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Aké Festival (2017): A Volunteer’s Recap

By Deaduramilade Tawak

I decided to volunteer at Aké for the festival this year because I wanted the experience of what it was like to be on the other side. I am not new to volunteering, whether for events or organisations, but if I was accepted, this would be the first time that I’d be volunteering for an event of this type and scale. I had applied to volunteer last year, but was not selected (I went as a visitor, but only on the last day because my leave wasn’t approved), so I wasn’t very hopeful.

Photo credit: David Adélékè

Three weeks to the festival, I receive an email from Ify (who is the Administrative Manager for the festival) saying I have been selected as a volunteer. In the email is a document with Terms and Conditions to be signed, but I’m still waiting on leave approval. The document also includes the rules and regulations for volunteers: no chewing gum on duty, no smoking on duty, no asking guests for money or favours, no fighting and so on. Finally, two weeks to Aké, and two days before the deadline for accepting the volunteer offer, I receive confirmation of leave approval, so I print, sign, scan and send the document.

Reinhard Bonnke’s farewell rally will be ending on Sunday, the day volunteers are expected to arrive in Abeokuta for the festival. We decide to leave as early as possible to avoid traffic, but not too early that we’d have to wait hours before seeing Ify, who is in charge of volunteers. We being myself, Afọpẹ́fólúwa, and Opẹ́yẹmí (whom I’d found by asking around for volunteers leaving from Lagos). I’d gone to Abẹ́òkuta myself the year before, and although it wasn’t a bad experience, I felt that I’d be more comfortable if I had familiar faces on the journey.

Photo credit: David Adélékè

We leave Lagos shortly after 11am, and I sleep for the entire journey and wake up at the exact moment we arrive at Kuto Park, Abẹ́òkuta, not far from the Cultural Centre where the festival will hold. We take a cab to the centre and meet another volunteer (Ona) waiting. We have 4 hours to kill. Fortunately, I have books, my phone, and three other ladies to keep me company. Slowly, other volunteers begin to arrive. First Yetunde, another first-time volunteer, then Stephanie, another veteran volunteer, and then a stream of young men and women I do not know or recognize.

Ify arrives and we have a “family meeting” where we introduce ourselves — most people are from Lagos, many of us are writers — and are given a quick break down of what the week will be like. Lọlá Shónẹ́yìn arrives at some point. The truck with the books and the other things we’re supposed to sort hasn’t arrived, so we headed to our hotel to group ourselves into rooms. I pick Ona as my roommate. Dinner of jollof rice appears soon after, and we rest a bit before heading back to the venue to help offload the truck. When this is done, we’re each given two orange volunteer shirts, then it’s good nights.

On Monday, we’re grouped into teams, and I’m placed at the registration desk. I’ve been warned by my friend, Ọpẹ́, who had volunteered for the past two events to try to avoid that designation. Being at the front desk means that you miss most, if not all, of what happens during the festival. She’s right. I miss out on all the interesting panels, but catch pieces of conversations as people move from one panel session to another. There are five other people with me including Ona, Yétúndé and Stephanie.

We start with sorting bags and tags for guests, visitors, press, and crew. There’s some downtime, during which I read my copy of What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Leslie Nneka Arimah. There’s more sorting, packing, getting to know each other, setting up, tweeting, chatting, and reading. Somewhere in the middle of all this, there’s a call. I have to leave for Lagos very early the next day. I inform Ify of this development.

I leave for Lagos at 7pm AM, my business takes longer to sort than I expected, so I get back to Abeokuta at about 5pm. I’m told that I haven’t missed much, and registration starts shortly after I arrive. I work out a system to get through registration quickly. We register guests and attendees till around 9pm.

From Wednesday till Saturday, I spend all my time at the registration desk, except for when I go for food breaks or toilet breaks. This is where I get Mona Eltahawy to sign my copy of Headscarves and Hymens. This is where I get to meet Bim Adéwùmí, who is one of the major reasons I decided to attend the festival. This is where I finally put faces to names and Twitter handles. This is where I develop an addiction to kòkòrò. This is where I catch up with people I never see, except at these things. This is where I find out about and enter the Aké Festival giveaway, which I will come to later. Being at the registration desk means that I meet almost everybody who came for the festival. It also means I have to smile a lot, even when I’m tired and hungry, and when I’m upset because almost everybody else who’s supposed to be helping at the registration desk is not.

