Content for the continent

African Writing Online‘s inaugural issue features Caine Prize winners Brian Chikwava, Helon Habila, local writer Zukiswa Wanner and others. Percy Zvomuya speaks to the editor, Afam Akeh.

Who is behind the magazine?

African Writing has Chuma Nwokolo and Afam Akeh as publisher and editor respectively. Both are authors who bring to their roles in the publication a wealth of experience from the book industry, journalism and the legal profession.
African Writing consults with an international pool of contributing editors in sourcing, researching and writing its stories, most of whom are noted writers and scholars from the African world.

What brought about the concept?

We saw there was the need for a transnational literary paper with particular focus on the literature and writers of the African world. We noticed that such a need existed in continental Africa, and that the absence of significant and influential trans-African literary papers seemed to transfer authority and responsibility for cross-national reporting and representation of African literature to non-African publications ... We did not like this comparative incapacity by Africa to represent its own contemporary writing competently and comprehensively in all its full-flavoured glory, and decided to do something about it.

African Writing is our response to this situation in which we are aware of—but do not wish merely to complain about—international marginalisation, under-representation and occasional misinterpretation of literary Africa.

When do you plan to publish a hard copy?

In many ways, our online success has been the most significant factor in complicating or delaying the appearance of the paper edition.

The huge international response to African Writing Online meant we had more to do in our first month than we had anticipated in terms of planning and administration. Then there were the floods in our Oxford base, which affected our printers. But the literary paper is already at the press as I write and should be in circulation by the time this interview appears in the Mail & Guardian.

What issues will be explored in the magazine?

African Writing is about the writers of Africa, wherever they may be located, writing their experiences and thoughts from their African perspectives. I suppose this pretty much covers the everyday—so long as this writing of the everyday is written well. For us, excellence is non-negotiable.

Will you be covering hard news and running longer feature articles?

Getting the right balance is, of course, important to the success of what we do, important in attracting the readers we have to our pages and keeping their interest. We expect to offer stronger news content as the size of our network increases but there will also be those carefully chosen feature articles, including the mostly commissioned creative writings.

Can you explain your tagline “Many literatures, One voice”?

More than its mere geographical representation, Africa is a political and cultural expression. To say that one is African or writes as an African invokes the possibility of location but, more importantly, it is a way of engaging with others of a shared historical and racial experience, even where these others may have a different skin colour. Our slogan denotes this complex contemporary way of seeing, writing and negotiating a liberated Africa in a time of globalised identities, shared histories and common regional challenges.

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