Angels and Muse is a creative space par excellence. Founded by Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, it is the perfect space for our workshops on literary criticism and its role in the contemporary African literary discourse. Victor believes that ‘telling our own stories and building our own institutions for present and future generations’ is vital and cannot be ‘a one-man task but a communal effort of like-minded people’. The artistic hub offers an art gallery, a small conference space and upstairs, a lovely Airbnb for creative people.
We are three literary crits, editors and writers from Nairobi, Kenya (Otieno Okwino), Rabat, Morocco (Marcia Lynx Qualey) and Johannesburg, South Africa (me) who have travelled to Nigeria to meet ten aspiring literary talents. These young Nigerian writers have already completed a ten-month programme on literary criticism with Wawa Book Review, an important initiative that focuses on African literature in all genres and uses volunteer reviewers to look at the works and evaluate them. For many books, this will be their only chance to be recognised by a broader audience.
Director Wale Dada and his editor Joy Chime are the driving forces behind this mind-broadening initiative and make clear how important it is for African literature to be evaluated by Africans and not only by foreigners like myself. I come from a distinct German culture of literary reviewing that is very elaborate, still published in many important newspapers and magazines (despite the really relevant criticism from my German colleagues), is widely read, and plays an integral role in the literary landscape.
Our three days in Nigeria, which include a workshop and a final public event, are demanding and fully packed with events and opportunities to exchange ideas and thoughts and to work on texts. Each of the ten young writers prepared five literary reviews to talk about in individual interviews. We also talk together about presentations on trends in African literature. Marcia’s introduction into North African writing offers so much new information and also leads to a discussion that questions if this literature, written in Arabic, is African or not.
My role is a double one. I talk about what is happening in South African literature right now and also look into how German-speaking critics write about African publications in German. As the editor of a series of contemporary African fiction for a German publisher, you can imagine how passionate I am about this topic. Too often we have to deal with stereotyping or well-minded misinterpretations through cultural appropriation or simply a misunderstanding of the environment the text was produced in. As literary criticism refers to reasoned consideration of literary works and their related issues, one of its tasks and necessary functions is to explore and express shifts in sensitivity that make it possible to re-evaluate literary works.
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