One of the highlights of my time at Abẹ́òkuta isn’t at the festival, but in a small hotel room party a few minutes away from the hotel where volunteers are lodged. Another highlight is the Palmwine and Poetry night. I caught the tail end of the event, as we closed the registration desk at about that time. I came in in the middle of Poetra’s relatable poem on feminism, and I also heard Koleka Putuma perform a few poems. The brightest highlight is winning the book grant.

At the end of the event, Lọlá Shónẹ́yìn gives a thank you speech, after which I am announced as the winner of the Aké Festival book grant. I have won N25,000 to buy books at the festival bookshop. The night, and the festival, ends with a party.

The next day, we go back to the Cultural Centre to pack up the bookshop, I redeem my books, and combined with books received as late birthday gifts, I leave Aké with 16 nooks, and the stipend volunteers receive at the end of the festival.

Aké is always a delight.

Photo credit: FuadXIV

Even if you’re stuck behind a registration desk for all 4 nights and 3 days of the festival, and have to make do with a barely good DJ (last year’s DJ was great) at the closing party you’d been looking forward to since Day 1. Being surrounded by friends and people you admire, Africa’s best writers, upcoming writers, book lovers, and art aficionados, and managing to listen in on concerts and performances happening close to the front desk make up for it.

Literary festivals are delightful because they are a few days of mingling with people, who for the most part, enjoy the things you enjoy. I have attended Aké as a [one day] visitor, now, a volunteer, and, next year, a full event visitor, or maybe a guest (a girl can dream).


Déàdúràmiládé Tawak is a reader, writer, and researcher. She was the second runner-up in the CREETIQ Critic Challenge 2017, and has had her flash fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews published in Brittle Paper, Athena Talks, Africa in Dialogue, and Arts and Africa. She lives in Lagos and tweets from @deaduramilade.

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My Books of 2017

It’s becoming cliché to say that the year flew by pretty fast, but that happened this year again, and I have a number of books to thank for providing a hiding place from the overwhelming nature of reality. Now, the time has come to take stock of progress and setbacks, and to reminisce about the delight that words in print provided to carry one through a tumultuous year.

(You can find my Books of 2016 here)

Here are books I read, wrote, or contributed to this year, in no particular order. Where a link is provided, it’s usually to a review of the work that I wrote.

Books I Completed

  1. Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
  2. The Yearning by Mohale Mashigo
  3. When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola
  4. Taduno’s Song by Odafe Atógun
  5. A Good Mourning by Ogaga Ifowodo
  6. The Heresiad by Ikeogu Oke
  7. Songs of Myself by Tanure Ojaide
  8. Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika
  9. I Wrote This For You by Samira Sanusi
  10. The Kindness of Enemies by Laila Aboulela
  11. Slipping by Lauren Beukes
  12. The Birth of a Dreamweaver by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  13. Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzor
  14. Níyì Ọ̀ṣúndáre: A Literary Biography by Sule E. Egya
  15. Grass to Grace by Ayọ̀ Bámgbóṣé
  16. America their America by JP Clark

I enjoyed all the books I completed this year, especially in the prose department. Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s anticipated debut blew me away in a number of ways, and perplexed me in others. I also enjoyed Mohale Mashigo’s debut which explores trauma and mental illness, Olúmìdé Pópóọlá’s delightful prose and a story of friendship, Lauren Beukes’s collection of dystopian stories, and Sarah Manyika’s beautiful and unconventional book about love in old age. I think I should read more non-conventional prose like these in the next year. Normal is boring.

I was honoured to be able to speak with Laila Aboulela in Kaduna in July, discussing her historical novel The Kindness of Enemies. I’ve always found work that incorporate elements of fact into fiction to be very engaging. That way I can pretend that it’s nonfiction when it is really not. I loved Taduno’s Song for the same reason. I look forward to reading more of such work.

