Book bloggers are a very important lot in the African literary ecosystem and on Thursday afternoon some of the most well-known ones strutted their stuff in a panel at the #AkeFest2015. Moderated by Kate Haines were bloggers Kinna Likimani of Kinnareads.com and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed of bookshybooks.blogspot.com with Emmanuel Iduma of online journal Saraba magazine accompanying them. Ainehi Edoro famous for her blog Brittlepaper.com was supposed to be on the panel as well but she had to leave early so as not to miss a flight. Ask no questions about that plane business and you will be told no lies.
Kate asked the online personalities about their blogging with a focus on how they started, their successes and challenges and what their future was.
“Voices of bloggers are important even if they are considered a personal thing” – Kinna Likimani.
Kinna, who is inspired by African women writers, told the audience that her blog Kinna Reads is about her personal reading and covers literary fiction, short stories, and translations from Africa and the Caribbean. Her readers come from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, UK and the USA. She feels a lot of pressure in her blogging as there is so much happening on the African literary scene that she wants to talk about. This is because there is no African newspaper doing analysis like she would like to see done therefore voices of bloggers are important even if they are considered a personal thing. They need to talk about books regardless of the response by Africans as one day they will catch up. The Ghana based blogger explained that nowadays when she wants to read about literature for regions she didn’t go the New York Times but goes to blogs like Arablit.com instead. If she must read someone in those newspapers she must read someone who has a track record of writing with integrity. While she likes her voice, she considers herself a struggling blogger as she has a problem with disciplining herself to write. In the future she hoped to be a better blogger dedicating more time for speculative fiction and curating reading lists based on cities. She isn’t planning on monetising her blog as she just wants to talk about the books she reads.
“My blog is my sacred space,” Zahra Nesbitt-Ahmed.
Zahra Nesbitt-Ahmed started her Bookshy blog in September 2011 when she was in Lagos working on her PhD and she needed an escape from that grind. Wait she’s a doctor now? Nice. Anyway so she had friends asking her what she was doing in Nigeria and she decided to set up a blog as a way of communicating her work. Her blog reflects her feelings on books covering fiction, women writers, short stories, anthologies, and other genres. She also has a section where she does lists of book covers as she is obsessed with their designs as well as curates lists from different African countries. She considers herself an erratic blogger because she only blogs when she is in the mood; there are days or weeks she can stay without doing a post. Featuring book covers are a favourite route for her as they allow her to spend less time writing. Zahra confessed to sometimes feels conflicted when she shares non-book views on Twitter as opposed to the book-related tweets as she has built her name as a book blogger. She feels her blog has only become more recently known by people beyond her family and close friends.Despite the growth of her big blog in views, she still pick books she has an interest in as opposed to what she is offered by publishers. The most important quality for Zahra is to give honest reviews. In future she plans to revamp her blog which has been with one look for four years when she gets the funds as a website will cost her money. She will continue her series of book covers from across the continent. She also hopes to cover literature from the Caribbean. She isn’t considering monetizing her blog as she considers it her own personal space. She has a day job and uses her blog as an escape.
“We are trying to build a cultural institution” – Emmanuel Iduma
Emmanuel Iduma co-founded the Saraba Magazine with Dami Ajayi while in university where they were studying law and medicine respectively in 2009. ‘Saraba’ was initially a made up word by an innovative poet in Nigeria but it was a pleasant surprise for them when they found out at a later date that in one of the Senegalese languages, it means ‘utopia’. The audience of the journal, inspired by Hamish Hamilton journal fivedials.com, has its biggest readership in both the USA and Nigeria followed by UK visitors. What concerns them at the moment is that they put out quality work. One of the biggest successes of the Saraba Magazine team is that they have published over 300 writers many of whom were unknowns when they started but are now some of the big names on the literary scene. In future they hope to improve the quality of the work, ensure that there is more diversity and most importantly pay their writers. This is because they are trying to build a cultural institution and want to matter to the African and Nigerian literary tradition.