DigitalBack Books, Brent Libraries and Black History Month

DigitalBack Books

DigitalBack Books and Brent Library Council have come together for an innovative partnership to make their growing collection of books available to Brent Library card holders. It's absolutely great that DigitalBack Books and Brent Council Libraries have come together to put as many books by African and Caribbean writers in the hands (or should I say e-readers) of their library card holders, and make it as accessible as possible for them. Plus if this encourages people to not only read more, but to read more books by African and Caribbean authors, then that's even better for building and fostering reading by writers whose works aren't always as visible in mainstream contexts. 

Well, in their efforts to make writing from African and Caribbean writers more available to readers - throughout October, DigitalBack Books - an eBook platform offering "deliciously diverse writings from Africa and beyond" - have an exciting line-up of events to bring to introduce African and Caribbean writing to readers. The three events are taking place across different Brent libraries.

The first of the event took place last week (Tuesday 3 October) at Willesden Library - focusing on Crime Fiction, and was chaired by Henry Brefo (co-editor of Flight Journal, Writivism Strategic Advisor and former co-founder of Afrikult.). Henry was in conversation with Michelle Asantewa and Jacob Ross about their works and crime fiction. 

Crime Fiction Reading at Willesden Library

The second event - taking place Tuesday 17 October at Harlesden Library, and moderated by me is all about Romance and Erotica Fiction. At the event will be Kiru Taye, who has written over 20 romance and erotica books, Nana Prah - author of contemporary, multi-cultural romance, and Ola Awonubi - an award-winning writer whose first foray into the romance genre was via Love's Persuasion - published by Ankara Press.

The end of the month - Tuesday 31 October - sees short story readings at the Library at Willesden Green. Chaired by Tricia Wombell (founder of Black Book Swap and Black Reading Group) it brings together short story writers such as Leone Ross, Rod Usher and Desiree Reynolds.


Saraba Magazine to Launch its First Print Edition: 'Transitions'

I admitted once, and I am not ashamed to admit it again - I was late to discover Saraba Magazine. For me it was August 2012 on one of my many searches. What stood out for me initially was the cover designs, and what they conveyed about the themes of each issue - which at that time was published 4 times a year - around Music, Food, Sex, Justice, Art and more

Past digital issues of Saraba Magazine

Saraba first appeared on the literary scene four years earlier - February 2009. This was after conversations in late 2008 between two undergraduates at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife - Emmanuel Iduma and Dami Ajayi, about emerging writing in Nigeria and Africa. Since then Saraba has gone on to publish almost 30 digital issues of their magazine, as well as poetry chapbooks. They also launched a manuscript project in 2015.

Well, after nine years Saraba is making the transition from digital to print. Their first print issue is aptly named Transitions, and explores the theme through questions of time, movement and sexual identity, among othersThis transition from digital to print, the excitement surrounding it, as well as the significance of Saraba Magazine in the (African) literary space was beautifully captured by Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire of Writivism in a thread on twitter.

As Bwesigye goes on to tweet in his thread:  
At 9 years, Saraba is an inspirational story for building literary infrastructure on the continent. Fine literary activism. Solid record ... [and] if any one individual or/and institution reflects what our generation has contributes to the African Republic of Letters, Iduma/Saraba.

Well, Transitions launches in a few days (October 2 2017) and in a press release on the forthcoming print issue, the Saraba team writes: 
We have gathered writings - reportage, short stories, travel essays, poems - befitting of our foray into print. Our contributors are writers you should be reading, and visual artists whose images are compelling. 
... and let me just say Saraba is not playing with their first print issue. As the press release goes on to state:
The cover is designed by Ojima Abalaka, the brilliant illustrator whose work has been featured in the New York Times. The are poems by Gbenga Adesina; short stories by Suzanne Ushie, Ireonosen Okojie, Abiola Oni, Eboka Chukwudi Peter, T J Benson, Amarachi Ekekwe, Hajara Hussaini Ashara and Ebele Mogo; essays by Temitayo Olofinula, Kola Tubosun, Uche Okonkwo and Yinka Elujoba; portfolios of photographs by Ladan Osman and Ayeni Olajide. And an interview with Ayobami Adebayo
Transitions also includes writing from several of the awardees of Saraba's Manuscript Project and essays from writers that participated in the 2016 edition of the Invisible Borders trans-Nigerian road trip 
To celebrate this momentous occasion, Saraba is having a number of launches across Nigeria, UK, USA and Canada. The first of which takes place in London on Monday 2 October (19:15 - 20:30), and I have the absolute pleasure of chairing. Co-hosted by Saraba, Africa Writes and the Royal African Society, the launch takes place at the Khalili Lecture Theatre at SOAS. At the London launch will be Emmanuel Iduma, Ireonosen Okojie, Abiola Oni and Ayobami Adebayo. Tickets for the event are £8/£5 (concs.) and free for RAS Members, and can be purchased here. Hard copies of the magazine will also be available at the event. 
N65 by Aderemi Adegbite. Image via Africa Writes
Other events lined up for the launch include: 
In collaboration with Waterstones, Gower Street: At the Great Magazine Weekend, Friday 6th October, 2:15 – 3:15 pm, 82 Gower Street, London, WC1E 6EQ. With Emmanuel Iduma.
In collaboration with the MFA Art Writing program atthe School of Visual Arts: Thursday 12 October, 6.30pm, at 132 West 21 Street, New York. With Dami Ajayi, Emmanuel Iduma, and Gbenga Adesina.
In collaboration with the Ake Book and Arts Festival: Thursday 16th November, 1-2pm, Arts and Cultural Centre, Kuto, Abeokuta.

