Lately, numerous festivals have been held across the African continent. With this increase in the number of literary festivals, authors, readers, and other members of the literary community are more curious about and interested in such gatherings.
Are you planning or considering attending a literary festival in Africa? One of our editors, Amara Chimeka, attended the recently-concluded PaGya Literary Festival in Accra, hosted by the Writers’ Project of Ghana, and sampled opinions from your favourite African literati. They all aver that you add “Attend” to your bucket list for many good reasons, judging from their experience at PaGya 2019.
- Cross-cultural collaborations across colonial and language borders
With PaGya we are trying to bring the African community together, especially in West Africa. We are the first writing festival in Ghana of its type. This is the third year of the festival. It is going very well so far, and we are very pleased with it. Our funding base is still very tiny, and this is one of our main tasks now, to expand our funding base for future editions of the festival. We would really like to be able to do more and reach more people, but our funding base is still too small to be able to fund a significant number of guests to come. This year, quite a few of them have paid their own flight tickets. We have had a lot of support from the Goethe Institute of Ghana. They have been our major partners since the first year and we are very grateful for that; however, we would like to expand our funding base. It’s been so exciting this year. We have had writers coming in from Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, across the continent and beyond. The festival is still going on, We are looking forward to a wonderful grand finale of poetry today; we have poets from across the continent. For me as the co-director of the Writers’ Project of Ghana, it’s just so exciting. It is really just a dream come true and just the vibe, you know the atmosphere that is generated by bringing all the writers together. It’s so fun. There’s so much humour, there’s so much fun. Writers are really just a passionate bunch, a little crazy, and it’s great to enjoy that atmosphere for three days.
One of the things that excited me most about this year’s PaGya is the cross-cultural collaboration of writers coming together across African borders. I have been particularly pleased about that. I had a great moment yesterday when I was in a panel discussion among some poets. Professor Kofi Anyidoho was there, and we also had Patron Heneku from Togo and a Botswanan Poet, Mmakgosi Tau; and at some point, Professor Anyidoho sang a poem of his own in the Ewe language because he composes a lot in his own language and Patron Heneku who is from Togo started to sing along under his breath because he knew the poem, and they were both singing this poem in Ewe. I found it so moving because these were two writers connecting across the colonial border with their own language, which existed before those borders came and divided us into Francophone and Anglophone, and for me, that is the one moment that symbolises why I am so excited about this year’s PaGya bringing together African writers across borders.
Another exciting thing for me was to listen to the poet Nametso Phonchi who is from Botswana. I met Mmakgosi Tau who is her poetic partner as it were – they perform together – at a conference in Portland, Oregon, the AWP conference earlier his year, and I invited Mmakgosi and another Botswanan poet who were there at the time doing a programme with the University of Iowa – the international writing programme. Mmakgosi was able to make it, the other one wasn’t but Mmakgosi brought along Nametso with her. Nametso today gave her presentation on the environment, using her poetry and her poetic voice on environmental issues, and it was extremely powerful and again it brought that thing to mind of connecting across borders because today she was talking about rivers that flow across borders and the need for us to come together over environmental issues. I found that very moving, and I felt so glad that she had come, and I had reached out to invite her to the festival. Also, the council of Botswana came. Once they found out through the visa application that these Botswanan poets were coming to Ghana, they reached out and they came this evening to support their poets, and they‘ve invited them to come and stay with them after the festival and have even offered support for future Botswanan artistes. So, I wanted to make the point that the cross-collaboration is a huge force that we can tap into and can work for the political good of our countries as well, strengthen our voices as artistes.
- Mamle Kabu
Co-Director, Writers’ Project of Ghana
Co-Convener PaGya Festival
I came to PaGya the very first time, last year. I was invited as a travel writer and as a travel journalist. So, for me, that was the very first time that I would be invited, and it would be recognised that there is a genre that is called Travel Writing. My experience was such that I couldn’t stop thinking about the festival at the end of it all. One of the things that stood out for me was the fact that it almost became a merging of Anglophone and Francophone Africa because we had multiple sessions that had to do with the problem of translating literature between Anglophone Africa and Francophone Africa and the complications of colonialism because colonial Africa has still not been able to separate itself from those things imposed on it by the British even decades after they have left. For me, that set off a long stretch of thinking. Because there was something about translation, there was something about language appreciation, there was something about breaking down the barriers of language that exists even until now. I have been to a few literary festivals, that has never happened. It has always been Anglophone festivals for Francophone Africa; hardly have I seen any festival that speaks for the Francophone community. This is what this festival has become for me. It has become a place that brings all of Africa together, that strives to define what we should be doing for the nearest future, even at this present festival, I just came out from a Francophone session where the author who is bilingual exists in both worlds; so he was able to break down even the complications in Cameroon, which is a bilingual country. I have never had that kind of experience while in Nigeria or while attending other festivals on the continent. For me, it is the best festival, though it is a young festival – this is just the third year – it packs more punch, and I would love so much to come back.
