Editor’s Note: African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa’s most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. Follow the team on Twitter.
Global interest in African writing has increased in recent years
Writers from the continent have become sought after in the publishing world
Local content producers and independent publishers have helped the scene to develop
Take a moment and think of an African author. Have you got the name in mind? Keep it there for a minute.
But lately new names from across the continent are becoming part of popular literary consciousness. “Purple Hibiscus,” “Half of a Yellow Sun” and more recently “Americanah” have brought international acclaim for Nigerian author du jour, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
She joins a growing list of popular African authors – including NoViolet Bulawayo, Binyavanga Wainaina, Taiye Selasi, Lauren Beukes, Alain Mabanckou – who have been steadily picking up steam –and fans – across the globe over the last several years.
‘Democratization of culture’
But where has this new wave of African writers come from? For Minna Salami, an award-winning blogger specializing in African culture and the diaspora, they were always there – the rest of the world just didn’t know how to find them.
“The world is far more interconnected thanks to technology and social media,” Salami told CNN. “It’s an exciting time … People are checking out alternative literature and Africa – in its position as a kind of underdog – provides that perfect place to go and seek alternative voices that help people make sense of the world.
“It’s kind of democratization of culture so people cannot ignore voices coming from other parts of the world,” added Salami, also known by her digital moniker MsAfropolitan. “And when something is good, it obviously catches people’s attention. Before it would not have reached any mainstream; now it is, thanks to bloggers and local content production.”
True, indigenous content producers and independent publishers have slowly developed in recent years all across the continent. In Cape Town and beyond, enthusiastic readers can pick up a copy of The Chronic, a pan-African gazzette by Chimurenga that’s successfully putting a spotlight on an eclectic mix of writers, photographers and illustrators from the continent. Concurrently in Kenya, there is the Kwani Trust, a Nairobi-based organization that works to promote up-and-coming local writers through its publication, Kwani?.
More and more, stories are resonating with readers because they reveal the day-to-day issues faced by locals, according to the journal’s managing editor, Billy Kahora.
“Just think about stories off the page, or off the book, when you think about how stories organically take place,” he explained. “These are stories with a kind of narrative that people tell each other in public spaces, like churches, bars, on the street. All these stories are really locally grounded and are actually kind of written in the immediate concerns of what’s happening about.”
Celebrating African writers
But it’s not just literary collectives that are driving interest towards contemporary authors. Many in the publishing industry cite the numerous international awards, which now frequently acknowledge and celebrate African writers – for helping develop the surge in popularity for authors.