Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

Written by Efemena Agadama, a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. 
He normally contributes articles to
his Amnesty International blog.


“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

From top left: Lily Mabura and Namwali Serpell;
From bottom left: Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, and Ken Barris

As London remains the global city of literature, where the great minds of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, George Elliot, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Milton, and Keats once held sway, the sweet voices of Africa shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for Africa Writing converged at the prestigious Travel Bookshop at Notting Hill on July 3, 2010.

But this time around, it wasn’t the flag of the English literature that they hoisted, though with due respect to the English literature.  It was the brightly coloured rainbow flag of the sweet African literature; the literature where words of wisdom, onomatopoeic rhythms, drama and compact plots entwine to weave the beautiful honeycomb of a unique world literature that has been the love of other world literatures.

And the revered voices were Namwali Serpell, Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, Ken Barris and Lily Mabura.  Oh! It was a lovely and endearing gathering.  They were so humble and social that you wouldn’t be able to identify them.  Even I couldn’t identify them.  However, I guessed on one – Namwali Serpell.  As soon as she entered with all smiles, complexion of a mixed race, pretty hair style and a modest gown, she hugged two members of the audience at the front row, and I was behind at the third row.  In fact, I felt hugged too.  I felt her hugging me with her pretty smiles.  And when she smiled at them, I still felt she was smiling at me.  Please, don’t laugh at me.  The aura of the African literature that the five shortlisted writers brought into The Travel Bookshop auditorium could make anyone feel hugged in such a situation.  Now I understand why people used to fight over Michael Jackson’s shirt during performance.  Look at me fighting over a hug in my spirit.

After a while, the moderator, Saara Marchadour hit the drum for the music of the day to begin.  She in her modesty asked them one after the other to read excerpts from their shortlisted entries.  Ken Barris started the drumming.  He stood up and began reading from his “The Life of Worm.”  Its reading had the professionalism of a news caster.  He cleverly alternated his eyes between the script and the audience.  Alex Smith read hers “Soulmates” with a very emotional tone; Sharp, clear and with subtle demonstrative cues of drama.  As she read, one could hear the words like the rendition of an actress on Shakespeare Globe Theatre during the performance of Macbeth this past June.  Olufemi Terry had a louder voice.  I think his body build added substance to his voice – softly audacious.  Then Namwali read from her “Muzungu”.  She read with a dramatic flow and a clear voice.  As she read one could see a reflection of all her travellings in her rising and falling tone.  And the fifth shortlisted writer, Lily Mabura with her creative candour, gave us a noble background to her story and set the fire aglow to signal the end of the reading sessions.

Thereafter, the respected and famous Saara Marchadour of the Travel Bookshop interviewed them on the stories and inspiration behind their shortlisted works.  And she opened the floor for audience members to ask questions.

It was lovely and very exciting.  Just being in the presence of these great writers is like being locked in a small room with a million and a million of Shakepeare, Wordsworth, Soyinka, Achebe and Coetzee.  These shortlisted writers have really re-hoisted the African literature flag in London and it now flies higher.  Really, London remains the world’s leading city in Arts and Literature.

23 comments on “Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

  1. Good for new writers. Has Adichie won this award? I expect her to win it soonest if she hasn’t.

  2. different colours, one prize. It’s good as a non-racial award, reading their works will help comments.

  3. @ Obire:

    I’m certain that Chimamanda Adiche is yet to win The Caine prize. Check her official/personal website:
    Thank you.

    Good literature cuts across borders and sensitivities. More over, Africa, like other continents is mixed colour especially South Africa and the Northern region: Egypt, Morroco, Algeria etc. I appreciate mixed colours. Thank you.

  4. It is great that every year in London we have the rare opportunity of glimpsing into the future of African literature in the guise of the Caine Prize nominees. It is even more refreshing, as demonstrated this year, that the future of African literature is as colourful as these array of promising writers exhibit.

