Africa Writes: Claudia Rankine among writers at heritage event

Africa Writes: Claudia Rankine among writers at heritage event

From African poetry renaissance to British-Ghanaian literary resurgence, Africa Writes celebrates cultural legacy and creative expression.

by Suswati Basu
1 comment

The Royal African Society‘s annual celebration of contemporary African and diaspora literature, Africa Writes, recently explored the theme of “Intangible Heritage” at the British Library. This vibrant literary festival, the largest of its kind in the UK, is a deep meditation on the unspoken elements of culture that shape our narratives and identities. Poets Kwame Dawes and Claudia Rankine, two prominent voices in the world of poetry, brought their unique perspectives to this year’s festival, delving into the depths of custom, tradition, and the often unnoticed aspects that define who we are.

Claudia Rankine and Kwame Dawes on diversity in publishing

African poetry’s evolving heritage: insights from Kwame Dawes and Claudia Rankine

Kwame Dawes, an accomplished writer with 36 books to his name, including poetry, fiction, criticism, and essays, has played a pivotal role in promoting African poetry. He serves as the Director of the African Poetry Book Fund and is the Artistic Director of the Calabash International Literary Festival. Claudia Rankine, equally distinguished, is the author of five poetry books, including “Citizen: An American Lyric” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.” She has co-edited anthologies and founded The Racial Imaginary Institute.

In their conversation at Africa Writes, Dawes and Rankine touched upon various facets of African poetry and its heritage. One significant initiative they discussed was the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF), which Dawes co-founded. APBF has been instrumental in publishing and promoting African poets globally. Over the past decade, the fund has published 181 African poets, providing them with the platform they deserve. It’s not merely about publishing; APBF is committed to creating a comprehensive framework for African poetry, ensuring it receives the critical attention and respect it deserves.

One of the fund’s primary goals is to make African poetry tangible. It’s not just about printing books; it’s about making African voices resonate worldwide. They’ve accomplished this by supporting emerging poets through the Sillerman First Book Prize and preserving the legacies of established poets through their Classic Series, which includes the works of giants like Kofi Awoonor and Wole Soyinka.

Read: Diversity in publishing: moving past a tick box exercise

Rankine also highlighted the importance of challenging the gatekeeping practices in the publishing industry. While progress has been made in the UK and the US, there’s still a long way to go. Both poets stressed the significance of breaking down these barriers to ensure that voices of colour are not marginalised or ignored.

“Toni Morrison wrote a beautiful essay article about her emergence, and she said African writers gave her confidence to say, I can write about Black society without depending on the white gaze. And what she was doing was, she was saying, let’s have a conversation that understands that the legacy, the heritage, the inheritance of the Black writer in America, in Britain, is the writer in Africa.”

Kwame Dawes

The conversation concluded with a reminder that the diversity we see today in the poetry scenes of the UK and the US did not happen by chance. It is the result of concerted efforts by individuals and organisations that have tirelessly worked to create inclusive spaces for poets of all backgrounds.

A record year for British Ghanaian authors

In another thought-provoking discussion at Africa Writes titled “London to Accra: British-Ghanaian Authors in Motion,” debut novelist Krystle Zara Appiah, author of “Rootless,” and Marie-Claire Amuah, the creative mind behind “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy,” engaged in a captivating dialogue moderated by Akua Gyamfi, founder of the British Blacklist media platform.

Krystle Zara Appiah and Marie Claire Amuah on cultural responsibility

Gyamfi opened the conversation by highlighting the remarkable surge in books published by British-Ghanaian authors, noting that many of these books, though often set in London, beautifully capture the essence of Ghanaian culture. She posed questions about the complex notion of British-Ghanaian identity and how intangible heritage manifests itself in their stories.

“I think, in a society where we are sometimes seen as a monolith, I didn’t want to be responsible for painting us, as a people in one way, because that’s not what I want anybody to take from the book.”

Marie-Claire Amuah, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” Author

Amuah, also a British Ghanaian author and barrister, discussed her path to writing “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy.” She explained how the book seemingly wrote itself during a challenging period in her life, emphasising the importance of returning to creativity and self-expression. She highlighted the significance of the moment when she first saw her book’s cover design and how it resonated with her. While Appiah, who is an editor and screenwriter was one of the 40 writers chosen for the London Library’s Emerging Writers Program.

Exploring complex themes of identity, motherhood and mental health

Both authors explored complex themes in their books, including the challenges of navigating cultural clashes between British and Ghanaian identities, mental health, generational divides, and the role of mothers. They discussed the importance of portraying these themes in nuanced ways to avoid oversimplification or misrepresentation.

Reflecting on their emotional journeys as writers, the authors acknowledged that writing their novels was an emotionally charged experience. Appiah shared that certain scenes pushed her characters to their limits, while Amuah revealed that her book touched on difficult subjects as the character was “born into the chaos of domestic violence.” They leaned on friends for support during these challenging moments.

“Elements of it started in quite a personal place and exploring what would happen for someone who doesn’t want children to give in to the pressure around her and give in to the familial expectation that that is particularly as a Black woman, but also as a Ghanaian woman. That is what you do. Like, you do things for the next generation, for your family, for the people in your life. And that’s the priority. so I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a spiritual journey, but definitely was an emotional one at points.”

Krystle Zara Appiah, “Rootless” author

Consequently, both authors emphasised the transformative power of creative expression and encouraged everyone to find ways to allow their creative selves to flourish. They highlighted the therapeutic and mindfulness benefits of engaging in creative activities, reiterating that creativity is accessible to all.

Read: Wolfson Prize nominee Professor Hakim Adi on redundancy and recognition

The surge in books by British Ghanaian authors, often set in London but deeply rooted in Ghanaian culture, was highlighted as a significant literary trend. Appiah and Amuah’s novels not only entertain but also inspire readers to reflect on their own intangible heritage and the stories that shape their lives. These authors as well as Africa Writes as a whole, serve as a testament to the richness of British-Ghanaian experiences, inviting us all to explore the depths of our cultural identities and the power of creative expression.

Subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts, recommendations & episodes. Let’s stay updated!


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

You may also like

1 comment

Black to the Future festival: a journey into Afrofuturism - How To Be Books October 19, 2023 - 8:03 pm

[…] Read: Africa Writes: Claudia Rankine among writers at heritage event […]


Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?