The Miles Morland Foundation showed up on our shores in 2013 with little fanfare and has since grown to be the most influential literary organisations on the continent. It changes locational focus as it turns five.
It wasn’t one of the most auspicious entries into the African literary scene you’ve ever seen. In 2013, an organisation based in London called the Miles Morland Foundation made a call out to African writers to send proposals for their novels. Those who would win the pitch would have their incomes funded for a whole year to the tune of over ten thousand pounds. The only unique thing about the organisation was its second name that threw up those red squiggles you get on Microsoft Word documents when one makes a spelling error. The scholarships would go to Zimbabwe’s Percy Zvomuya, Kenya’s Tony Mochama and Uganda’s Doreen Baingana.
Since then, the scholarship has grown with some of the best known names from the length and the breadth of the continent applying for and getting a share of the £400,000 handed out. In the last four years, its recipients have included Simone Haysom, Ahmed Khalifa, Ndinda Kioko, Yewande Omotoso, Abdul Adan, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Lidudumalingani Mqombothi, Nneoma Ike-Njoku, Fatin Abbas, Akwaeke Emezi, Karen Jennings, Bolaji Odofin, Bryony Rheam, Elnathan John, Eloghosa Osunde, and Fatima Kola. In 2016, the scholarship expanded to include nonfiction projects and the recipients have been Noo Saro-Wiwa and Alemseged Tesfai.
Five years on, this laudable scholarship is the only one that offers actual money to writers so that they can pursue their dreams of writing their novels. As this piece is being written, Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door is the only proposal that has seen the light of day from the scholarship funding. I don’t know what this is about. It probably says more about just how difficult producing a novel is than just the opportunity to stay away from your job and have the time to work on your manuscript.
The foundation has had more success with its support of the initiatives that we all follow today. Some of these include Abantu Book Fair, African Writers Trust, Ake International Book Fair, Ba re e ne re, Bahati Books, CDEA Writer’s Lounge, Commonwealth Writers, Femwrite, Hargeysa International Book Fair, Huza Press, Kwani, Mozambique Film Festival, Royal African Society, Saraba, Short Story Day Africa, Sierra Leone Film Festival, Storymoja Festival, The Caine Prize, Writers Project Ghana, and Writivism. These initiatives have enriched the whole African literary scene many giving a new lease of life to the literary scenes in their host countries.
The foundation has also experimented with teaching the next generation of writers with their first workshop being hosted in Uganda run by Giles Foden and Michela Wrong. Hopefully this instruction will go a long way to ensuring that the next generation of Morland Scholars are able to produce books after the end of their scholarships.
So what next for this fast grown foundation? Its founder Miles Morland recently assured all that they will be a radical change in the way they support initiatives locally. There will be an increase in funding of those that are based on continent. He says,
“Our focus on African writing will use up an increasing amount of our spending. We have made a real impact in this area. We have to date supported fifteen or so literary festivals all over the continent. Collectively they do a wonderful job of bringing people in Africa who write together with people who are interested in writing.
This is great news as it means that we are set to enjoy more of these festivals on our rock which is a very good thing. It’s not such good news for the organisations in the UK that have been receiving funding in the past as many will have to look for new ways of funding their activities. Morland states,
“We will have less money to spend on the people we currently support in London and elsewhere. We have always said that our role with people we support is as a catalyst, not a crutch, so we hope they will understand when the grants they receive from us decline in value.”
There you have it. More funding to the African based organisations.