At this year’s Africa Writes festival poetry is center stage. We are in the middle of a golden age for poetry in which much of the energy and drive is coming from young people of African heritage, with a connection to London.
In her first UK appearance since her poetry reached millions of people around the world in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, Warsan Shire will headline the festival – the first writer under 30 in the festival’s seven-year history to do so. Shire was the first Young Poet Laureate for London, and the first winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Sharing her poetry on social media and later in her bestselling collection ‘Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth’, Shire has gained a dedicated international following and is credited with breathing new life into an art form that some mistakenly had regarded as fading. Her work highlights themes of migration, identity and sexuality amongst others, and she also curates and teaches classes around the intersections of art and healing in LA where she is currently based.
This kind of strong popularity and support has followed other poets too, one of them being Yomi Sode, who will open the festival on 29 June with the performance of his one-man show ‘COAT’, which sold out within 24 hours when it was first staged, and is soon to be on a sold-out run at Battersea Arts Centre. Supported by a growing fan-base who feel strongly connected with the themes and expression of his work, Sode has moved from the poetry performance circuit to developing a show that is part-drama part-extended poem. ‘COAT is an honest and emotional story of Junior, a child born in Nigeria who leaves behind a life he loved to move to London at the age of 9. Whilst cooking up a stew on stage, Sode confronts the difficult realities of growing up in south London as a young man, and the expectations of family, blending poetry and drama in a unique performance style rich with lyricism, humor and hard truths.
Drawing on experiences of existing as women of colour in the UK, are the group Octavia Poetry Collective, who will host the official Africa Writes festival part on 30 June at Rich Mix. Originally founded in response to the lack of representation and inclusivity in literature and academia, since 2015 the collective has come together to read beyond the literary ‘canon’ and to write themselves. Octavia take their name from the American science fiction writer Octavia Butler, and for this event are drawing inspiration from the $1 billion-grossing Marvel film Black Panther, to present Wakanda-themed event featuring art displays, readings from Amina Jama, Theresa Lola, Momtaza Mehri, Sarah Lasoye, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Rachel Long, a live band, DJs, a line-up of guest poets, and dancing into the night (and the future!)
Beyond poetry, the Africa Writes daytime programme of more than 20 events includes book launches of writers from across the continent and the diaspora, panel discussions, workshops and an international book fair with classics, recent publications and rare finds. The full festival programme will be announced at the end of May and tickets are now available to book at Festival website: http://africawrites.org/ . Ticketed headline events & day passes £8 – £18
The Africa Writes Festival is organized by the Royal African Society and runs 29 June – 1 July at the British Library and Rich Mix.
Africa Writes 2018 runs Friday 29 June, 20:00 – Sunday 1 July 19:30
Venues: The British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 2DB www.bl.uk
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA www.richmix.org.uk