Nigeria’s Digital Aké Arts and Book Festival Opens Today

In News by Porter Anderson

The seventh Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos is all online and—for the first time—available for all to see in its digital presentation. Events are free and open to the public.

Audience members at the 2016 edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival. Image: AABF

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

Issue-Driven Programming
The seventh edition of Lagos’ Aké Arts and Book Festival has opened today in its digital format (October 22), with “African Time” as its theme and Sterling Bank and Google Africa as sponsors.

You can get a look at the day-by-day program schedule here for the festival, which runs through Sunday (October 25). Note that all times are for West Africa, WAT, which is GMT + 1.

One of the interesting elements of this festival—which bills itself as “the biggest collection of Black voices on African soil”—is the serious focus of many of its discussions and panels. Many festivals fall into the “reading is fun” hobbyist mentality, which is understandable—especially in troubling eras—but the more meaningful approach is always to look for the ways literature can serve a festival’s attendees.

Director Lola Shoneyin—whose The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (Serpent’s Tail, 2010) has become a mainstay of Nairobi storyteller Maïmouna Jallow—has responded to this year’s unusual conditions with programming not only based in literature but also film, music, theater and visual arts. The result is more than 50 events in four days, a program dense with inquiries and examinations of various aspects of the theme.

Lola Shoneyin

Musical offerings may be among festival viewers’ favorite events, with 10 artists scheduled to appear from Nigeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Brazil, the UK, the US and South Africa.

But it’s the book-business panels that are the real standouts in this program, as evidenced by Thabiso Mahlape of Blackbird Books in South Africa joining in on a panel called “Publishing While African” with Elias Wondimu, Louise Umutoni-Bower, and chair Molara Wood.

“More people are writing books that offer important perspectives and raise the self-esteem of African children,” organizers say in the material on this program, “so why is the publishing industry that serves African readers still so dysfunctional?”

Such honest appraisals are the norm in this show, thanks to Shoneyin’s forthright direction of the content.

Lebogang Mashile

For example, Lebogang Mashile leads a panel on Friday (October 23) about the life of Winnie Mandela–”a woman who, even in death, is loved, embraced, and revered by her people, for reasons those outside South Africa may not fully understand,” according to the organizers’ literature. Mashile is joined by Gail Smith, Busiswe Seabe, and Sisonke Msimang.

Another event is a session chaired by Chike Frankie Edozien, also Friday, with panelists Nakhane, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and Unoma Azuah on “Writing Queer, Writing Black.”

Nicole Dennis-Benn

That session, organizers say, “takes a look at the challenges but also the gifts that come with writing when you are a Black creative in the LGBTQI+ community in Africa and the African diaspora.”

The speakers “will explore creative freedom, censorship, and the unique challenges that arise from being both Black and queer in engaging Black readers.”

Jessica Horn will chair a panel on Saturday (October 24) on “Decolonizing Africa on Feminist Time” with Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Nana Akosua Hanson, and Zulaikha Patel.

Jessica Horn

In that conversation, the development of feminism in Africa is the focus, “from working on a charter for African feminists to environmental activism and creating art that pushes boundaries and redefines female power.

One of the quickest ways to get an overview if what’s happening is to click on the “Book a Spot” tab on the upper right of each page of the site.

That will take you to this page, with a fast look at each session and its speakers. All the events are free of charge, but you’ll need to sign up for tickets.

One we recommend: “When African History Meets Futurism” on Saturday with Abdulkareem Baba Aminu chairing the commentary of Nnedi Okorafor, Marlon James, and Roye Okupe—a session in which you’ll hear Okorafor on her concept of African futurism as being “directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology [and] not privileging or centering the West.”

The program this year is also supported by the Institute Français, Nikon, the Goethe Institut, the United States embassy, and the Poetry Translation Center.

A Q&A session during the 2016 edition of the Aké Arts and Book Festival. 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.