Started But Not Finished

  1. A Woman’s Body is a Country by Dami Àjàyí
  2. Masks of Light by Robert Eliot Fox
  3. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  4. Are You Not a Nigerian? by Báyọ̀ Olúpohùndà
  5. The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes
  6. The Book of Memory by Pettina Gappah
  7. The Sellout by Paul Beaty
  8. Facade by Emem Uko
  9. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  10. Beyond Linguistics and Multilingualism in Nigeria: Essay on linguistics and multilingualism, language in education, English language, Yoruba language & Literature by Ayọ̀ Bámgbóṣé.
  11. Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black by Nadine Gordimer
  12. In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honoré

Speaking of delightful prose, one book I can’t wait to finish is Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. It is my first time reading anything she’s written and I’m blown away. Thanks to the folks at Farafina for sending me a complimentary copy. The book is a collection of short stories each carrying a heavy punch. Her words are sweet and svelte, capable of telling a story, no matter how difficult, with care and beauty. Two of my friends, Báyọ̀ Olúpohùndà and Dami Àjàyí also published a book each this year, and I look forward to spending quality time with them. I’ve read Àjàyí’s book as a manuscript, and many of the articles in Olúpohùndà’s when they were newspaper columns. But I look forward to reading them again. I also highly recommend Robert Eliot Fox’s collection of poetry, published by a publishing outfit by Frank Chipasula whom I met for the first time in Abu Dhabi in April.

Bought But Not started.

  1. Nollywood by Jonathan Haynes
  2. Arrows of Rain by Okey Ndibe
  3. White Lagos by Pẹ̀lú Awófẹ̀sọ̀
  4. Al Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
  5. King Baabu by Wọlé Ṣóyínká
  6. The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma
  7. Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman
  8. Dialogue With My Country by Niyi Ọ̀súndáre
  9. The Translator by Laila Aboulela
  10. A Black Man in the White House by Cornell Belcher
  11. Kintu by Jeniffer Nansubuga Makumbi
  12. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Walk in the White House by Alyssa Mastromon

Of these twelve, the one less likely to be read in a hurry now is Al Franken’s autobiography which I was actually looking forward to. His resignation from the Senate amidst allegations, by about eight women, of sexual impropriety will certainly cast a shadow on any of the jokes he makes in the work about working with women. Not like the Letterman story will be any less cringe-inducing, but one of them managed to escape unscathed from public life. Some irony in that. Both of them, however, still occupy a very important place in American public life, as well as in comedy. I bought the Nollywood book at the Lagos Conference this summer, on impulse purchase, and because the author was there. But don’t know when I’ll ever get to it now. It does look like a good reference material on the story of Nigeria’s thriving movie industry though. I also look forward to reading Okey Ndibe’s Arrows of Rain which actually preceded his memoir published last year. Will be interesting to trace his creative development and style.

Publications my works appeared in.

  1. GENERAL NONFICTION. Saraba Magazine’s published its first print issue this year, titled Transitions. In it, I have a nonfiction piece, co-written with Tèmítáyọ̀ Ọlọ́finlúà titled “House 57”, about a house in Ìbàdàn that means a lot to me, but also carries an important story that touches more than just its immediate characters.
  2. REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS. I published a number of reviews and interviews on Brittle Paper this year, of works of writers like Sarah Ládípọ̀ Manyika, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Níyì Ọ̀ṣúndáre, Chibundu Onuzor, Odafe Atógun, Lauren Beukes, Tádé Ìpàdéọlá, and Wana Udobang. I also published a couple of works on AfricanWriter.com, most notably my interview with Yẹ́misí Aríbisála (February 2017) and Titilope Sonuga (July 2017). I also joined This is Africa later in the year as a resident interviewer, publishing interviews with Dami Àjàyí (October 2017), Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (November 2017), and Igoni Barrett (December 2017). In Ake Review 2017, I have an interview with debut author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ on her work, her process, and on the presentation of women in fiction. It’s aptly titled “There’s Not One Way to Write a Feminist Character” — a quote taken directly from the author’s response to a question I had posed.
  3. ESSAYS. Earlier in March, my literary essay In the Shadow of Context was published in Enkare Review. It was later nominated for the Brittle Paper Award for Think Pieces. In June, I contributed an essay titled Wetin Dey? Nigerian Pidgin and its Many Pikin as a preface to Inua Ellams’s Barbershop Chronicles staged and published by the UK National Theatre. In November 2017, my essay appeared in Il Suono di Pan an anthology edited by Prof. MM Tosolini and launched at Cividale del Friuli, near Udine in November 2017. The essay was titled The Suspended Leg in the Tripod of Identity: Yorùbá Around the World Today. it was also translated to Italian.
  4. FEATURES. In January this year, Latterly Magazine’s Ashley Okwuosa shadowed me around places in Ìbàdàn where I grew up, asking relevant questions about my work as a writer and linguist. We visited Àkóbọ̀, the University of Ìbàdàn, and she met a couple of my professors. The result was a long profile titled “The Yorùbá Guardian” in the Spring Issue of the magazine. So, while this is technically not my work, it’s one I’m glad to have participated in.

