Today marks the kick-off of the first festival of African Literature, entitled “Writing in Migration”. The event will include 37 different writers and artists from diverse backgrounds, and includes more than 80 books, multiple panel discussions, concerts, West-African food experiences and more.
Curated by the German-Nigerian author Olumide Popoola the festival looks at transnationalism and migration in a more literary sense of “keeping in motion”.
For three days and with the help of fiction, poetry, lectures and panel discussions African reality of life will be focused on. How do writers from Africa or the diaspora negotiate the changes that come with displacement, forced or chosen? How do writers approach the constant flux of place, and identity? Are they still bound by tradition or being truthful to notions of an “African Identity”?
Writing in Migration brings authors from three continents to Berlin whose books are literary visions and trendsetters all over the world. Together with curator Olumide Popoola they encourage their audience: Read Outside The Box.
“Part of this festival is trying to define what it was to be an immigrant on our own terms, because its definition in this country has taken our voice in the matter from us. To be a migrant or a refugee is a status, not a title,” said Musa Okwonga, a British multi-talent of Ugandan origin based in Berlin. “You could be a refugee for six months in Germany, and you will be considered a refugee for the rest of your life.”
Despite his British roots and numerous accolades, Okwonga explained that his experience abroad is very different than that of many of his British compatriots.
“My white friends do not call themselves immigrants, they call themselves ‘expats.’ I am not an expat, though – I am a migrant. I know what that means,” Okwonga told The Local, explaining the stigmatisation that comes along with being a black man in Europe.
“The German school system does not require students to read even one African author. It’s just not in the curriculum. For this reason, I am not surprised by the sheer amazement of German audiences when they see that this level of literature exists by African authors,” Stefanie Hirsbrunner, co-founder of InterKontinental – the literary agency that is putting on the festival says.
The “Writing in Migration” festival will address many of the political themes facing migrants abroad, including panels about issues of feminism and how to correctly portray history from the African perspective.
The festival will be held at Babylon Theatre in Mitte, a historic location worthy of such a landmark festival.
The two-day, three-night festival includes many not-to-be-missed events, said both Okwonga and Hirsbrunner, including a panel entitled “Between Myth and Trauma – How to write about the unspeakable” and the play “You Think You Know Me”.
Ending the festival on the night of the 28th will be a headline concert by Okwonga’s band BBXO, which will combine the theme of African migration with poetry and dance.
As to what they want visitors to take away, Okwonga was quite clear: “I want it to completely blow them away and give their friends ‘FOMO’ that they didn’t make it. And I want them to come next year.”