The countdown for the 2019 Ake Book and Arts Festival has begun in earnest and this year, the theme this year, ‘Black Bodies, Grey Matter‘ centers the African narrative, asking us interrogate who decides what the authentic African experience is.
The 2019 Ake Arts and Book Festival will explore the nexus between the mental and the physical, and explore specific phenomena such as scarification, body image, tattoos, stereotyping, gender nonconformity, colorism, and issues around mental health within an African context.
Apart from the theme this year, I’m also very excited for the 80-man strong guest list who bring diverse experiences, academic knowledge and novel ideas. I am particularly excited about these 10 guests (in no particular order).
It’s a little surprising (at least to me) that this is the first time Ayodeji Rotinwa is joining the Ake roll call as an invited guest. Since he left his job as a writer at ThisDay Style to pursue the stories that truly interest him as a freelance journalist, Rotinwa has been published in many of the most prestigious news and media publications including the Financial Times and the New York Times.
As the new editor of African Arguments, Rotinwa is helping other writers find their voices and shape conversations on the continent as it regards cinema, politics, gender and sexuality, economics and entertainment. He brings his insights and his wealth of experience to the Ake stage this year.
Many know Azeenarh Mohammed as an activist for human rights and as the director of non-profit The Initiative For Equal Rights (TIERS). But Azeenarh is also an accomplished researcher, curator and author, putting all three skills to task to midwife She Called Me Woman, West Africa’s first non-fiction anthology that focuses entirely on the lives and experiences of Lesbian, Queer, Trans and Intersex women.
Limited by book length, She Called Me Woman only provides a cursory glance into the complex lives and experiences of the country’s female LGBT population and with Azeenarh brings the stories and insights she had to leave off the page to the Ake stage this year.
Chidera Muoka is another of the first time guests to the Ake Book and Arts Festival, fresh off her decision to leave her role as the editor-in-chief and creative director of the Sunday pullout magazine Guardian Life. Muoka’s tenure as editor was marked by her daring approach to publishing, and her decision to highlight young talent, social issues and underrepresented demographics. She was the first editor to put LGBT issues on the cover of a nationally syndicated magazine in a way that wasn’t demeaning or patronizing.
It’d be really interesting to see how Muoka brings her experiences at the helm of a print magazine to the Ake stage.
Damilola Marcus is known for many things, her work as a graphic designer, her explorations of feminist theory through her social media avatar Omoge Dami and her work in activism through the Market March, a non-profit she created to address sexual harassment in public markets. Articulate and unafraid of confrontation, Marcus’s conversations whether online or offline are always challenging and boundary pushing.
Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu has been called by some as Uganda most important work of fiction, and it is an honour well deserved if you look at the accolades the book has received and fame it has brought to Makumbi. But Makumbi’s second book, Manchester Happened, allayed all concerns that her work was limited to her understanding of her home country, and announced her as one of the continent’s literary greats. It would be an honour to hear her speak on fiction, the place of the writer in a contemporary world and her awe-inspiring books.
Another Caine Prize winner, Leila Aboulela has been one of North Africa’s most compelling novelists, bringing to the fore the complex and challenging lives Muslimah women across the North lead. She won the Caine Prize in 2000 for her short story ‘The Museum and has had all her short story collections and novels have received global acclaim. To have such a revered writer join the guests at this year’s festival is a rare privilege and one
I am particularly excited to see Deaduramilade join the Ake Festival this year as a guest. She’s been a regular fixture since the festival started, attending first as a visitor then learning the ropes from inside as a volunteer for the festival in 2017. As a book enthusiast, Deaduramilade understands how powerful the festival can be for its young visitors and can help steer conversations to the present concerns of the audience.
I first discovered Sibongile Fisher’s work when she was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize in 2016 for her short story ‘A Door Ajar’. Unlike anything else I have ever read, Fisher splays open matrilineal relationship, adding layers of tasteful grotesquerie and increasing desperation to build to one of the best climaxes I’ve ever read from any writer. Fisher rightfully won the prize in 2016 and expanded her repertoire into poetry, n0n-fiction and drama.
This will be Fisher’s first time at Ake, and I am excited for the energy she’ll bring to the festival.
Nnamdi ‘Mino’ Ehirim recently published his debut novel, Prince Of Monkeys, praised for Ehirim’s compelling language and his subject matter, which subverts the common tropes of civil war era fiction or diasporic immigrant stories. As compelling an orator as he is a writer (his conversation with Ope Adedeji will win almost anyone over), Ehirim stands as a different kind of young African writer, beholden to no one but the work that must be done.
Tope Folarin’s work in short fiction is hard to ignore. He won the Caine Prize in 2013 for his short story Miracle, a biting satire that dissects the obsession with religion and spirituality that cripples many African families. He was shortlisted in 2016 for the Caine Prize, an affirmation of his place in the Nigerian literary canon. Since then, Folarin has put in significant work into a much larger body of work, his debut novel A Particular Kind of Black Man published by Simon & Schuster in 2019.
The book, which expands on his explorations of the friction that occurs in Nigerian immigrant families who try to assimiliate into Western culture and the controversy over his Caine Prize win as the first African writer in diaspora to win the prize will be interesting touchstones during his time at Ake.
I’m particularly excited to see Wale Lawal on this year’s Ake guest list because of his excellent short in the Chris Abani edited anthology Lagos Noir, and the stellar work he is doing with The Republic Journal, one of the few non-fiction literary magazines that tackles social issues that matter to young people across the continent. Lawal will bring his insights from running the magazine for two years to the Ake stage and help contextualize many of the important conversations that will be had.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.