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ECAS 2019. Africa: Connections and Disruptions

(Lang03)
Literary Activism in Twenty-First Century Africa: Networks, Commons and Publics
Location
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions [TBD]

Convenors

  • Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol) email
  • Kate Wallis (University of Exeter) email

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Chair Panel 1: Dr Madhu Krishnan, Panel 2: Dr Kate Wallis

Short abstract

This panel seeks papers which engage with literary activism, defined as the creation of new spaces for literary expression and exchange, in contemporary Africa. How do these spaces offer new modes for thinking about social production in Africa today? What topographies can literary activism offer?

Long abstract

This panel begins from the premise that, in the absence of state-sponsorship or large-scale formalised structures, the creation of new spaces for literary expression and exchange functions as a type of activism through its de-centring of the topographies of knowledge production and its constitution of new types of social formations. We invite papers which explore the multi-faceted landscapes of literary activism operating in Africa today. From new writing prizes to literary festivals and spoken word nights; translation initiatives to mobile libraries and book distribution outlets; podcasting and social media to small magazines and print books, the African continent today is host to myriad modes of literary activism and engagement. These in turn offer new ways to conceptualise the boundaries of the social, through the creation of literary networks, collectives, commons and new literary publics. Here we look at the potential of forms of literary activism to bring together literary producers, writers and readers across languages and geographical contexts to ask: What histories and trajectories of literary activism can we map across the continent? What connections, networks and articulations emerge when we consider the long and multi-lingual trajectory of literary activism in its most robust form? How do self-defined literary activists conceive of their role in contemporary Africa? What forms of claims-making emerge around citizenship, society and public life through their work? What forms of literary activism in evidence in Africa post-2000 offer sustainable and portable models for long-term impact?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Self-funding and Crowdfunding: Owning Poetry Performances in Dar es Salaam

Author: Nikitta Adjirakor (University of Bayreuth) email
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Short abstract

This paper critically addresses the questions of ownership and patronage of performance poetry spaces in Dar es Salaam. Focusing on self-funding and crowdfunding, it explores their roles and impact in the conceiving and (re)shaping of performance spaces.

Long abstract

This paper critically addresses the questions of ownership and patronage of performance poetry spaces in Dar es Salaam. Highlighting the question of funding, it focuses on what I will call 'internal funding', to refer to two specific funding forms: self-funding and crowdfunding. Drawing on fieldwork in poetry and performance in Dar es Salaam, this paper explores the role and impact of internal funding on performance spaces. The paper demonstrates that the featured funding forms highlight artistic agency by allowing artists to position themselves as activists for artistic freedom by creating spaces that resist foreign intrusion. Either funded by the artists themselves or by the direct audience, such spaces actively disrupt and reshape social as well as artistic boundaries by repositioning the literary scene as a form of engagement between audience and artists. Through this communal network, the line between artist, audience, patron and client becomes blurred. In addition, crowdfunding as a form of funding occurs both physically and digitally, thus creating networks that traverses across worlds.

The paper addresses the following questions. How are performance poetry events (re)shaped by the funding within which they are conceived? How do artists navigate the double role of artist and funder and what impact does this have on their sense of self in these spaces? How do questions of ownership and patronage play out in these spaces and what meanings emerge from them? ?

Decolonizing the Canon: Lingua Franca Spoken Word Movement and the Transformation of South African Poetry Institutions

Author: Susanna Sacks (Northwestern University) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyzes the poetry and community organizing practices of Cape Town-based Lingua Franca Spoken Word Movement within the context of the movement to decolonize higher education. I argue that their work creates literary spaces for anti-colonial poetry production and education.

Long abstract

In South Africa, poetry is often described as existing in two spaces, each tied into questions of cultural prestige: the alienated space of the classroom and the popular space of performance or protest. The recent push to decolonize higher education, however, has destabilized this division. As Rafael d'Abdon and Denise Newfield (2015) demonstrate, contemporary schoolrooms are negotiating space for a multimodal poetic practice. The divide between elite and popular blurs as works like Koleka Putuma's Collective Amnesia are assigned in university classrooms and slam poets like Roché Kester are included in elite events like Poetry Africa. This paper explores the decolonization of poetry in South Africa through the work of the Lingua Franca Spoken Word Movement. Lingua Franca is a poetry collective based in Cape Town, where they run youth poetry workshops, organize arts festivals, host open mics, and curate multicentric performances. At the 2015 Open Book Festival, Lingua Franca organized a panel on spoken word poetry that launched a debate about the current state of performance poetry - influenced by U.S. and British poets - and its future. Beginning from this debate, this paper traces Lingua Franca's institutional and formal influence on South African performance poetry. Over the past three years, Lingua Franca has hosted a series of performances and festivals focused on indigenizing the poetry scene in South Africa through multimodal performances. This paper argues that their hybrid approach to form, in conjunction with the poetry workshops and arts festivals, offers a model of anti-colonial poetry education.

