Coronavirus Impact: Nigeria’s Aké Arts and Book Festival 2020 is Digital

In News by Porter Anderson

With a four-day run in late October, the Aké Arts and Book Festival has a strong activist context for many of its events, set around the theme ‘African Time’ and responding to recent race debates.

At the 2019 Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos. From left are Adaobi Nwaubani, author of ‘Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree,’ and Sulaiman Addonia, author of ‘Silence is my Mother Tongue.’ Image: AABF

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Colonial Hangover’
The eighth year of Lagos’ Aké Arts and Book Festival is today announcing a digital rendition of its programming, running from October 22 to 25.

As happens in most cases of a digitized iteration of a book and/or publishing event, the digital evocation of the event will make it visible to an international audience, meaning that many will get their first look at the Aké, a public-facing festival. The program’s promotional material refers to the Aké as “the largest collection of African creative voices on African soil.

This year’s theme is “African Time,” by which organizers mean to send a signal of solidarity with the racial reckoning that has surfaced in multiple markets’ cultures with activism including the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a prepared statement for today’s announcement, the show’s founding director Lola Shoneyin—some of our readers will remember her for the Kaduna Festival—is quoted, saying, “Our world has changed forever. The magnitude of recent world events cannot be ignored.

Lola Shoneyin

“In 1918, African nations were in the clutches of imperial forces that degraded our stories, culture, history, language, and belief systems. More than a century later, the COVID-19 pandemic finds Africa struggling with the colonial hangover of poor leadership and a predatory global order. 

“Now is the time for Africa to recalibrate and break the cycle of betrayal by those elected to lead. It may have come later than hoped for, but for the children of Africa everywhere, this is African Time.

And perhaps one of the most singular events announced today is a “cross-religion communion” set for Sunday October 25, a morning program. (Lagos time is GMT + 1.) That session is to feature “leaders and practitioners from multiple religions and beliefs including Christianity, Islam, and Indigenous Nigerian faiths,” engaging them all in major questions about life and our experience of it from their various ecclesiastical perspectives.

The overall program is structured in 27 panel discussions, 20 author presentations, three workshops, a concert, storytelling and poetry sessions, film, and a stage play.

Themes Built on Racial and Feminist Discussion

At the 2019 Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos. In this session called ‘Themes Built on Racial and Feminist Discussion, are, from left, Amal Hassan, CEO of Outsource Global; the festival’s Lola Shoneyin, and Mo Abudu, founder of Ebony Life TV and Ebony Life Films. Image: AABF

  • Intersectional feminism
  • “Blacktivism” and “Colorism”
  • Mental health issues related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
  • Decolonization of “Black spaces”

Reflective of these thematic directions are panels planned to address:

  • “Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change”
  • Publishing While Black”
  • “Decolonizing Feminism in Africa”
  • “Writing Queer, Writing Black”
  • “Why Africa Needs Feminist Giants”
Programming Points

At the 2018 Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos. In an event called ‘Programming Points’ are, from left, Hadiza Isma Elrufai, author and first lady of the Kaduna state; Yemi Osinbajo, vice president of Nigeria; and Abubakar Suleiman, Managing director and CEO of Sterling. Image: AABF

  • American author Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and Aspen Words Literary Prize for An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, 2019)
  • Jamaican author Marlon James (Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Penguin Random House, February) for with Nigerian-American science-fiction and fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor, in a conversation on “When African History Meets Futurism”
  • Two-time Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Canadian author Esi Edugyan on Washington Black (Penguin Random House, 2019)
  • Winner of African Literary Person of the Year 2016, Zimbabwean novelist Petina Gappah on Out of Darkness, Shining Light (Simon & Schuster, 2019)
  • Tochi Onyebuchi, the American author of the dystopian novel Riot Baby (Macmillan, January)
  • Nigerian-born Abi Daré, who will talk about Girl With the Louding Voice (Penguin Random House, February)
  • British-South African author Sara-Jayne Makwala-King, whose debut memoir Killing Karonline (Uitgewers Publishers, 2017) 
  • Ugandan feminist and gay rights activist Stella Nyanzi with Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian-American author of The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (Penguin Random House, 2019);
  • British writer and filmmaker Afua Hirsch with  Irish-Nigerian author Emma Dabiri and British actor Kelechi Okafor in a discussion, “Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change”
  • Canadian journalist and author Desmond Cole, who is to lead a panel discussion on “Blacktivism Around The World”
  • Jamaican Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Patsy (WW Norton/Liveright) on “Writing Queer, Writing Black”
  • Ugandan-American founding member of the African Feminist Forum, Jessica Horn, who is to chair “Decolonizing Feminism in Africa”
  • British author Derek Owusu, who will talk about That Reminds Me (Penguin Random House, coming in November) the Desmond Elliot Prize-winner for debut fiction
  • Cambridge University alumnus Okechukwu Nzelu will discuss his debut book The Private Joys of Nnena Maloney (Hachette/Little, Brown, 2019)
  • Nigerian-American founding CEO of LifeBank Temie Giwa-Tuboson, who has used drones and speedboats to deliver urgently needed blood supplies, speaking on work with the Department For International Development, the World Health Organization, and the Lagos government on the question “How Efficiently Can Technology Solve Africa’s Problems?”
Other Arts

During the programming, 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wole Soyinka is to make a presentation of “WS 20 for 20,” an evocation of African antiquities from his private collection in a program curated by Jessica Byenyan Bitrus on the “African Time” theme.

Elders Corner, a recent documentary film on Nigerian musical development, is to be screened on October 22. More on the show is in this trailer.

A concert is set for October 23 with artists including Blackman Akeeb Kareem, Fatoumata Daiware, Falana, Beautiful Nubia, Urban Village, Maia and the Big Sky, Bab L’ Bluz, Akua Naru, Joyce Olong and Christine Obiamalu.

Venus vs. Modernity is a play which is to be given a digital rendering on October 24 in a production led by activist Lebogang Mashile.

And on October 25, a poetry program features Vanessa Kisuule in addition to Afurakan, Vangi Gantsho, Ola Elhassan, Yomi Sode, D’bi Anitafrika, Titilope Sonuga, Paul Ward, Jabir Malik, Poetra Asantewa and Ndukwe Onuoha.

Sponsors of the festival include Sterling Bank, Goethe-Institut Nigeria, French Embassy, US Consulate, Nikon, and News Central.

More information is at the festival site.

At this writing, the 5:27 a.m ET update (0927 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees Nigeria with a caseload of 52,227 infections, just behind Morocco and ahead of Bahrain. The fatalities count is 1,002 in a population of 196 million.

At the 2019 Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos, a conversation with, from left, Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of ‘Patsy’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’; Kola Tubosun, linguist and author of ‘Edwardsville by Heart’; and Bernardine Evaristo, 2019 Booker Prize winner. Image: AABF

More from Publishing Perspectives on literary festivals is here, more on Nigeria is here, more on African and is markets is here. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.