The Many Faces of the Dreamers

Imbolo Mbue's debut novel Behold the Dreamers was first published over a year ago. It brings together the lives of two families living and working in New York - the Jonga's (a Cameroonian migrant family) and the Edwards (a wealthy American family) around the time of the 2008 financial crisis. Or as described in the blurb

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future. 
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ fa├žades. 
When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Since its publication, Behold the Dreamers has gone on to win the 2017 Pen/Faulkner award for Fiction and was selected for Oprah's very exclusive Book Club. The novel has also been translated into several languages including Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek and Portuguese. Being the ever curious person that I am, I wanted to know what the the different editions look like. Thankfully, Imbolo Mbue's Facebook page has the covers for 12 of the editions. And here they are. Any favourites? The are also be Italian, Spanish and Turkish editions (covers not pictured here, and not sure if those have been published yet).

US edition

UK edition

French edition

Polish edition

Dutch edition

Hebrew edition

Serbian edition

Danish edition

German edition

Portuguese (Brazilian) edition

Czech edition

Greek edition


The Manchester Review's Special Issue on African Speculative Fiction

Issue 18 of the Manchester Review

In the introduction of the Manchester Review's special issue on African Speculative Fiction, Geoff Ryman writes, 
'This is a collection of damn good stories - plus a complete comic and an excerpt from a film script'. 
I am currently making my way through the issue, which contains 21 stories only available in print (21 Today) as well as links to an additional 21 stories that are available online and for free (21 Tomorrow). 

21 Today is split into 7 parts, with stories published between 2003 and 2017: Part One: Lift Off with four stories from Lauren Beukes, Ayodele Arigbabu, Doreen Baingana and Peter Kalu; Part Two: Publishing Venues, Workshops and Awards with four stories from Irenosen Okojie, Nnedi Okorafor, Jonatham Dotse and Dayo Ntwari; Part Three: Superheroes: Gods and Politics, with one novella (from Nick Wood and Tade Thompson) and one graphic novel (from Ziphosakhe Hlobo and Lena Posch); Part Four: South African Conundrums, with two stories from Nick Mulgrew and Nerine Dorman; Part Five: Nairobi Beatniks with two stories from Clifton Gachagua and Mehul Gohil; Part Six: Living in an African Future with  4 stories from Shadreck Chitoki, Stephen Embleton, Tiseke Chilma and Muthi Nhlema and a script from Dilman Dila; and Part Seven: Should I stay or should I go? Publishing internationally with three stories from Wole Talabi, Masimba Musodza and Kofi Nyameye. 

The issue ends with a pretty comprehensive year by year list of mostly fiction written in English. There are a lot of novels in the list, as well as comics and films ... and it's an impressive list. Starting with Chaka by Thomas Mofolo in 1909/10 and ending in July 2017 with the announcement of Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death being adapted fro TV. Here, I've pulled out some of the books, anthologies and comics on the list using the headings Geoff Ryman used to categorise them. Enjoy! And then check out the special issue.  

All books covers via Google images.


Nigerian Characters in the Marvel Universe

A couple days ago I shared some very exciting news on my personal Facebook page - about Nnedi Okorafor's forthcoming Marvel comic 'Blessing in Disguise'. The headline courtesy of BBC stated that it was the 'First Nigerian superhero to be published by Marvel'. 

This headline led to quite an interesting discussion - which begun as a result of a comment which seemed like outright shock that BBC would claim this to be the first Nigerian superhero to be published by Marvel. This led to other names being added to the thread including Shango who appeared in 1982 (as a hero).

So, in my ever inquisitive (many may call it nerdy) way I decided to look into this some more and focus on Nigerian characters in Marvel. Of course, those who are more in the know, please do add to this. Also, this is not to take away from what is pretty amazing news - that Nnedi Okorafor is writing an 8-page comic set in Lagos as part of Marvel's Venomverse anthology. 

To begin with, according to the Marvel Database, it seems that Nigeria (the country) made its first appearance in the Marvel Universe in March 1974 (Captain America Vol 1 #171). In terms of characters, one of the earliest appearances of a Nigerian character would have been the god, Shango - in Thor Annual #10 (1982) where he was recruited by Thor to confront Demogorge. It doesn't seem like there were any other Nigerian characters until Leo (K'Beer Okoye) who first appeared in New Warriors Vol 4 #4 (November 2007), followed by Imo Miri whose only appearance was in Thunderbolts International Incident Vol 1 #1 (April 2008)

Then there's Oya (Idie Okonkwo) - a fourteen-year old living in Oyo who accidentally burned down her village and killed her family. Her first appearance was in Uncanny X-Men #528 (November 2010)

... and now, there's Ngozi. Looking at these four other characters I do wonder if it isn't that Ngozi is the first Nigerian superhero to be published by Marvel, but that she is the first Nigerian superhero to be written/created by a Nigerian-American woman that is published by Marvel. For instance, the Marvel Database states that Oya was created by Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen; while Shango was created by Alan Zelenetz and Mark Gruenwald. I have no idea!! Comic fans and experts out there, please let me know.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Saw this on twitter, and I had to share. It's another new release for 2017 – this time from award-winning Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker and writer Yaba Badoe.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is out September 7, and published by Independent publishers Head of Zeus, here’s a blurb of the story:
Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Her people.
Fourteen years on she's a member of Mama Rose's unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them:
'A bamboo flute. A golden bangle. A ripening mango which must not fall... if Sante is to tell their story and her own.'
Rich in the rhythms and colours of Africa and glittering circus days. Unflinching in its dark revelations about life. Yaba Badoe's novel is beautiful and cruel and will linger long in the memory.

The book sounds amazing, and can we take a second to appreciate the gorgeous book cover! Can’

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