Books Lost

This one is a tragedy A book I’ve had with me since 2002 was “borrowed” from me without my permission while I was attending the Kaduna Book and Art Festival (KABAFEST). Still waiting for whoever has it to send it back, graciously.

Hello 2018!

Thinking back, it’s hard to believe I read (or wrote) this much this year. My pocket certainly doesn’t believe it. There are so many more books I have bought and I’m looking forward to reading. The complete works of Nnedi Okorafor, for instance. Something tells me that the time for sci-fi and fantasy fiction is upon us. Every year I promise myself not to buy more books than I can read. I’ve failed this year, but 2018 is another year.

So, what books did you read and enjoy this year? And will you lend me to read?

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Farafina Releases Three New Books

Press Release


Kachifo Ltd is pleased to announce the release of three new books – What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (Nigerian edition), How to Win Elections in Africa and Àníkẹ́ Ẹlẹ́kọ under its Farafina, Kamsi and Tuuti imprints.

The three titles were released on 13th November 2017 and are available on online platforms and in selected bookstores nationwide.

The Books


The collection of short stories, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for writing, boasts of powerful storytelling, unique female protagonists, and a world where women are depicted as the center of the society.


From Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare, and The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician:

“Arimah has a gift of crafting intimate familial relationships . . . and the pressures and strains of those relationships form the most intricate and astonishing narratives. The powerful stories in this dark and affecting collection will show you that magic still exists in our world.”

From Chinelo Onwualu, editor of Omenana Magazine: “Masterfully moving between the speculative to the mundane, this is a riveting read that will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.”

From Igoni A. Barrett, author of Blackass and Love Is Power, or Something Like That:

“From the very first story in What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky this thunderstruck reader began to glean the answer to the question embedded in the book’s title. . . Lesley Nneka Arimah has landed in my rereading list like a blast of fresh air.”

About the Author

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s work has received grants and awards from Commonwealth Writers, AWP, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Jerome Foundation and others. Her short story, What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky was shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing. She currently lives in Minneapolis.



Àníké has to hawk ẹ̀kọ every morning but that does not stop her from going to school. She loves school and wants to be a doctor. However, her mother has decided her fate: once she finishes primary school, she will join her Aunt Rẹ̀mí in the city as a tailor.

When a mystery guest visits Àníké’s school, she has the chance to win a scholarship that will change her fate. Will the help of her friends Oge, Ìlérí and Àríyọ̀ the cobbler be enough?

Written by Sandra Joubeaud and illustrated by Àlàbá Ònájìn, ÀNÍKÉ ELÉKO tells a colourful story of one girl’s courage in the face of opposition to her dreams.


About the Authors

Sandra Joubeaud is a French screenwriter and script doctor based in Paris, France. She has also worked on Choice of Ndeye, a comic book commissioned by UNESCO and inspired by the novel, So Long a Letter (Mariama Ba).

Àlàbá Ọ̀nájìn is a graphic novelist with a diploma of Cartooning and Illustration from Morris College of Journalism, Surrey Kent. His work includes The Adventures of Atioro, and other collaboration projects with UNESCO and Goethe Institut. He lives in Ondo State, Nigeria.



Democracy involves the process of changing custodians of power from time to time in order to maintain a useful equilibrium of performance and accountability. But the post-colonial narrative in most African countries has been one of the strongmen and power brokers entrenching themselves deeply across the crucial levels of society. The past few years have however seen citizens become more aware, and some revolt against these systems.

How To Win Elections in Africa explores how citizens, through elections can uproot the power structures. Using examples from within and outside Africa, this book examines the past and present to map a future where the political playing field is level and citizens can rewrite existing narratives.

Politicians have been handed their notice: It is no longer business as usual.


