Writers, poets, artists, arts and book lovers have shown excitement over the commencement of the 2019 edition of the Ake Book Festival, one of the largest book festivals in Africa.
A leading literary event in Africa, Ake Arts and Book Festival is reputed for bringing together the biggest and brightest names in the world of books from across Africa and the African diaspora.
The festival, now in its seventh edition, began on Thursday in Lagos with the arrival of participants from Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe and other African countries and African diaspora. It runs till October 27.
The festival, which features film screenings, theatre performances, poetry readings, art exhibitions and dance performances, is themed ‘Black Bodies: Grey Matter’ to explore how African minds and bodies have been impacted and influenced by cultural attitudes in the course of history, according to a statement by organisers.
“Colonialism, multiculturalism, internecine violence, organised religion, cultural attitudes and practices have all left their mark.
“While specific practices such as scarification and tattoos leave physical traces, colourism, stereotyping and gender non-conformity exert their influence on both psyche and soma. The interrogation of these issues will yield fascinating and illuminating insights,” the statement read.
In her welcome address on Thursday, the Director of the festival, Lola Shoneyin, also an award-winning author, expressed happiness at the opening of the event.
She described the event as an emotional one for her while noting the importance of such intellectual gathering on social discourse.
She disclosed that this year’s edition recorded participants from more countries than ever before.
Speaking on the edition’s theme, she said it would focus on Africanness and mental health.
She noted that history remains a connecting device to the receipt of realities of the present and thus, its scars should not be ignored for a healthy mind.
“In act before it (history) becomes too temporarily distant, we think it is important that we take another look at the creativities that have been born of those physical and mental scars. … Perhaps the problem will help us better understand who we are or who we can become,” she said.
Sounding optimistic, she said she was confident that a take-home point about the festival is the central hope and understanding that great things happen when committed creative people get together.
“As each year goes by, I have immense and not-so-secret pleasure of watching seeds that are planted at Ake festival grow, of seeing friendship blossom or hearing about individuals gathering together and starting something new somewhere else.
“ So it is a positive thing, a forward looking thing. But first let us look at ourselves again as we move forward with optimism,” she noted.
As part of the four-day event, panel discussions took turns on Friday as headlined writers shared their views on the theme.
Among these writers were Helon Habila(Oil on Water), ChikaUnigwe (On Black Sisters’ Street), Nnamdi Ehirim (Prince of Monkeys) who debated on importance and influence of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in African Literature.
Others include Sulaiman Addonia (Silence is my mother tongue) and Adaobi Nwaubani(Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree) who spoke about their books.
Mr Addonia noted that trauma posed a challenge to him in his writing career.
“I cannot deny the fact that trauma is in me. I’m really wounded,” he said.
Speaking on handling mental stress as a writer, he said he had learnt from writers like Virginia Woolf about the ability to write without sinking into depression.
For Ms Nwaubani, writing about characters to represent different experiences shapes her feelings and real life experience.
“There are times where I sit and weep with the victims in my book,” she said.
In Life and Times series, the headlined writer of the edition, Tsitsi Dangaremba, popular Zimbabwean writer, bared her mind on her books and feminism.
Interludes such as book launch of Water Birds on the Lakeshore by Zukiswa Wanner, reading of A Small Silence by Jumoke Verissimo gained momentum.
It was then followed by an evening of poetry, music dance, merriment and laughter.