Together for Libreria: Our first Literandra Events

f you’ve been following us on Instagram, you’ll know that the month of October was a busy but rewarding month for us. On the 4th, I appeared on BBC 4 for a Front Row session, where I, along with two other avid readers, had a chat with two-time Booker Prize Shortlisted author Chigozie Obioma about his latest novel ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ in the run-up of the Booker Prize Winner reveal. On the 17th, we hosted our first event at Libreria, in support of Libreria Ghana. On the 31st, exactly two weeks later, we hosted our second event at Waterstones Gower Street, and in between both events, we went to Nigeria, where I attended the Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos. 

Of all the things we did in October, the events we organised were our most rewarding – not because of how they turned out but because of why we did it all in the first place. The decision to organise the events was motivated by two different things – to support our friend Sylvia Arthur and her library (Libreria Ghana) in Accra, and to have a conversation about the place and role of African literature in the global literary canon.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Sylvia about her library and literacy outreach programmes, and I was so intrigued by what she was doing that I wanted to hear more. So we met up for coffee a few weeks later, and as you can imagine, we talked at length about Libreria and the challenges that came with running ‘Ghana’s first subscription model library’.

While her success impressed and inspired me, I was quite disheartened by the problems and issues she faced on the road to the realisation of her dream. Without going into too many details, when Sylvia opened up about the challenges the library and literacy outreach programmes were facing, I knew that we (Akaninyene and I) had to do something to help. How? I did not know. But what I did know was that to do nothing was not an option. 

Since we were in no position to make a large monetary donation to Sylvia, we came up with the idea of organising and hosting events in honour of the work that she does in Ghana. This is how it all started. 

While both events were planned to be similar in terms of their focus on African Literature and the African experience (as told from an African perspective), they eventually turned out to be two completely different events – a testament to the diversity of thought and the multidimensionality of perspectives that exist among Africans.

The first event was a tribute to the rich literary cultures that have come out of Africa, while the second was (at least on paper) a call to make African Literature more accessible – not as a subset of Black Literature, but as its corner stone.

The panelists from the first event were unapologetic about their ‘Africanness’ and the pride that came with them (and their works) being associated with the mother continent, its history, and its essence. On the contrary, the panelists from the second event, were more open to distancing themselves from the ‘narrow’ box that is African Literature. They saw themselves as free citizens of the world who are more interested in telling stories that are centred on the human experience than those specifically geared towards the amplification of the African voice.

As such, where the first set of panelists were more unapologetic in their acceptance of the term ‘African Literature’, the second set of panelists were more unapologetic in their rejection of it. In essence, while Afrocentricity was seen as a largely liberating force to the former, it was considered to be a more restrictive and limiting constraint by the later – equal in force but opposite in purpose.

With that being said, both events were successful and we received a lot of positive feedback from our attendees. More important that the turnout, was the fact that we were able to spread the word about Libreria and the progress that Sylvia has made in such a short period of time.

In closing, although the eventual turnout of both events (especially the second, which coincided with Halloween) was far beyond what the three of us, Akaninyene, Sylvia, and myself, ever imagined, the way there was harder than we thought it was going to be. 

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it might be a good idea to briefly talk about the events, what they were about, who participated, the problems and issues we encountered in trying to organise them, what the reception was, and, of course, share photos.

For a more detailed round-up of the events, follow the links below and once again, thank you to everyone who turned up to support the cause.