of-age tale, and beautifully encapsulates the awkward space one occupies in being an outsider in another country.

The judging panel, chaired by Sindiwe Magona, called the longlist of 21 stories “outstanding”, adding that all the stories deserve to be published.

The Prize, started in 2012, is worth R10 000, with second and third place cash prizes of R2 000 and R1 000 respectively. The 21 longlisted stories are collected in Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa, edited by Efemia Chela, Bongani Kona and Helen Moffett, due for release in January 2017.

Many thanks to the judges, Sindiwe Magona, HJ Golakai and Tendai Huchu for their time and consideration; prize sponsors Generation Africa, the Miles Morland Foundation and Books LIVE; volunteer readers across the globe who helped us sort through the entries; our publishing partners and advisors, New Internationalist and Modjaji Books; Worldreader for sponsoring the editing mentorship; and all our project sponsors, a full list of whom are available on our sponsor page.

Last, but not least, many thanks to the Short Story Day Africa board and team.

Ends

Related news:

 

Book details

'Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine these things' - Abantu Book Festival launched in Soweto

Thando Mgqolozana

 
The Abantu Book Festival was officially launched at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in Soweto this afternoon.

The festival is the brainchild of Thando Mgqolozana, who explained how and why it came about.

Why Abantu?

I named the festival Abantu because I could not think of any other festival that was focusing on black people – that was created for and by black people – and I wanted to create that.

I was absolutely tired of always begging to be integrated more comfortably into coloniality. I realised that I was ashamed, actually, that we had been begging to be integrated into coloniality. It’s like asking to be put nicely into a fire. It’s not going to end well. You are going to burn.

So I wanted to walk away from the fire. I wanted to create a different kind of fire, for abantu and by abantu.

Thando Mgqolozana

 

Mgqolozana first conceptualised the Abantu Book Festival on Facebook, creating it as a purely imaginary event. One year later, it is a reality.

“I’m a fiction writer, so I know what it means to imagine something into existence, I’ve done it many times,” he said.

“I have written books that were just fleeting ideas, and you write it and you publish it and it affects real people in their real lives.”

Images: Abantu Book Festival on Facebook

 

Mgqolozana also thanked Rhodes Must Fall and the young people of South Africa for creating an environment in which a festival like Abantu can feel possible.

“If we had tried to do something like this five years ago, it would probably not have happened. But Rhodes Must Fall created the context for us, made it possible for us, to imagine these things. Rhodes Must Fall made it possible for us to imagine things that are not framed by coloniality.

“So I want to thank the young people for affording us the opportunity to dream and hope, and be able to deal with our pain in a different way from before.”

Mgqolozana is the author of three novels, A Man Who is Not a Man, Hear Me Alone and Unimportance. He said he finds it unacceptable that the people he has written for and about do not have access to his work.

“I write about the people I was born with, I was raised with, the people in my street. It makes me so angry that these people cannot access this literature. And it is not by accident, it is by design. I cannot accept that. I cannot keep on writing about these people and for these people and not do anything about the fact that they cannot access this literature.

“I would really love to just be a writer and just be in my imagination the whole time. But I think I was born in a time that requires me to do more than just that.

“We have libraries in all black communities now, and if you go to any of them you will find that there is an African fiction section. We shouldn’t have an African fiction section in Africa: that should be the standard. It reminds me of the Homelands Act; the rest of the space belongs to other people.

“So it is my mission to change this thing. I am not going to do it alone. I am going to require all of your support.”

Panashe Chigumadzi

 

Panashe Chigumadzi, the festival curator, explained the thinking behind this year’s theme: Our Stories.

“A key part of our thinking around Abantu Book Festival and how we can remove the alienation that many of us as black people have around literature and books is to try and destabilise the centrality of the book,” she said.

“Yes, it is Abantu Book Festival, but we want to remind ourselves that storytelling is very much a part of what it is to be black people and it’s always been part of our cultures.”

Chigumadzi stressed that Abantu Book Festival should be a safe space for difficult conversations, and emphasised its zero tolerance policy to sexual harrassment and other kinds of prejudice.

“When we are creating these spaces for black people and new visions of futures, it is important that all black people are recognised, all of our humanity is recognised, and it is not only for a particular kind of blackness.

“We are really interested in having important, necessary, uncomfortable, robust but loving conversations amongst us as black people, that really is the important part about this. This is for us. All those things that we haven’t been able to say, we’d like this to be the kind of space that we can talk about them, and be able to challenge each other in the ways that we often can’t.”

* * * * *

Jennifer Malec (@projectjennifer) tweeted live from the launch:

Follow @projectjennifer on Twitter for more

 

Related news:

 

The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things and Other StoriesMemoirs of a Born FreeRumoursEat, Drink and Blame the AncestorsAffluenzaWe Need New NamesHappiness is a Four-Letter Word
The Everyday WifeRapeEndings and BeginningsWhat Will People SayGa ke ModisaAlmost Sleeping My Way to TimbuktuWhen a Man Cries
Ukuba MtshaThe Woman Next DoorLondon – Cape Town – JoburgSweet MedicineNwelezelanga

 

Book details