Three good reads for the African summer

Gail Collins presents a round-up of all the new and interesting developments in the world of books relating to Africa.

Africa does not sleep. Its creative power is keeping it awake and waking up others too. Great authors continue to bring their stories to the world, literary programmes are ramping up and soon creative minds will be back together again, unleashing new ideas and encouraging fresh writers to tell their story.

This summer’s reads are already on their way and just published is When the Village Sleeps by Sindiwe Magona (May 2021, Picador Africa).

The South African novelist, playwright, scholar and activist in her 77th year, proves she has more stories to share with her latest sweeping saga on the strengths of South Africa and the effects of loss and dignity, told through the lives and spirits of four generations of amaTolo women.

Taking the reader between the bustling township of Kwanele and slow-paced rural village life, the book boldly explores contemporary issues and addresses the need for humans and nature to be in harmony.

Her autobiographies, To My Children’s Children and Forced To Grow – published in the early 90s – are a good representation of what it meant to grow up under Apartheid and are well worth a read.

Born in 1943, she was just five years old when Apartheid was officially introduced. Her pen has always been her sword in her bid to fight against injustices in South Africa and her influence has been strong, earning her many accolades for her work, including the Grinzane Award for writing that addresses social concerns and The Order of iKhamanga Presidential Award – the highest such award in South Africa.

Sankofa by Chibundo Onuzo (June 2021, Virago) is described as Girl, Woman, Other meets An American Marriage – a funny, gripping and surprising story of a mixed-race woman who goes in search of the West African father she never knew.

The title is a word in the Akan Twi and Fante languages of Ghana that translates to “retrieve” – a fitting title for the story. The award-winning Nigerian author of The Spider King’s Daughter (which she began writing when she was just 17 years old) and Welcome to Lagos does have reservations over being published in a continuing pandemic year and I admired how she summed it up in a recent Guardian interview:

“As publication day approaches, I remind myself that people have written during plagues, during famines, during world wars; through oppression, through starvation, through destitution. Writers always survive to tell our stories. 

“And we hope, no matter what the world looks like when we write them or when we publish them, that our stories will somehow find their way to those who need to read them as much as we needed to write them.”

On a lighter note, she also advocated the use of Zoom for live appearances – saying that if no-one turned up, you could just log off and slope back to your local!

A good business read

As the world is slowly trying to recover and heading back to the office, it might be a good time to pick up the recently published How Boards Work: And How They Can Work Better in a Chaotic World (The Bridge Street Press, May 2021). Dambisa Moyo, Zambian economist and NY Times bestselling author, is currently serving on the boards of Chevron and the 3M Company, so is well placed to give us her fifth book offering an insider’s view of corporate boards, what they do and how they must adapt to survive.

It is a recommended read not just for the seasoned board member or CEO but for anyone hoping to get their foot under the table in the future. Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, her work regularly appears in economic and finance-related publications such as the Financial Times, and in December 2020 she tied the knot with billionaire Jared Smith, co-founder of the cloud-based company, Quatrics.

Hargeysa hosts international festival

With travel back on the agenda, the Hargeysa International Book Fair 2021 is also back from 24-29 July, 2021. Hosted annually since 2008 by the Redsea Cultural Foundation, it is considered the largest literary exposition in the East African region and will this year be partnered by Ethiopia with an apt theme of ‘Neighbours’.

Writers, publishers, journalists and artists from around the world are expected to attend. The goals include promoting a culture of reading and writing in the region by strengthening and protecting local publishing of high-quality Somali literature and the translation of international classic works (including fiction, poetry and drama) into Somali.

Vibrant work by British-Nigerian illustrator

Across the globe, there is good news for one young British-Nigerian illustrator and activist – Dapo Adeola. He was asked to illustrate the 2021’s Books Are My Bag tote bag, which will be available in bookshops across the UK from 9 October to celebrate Bookshop Day – part of the Booksellers Association campaign to help independent booksellers.

His design, which gives new meaning to the word vibrant, beautifully showcases his skill. He is already well known for creating characters that challenge expectations around race and gender in a fun, upbeat way.

More of his work can be seen in the collaborative children’s book with writer and actor, Nathan Bryon, Look Up! The illustrations were inspired by his niece and last year it won the Waterstones children’s book of the year award and illustrated book category prize, and was described as “recasting the mould of traditional picture-book storytelling for a new era”.

Passionate about supporting Black illustrators, in 2019 he created the Twitter hashtag #BlackBritishIllustrators, where Black British creatives can share their artwork and stories.

Funding literacy across Africa

Last but certainly not least, the African Publishing Innovation Fund – a grant programme co-led with the UAE-based philanthropic organisation, Dubai Cares – has chosen five projects across Africa to receive $170,000 as a response to the educational shortfalls experienced in parts of Africa in the wake of the pandemic and the dramatic switch to digital home-based learning.

In Ghana, the Learner Girls Foundation will support 400 at-risk Ghanaian girls in a rural community to gain access to educational resources, despite the area’s internet connectivity challenges.

In Kenya, eKitabu will work alongside publishers to enrich the remote learning of students and teachers with accessible learning materials. Save the Children will train 270 librarians in Rwanda on the use of technology to strengthen the culture of reading in remote and rural communities, allowing 1.6m children to continue reading while unable to attend school.

In Tanzania, Book Aid International will transform three shipping containers into fully equipped libraries in rural Dunga, while Chirikure Chirikure, Zimbabwe’s most famous poet, will lead the initiative to build a modern community library in Nemashakwe that provides 800 students with access to books.

On that positive note, log off  from the computer, mute the mobile, turn off the world, choose a quite peaceful space and read that book you have been meaning to for ages. That is what I am off to do! 

Read more about African literature on our New African Readers’ Club page.

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