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How coronavirus birthed online literary festival

On March 23 a unique type of literary festival was introduced by writers of African origin curated by Kenyan author, Zukiswa Wanna. What was it like? Bookshelf reports.

The coronavirus epidemic has altered the way things are done in the world today since it hit China and rapidly spread across the world. Today, many people are isolating themselves and some countries on lockdown to stop the virus from spreading. To keep the literary space alive, 16 writers from 10 African countries organised the Afrolit Sans Frontieres Virtual Literary Festival curated by Zukiswa Wanner.

The writers, who shared from their works in English, French and Portuguese for eight days also include Nigeria’s Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, award-winning author of ‘The Whispering Trees’ (a short story collection) and ‘Season of Crimson Blossoms,’ and London-based award-winning writer Leye Adenle, author of the novels ‘Easy Motion Tourist’ and ‘When Trouble Sleeps.’

With James Murua’s Literature Blog as media partner in broadcasting videos, the festival kicked off on the first day with Congolese writer Richard Ali Mutu (who read in French) and Leye Adenle exploring the theme ‘Sex and the City’ in English.

Day two saw Hawa Golakai and Rémy Ngamije interrogating (in English) the topic ‘Black Shags in Fair Cape’ and day three Maaza Mengiste and Mukoma Wa Ngugi the topic ‘love and Revolution,’ also in English.

On the fourth day of the festival, South Africa’s Nozizwe Cynthia Jele and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim dealt with the topic ‘Grave and Deadly.’ Jele streamed from Johannesburg, South Africa while Ibrahim from Abuja, Nigeria. read in English from Instagram.

In an interview with Mail & Guardian, Wanner talked about how the coronavirus epidemic inspired the festival and how she was able to get in touch with all the writers via WhatsApp. Because she had read their books, it was easier for her to pair them to discuss different topic that would not bore the audience. For instance, sex as a theme was vital, she said, because “someone said people don’t want to be bored so let’s have sex as a theme,” adding that, because there was need for a sober theme, Jele and Ibrahim decided they wanted to do something about death.

A typical example of the themes includes ‘Sex to Kill/Die for’ discussed by Natasha Omokhodin-Kalulu Banda and Wanner, ‘Afrofuturistic Sexualities’ by Mohale Mashigo and Shadreck Chikoti, and ‘Sex at Home or Abroad’ explored by Bisi Adjapon and Yara Monteiro.

Overall, Wanner said, the event was designed to be fun so people will “realise there is sex and fun in African literature.” She pointed out that “we are not dealing only with issues-based, postcolonial, and postapartheid literature. Hopefully we’ll become a little bit more knowledgeable about our literature.

“One of the things that annoys me is that I don’t know as much literature as I’m supposed to, even though I’m a writer.”

The Afrolit Sans Frontieres Virtual Literary Festival is scheduled to end on Monday, March 30.

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