Leila Aboulela

Leila Aboulela wrapped up “Girls Friday” at Afrolit Sans Frontières Season 3 from Edinburgh, Scotland on May 29, 2020. She was hosted by Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda.

Afrolit Sans Frontières, a virtual literary festival for writers of African origin, started as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic international lockdown. It has had two iterations with Season 1 curated by festival founder Zukiswa Wanner in March and Season 2 co-curated with Maaza Mengiste and the founder in April. Season 3, with curation by Mohale Mashigo and Zukiswa Wanner, features 16 writers from 13 countries streaming from 15 cities in English, French, and Portuguese. All sessions run on the official Afrolit Sans Frontières Instagram page twice daily from May 25 to June 1.

The festival which started on Africa Day, May 25, has so far featured Dilman Dila in Kampala, Uganda, Tochi Onyebuchi in New York, USA, Vamba Sherif in Amsterdam, Holland, Ayesha Harruna Attah in Dakar, Senegal, Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse in Bordeaux, France, Max Lobé in Geneva, Switzerland, Masande Ntshanga in Cape Town, South Africa , and Mubanga Kalimamukwento in Minneapolis, USA.

The last day of the working week at Afrolit Sans Frontières is called “Girls Friday” and it started with Tsitsi Dangarembga in Harare, Zimbabwe before Leila Aboulela took the later session. Aboulela, who is the first winner of the Caine Prize, has written many books including The Kindness of Enemies, The Translator, a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the year, Minaret and Lyrics Alley, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. Her latest books are the novel Bird Summons and the short story collection Elsewhere, Home, winner of the Saltire Fiction Book of the Year. Her work has received critical recognition and a high profile for its distinctive exploration of migration and Islamic spirituality.

Leila Aboulela and Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda.
Leila Aboulela and Natasha Omokhodion-Kalulu Banda.

The session was started by the Edinburgh-based author who welcomed her host and gave an exclusive read of work in progress. For the next hour, we were treated to one of the best writers from Africa talking about her work and influences. The dozens who had attended heard about the earlier books she read while as a youngster in Khartoum (Barbara Cartland, Sydney Sheldon et al), some of the music that drove her writing sensibilities in the past (Bob Marley), and her love of the character-driven novel. She also stated that during the Covid-19 period she has not been able to write or even read the long length novel settling for short stories like those recommended by our friends at AFREADA.