Abantu Book Festival: nothing short of an introspective space

Spaces like the Abantu Book Festival are for the rewriting of the African narrative in African voices, for African readers and listeners. It is a space fully saturated in pro-black stories.

On the last day of the literary festival, Tsitsi Dangarembga said, “I write for transformation, not entertainment… it is up to you as a writer to ensure that what you say highlights that your humanity goes beyond what you’ve gone through”.

And this, as Lola Shoneyin says is why an African author “cannot speak to a European audience the way they would to an African audience”.

Festivals such as the Gabarone Book Festival, Aké Art and Book Festival as well as our very own Abantu Book Festival exist so that African authors can address African problems with an African audience.

On the very first night of the third edition of the Abantu Book Festival in Soweto, Johannesburg, Lebo Mashile said that these spaces are meant to create a safe space for Africans to discuss African matters in the safety of each other’s company.

To the same effect, Lola jokingly said “you don’t want to say anything that they will use to beat you later” when in European spaces. She went on to say that she writes for an African audience with the hope that exposing African problems to African people gives them the opportunity to reflect and come up with solutions and/or different ways of doing things.

The Abantu Book Festival has been nothing short of an introspective space.

While diversifying spaces is important, it should never compromise the ability of Africans – whether they are book lover or not – to narrate and write the best parts of our own history, the parts that no one else can tell but us.

This doesn’t mean denying the very real problems we face in our daily lives, but it allows the lion freedom to roar without having to translate the roars to accommodate a foreign bystander. These spaces, therefore, validate the lion’s voice to other lions, empowering them to claim and own their stories as well.

One could also liken this space to a gold refinery. This beautifully lit experience is the fire that purifies our stories into the gold that we then send out into the world.

From historical fiction to poetry to reliving people’s memoirs, the Abantu Book Festival is definitely also an exhibition of the gold that already exists in African literature. Which, in my biased opinion, it the best form of art!

As The Cheeky Natives would say, African Literature gives form to the blunt language that English is. Not because English is superior, but because it is accessible. We have access to it and we should use the hell out of the language to make our writing accessible to all kinds of African audiences.

In a contradicting agreement, Nigerian writer Odafe Atogun says that he writes for universality and timelessness.

With that said, African Literature is for Abantu, by Abantu. And it is not our responsible to educate the world but theirs to pick up our books and learn.

African Historian Dr Sebabatso so beautifully said, “Europe is irrelevant to our history”.  Spaces like the Abantu Book Festival are for the rewriting of the African narrative in African voices, for African readers and listeners. It is a space fully saturated in pro-black stories.

This is where we safely reimagine our history together, shaping the future we long for by writing stories that are timeless, universal, accessible and transform the discourse.

ACTIVATE! Change Drivers and The Journalist will continue to keep you posted on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you were not able to join the festival this year, there is always next year. In the meantime, stay updated by following us on social media.  All images courtesy of Mmuso Mafisa and Abantu Book Festival.

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