The #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge kicks off with Christopher Okigbo’s poem “Heavensgate.”

The #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge kicks off with Christopher Okigbo’s poem “Heavensgate.”

Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo’s poem Heavensgate was the first to be given the full treatment from Ake Festival’s #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge unveiled on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Over a billion human beings are currently locked up in their homes to ensure that the Coronavirus, and its deadly disease Covid-19, doesn’t overwhelm health services around the world. This effort to “flatten the curve” has seen a whole lot of activities online to keep the millions cooped up in their homes busy.  #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge was kicked off by Nigerian poet, novelist, publisher, and Ake Festival founder Lola Shoneyin on the Ake Festival Twitter account on Wednesday, April 1. The festival founder explained that she did it to introduce young readers and writers to the amazing poets that the continent has produced. It was to be a collaborative affair that featured poets from across Africa.

“The way that this will work is that I will start by reading the first lines of a poem and then I will nominate an African poet from a different African country to take over and read the next few lines,” Shoneyin said. “That poet then nominates someone else so that over a twenty four hour period about sixteen poets will have read the poem around three times.”

The first poem to be featured was Heavensgate by the late great poet Christopher Okigbo. Okigbo (August 16, 1932 – 1967) was a Nigerian poet, teacher, and librarian. He is today widely acknowledged as an outstanding postcolonial English-language African poet and one of the major modernist writers of the 20th century.

Taking part was a star-studded cast that started off with challenge creator Shoneyin followed by the poets Wana Udobang, Logan February, Lebo Mashile, Titilope Sonuga, Lemn Sissay, TJ Dema, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Clifton Gachagua, Nick Makoha, Efe Paul Azino, Kayo Chingonyi, Kola Tubosun, and Natalia Molebatsi. It was a thing of beauty watching the poets nominating one another and waiting until the next video in the thread popped up. After the twenty four hour cycle, the team at the Ake Festival did a recap video of the poets who took part in reading the famous poem that you can see below.

Below is the Twitter thread with the poets reading their section followed by nominating the next participant.

Lola Shoneyin (nominates Lebo Mashile)

Lebo Mashile (nominates Lemn Sissay)

Lemn Sissay (nominates TJ Dema)

TJ Dema (nominates Nii Ayikwei Parkes)

Nii Ayikwei Parkes (nominates Clifton Gachagua)

Clifton Gachagua (nominates Nick Makoha)

 

Nick Makoha (nominates Kayo Chingonyi)

 

Kayo Chingonyi (nominates Bridget Minamore)

You can read the poem by Okigbo here in its entirety.

Update: When The Lights Go Out (For Some Who Are In South African Jails) by South African poet Mongane Wally Serote was the second poem of the #ReadAfricanPoetryChallenge. It was read by poets from Algeria, Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. These were Maryam Bukar, Belinda Zhawi, Bridget Minamore, Dami Ajayi, Kadija Sesay, Koleka Putuma, Bash Amuneni, Poetra Asantewa, Chika Jones, Ola Elhassan, Isatoun Alwar Cham-Graham, Uche Nduka, Theresa Lola, Ogaga Ifowodo, Inua Ellams, Samira Negrouche, and JJ Bola. You can watch the poems recited on YouTube below.

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