The power of literary festivals in celebrating African literature

Exploring the world of literary festivals unveils a captivating tapestry of storytelling, culture, and creativity. These vibrant gatherings serve as beacons of literary excellence, where authors from diverse backgrounds converge to share their narratives, connect with readers, and celebrate the power of words.

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Literary festivals are events that celebrate literature, authors, and books. They often feature engaging author readings, audience book signings, insightful panel discussions, and thought-provoking workshops. These festivals provide a platform for writers to showcase their work, connect with readers, and engage in meaningful discussions about literature and culture.

If you have ever been to a typical festival, you can feel the air crackle with excitement as authors take the stage, their books tucked under their arms. They read excerpts from their works, their voices filled with passion and conviction. You can also feel the intent listening of the audience, nodding in agreement as the writers share their perspectives on life in Africa, from the challenges of daily existence to the triumphs of the human spirit. These literary festivals are not just celebrations of the written word but platforms for African authors to share their stories with the world.

Some of these literary festivals are:

Ake Arts and Book Festival in Nigeria

The Ake Arts and Book Festival is an annual literary and cultural event held every November in Nigeria. The festival is organised by the Book Buzz Foundation, a non-governmental organisation founded in 2012 by a small but dynamic team of four women: Lola Shoneyin, Ms. Mojisola Adeniran and Dr. Soji Adelaja.

Now in its twelfth year, the Ake Arts & Book Festival has brought over 1000 writers, poets, musicians, actors, filmmakers, artists, and thinkers together to celebrate creativity. The main aims of the Book Buzz Foundation are to promote literacy, especially amongst children of school-going age; to develop reading tools and resources to support schools in the creation of reading spaces; and to organise events and festivals that promote literacy, reading and Culture.

The festival features book readings, panel discussions, art exhibitions, film screenings, and performances, creating a vibrant platform for creative expression and cultural exchange. Ake Arts Festival plays a significant role in promoting African literature and providing a space for diverse voices to be heard and appreciated.

Open Book Festival in South Africa

The Open Book Festival is an annual literary festival held every September in Cape Town, South Africa, with a focus on South African literature in an international context. The event includes over 150 literary events featuring over 100 authors over five days. Although South African literature features prominently, literature from across the world is also featured in the festival’s events.

The event, which was initiated by Mervyn Sloman and Ben Williams, has four major elements to its vision, which are:

  • A festival that attracts top writers and audiences
  • A fantastic showcase of the best of South African writing
  • Making a significant and sustainable contribution to our future by building a love of reading and books among the youth of Cape Town and
  • Drawing representative audiences to all Open Book events.
Image via Zenex Foundation

The Macondo Literary Festival in 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 was founded by the prize-winning journalist Anja Bengelstorffand the novelist and Caine Prize winner, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who sought to organize regular literary festivals and other events that promote literature and authors of and from Africa beyond linguistic borders to amplify and showcase the rich diversity of literature from and of Africa, and to provide a public platform to initiate and encourage, through literature, the engagement of a wider public with Africa’s histories and its significance for the present and future of the continent as a means of societal growth. This year’s edition is set to take place from September 20–22, 2024.

Mogadishu Book Fair in Somalia

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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 in August, the festival promotes countless books written in both the Somali and English languages.

In the last decade and a half, there has been a rise of literary festivals where writers and readers interact over their text and how it affects their lives. The festivals bring creatives closer to those who consume their works. But beyond that, there is a palpable sense of community with which people create these safe spaces. People representing different countries cultivate a feeling of togetherness among book enthusiasts and offer chances for budding writers to glean wisdom from seasoned authors.

There has also been a growth in the love of authentic narratives from Africa, and a hunger for spaces to listen and support African voices and the importance of archiving, publishing and reading. African literary festivals have become a window open to the world where we give the world access to our stories which advocates for cultural interchange.

Quramo Festival of Words in Nigeria

Quramo Festival of Words unveils dates for 2023 edition
Image via TheCable

Quramo Publishing, a subsidiary of Quramo Media and sister company to Quramo Productions, has consistently championed the creation of best-selling books and thought-provoking films.

The Quramo Festival of Words, now in its seventh year, attracts thousands of attendees every October who participate in workshops, masterclasses, panel discussions, book chats, readings, and literary competitions and enjoy stage plays, short films, and live music performances. The festival carries a unique theme for each edition, emphasizing the celebration and documentation of Africa’s positive contributions to the global creative economy.

Why Africa needs more literary festivals

Literary festivals stand as a beacon of African literary and cultural celebration, uniting individuals in a shared love for literature and art. Through its diverse offerings and vibrant atmosphere, these festivals not only showcase the richness of African storytelling but also foster a sense of community and creativity among attendees. It serves as a testament to the power of literature in bringing people together and celebrating the diverse voices and narratives of the continent.

There is a pressing need for literary festivals in Africa to continue championing the essence of reading, literacy, and cultural exchange. By expanding these festivals, we can further cultivate a sense of community among book lovers, provide aspiring writers with invaluable learning opportunities from established authors, and contribute to the preservation and promotion of literature.

Moreover, these festivals serve as catalysts for encouraging creativity, intellectual discourse, and the celebration of diverse cultural expressions through storytelling, which enrich the literary landscape and foster a deeper appreciation for African narratives and voices.


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