We need to read more African literature

I spent the first two days of the Open Book Festival attending various events, meeting and chatting to local and international authors about their various works, their publishing journeys and the hurdles they have had to overcome along the way. I’ve been lucky enough to meet authors I have admired for years and I have been introduced to other authors I’d never heard of before but wished I had. And I’ve realised that there is an entire world of literature that I was completely unaware existed.

But as I roamed around the Homecoming Centre, browsing through the various titles being sold by The Book Lounge’s satellite store I noticed that while I saw familiar faces, they were predominantly faces of publishers, academics, authors, illustrators, basically people who are essentially involved in the nitty gritty of the publishing world. And I found myself asking where was the public, the everyday reader, the people I hoped to be reaching with this blog and the individuals I interact with every single day on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter? Those are the bibliophiles that would buy books with their last cent and go hungry for the rest of the month. Yet they were nowhere to be seen at Open Book Festival? It got me wondering… Was it because they were unaware of the festival or is it because they just don’t read African literature simply because they do not know what is out there?

I will freely admit that I am one of those readers who has read the bare minimum of African literature. Most of the African literature I’ve read has been prescribed throughout my academic career. Before attending OBF 2016 I didn’t know any other South African authors of Speculative Fiction beside Lauren Beukes, Charlie Human, Cristy Zinn and Rachel Morgan. And after only 15 minutes of OBF I was already drooling over titles by Nnedi Okorafor, Helen Brain and so many others.

As self-acclaimed bibliophiles we need to make sure that we are reading African fiction regularly. When we are buying and reading these novels we contribute towards the conversation that has already been started by these authors, thus emphasising to gaps and the need to diversifying the publishing market. The more we support African literature, particularly Speculative Fiction, the more likely the South African publishing market will recognise it as a genre worthy of investment. That could potentially mean that traditional publishers might actually open up their submissions to unsolicited authors, meaning that the African Speculative Fiction authors wouldn’t have to relocate in order to stand a chance at getting published. 

So where do you start?

Visit the Book Lounge, they stock a wide range of African fiction so you will definitely find something to your taste. If you’re like me and prefer Speculative Fiction why not give Moxyland or Zoo City by Lauren Beukes a try?  Or try The Book of the Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor? That is essentially where I am starting.

If you know of any local authors worth reading please let me know in the comments!

Open Book Festival: Supporting African literature

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