Walk the Talk: A Preliminary Study on Publishers and the Creation of the New Reading Markets

Author: Zamda Ramadhani Geuza (University of Dar es Salaam) email
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Short abstract

This study investigates the changing patterns of Tanzanian book market in creation of the new identity and space by the publishers in the 21st Century for the new reading market. The study investigates the changing pattern through examining the text and visual materials in which the new market exist

Long abstract

Publishers are agents of change; they work with authors in a producing content for potential readers who by their nature or interests find reasons to read books. In a commercial publishing industry, books are for financial or social benefit, thus making a living to publishers, authors and booksellers. This has not been the case especially after change from multiple textbook publishing to the state publishing in Tanzania. It is in during this period that we witness the birth of new groups of readers, creation of the new identity and space of the Tanzania publishers. The need to survive in a market where reading for leisure is not always overt call for the imaging of the new reading market through various means and forms. Thus, struggling to revive the order in which publishing is not only a means for literacy, but rather a tool for social identity. New forms starts to image especially with advancement of technology and publishers starts to play an active role in publishing books for the market that was unveiled. This study investigates the changing patterns of Tanzanian book market in creation of the new identity and space by the publishers in the 21st Century for the new reading market. The text and visual materials are analysed to understand these changing patterns with the new market in Tanzania. Therefore, the study investigates how publishers have managed to survive in the market through consumption and reception of new books framed to evoke interest through creating new reading patterns.

TRANISTIONING FROM ORAL TO A WRITTEN CULTURE: The impact of Hargeysa International Book Fair

Author: Jama Jama Musse (Redsea Cultural Foundation) email
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Short abstract

This article focuses on the various stages of transitions the Somali society has gone through in relations to arts and culture and our efforts over the last fifteen years to help our society transition from oral to a written culture through the launching of Hargeysa International Book Fair in 2008.

Long abstract

This article focuses on the various stages of transitions the Somali society has gone through in relations to arts and culture and our efforts over the last fifteen years to help our society transition from oral to a written culture through the launching of Hargeysa International Book Fair (HIBF) in 2008. In order to better understand the historical contexts and conditions in which we started HIBF and operate, the first part of this article provides the necessary background, followed by analysis of the state of Somali literature and the transformation we have witnessed. Lastly I conclude with some reflections on the impact of these efforts, HIBF and what I foresee both for Somali literature and in the wider African context.

Okadabooks, E-Book Publishing and the Distribution of Homegrown Nigerian Literature

Author: Temitayo Olofinlua (University of Ibadan) email
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Short abstract

The article is an investigation of Okadabooks, a Nigerian e-book publishing and reading platform in the light of similar innovations like Amazon. The article explores the relationship between writing online, self-publishing, e-book publishing and what it means for the Nigerian publishing industry.

Long abstract

This article examines the book distribution challenge in Nigeria and explores the e-book publishing approach as a solution for local book production even as it ensures that books are published more easily, books are more affordable and available even as writers get paid for their talent. It also attempts an in-depth investigation of Okadabooks, a Nigerian e-book publishing and reading platform in the light of similar innovations like Amazon. The article explores the relationship between writing online, self-publishing, e-book publishing and what it means for the Nigerian publishing industry. Through interviews as well as analysis of the operations of Okadabooks, the article argues that Okadabooks is opening up spaces for homegrown Nigerian literary talent. Finally, the article highlights Okadabooks' online and offline efforts—partnerships, establishment of writing prizes, social media campaigns and community social responsibility efforts—to reach an emerging community of readers and writers online in a way that opens Nigerian literature to new reading publics.

Poezi enn Rebel and The Mauritian Economy of Prestige

Author: Rashi Rohatgi (Nord University) email
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Short abstract

Focusing on the interplay between institutional orientation and postcolonial literary activism, the chronicle of two Mauritian literary prizes' rise and fall in the early 2000s - one sponsored by a hotel, and the other by the vernacular movement.