  5. @Efemena:
    Africa is rich in literature.This is derived from their unadulterated cultural heritage.Africa is endowed with the gift of words if put together their contempories can not compete.

  6. Dear Abubakar,
    It’s great to hear from you, a respected winner of the BBC Annual radio play for Africa. It will be nice to discuss your work someday here too.

    Please, keep the flag flying with your good literary works.

    Thank you.

  7. @ Gladstone:
    Certainly, Africa has a style in literature of words and of heritage and as the little-london-observationist unravels the beauty of London, more will be revealed in London too. Noted.

    Dear poet, artist and writer, noted.

  8. @ Efemena. Well, all i know is that someday you are going to win a noble prize as a great writter. You can take that to the bank!!!

  9. what is worth doing is worth doing well, Efemena you have made a step which comes out to be encouraging in the feild of literature. we look up to you in the nearest future as a guest post, an author better still a writer, and a menthor in this literal world. KUDO’s, you are on point.

  10. Nice article! Must have been a wonderful event….will be sure to watch out for those authors and look for their work

  11. Wow! Articles written like this one could be my sole request for the never-ending flames in the Niger Delta. The articles brings out all that were nice about the shortlisted writers, their activities and of course their smiles.

    I like it when good writing embraces fact. You have made my day, Agadama.

    Thanks a lot!

  12. Chimamanda was shortlisted for the caine prize in the same year Binyavanga won his.
    The title of the story is “The Thing Around Your Neck”, yes, the same as her lastest book.

  13. I’m amazed at the retinue of comments. Literature is life and a great festive party that one will always wish to dwell in always.

    Thanks and your comments are noted:

    @Richard Ali: Greatest of poets , literary editor and of dreamed narrative writing.

    @Lala Ughamadu: The owners of Adichie Chimamanda, Chinua Achebe and purified literature and of the media.

    @Zin Zino: Your words tell of the glow of your personality.

    @Nwilo Bura-Bari…: I just glanced through your website/link. I’m jealous of your great works even the blind will cry for sight to read them.

    @ Tesiro: Would like to know you. Thanks for your wonderful update. You are a symbol and ivory of literature from your comments

  14. Caine prize is the most respected literary award for African writing yet not well publicized. Why?

  15. i think literature is universal it hasnt any border or colour.people are very diffrent from each other so literature is always rich. also , this event is great and i think”africa’s sweetest voices in london” described this event very good.
    and good luck for your novel efemana…

  16. @ Clinton: I feel because it’s still new (from 2000) and that famous names have not won it. Names like Soyinka, Achebe, Coetzee, Mahfouz, Gordimer, Ngugi, Ama Ata Aidoo etc: Despite that, it is highly respected and regarded by the literary world and the mentioned writers. It is well known too. Look below for names of previous winners:

    2009: E C Osondu
    2008: Henrietta Rose-Innes
    2007: Monica Arac de Nyeko
    2006: Mary Watson
    2005: SA Afolabi
    2004: Brian Chikwava
    2003: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
    2002: Binyavanga Wainaina
    2001: Helon Habila
    2000: Leila Aboulela

    @Naile: It will be a pleasure to read your literature like you said “hasn’t any border or colour.” You are right. Noted.

  17. I wish all lovers of literature were there. The article is as inspiring as the agthering was. Thank you Richard for the message.

  18. This is fine reporting, Efemena. You make the event come alive again. Well, African literature is going places and am please with that development. However, the sad thing to note about our writing is that the really bright ones are hardly given any recognition at home until they win international awards. Happilly, things can change, and this state of affairs in African Literature will change. Thanks for bringing all this my way. CHEERS!

  19. on Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London: i will go through later and make a comment. But the few line i just went through is classic. I see a literature noble award prize on you few yrs from today! good job keep on great one

  20. Knowing d author very well, i am not then surprised that such a masterpiece could emanate from him. D book is a bomb from all indications and will be apreciated d world over. Kudos

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