In Nigeria: The Global Association of Literary Festivals

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The second conference of the Global Association of Literary Festivals drew 23 festival representatives invited to Lagos for discussions.

At the November 22 and 23 Global Association of Literary Festivals conference in Lagos, delegates and guests included, on the front row, from left, Lola Shoneyin; Lyndsey Fineran; Denise Gurnah; the Nobel laureates Abdulrazak Gurnah and Wole Soyinka (guests of the Aké Arts & Book Festival); and Rosalind Green. On the back row are, from left, Amanda Bullock; Anja Bengelstorff; Martin Egblewogbe; Marit Borkenhagen; Rosemarie Milsom; Ana Amaral; Angela Wachuka, and Nora Hadjisotiriou. Image: Global Association of Literary Festivals

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

Hosted by Lola Shoneyin’s Aké Arts & Book Festival
As Publishing Perspectives readers may recall, shortly before the onset of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, meetings were held during the 12th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai for the creation of a Global Alliance of Literary Festivals.

After those initial talks in February 2020, an official launch was held in May with some 30 member-festivals, and the newly formed program had begun presenting some digital programming by June.

Last week, after some logical delays caused by the earlier stages of the still-ongoing pandemic, the organization held its second conference in Lagos, hosted there by the Aké Arts and Book Festival. The trip to Nigeria was made by 23 representatives of festivals in Norway, Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal, Trinidad & Tobago, Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, with digital participation from delegates in Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Highlighted topics of discussion included fund-raising, “the shape of festivals to come,” and potential collaborations ahead. The event was arranged so that three days would be devoted to the association’s meetings, the delegates invited to then stay on for the three day festival, running through Wednesday (November 23).

For clarity’s sake, a literary festival normally is primarily a public-facing book-related event, as distinguished from the industry-facing B2B focus of a trade show. It’s a close relative of the standard concept of a book fair, but it’s likelier in current international trends that a consumer-focused book fair may have an associated “professional program” for industry players and more emphasis on the exhibition floor as a bookselling arena.

Lola Shoneyin

The festival association’s host in Nigeria, Lola Shoneyin, is familiar to our world readership as the founding director of the Aké Arts event. In a prepared comment, she says, “I really was hoping that the delegates would stay behind and experience the festival and exposure to African creative people that perhaps they’re missing out on, so that they can promote diversity in their festivals.

“It gives African creative workers a chance to tell their own stories in the best possible way, as they behave differently and speak differently when they’re on African soil.”

Fineran: ‘That Firm Sense of Network’

Angela Wachuka, best known to Publishing Perspectives readers a co-founding director of Nairobi’s Book Bunk and Bunk Books, speaks at the Lagos conference as a delegate from Kenya’s NBO Litfest. Image: Global Association of Literary Festivals

One of the delegates, Rosemarie Milsom, the founding director of Australia’s Newcastle Writers Festival in New South Wales, says, “It’s important for me to travel all the way from Australia, because there’s great value in festival directors getting together.

“While we may be operating in different countries, with different infrastructures and management structures in place, there are core issues we have in common.”Rosemarie Milsom, Newcastle Writers Festival

“While we may be operating in different countries, with different infrastructures and management structures in place, there are core issues we have in common, not only relating  to fund-raising and budgets, but managing our well-being and our stress levels and working together in partnership. It’s refreshing to find like-minded people and Lola Shoneyin, who brought us together here in Nigeria, made the comment at the opening of the conference that the collective noun for literary festival directors is a ‘tribe’ and I thought that’s it, it is, we’re part of a tribe.”

From England’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, its deputy head of programming, Lyndsey Fineran, says, “It’s been incredible. It’s always great to see other festivals and see how they do things and meet with colleagues who work in the literary festival sector across the world, sharing expertise, exchanging ideas and having that sense of solidarity. We have fantastic jobs, but they’re quite niche and can also be lonely jobs, so to have that firm sense of network has been really inspiring and appreciated.”

And from the new Gabarone Book Festival in Botswana, its co-founding director, Kenanao Phele, is quoted, saying, “It’s been greatly important to allow festival directors from around the world to come together to discuss different issues. One of the things on the top of our radar is fund-raising, and I’m very happy about the tips that I’ve got that I can implement when I get back home to Gabarone.

“The second thing has been the networking with festival directors from across the world; on an alumnae basis, I can now reach out.  There’s the power of collaboration and I’m looking forward to tapping into the network to promote our authors and to hear about authors from other parts of the world so we can feature them in our programming.”

The association, in its media messaging about the event this month, stresses that fall festivals of any size are welcome to join. The essential goals of the group are to “provide a forum to share information, discuss common issues and enable collaboration.”

At a session in the Lagos conference hosted by Lola Shoneyin’s Aké Arts and Book Festival. Image: Global Association of Literary Festivals

More from Publishing Perspectives on literary festivals is here, more on the Global Association of Literary Festivals is here, and more on book fairs and trade shows in world publishing is here.

And more from us on the still-ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

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.