The Macondo Literary Festival 2019 happened at the Kenya Cultural Centre in Nairobi from September 27-29, 2019. The festival theme was “Re-imagining Africa’s histories through literature.”
“Macondo” is a fictional place where magical things happen in Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. This name was adopted by award-winning novelist Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and journalist Anja Bengelstorff for their organisation, the Macondo Book Society. The Society’s first event was the three-day-long Macondo Literary Festival which ran in Nairobi, Kenya in late September 2019. It was a historic occasion as writers from Portuguese and English speaking Africa and the diaspora came together for conversations, debates, readings on African histories and much more.
Here is a snapshot of the festival.
The festival started with workshops on Friday morning for those who had signed up beforehand. On offer were workshops on “Writing History” by novelist Peter Kimani, “Translating History” by translatorJethro Soutar, “Filming history without a camera – The history of film” by filmmaker João Viana, and “History for radio” by radio journalist Michael Schweres.
The festival officially kicked off on the Friday evening with speeches from among others the founders Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Anja Bengelstorff as well as Swiss ambassador Ralf Heckner, and the African Wildlife Fund represented by Jackie.
The audience was introduced to the work of festival guests as The Performance Collective did dramatized readings of the work we would be accessing over the next few days while some of the artists were introduced in two panels. In one panel, moderated by Aleya Kassam were Ondjaki, Jonny Steinberg, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, Jethro Soutar, and Peter Kimani. In the other panel moderated by Mshai Mwangola were Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Dina Salústio, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa, and Joao Viana.
After that ceremony, the writers attended a reception at the home of the Brazilian ambassador.
The guts of any literary festival, where people get to hear the artists talk about their work or topics they feel strongly about, is the panel. Over two days, guests got to hear writers and other artists talk about a variety of topics with the theme “Re-imagining Africa’s histories through literature” front and centre. In one of the panels moderated by Aleya Kassam, Mozambiquan editor and writer Jessemusse Cacinda, Portuguese-English translator Jethro Soutar, and Bissau-Guinean writer Yovanka Perdigao discussed the history of literature in Lusophone Africa.
Kenyan novelist Peter Kimani and Bissau-Guinean writer Yovanka Perdigao, moderated by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim spoke about why the past matters. In another panel moderated by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Peter Kimani spoke about the history of stories. In another event, Graphic novelist Chief Nyamweya engaged the audience in imagining themselves as future historians while in another Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Dina Salústio, with moderation by Tom Odhiambo, spoke about how Women in African histories History(telling) is defined by the victor.
At another history-centric panel, moderated by Wandia Njoya, novelists Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Dina Salústio alongside activist Njuki Githethwa spoke about how the struggles for liberation as well as social movements on the continent have provided subjects and themes for some historical fiction. In another one, moderated by Mshai Mwangola, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Jonny Steinberg, and Ondjaki spoke about how histories define home, belonging and identity and how this reflects in literature. In another one moderated by Catherine Ndung’o, translator Jethro Soutar and former Jalada Africa Managing Editor Moses Kilolo spoke about how histories got translated into the world of another language and what stories are created through this process.
It wasn’t only speaking about history at the festival though it was a huge chunk of it. In one panel, guests got to see filmmakers João Viana (Angola/Portugal) and Judy Kibinge (Kenya) highlight the interconnectedness between literature and cinema. Tom Odhiambo moderated Geovani Martins, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, and Yovanka Perdigao as they spoke about the worlds of violence in their work in another.
Meet the author
Another vital part of the literary festival menu is an opportunity for readers and writers to interact one-on-one at a moderated event. At this festival, that opportunity was in the events that were dubbed, “Meet The Author.” Audiences met Ondjaki with moderation by Maya Muturi, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa with moderation from Catherine Ndung’o, and Jonny Steinberg with moderation by festival organiser Anja Bengelstorff.
There were two book launches at this festival. One was the world book launch of the English translation of The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio. The event moderated by Aleya Kassam had novelist Dina Salústio’s and Jethro Soutar who translated the book from Portuguese to English. There was also the Africa book launch of The Sun On My Head by Geovani Martins (Brazil) which was moderated by Nanjala Nyabola.
The festival had the ‘My Grandmother’s Miniskirt’ exhibition curated by Sitawa Namwalie. The project, through online crowdsourcing, collected pictures of people’s mothers and grandmothers wearing miniskirts, short dresses to form a discussion on body integrity and why dressing isn’t an excuse for sexual harassment
There were two main performances at this festival. One was by theatre maker, storyteller and spoken word artist Ogutu Muraya whose performance was entitled “Because I always feel like running” where he explored the phenomenon and politics of running. Another performance was the collaborative presentation by Angolan writer Ondjaki and Kenyan nyatiti musician Makadem.
Images courtesy of the official Macondo Literary Festival page. Videos by us.