- Pelu Awofeso
Author, Travel Writer & Journalist,
Online/New-Media Editor, The Daily Report
This is my third PaGya; I have been here from the first one. I like PaGya because of the conversations and the networks. I get to meet people like you, for instance, the discussions, what we can do as a literary community, and beyond. My take home from PaGya goes beyond just the three days, but beyond that, getting people to come see; because people talk about the fact that people are not writing, and we only have old writers. When they come to festivals like PaGya, they see young people, they see contemporary writing, they see writing across the continent, there are about three or four Nigerian publishers here, we have Ghanaian publishers here, we have people from Botswana, and we have people from South Africa. That gives people the confidence that literature in Africa is not dead, that there is still hope, and there is much more we need to explore. That helps me to know that there is much more we need to read. For instance, I got to know about your publishing house, I have seen your titles, I have seen Osita, but for PaGya, I wouldn’t know him, and because of PaGya I am going to pick his books, list it on my book store, and we are discussing with Nigerian bookstores how we can get our book there, and they can get their books here. If we do not have these meetings, then we cannot have those engagements. That is how I see PaGya and the benefits that it brings to us.
- Nana Awere Damoah
Author, I Speak Of Ghana
Co-Founder, DAkpabli & Associates, Publisher, & Founder BookNook Ghana
- Validation and Networking …
It’s important, specifically for us in Nigeria with our big-country syndrome, to be aware that there is vibrancy going on elsewhere. Plus, there’s nothing as beautiful as validation, as having your text read to an appreciating audience, and even when literature is not commercially viable, it is still important to have festivals that support, and I love what Goethe Institute is doing with the Writer’s Project of Ghana. That ideal of bringing or showcasing Ghanaian authors and also bringing in outsiders, those who are also working, because what happens is osmosis happens and content exchanges hands, information exchanges hands. We exchange business cards, we exchange information, and we find ourselves writing across each other. So, it is always a beautiful thing that this is happening even for Ghanaian writers, but moreso for visiting authors, because of the information they take back home. It is very important.
- Eghosa Imasuen
Author, Fine Boys;
Co-Founder, Narrative Landscape
I think it’s good for us because the reading culture is growing. The festival was not very popular but now it’s growing, and its building with the years. This the third edition, I think it’s good so far … I think we are on track, so far so good, and we would get there with time.
I was telling my publisher that I am so proud of myself after seeing that a number of books that I designed are being displayed. Actually a book I designed and typeset was launched yesterday, Motherhood 101, and today Louisa has also been launched. So, I feel very happy that the work I am doing is being recognised. It feels very good.
—Nene Buer Boateng
Book Illustrator and Designer at DAkpabli & Associates
As a consumer and as a practitioner of arts, I don’t think we have enough literary festivals within the continent, and especially in West Africa, but it has been a beautiful one so far. Coming from Nigeria, I grew up on the Port Harcourt Literary Festival, later renamed the Garden-City Literary Festival and what it did for me was that those kinds of festivals helped me gain access to books and to the writers of these books, and this festival has also been that fair to me. It has given me the opportunity to see books, especially from Ghanaian writers and as a featured writer, of course it has validated the process, my process of writing. … So far, the festival has been well-coordinated and timing has been most perfect. Also, the treatment of people … everyone has been so respectful, and it’s been really interesting.
Author, The Colour of A Thing Believed
- Writers get to find their readers
I think that writers are always looking for their readers. We live in a time when there is no certainty about who is going to read us, and as Africans, we have been cut off from each other because of colonisation and because of apartheid … South Africans are very cut off from the continent. For me, it is very exciting to go to a festival that is in Africa that is started by writers, that is actually about meeting other writers, talking about writing our books, producing our books, what the challenges are, and finding our readers.
