Lola Shoneyin at Afrolit Sans Frontieres Virtual Literary Festival

Lola Shoneyin rounded off the second day of Season 2 of Afrolit Sans Frontières on Instagram from Lagos, Nigeria on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. She was hosted by Remy Ngamije.

Afrolit Sans Frontières, a new initiative by and for writers of African origin, was started in March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic international lockdown. Like the first edition, Season 2 features some of the leading names in African letters today with curation by Maaza Mengiste and festival founder Zukiswa Wanner. This season sees 16 writers from 14 countries streaming from 13 cities in English, French, and Portuguese over eight days under the festival theme “What I Wish You’d Ask Me.”

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor kicked off proceedings on the first day from Nairobi, Kenya followed by festival co-curator Maaza Mengiste closing out the day from Zurich, Switzerland. The second day started out with Elma Shaw streaming from Kigali, Rwanda before the evening was concluded by Lola Shoneyin from Lagos, Nigeria.

Lola Shoneyin is a poet, novelist, publisher, festival organiser and art entrepreneur. As a poet she has the three collections in So All the Time I Was Sitting on an Egg (1997), Song of a Riverbird (2002) and For the Love of Flight (2010); her children’s books are Mayowa and the Masquerades (2010), Do As You are Told, Baji (2019) and Iyaji, the Housegirl (2019). She is also the writer of the award-winning novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.

Her non-book writing work includes founding the Book Buzz Foundation that promotes literacy, creates reading spaces, and organises cultural and arts-focused events such as the Ake Arts & Book Festival, and the Kaduna Book & Arts Festival. She is also the founder of the publishing house Ouida Books as well as one of the best-stocked bookstores in Nigeria.

The Nigerian started her session like the ones that we had seen in the past first by introducing herself, reading from her famous novel, and then letting her host Remy Ngamije direct questions. Over the next forty five minutes or so, she spoke about a variety of literary topics on craft and tradition and non-literary like her opinions on rubber penises.

She spoke about how long it took to write her famous novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, what happened to the short story Harlot that was last seen in the African 39 Anthology, and the like. She also spoke about the tradition that she found when she joined the literary community in her twenties where the older writers were to be venerated. Writers today are more hostile to those who came before them to her surprise. She wondered whether she was partly to blame for starting Ake Festival as she was giving everyone too much access to the older writers.

Shoneyin explained that everything she did was to support and grow the literary community thus she could not understand why some spoke of gatekeepers. Few understood that those they accused of blocking them were the ones doing the work to raise writers up.

You can watch the whole conversation in full in the video below.