Long abstract

This essay is a comparative case study of two Mauritian literary prizes, held respectively by the market-oriented global hotel chain Le Prince Maurice and the market-critiquing local activist organization Ledikasyon Pu Travayer. Focusing on the interplay between institutional orientation and self-conscious postcolonial literary positioning, the chronicle of these prizes' rise and fall in the first decade of the 2000s reflects world literary concerns about literary excellence, literary freedom, and the risks and rewards of wielding literature as a object carrying the symbolic power of the centre. Following James English's observation that "today it is more than ever apparent that the economy of cultural prestige is a global one, in which the many local cultural markets and local scales of value are bound into ever tighter relations of interdependence" (259) in which, to follow Sara Broiillette, "difference [is translated] into a surface fetish" (2014: 116), the prizes' utter differences in context yet similarities in intent offer support to Graham Huggan's understanding of the prizes as things which "bring the ideological character of evaluation to the fore" (117). In each examined case - both of the company seeking tourists and the activists asserting significance - the literary prize served as a tool with which a Mauritian institution might perform internationalism; in both cases the trajectory of each prize's failure to break into international consciousness highlights the false hope of each institution that this internationalism could be characterized by an ahistorical equality.

New Literary Spaces and Networks in Malawi

Author: Joanna Woods (Stockholm University) email
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Short abstract

This paper seeks to engage with urban literary spaces and digital networks in contemporary Malawi. Using example of social production in Blantyre, how are local literary spaces in the city and related global social media spaces reconfiguring the way we think about knowledge production in Malawi?

Long abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine the creation of urban literary spaces and digital networks in contemporary Malawi. Alexander Beecrofts's notion of 'biomes' and his consideration for "the interaction of literature with its environment" (2015, 3) is a starting point. But I thereafter wish to concentrate on the idea that literary activism is a weave of the local and the global, manifesting in various coexisting structural ways (thus, following Krishnan, 2019). Since around 2010 there has been a new wave of excitement about creative writing and literary expression in Malawi's second largest city, Blantyre. This paper particularly considers 'KwaHaraba', a bookshop, art gallery and café in the city, which offers a space for literary events, most regularly spoken word poetry sessions. It is through spaces such as KwaHaraba that literary exchange functions as activism, mobilizing and building communities and publics in Blantyre, and Malawi, today. Further, it is a contention of this paper to suggest that the urban literary topography, demonstrated by the example of KwaHaraba, may now constitute an alternative to once centralised modes of knowledge production and circulation: the academic institution; the University of Malawi and its Writers' Workshop (1970s onwards). Moreover, the local urban literary space: KwaHaraba is stimulated by digital social media networks, especially Facebook. The paper therefore fundamentally aims to show that both local and global 'scapes' (Arjun Appadurai, 1990) contribute to social formations and contemporary literary output in Malawi today.

Exploring New Creative Writing Teaching Pedagogies in sub Saharan Africa

Author: Billy Kahora (University of Bristol) email
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Short abstract

This paper explores the relationship between informal modes of creative writing teaching and increased post 2000 literary production in sub Saharan Africa to argue for new voice based pedagogies of creative writing teaching and how they can be integrated into higher education.

Long abstract

Creative Writing workshops have been part of literary production in Africa for decades. These have served as extra-curricular platforms outside institutes of higher education to fill a demand for creative instruction. A post 2000

increase in literary production by individuals, artist collectives and literary NGOs has also seen a growth and differentiation in creative writing instruction. This has developed into an unregulated sector in a largely informal creative industry if not an economy - and yet creative writing instruction in sub Saharan Africa is yet to be widely formalised for different reasons.

This paper starts by looking at the history of the creative writing workshop in America and how it emerged from widespread evolution in education policy into the ubiquitous MFA. Using this history the paper draws parallels in sub Saharan Africa arguing that major post 2000 demand for creative arts is creating the need for a similar shift in mainstream education policy. The paper then traces the relationship between existing informal modes of creative writing teaching, increased post 2000 literary production in sub Saharan Africa within this context.

Using feedback received from participants at a recent creative writing workshop held in Nairobi testing different variables it argues for a hybrid between narratological approaches based on voice; user friendly models; and commercial sustainability through which pedagogies can be developed to integrate creative writing teaching into higher education. It proposes an approach to creative writing pedagogies that could bridge the gap between informal instruction and formal programmes for creative writing teaching.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.