—Phillippa Yaa Devilliers
Author & Poet
Award-Winning South African Writer and Performance Artist
—Folarin Phillip Banigbe
Author, Abduction Chronicles
- We get to have a say.
I met the organisers at another festival in January, and we began talking about me being a part of PaGya, and it kind of happened that my film (In The Shadows of Biafra) would be ready in time for PaGya. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to screen it to a West African audience and get people’s responses because it talks about a very important time in West African history. Of course, Ghana played an important role in the history of Biafra – the meeting in Aburi. So, there was a sort of connection to this place.
What I like about PaGya is that it’s well-attended but it’s still quite intimate, and this allowed for some kind of intimate viewing of the film, which is in its final stages of production. This means that it’s easier to have a conversation and exchanges when you are in a smaller space, and PaGya offered that. On the importance of literary festivals in West Africa, why wouldn’t we have? We have writers in West Africa, why wouldn’t we create spaces for West African writers from all over to meet and converge. If we only have festivals outside of West Africa, that means that we don’t get to shape our festivals, that means that we don’t get to have a say in who comes and who doesn’t come, we are just going to have to be waiting to be invited. So, it’s important to cultivate our own infrastructure, festivals, publishing houses, prices, and to provide platforms for African writers. Most of the writers I am seeing here are Africans or Africans in Diaspora if not all of them. and these spaces bring people, writers, together from all over the continent, and allows people to communicate, to exchange, to network, to have conversations within these kinds of spaces. There’s something quite unique about interpersonal connections; so, I think they are vital. Of course for the general public in Ghana, it has given them an opportunity to interact with writers from all over – writers that they are reading – and engage with them. It’s healthy for a literary community, and I think it’s of great importance to create these kinds of spaces. I take my hats off to the organisers because to my knowledge, this is the largest literary festival in Ghana, and I hope it continues to grow.
—Louisa Uchum Egbunike
Lecturer, University of London
Co-convener, Igbo Conference at SOAS
- Literary festivals are a good development for African writers.
Founder, Pages & Palette
- Healthy engagements
PaGya. What it means is “to ignite”, and it’s igniting literature in Ghana. It has come at a good time and over the three years that I have attended PaGya, I have seen an increase in literary activities in the festival and in Ghana generally. I have seen an increase in the number of people who take part; I have also seen an increase in the number of countries that come. I have noticed an increase in Anglophone and Francophone collaborations. So, you have writers coming from English-speaking and French-speaking Africa, having panels on translation and critical engagements across the language borders, and all that is very important. I have always spoken about the fact that when you stand in Nigeria as a literary person and you look west, what you see is not Togo and Benin, what you see is Ghana, and that is important. It is important as people who live in one generation that we communicate effectively even with people who speak French and who are writing and thinking.
So, PaGya more than other festivals bears that in mind. I have come to know and meet Francophone writers. Today, there is someone from Cameroon and somebody from Togo; these are important engagements.
In terms of the literary practice, it functions more like a writers’ convention as opposed to meeting with the public; writers’ convention in the sense that writers have an opportunity to think, talk, engage, and quarrel literarily. This is because writing is a really very solitary activity, and good writers must isolate themselves to write and think alone. It is also important after doing that thinking to have a place where you interact with other writers, and all that is what happens in a place like PaGya, and I think in the calendar of Ghanaian literary festivals, it has not done badly. … So, overall it is a generally positive experience.
— Chuma Nwokolo
Author, The Extinction of Menai
Lawyer & Founder, BribeCode
To the organisers of the festival, we say a hearty congratulations on successfully hosting PaGya Literary Festival 2019. We look forward to attending future editions of the festival.
Amara Chimeka is one of our co-founders and Fiction Editor. When her nose is not buried in a book, reading, it is in some other bookish agenda like teaching reading, copyediting, proofreading, publishing, or hanging out at literary festivals.
CREDITS: Pelu Awofeso & Nana Damoah’s Pictures were culled from Twitter.com with their permission. We are grateful to Rev. Fr. Ositadimma Amakeze for his picture of Eghosa Imasuen at PaGya 2019, and to Bura-Bari Nwilo for sharing his photo. Phillippa Yaa Devilliers’ photo is courtesy Poem Hunter. Folarin Banigbe’s and Ayisha Abdullahi’s photos were culled from Instagram.com with their permission. Louisa Egbunike’s photo is courtesy cityac.co.uk. Chuma Nwokolo’s picture is courtesy Sahara Reporters.