The African Literary Evening was my idea even though I feel I cannot take all the credit for its success. The idea came about from the culmination of several conversations with people over a period of time. The African Literary Evening was an evening of spoken word, poetry recitations, book readings and networking. It was also an evening designed to bring together emerging and successful authors under the same platform to share ideas and interact. There are many events across London that bring men and women in print together, but not many that gather African authors.
We had two panels discuss certain topics and it was a coincidence that the panellists were all Nigerian and female. The topics included: Making money from writing: is it possible to make a living as a writer? The future of publishing in the United Kingdom, UK: is it traditional publishing, self-publishing and collaborative publishing or hybrid publishing? Beyond print, moving with the digital revolution: e-books, podcasts, audio books and short films, genres and moving beyond expectations placed on African writing.
Our panellists included Nuzo Onoh, a celebrated author of African horror novels; Abidemi Sanusi; Ireneson Okojie, columnist for the Observer and Independent; Abimbola Dare; Ola Nubi; Kiru Taye; Kemi Oguniyi; Amanda Epe; Tolu Popoola; and Tundun Adeyemo. Our panellists are experienced writers who have earned their recognition in the world of writing. Sade Adeniran was the Commonwealth Writers award winner for her book, Imagine This, in 2008. Sanusi was shortlisted for the same award for her book Eyo.
Abidemi was able to discuss how she is able to work as a full-time writer. She combines life as an author with her company, Ready Writer. Taye is the number one writer of African romance in the UK. Taye writes full-time and she makes a living from it. Taye has written 12 books in four years. It is hard to keep up with her. Dare, a Christian romance author, is another very influential and powerful writer. Even with a young baby, she told the audience that she writes on her laptop whilst breastfeeding her three-month-old baby – life as a mummy author, eh?
Adeniran who runs Sade’s World of Podcasting now makes short films and documentaries. A true artiste, Sade is eyeing some of the coveted awards in the industry. A lot of the panellists had things to contribute on whether it was possible to make a living in writing. Dare was of the opinion that it could happen over time, but in the meantime, keep your day job. Adura Ojo, a poet, who was unable to join us at the event, also contributed that earning an income from writing is possible but the writer needs to be creative in creating streams of income. Streams of income available to authors include public speaking, workshops and seminars, events and commission writing.
We discussed the future of publishing in the UK; we considered whether it was best to go collaborative, self or hybrid and moving beyond the expectations placed on African writers in the UK. There was no consensus as many in the audience were self-publishers who found fame through their own labour. Okojie decried the fact that it was hard for publishing houses to take on African authors. Nuzo Onoh also commented on the fact that African writers are often categorised under multicultural and race headings in public libraries. She and Irene agreed that African writers had to think out of the box in terms of their content and publicity if they wanted to sell their books.
Members of the audience were not left out as someone wanted to ask how to combine writing with single motherhood to four children. Another wanted to find out if there were other authors who wrote only for African children in the UK. Another person wanted to introduce her new book, A Christian Bible book for children. It was a solid event to all intents and purposes such that many people even came from outside and the bar downstairs to see what was happening at the library where we were.
Highlights of the evening included Theresa Lola, a spoken word artiste, who thrilled the audience with her very passionate poem on the abducted Chibok girls and another poem about the essence of womanhood. Nubi read an excerpt of her book Love’s Persuasion. Adeniran read a short story that reflected the drama associated with being dismissed from her job on the first day of working. Adeyemo read a poem from her collection, The Immigrant. Tundun tried to portray the scene of a departure at the Murtala Muhammed airport, Lagos, about 13 years ago when she left Nigeria for England. Many people enjoyed the last line, ‘I was going to England, not to see the Queen’. Tolulope Popoola read two of her flash fiction stories. One was from a collection titled Fertile Imagination and the other was The Alibi.
The evening ended with networking over warm and cold drinks, book sales and signings. After the event, we didn’t have to wait long to read and watch what people said about it. The Battabox spin to the event (video available on youtube) is humorous. Should Nigerian parents allow their children to be writers? Obi and Lola, Christopher Ejugbo and Adeola Akintoye all wrote different accounts of the evening. Akintoye called the event an evening extraordinaire. Christoger Ejugbo considered the fact whether or not Africans read in his thumbs up account of the event.
All in all, the African Literary Evening worked because of a successful collaboration with Accomplish Press. The question everyone is asking is, will there be more events? The organisers are yet to decide.