German literary advocacy organisation Litprom celebrated its fortieth anniversary with events featuring some of the top African writers working today on October 12, 2020.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is considered to be the world’s largest trade fair for books, based both on the number of publishing companies represented, and the number of visitors. It has been running on and off for the last five centuries; it was on again in 1949 after a war in that part of the world and is now the fair that cannot be ignored.

One of its most popular events is the country “Guest of Honour” where one nation takes centre stage with many events focusing on its publishing industry. In 1980, the fair with “Black Africa” as the Guest of Honour featured thirty writers from fifteen African countries representing sub-Saharan Africa; only one of them was female. Incidentally, a search for the names of those who attended has been unsuccessful so far; if you know those who did we would love to add them to our reporting.

During that event, a new organisation called Litprom, the Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature, was born. Since it was founded, it has monitored literary trends and selected the best examples of creative writing from Africa, Asia and Latin America for translation into German. It also promotes them in Germany, Switzerland and Austria by encouraging contacts between authors and publishers from the Third World and those in German-speaking countries. It is funded by the Protestant Church, the German government, Frankfurt Book Fair and other aid and development agencies.

To celebrate their fortieth anniversary, Litprom organised special online events dubbed “African Perspectives – Writers and Literary Experts in Conversation” for those who wanted to see how far African letters had come in the last four decades. The events with some of the continents leading writers were mixed in with discussions with folks in the German publishing ecosystem as well as the days hosts Litprom and KfW Stiftung.

The first event was “Decolonising the Mind” a keynote given by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o which he titled “Ending Literary Identity Theft: The Future of African Literatures in World Literatures.” You can watch the session moderated by Prof Dr Manfred Loimeier in its entirety below. Please note that there are introductions by Daniela Leykam (KfW Stiftung) and Anita Djafari (Litprom) before Ngugi’s keynote begins.

The keynote was followed by two panels. The first, moderated by Anna Jäger, was titled “On Languages of Imagination and other transitional spaces” that featured Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Hemley Boum, Colleen Higgs, and Nii Ayikwei Parkes. The four with the help of translators, Agualusa spoke in Portuguese and Boum spoke in French, conducted a session around language and its influence in African literature. You can watch the whole session below.

The last panel of the day, also moderated by Anna Jäger, was “Telling Archives” and featured Petina Gappah, Maaza Mengiste, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. The session, which was this bloggers favourite, spoke about the archive that we all obsess over so much nowadays. This third event included a poetry performance by Koleka Putuma. You can watch the whole session below.