The second edition of the Macondo Literary Festival came and went this past weekend with a flurry of mind-boggling activities.
Taking over both the main Kenya National Theatre stage (where the seats were filled for practically every session of stimulating talks, panels, performances, and book premieres) and the smaller Ukumbi Mdogo, the festivities also stretched out beyond the theatre’s brick walls.
It extended into the parking area where tents were filled with some of the newest books, (mainly novels) by African writers.
One of the most mind-boggling achievements of the fest was the remarkable array of prominent African writers that came as headliners on the program.
“The idea was to bring together for the first time on the continent, writers from English, French, and Portuguese-speaking countries, and engage them in conversation,” states the Festival’s detailed program.
So to create greater cohesion among African writers and the public at large, the festival organisers, Anje Ingekstorff and Yvonne Adhiamb Owuor, invited authors from almost a dozen African states to attend the Macondo Literary Festival entitled ‘The Future of memories’.
They included Angola, Cameroon, Kenya, Guinea Bissau, Madagasscar, Mozambique, Somalia, Senegal, Tanzania, and the UK-South Asian mix.
Not all of them could make it. The ones living and working in the States or UK had an easier time getting through the red tape of bureaucracy.
But thanks to what we have learned about virtual communication during the pandemic, the Mozambiquan author Mia Conte was able to take part via zoom in a lively panel discussion.
It was Conte who noted that the deeper significance of the Festival was its defiance of the barriers that lead to Africans knowing less about their neighbours than about Western icons of culture.
The barriers include everything from language and geography to countries’ diverse colonial histories.
But many of these issues were addressed over the weekend when the Macondo Literary Festival interrogated the writers and got to know some of the leading intellectuals from the region.
Starting off the program in the most welcoming and luminous way were Mshai Mwangola-Githonga and Aleya Hassan sharing excerpts from an essay by the award-winning Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.
After that, Aleya dug into the depths of the Senegalese poetess, Sylvie Kande’s poetry. Then came members of the Orature Collective (Aghan Odero, Mueni Lundi and Wambua Kawive) performing a series of readings from novels by writers in attendance at the Festival.
Clearly the best way to familiarize their audience with the writers and their works was the kind of crash-course presentation that the Collective gave. It featured in-depth readings that got under the skin of every character they represented on the KNT stage.
That was true as they briefly dramatized bits from first the Angolan-Portuguese Yara Nakahanda Monteiro’s ‘Loose Ties’, followed by an excerpt from her countryman Jose Eduardo Agualusa’s novel ‘The society of reluctant dreamers’.
Following those two, they went on to dramatize a powerful bit from Somali-born Nadifa Mohamed’s ‘The Fortune man’.
Then came ‘A trail of crab tracks’ by Patrice Nganang of Cameroon and Guinea Bissau’s Abdulai Sila’a novel ‘The Ultimate Tragedy’ which was dark and dystopic in contrast to Hafsa Zayyan’s ‘We Are All Birds of Uganda’ which reflected on the Seventies, when Idi Amin threw out the South Asian community from that country, and they scattered around the world.
It turns out a few of them were her relations.
Next, the Collective performed an excerpt from Malagasy journalist Naivo’s (aka Naivoharisoa Patrick Ramamonjisoa) novel ’Beyond the Rice Fields’.
And finally, they performed a salient excerpt from the Zanzibari writer, professor, and scholar, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s latest novel, ‘After Lives’ which reflects on the lives of his people during the difficult days of the first world war.
There was no mention in the program about Abdulrazak’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2021.
Yet having him attend the Festival was a major milestone and honor for Macondo, an event that got its name from another Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez who created Macondo as the home town of the Buendia family in his magical realistic novel, One hundred years of Solitude.
Abdulrazak is the first Black African to win the prestigious prize for Literature since Wole Soyinka won it in 1986. (Professor Wangari Maathai won the Nobel for Peace.)
So it was brilliant to have him come to Kenya and also to have his books available to ravenous readers who stood in long line to get his books signed for them.
Those books include After Lives, Paradise, By the Sea, Gravel Heart, and many more.
His public one-on-one interview with Dr Mshai Mwangola-Githongo went straight onto social media and is available on Twitter and YouTube. Best of all his books are available locally both in paperback and online as well.