African Literature and the role of the literary arts in development formed part of discussion on contemporary Africa when a huge audience of policy makers- some Members of both Houses of the British Parliament, Ambassadors and High Commissioners to the Court of St. James’s gathered at the Palace of Westminster in London last week.
The discussions were provoked with the release of two books, May Their Shadows Never Shrink- Wole Soyinka and the Oxford Professorship of Poetry written by Ivor Agyeman- Duah, a Ghanaian author and literary historian and Lucy Newlyn, a professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford and the other book, a four hundred page anthology of African short stories titled, All the Good Things Around Us (both published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing, Oxfordshire) edited by Agyeman-Duah with a Foreword by Wole Soyinka.
Augustus Casely-Hayford, a leading figure in British cultural circles and the well-known BBC TV presenter of Lost Kingdoms of Africa who launched the books looked into the ancient empires of Africa , their state formation apparatus and in particular their creative minds in the case of Asante and said that, All the Good Things Around Us is reminiscent of some of those creativities as it is a volume “of stories from some of our most eloquent and able voices. These are the imaginations to capture this moment of critical cultural shift and existential questioning.” He praised the editor for bringing the voices from across the continent together.
The Convener of the event, Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Secretary of Health was overwhelmed with the assemblage of guests which had the Asantehene Osei Tutu II as guest speaker on the topic of Africa’s Democratic Path and the Search for Economic Transformation. The Guest of Honour, the Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka’s topic was to reflect on Governance and the Literary Arts as increasingly, Africa’s literature is determined by economic choices and consumption patterns.
Abbott’s Jamaican background she confessed as a person of colour, has always kindled her interest in issues to do with the arts, identity and politics especially of dispossession which confront Africa and the developing world.
Paul Boateng the first Lord of the House of Lords of African and Ghanaian descent who introduced the Ashanti King before the lecture and gave him and his wife, Lady Julie, former President John Agyekum Kufuor and Prof Soyinka and a select few a guided and splendid tour of both Houses of Parliament, recalled the role that education especially the arts played in his and others development and applauded the role of the Otumfuo Education Fund.
In a behest of poetic humour and the praise singing poetics of the Asantehene’s poets in the British Parliament, it was obvious the appeal of the empire writing back as Prof. Wole Soyinka told the audience that Anglophone Africa inherited tribalism from the British.
Social frustrations, on a serious note, he said, especially of economies and which lead to violence, is increasingly becoming reflective in literary productions in Nigeria and parts of Africa; away from the romanticism of the past towards confrontation with realities. He described All the Good Things Around Us as a serious work of literature.
The editor, Ivor Agyeman-Duah in his remarks of the event praised Diane Abbott as one “who still peddles her canoe on a long journey of almost 30 years since that historic election of her parliamentary career….and shown a measure of integrity across the sunset of time” and described the Asantehene and Prof. Soyinka as a Keeper of Heritage and our Cultural Antiphonist respectively. He was concerned that literature’s “navigation towards retrogression as sources of creativity whether in Nurudin’s Frarah’s Somali or the moral fragments of Maiduguri could only be shifted to happier centers with better economic choices.”
His editorship of All the Good Things Around Us also contains three of his short stories- one of which, Dead Leaves on the Beautiful River is set in Harlem, New York after the victory of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States; the second story- The Son has its setting in Ibadan, Nigeria and the third, The Codicil in Kumasi, Ghana. The other influential and award-winning contributors of the 400 page book of 28 stories from major countries on the Continent and with a prologue by the Booker Prize author, Ben Okri, include: Ama Ata Aidoo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sefi Atta, Ogochukwu Promise, Tope Folarin, Chika Unigwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Ellen-Banka Aaku, Taiye Selasi, Faustin Kagame, Yvonne Owuor, Yaba Badoe, Benjamin Sehene, Shadreck Chikoti, Bridget Pitt and others.