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African Literature Celebrated At Kenya's Foremost Literary Event

posted 2 Dec 2013, 09:48 by Mpelembe   [ updated 2 Dec 2013, 09:48 ]

Kenyan based literary network, Kwani is dedicated to developing quality creative writing and growth of the writing industry. It recently marked its 10th anniversary and to celebrate the milestone the network lined up a series of events to celebrate the work of renowned African writers.

NAIROBIKENYA (NOVEMBER 28, 2013) (REUTERS) - Some of Africa's top contemporary writers came together to mark Kwani Trust's 10-year anniversary last week, at a gala event in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

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The event was part of a five-day-long celebration of the literary network's growth and achievements over the years.

Founded by some of Kenya's most notable contemporary writers, the Kwani Trustwas set up to develop creating writing and promote reading in the country.

Other events included public readings, book launches and art exhibitions.

Caine-prize winner Binyavanga Wainana and guest of honour, Nigeria's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - winner of the Orange prize, amongst others were among the literary names taking part in the events.

For years authors in Kenya have complained about the difficulties of getting published, a challenge that discourages many writers from pursing a career in literature.

Kwani has helped make the process easier for writers but Wainana, a co-founder of Kwani, says there is room for a lot more effort towards developing literature inAfrica.

"To have vibrant literature you need a big ecosystem. Africa is one billion people. We don't want 10 publishing houses, we want 10,000. If you look at the masses, you would find that the number of publishing houses you would need. You must remember that New York city or any middle city, usually have more publishers than the whole of Africa together, so we are only the droplet in where we should be. So the important thing for us to talk about is that young people, not just see what we did, but we living in times of better technology, better possibility. Don't wait for anybody, make yours and put it out there," Wainana said on the sidelines of the event.

Adichie is still riding high on the success of her latest novel, 'Americanah' - a story of love across three continents between two young teenagers separated by events and re-united after 13 years of challenges and difficult choices in the countries they call home.

With other critically acclaimed books like Half of a yellow sun, which won her the 2007 Orange Prize for fiction, and Purple Hibiscus, Adichie is part a new generation of young talented African writers.

Adichie said Kwani represents what is possible when people come together to support African literature.

"I think what's happened in the last 10 to 15 years is not so much that people started writing, people have always been writing in Africa. It's that more opportunities have emerged for us to see those writers and for us the talents to be uncovered. I think that's what happened and I think that s a wonderful thing. And I think also that the opportunities are increasing, so there are more publishing outfits, I think the internet is also a fantastic... it's a tool that can be good for writing and has been, particularly for African writers," she said.

As well as promoting and encouraging aspiring writers, Kwani also introduced the Kwani Manuscript Project, a one-off literary prize for unpublished fiction from African writers.

Launched in April 2012, the project calls for the submission of unpublished novel manuscripts from across the continent and the diaspora.

The project gave Ugandan writer Nansabuga Makumbi, winner of the 2013 Kwani Trust Manuscript Project the break she needed.

After 10 years of rejection from publishing houses, Makumbi's novel the 'Kintu Saga', depicting the history of Uganda through the present lives of the novel's protagonists finally found an audience.

Makumbi said the award will not only give her recognition, but will also present new opportunities.

"It's like driving in the dark, you don't know weather you going to get there. So this award means that doors are beginning to open for me me and I hope they will be open wide," she said.

The exposure of African literature and some of Africa's top authors through initiatives such as Kwani has also ignited an interest for reading and writing amongst young people.

"It's so great, there was a time when Nairobi was such a dead place art wise, there wasn't much to do. But events like the Kwani open mike have really changed that. You see a lot of young people getting very excited about literature and kind of envisioning careers in writing, which is really exciting, so I love it," said Aisha Osango.

But African literature still faces many challenges.

Access to books on the continent is still difficult compared to other parts of the world. Books are not as readily available especially in rural areas and where they can be found, they are often too expensive.

At this book store in Nairobi, owners say that although there is growing interest inreading, there is a shortage of Kenyan writers.

"They are doing well. Stock builds up, there is a lot of excitement every time a new author comes up. People get aware of it, we do introduce them, we give them to book clubs to read and as they read the word spreads. Like I said excitement builds up and more and more people reading African authors. But the pity is, the shame is... the shameful thing that they don't emerge from this country. We have to read African writers from other countries, from other African countries," said Chan, owner of a bookstore at a mall in Nairobi.

Despite having one of the highest literacy rates in sub saharan Africa at 84 percent,Kenya still lags behind in promoting a reading and writing culture compared toNigeria and Zimbabwe.