About the Authors

Chude Jideonwo is the managing partner of RED, which brands include StateCraft Inc, Red Media Africa, Y!/YNaija.com and Church Culture. His work focuses on social movements shaking up and transforming nations through governance and faith, with the media as a tool. He teaches media and communication at the Pan-Atlantic University. In 2017, he was selected as a World Fellow at Yale University.

Adébọ́lá Williams is the co-founder of RED and chief executive officer of its communication companies – Red Media Africa and StateCraft Inc. A Mandela Washington Fellow under President Barack Obama, he has been a keynote and panel speaker at conferences across the world including at the London Business School, Wharton, Stern, Yale, Columbia, Oxford and Harvard.

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Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenela Press created to Preserve a Legacy

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Finding Chris Abani

To know Chris Abani is to love him. I spent about an hour today at the Lagos International Poetry Festival interrogating the affable Nigerian/British writer about his life, his work, his vocations, and a few other matters. It was our first ever sit-down conversation about anything, although I had known and admired him for a while, read his work, and exchanged pleasantries when we’ve met at other literary events (last year at the Aké Arts and Book Festival, for instance).

But this time, at a formal setting, I had looked forward to being able to learn a bit more about what motivates him as an artist, and to do it within the stipulated hour. It turned out to be a conversation that was as enjoyable as it was challenging. His reputation, drive, and breath of literary production span an impressive and sometimes intimidating stretch. He is a full-time writer in California, but also an apprentice babaláwo, publisher (and curator of a number of poetry competitions and chapbooks with Professor Kwame Dawes), and author of many award-winning books including Graceland (2004).

There were a number of questions, but one of the most enjoyable parts of the conversation for me was a detour on the true definition of literacy in an African environment. Too often, we have defined literary competence, and even a state of being culturally literate, as merely being able to understand the translation of terms from one language or culture to the other. Whereas, what is true literacy is being able to successfully occupy the full extent of being in that culture and maybe another as well. He mentioned an example of listening to a performance either of the chanting of the Odù Ifá or a poetry performance in Afikpo, where he was born and raised, and being able not just to understand what is being said, but successfully occupying the spiritual and mental state in which the work was conceived and performed. The nearest familiar example from my end would be a literate Yorùbá citizen, listening to a cultural performance with a dozen other not-as-literate people, and having a better, more enhanced experience of the same work of art just because of a capacity to understand the meaning of each talking drum pattern played under each public chant. In Yorùbá traditional art, there are sufficient depictions, as a satire on the importance of this skill, of novice or despised chiefs or kings dancing glibly to a drummer’s feverish patterns without knowing that the drummer was actually insulting them through the delightful ambiguity that the tonal patterns of the Yorùbá talking drums provide.

Chris Abani is a truly literate and competent artist in this way, which greatly helped the conversation along. One hour suddenly felt like a few good minutes. But the writer, in spite of his many achievements, also carries himself in a way that is relatable – which is what you’ll expect of someone still intent on learning the very many ways of being, and of existing as a true and competent artist.

I may have ruffled him a bit with an elephant-in-the-room question about a once controversial portion of his biography relating to his imprisonment in Nigeria in the eighties which, a few years ago, put him in the crosshairs of some Nigerian writers who accused him of not just fraud but sabotage: he was portraying Africa in a horrible light for foreigners for his own artistic advancement, and deserved censure. It was an argument that played into the big contemporary hoopla about poverty porn and the perception of Africa in world literature as a nest of ills. In Abani’s response, he gave as strong a defense as one can find for the freedom to be private about elements of one’s life story especially in the face of what he thought was an unfair and relentless attack, and anger at those who he said had tried, though unsuccessfully, to damage his name and livelihood in their blood lust for his scalp through a witch-hunt disguised as a defence of autobiographical fidelity, or the country’s honour. It made sense to me, and I was glad to have given him a chance to defend himself on the topic in a public forum.

What he is known for today, along with his impressive literary output, is his work with the African Poetry Book Fund with Professor Kwame Dawes where dozens of new African writers are discovered every year and published in chapbook and box sets which are sold all over the United States and around the world. His explanation on the breadth of work that the Fund does was thorough and detailed. How he is able to cope with that work along with every other thing he does is one of the wonders of his impressive career.

In the end, I was greatly impressed by the writer as an artist, an important and talented voice in the African writing space, as well as a bearer of important stories.

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