Literary festivals are better attended than talked about. Some may wonder what it is about a festival of books and authors that is worth anyone’s while. Some imagine literary festivals to be all about people selling books and authors sitting at tables piled with copies of books, pen in hand to sign you an autograph. Literary festivals offer way more than that, especially the African ones.
Readers are offered an almost endless range of book choices. Authors display their books and talk about them. (Book lovers are over the moon when they see gorgeous book covers.) Established authors teach the craft of writing to wannabes. Spoken word poets charm listeners with sublime poetry. Dance troupes leap onto the stage to wow their audience. Theater groups stage plays of celebrated dramatists. To further spice things up, musicians fill the air with riveting songs. So, literary festivals aren’t boring at all. Across Africa, there is a growing number of these literary festivals, and book lovers and literary festivalgoers are certainly happier for it.
Check out 5 exciting literary festivals in Africa that you should consider attending…
#1. Aké Arts and Book Festival (Nigeria)
Founded in 2013 by the Nigerian poet and novelist Lola Shoneyin, the Aké Arts and Book Festival is one of Africa’s biggest and most impactful literary and arts festivals. It is named after Aké, the birthplace of Africa’s first Nobel laureate in Literature, Wole Soyinka, a town celebrated in his 1981 classic memoir, Aké: The Years of Childhood.
The festival is now held in Lagos (usually in October or November), bringing together writers, authors, storytellers, artists, dancers, filmmakers, book lovers, and art aficionados for three days of literary and cultural immersion. Aké Festival has made a deep impression on the African literary landscape through a mix of themed cultural exchanges, a provision of safe space for black people to discuss even taboo topics, and huge publicity for both established and fledgling writers and artists. Notable writers at the festival include Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ama Ata Aidoo, Maryse Condé, and Abdulrazak Gurnah. No doubt, Aké Festival is fun and glamorous, too.
#2. Macondo Literary Festival (Kenya)
The Macondo Literary Festival is one of East Africa’s biggest literary festivals. It takes its name from the fictional setting of the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a place full of magical things. One of the “magical things” about this literary festival is that it promotes writing beyond linguistic borders in Africa by bringing together Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone African writers to showcase their writing.
The three-day festival has featured writers including Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah (Tanzania), Mia Couto (Mozambique), José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola), Naivo Patrick (Madagascar), and Mohamed (Somalia). The festival was founded by the prize-winning journalist Anja Bengelstorff and the novelist and Caine Prize winner, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.
#3. Pa Gya! (Ghana)
“Pa Gya” is an Adinkra expression that means “to start a fire.” In Twi, which is pronounced differently, it means “to lift up.” One thing is sure about the literary festival in Ghana named Pa Gya! — it lifts the hearts and minds of festivalgoers and lights in them the fire of love for literature and reading.
A three-day festival usually held in October, Pa Gya! features book readings, panel discussions, book launches, and award prizes. An initiative of the Writers Project of Ghana, it was established in 2017, with the Goethe Institute as a partner.
#4. Mogadishu Book Fair (Somalia)
The Mogadishu Book Fair, founded by Sheik Mohamed Diini, brings together writers, authors, intellectuals, book lovers, and booksellers to celebrate literature and all forms of human expression in the Horn of Africa. Over a period of three days, the festival promotes countless books written in both the Somali and English languages. It is a big festival that attracts high-profile personalities in Somali society and writers from abroad. The 2023 edition of the festival has been scheduled for May 24 to 26.
#5. Time of the Writer Festival (South Africa)
Time of the Writer Festival, founded in 1996, is one of South Africa’s longest-running and biggest literary festivals. It is held in Durban and is organized by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts. It seeks to use the agency of literature to encourage nation-building and social cohesion and invites eminent poets, playwrights, fiction writers, scholars, and intellectuals from South Africa and Africa, including Zakes Mda, Fred Khumalo, Zukiswa Wanner, Niq Mhlongo, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Sue Nyathi.
The impact of the Time of the Writer Festival over the years led to the award of UNESCO City of Literature to Durban in 2017. The Festival also sponsors an annual short story competition for unpublished writers. The 2023 edition of the festival runs from March 16 to 21.
Featured image: @akefestival/Instagram
For the latest in fashion, lifestyle, and culture, follow us on Instagram @StyleRave_
A writer fascinated by humanity and diversity. He is the author of Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country.