Early this month, London played host to the Royal African Society’s fourth annual Africa Writes Festival, uniting lovers of African literature together at the British Library.
The performances, panel discussions and speeches were breathtaking and touched on revolutionary and inspiring ideals. Yomi Sode’s COAT brought the house down as he opened the festival on Friday with his popular one-man show exploring topics ranging from immigration to identity. Other amazing events that took place during the three-day festival included Nigerian author Chike Edozien’s discussion of his book, Lives of Great Men; gal-dem’s own Liv Little joining a panel discussion with founder of Black Pride; Phyll Opoku-Gyimah on being a queer black womxn; and writers’ Akwaeke Emezi, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Troy Onyango, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Panashe Chigumadzi discussion of African books that inspired them in their childhood and which books continue to inspire them now. There was a fantastic range of panels, that touched people both young and old, with many older generations expressing amazement at how engaged and knowledgeable the younger attendees were about African literature. The news that the headliner, Warsan Shire, would no longer be able to attend was disappointing, but she was still able to judge Africa Writes’ AFREADA Competition, of which Maame Blue was the winner.
“There was a fantastic range of panels, that touched people both young and old”
On Saturday evening everyone was treated to a Wakandan-themed party at Rich Mix London filled with music, poetry and good vibes (and gal-dem DJs!). The Octavia Poetry Collective were the featured poets at the party, and delivered several powerful and evocative verses. The group of female poets of colour, which includes a number of Barbican Young Poets, came together organically through founder Rachel Long’s efforts to counteract the “lack of inclusivity and representation in literature (and) academia” and to provide a space for them to support one another. It was truly beautiful seeing them perform at the party, and I’m sure that their powerful words touched all of the women and non-binary people in attendance that night.
Other members of the Collective, Theresa Lola and Victoria Bulley, were also there to support some of the young students from London performing, with whom they had spent the last year delivering poetry workshops and helping them find their voices. Many of the poetry performed by students as young as 10 years old were extremely moving, and a stand out for me was My Rag My Crown – a young black girls’ poem on reclaiming her Muslim identity. Theresa and Victoria are keen to deliver more workshops in the future, and to continue to grow from strength to strength. As Theresa Lola noted, the collective is an important group for young women of colour everywhere as each writer has their own, unique voice, highlighting the different stories women of colour poets have to tell.
All in all, my first Africa Writes festival exceeded my expectations. I met lots of like-minded people, was introduced to fantastic burgeoning authors and left feeling inspired and proud to be of African descent.