A literary festival opens in Kenya’s capital Nairobi today, the third major cultural event since August, as writers, artists and creators capitalise on expanding enthusiasm for creative content from across Africa.
Macondo – whose third edition runs until Sunday at the Kenya National Theatre – is among a handful of festivals that are reviving the literary scene.
It was launched in 2019 by award-winning Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and cultural curator Anja Bengelstorff.
UK-based writers Leila Aboulela, Jennifer Makumbi and Aminatta Forna are among headliners of the festival that also hopes to amplify writing from Lusophone, Francophone and Arabic-speaking Africa.
In August, the second edition of NBO Litfest was hosted by Book Bunk, which has been restoring public libraries in Kenya.
Earlier that month, the independent bookstore Soma Nami held what it touted as the largest African book fair. Ten-thousand books from 54 African countries featured, challenging the tired phrase “Kenyans don’t read”.
This revival is in response to the gradual retreat by major literary festival organisers even before the Covid-19 pandemic halted public activities.
Storymoja, a collective founded by Kenyan writer Muthoni Garland, held its last event in Nairobi 2017.
One of the region’s pioneer literary magazines – Kwani? – published its last edition in 2015.
This left many book enthusiasts starved of meetings with their favourite writers.
But conversations about writing and publishing shifted to virtual spaces – or the handful of in-person events hosted by several independent and commercial bookstores, podcasts and online literary magazines.
Underpinning this are efforts by emerging writers and artists to take control of creative and cultural capital and better engage with audiences both at home and abroad.