Between 2015-2019, the world saw the birth, end and enduring stagnancy of up to five African literary magazines. From Kenya’s Enkare to Nigeria’s Expound, African literary spaces have historically been hard to run, regardless of their cultural impact and the important spaces they provide emerging African writers.
With finances being the major stymie to successfully running publications of top-quality for a long period of time, African literary spaces have continued to suffer from untimely deaths, however avoidable they could be. Literary publications in other parts of the world, with the U.S and U.K at the top of this movement, have been able to ride through harsh financial storms with the help of patrons, grants, funding from academic institutions (in the case of university publications), and thriving culture of subscription-based content largely bolstered by a high appreciation for the arts and carefully curated content.
With all of these currently unavailable to young people in the African literary community, self-sustenance looks to be the way to go. While writers like Troy Onyango, Ukamaka Olisakwe, and Remy Ngajime are building new literary ecosystems and getting many young, vibrant writers to submit their work, they are also coming up with inventive means to keeping these hubs alive.
Through fundraising and hosting writing classes, publications like Lolwe, founded by Troy Onyango just a few months ago, are able to publish some of the finest literary pieces coming out of Africa today and pay their contributors while at it. Isele Magazine founded by author Ukamaka Olisakwe also runs on a payment-for-work received basis and this is nothing short of exciting.
If you have been following the African literary scene for the past ten years, you would know why these payment policies are not only helpful for emerging and established writers who are submitting their work to African spaces- as against vying for spaces in often viciously exclusionary publications outside the continent, this recent development also marks a huge point of revival for Africa’s evolving literary community.
From all indicators, there is about to be a heavy deprioritisation of Western-funded literary prizes and publications and an increased focus on growing our own literary spaces, engineering their full-blown growth, and expanding their cultural impact. There is no better time, more than now, for the African literary ecosystem to see the change it has been denied for a long time now.
Nelson C.J is a culture writer with works in The New York Times, Xtra Magazine, OkayAfrica, Black Youth Project, AfroPunk, and a few other spaces. You can find him saving dog pictures on Twitter.