Monday, August 12, 2013

amaBooks in Kenya for a Feast of Literature

In June, we, Jane Morris and Brian Jones, the two directors of ’amaBooks, a small independent publisher based in Bulawayo, visited the bustling city of Nairobi, to participate in a workshop for those involved in promoting literature, as well as a series of literary events.

Luckily when we arrived we didn’t have to battle through rush-hour traffic as this is a foolhardy pursuit if you want to reach your destination in a reasonable time, with matatus zigzagging crazily through the long traffic jams.

The programme in Kenya was devised to celebrate the British Council’s partnership with Granta, the UK’s leading literary magazine on their recent announcement of the “Best of Young British Novelists 4”.

For three consecutive decades Granta has selected 20 young writers who have shown exceptional promise on the British literary scene. As well as the British Council in Kenya, the other local partner in the programme was Kwani Trust, a Kenya-based literary network dedicated to developing quality creative writing.

Running in parallel with our workshop on “Promoting New Writers” was a fiction writing workshop. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, the Zimbabwe representative, joined writers from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.

The young writers were able to interact with award-winning British writers Adam Foulds and Nadifa Mohamed (two of Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’), Granta’s Deputy Editor, Ella Allfrey and Kwani’s Managing Director Billy Kahora.
 Attending the workshop gave us the opportunity to interact with others involved on the literary scene from other African countries and we were particularly pleased to meet up with two of the co-publishers of our next book. Femrite from Uganda and Kwani in Kenya are also publishing the latest collection of short stories from the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 – “A Memory This Size”. The book has just arrived from the printers and will be in Zimbabwe outlets shortly.

Another highlight was exchanging ideas with the representatives from the Port Harcourt Book Festival, a literary event that takes place every October in the city, referred to as the Garden City, in the Niger Delta. Port Harcourt has had the honour bestowed on it of being elected as the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2014, the first city in sub-Saharan African to be chosen. The organizers of the festival are actively involved in promoting a reading and writing culture.

The workshop gave each participant the opportunity to talk about their experience of events and one of the examples we shared was the launches we had organized for the most recent book in the short writings series “Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe”, which seemed to fit in well with the theme of the workshop of promoting new writers.

We have used each of the five books in the short writings series to introduce new writers to the Zimbabwean reading public, through including their work with those of more established writers. Because of the scattering of Zimbabwean writers, we, for the first time, launched the book in South Africa as well as in Zimbabwe.

The venue for the launch was the Writers’ Centre at Wits University, where three of the writers featured in the collection, Thabisani Ndlovu, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Sandisile Tshuma, read from their pieces and answered questions from the audience. The Zimbabwe launch of the anthology, during the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo and held at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, featured readings, as well as a live drawing by the artist Owen Maseko, based on the short story “Snapshots” by NoViolet Bulawayo.

The growing emphasis on the use of social media in attracting and maintaining audiences for literary events was a key part of the workshop. Kwani gave the example of publicizing their events using Twitter and the innovative method of people buying a book prior to a launch by using Mpesa, an East African payment method via cell phones.

After the workshop, we were treated to a variety of literary events organized to celebrate Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, featuring readings and discussions with Adam Foulds, Nadifa Mohamed and Kenyan writers. Adam Foulds read from several of his books, including his narrative poem, “The Broken Word”, set in Kenya about the Mau Mau uprising.
Nadifa’s readings were mainly from “Black Mamba Boy”, her fictionalized account of her father’s early life in the Horn of Africa. The literary week ended with Granta, Kwani and British Council combining to stage the ‘Best of Young British Novelists 4 Sunday Salon’; on a balmy Sunday afternoon it was a fitting end to what had truly been a literary feast. 
The picture shows Ellah Allfrey, Nadifa Mohamed, Zukiswa Wanner, Adam Foulds and others.
– By Jane Morris and Brian Jones © Panorama Magazine 2013.

from Panorama Magazine (

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