Power of art
It was a gathering that did not attract a huge audience yet it was such an important one. The event was not at a ground but rather a smaller place known as Kwa Haraba Art Gallery in Blantyre.
This was a Sunday afternoon June 19, 2016 and some of the renowned people that were there included Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) President Sambalikagwa Mvona, Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam) President and Copyright Society of Malawi (Cosoma) board member Alfred Msadala, veteran writer Hoffman Aipira, writer Dave Namusanya and dramatist Smith Likongwe.
Wait a minute, this was the unveiling of the Imagine Africa 500 speculative fiction anthology with full of stories from sons and daughters of Africa.
What an exciting moment for the creative industry as a whole to have an anthology which features African writers including Malawians.
A lot has been said about Malawi lagging behind in the world of writing, where it fails to produce the best to compete on the international platform, which has for longer periods been dominated by West Africa.
But reading Imagine Africa 500 which was edited by Kenyan writer Billy Kahora, one can at least afford a smile that Malawi is not far from being at par with other countries as far as writing is concerned.
We may not yet be there as far as competing with the best on the international stage but all signs are there that the country is moving in the right direction.
Veteran poet and writer Benedicto Wokoma-atani Malunga has been doing well of late getting his stories accepted by the Ufahamu journal in USA.
It was not easy for him to get his work to such a platform, he had to submit several stories some of which were never used but he got advice and from there he improved until now that all his work gets the space.
For those who are yet to read Imagine Africa 500 of African writers, it explores the unknown territory of the future and set their stories in an African environment 500 years from now.
The book asks the question of what the future will bring to Africa and its people. Could it be shiny metropolises and flying cars?
Could it be gender war? Will the Homo sapiens species be overthrown by new and smarter races, mixed from androids and humans?
Will love, pride, friendship and fear be what we care about and struggle with tomorrow?
Renowned writer Shadreck Chikoti, who is the Imagine Africa 500 Managing Editor, said through this book there is evidence that art can impact society and influence positive change.
Chikoti, who is also the Story Club Founder, said the book is all about celebrating futuristic writing and that he was happy that the response has been positive.
He further said that the unveiling of the book was a huge step towards growing writing taking into consideration that more Malawian writers are part of the anthology and have rubbed shoulders with well known writers.
The issue of futuristic writing took centre stage during the unveiling where others asked as to whether writers should be prophets of doom, but one of the writers featuring in the anthology Muthi Nhlema said writers should have the freedom and write whatever they want.
An avid fan of science fiction and all things Stephen King, Muthi’s first foray into sci-fi was Ta O’reva – a futuristic story about the return of Nelson Mandela to a post-apocalyptic South Africa.
The award winning writer, whose story is One Wit’ This Place said Malawian writers are writing and that readers should support them.
“I am happy I am part of this anthology and its unveiling is a step in the right direction. It was an 18 months journey. All I can say is that as writers we need to pull up our socks and give readers content that is value for money,” said the winner of Mawu/FMB Short Story Awards 2015.
Programme Coordinator of Prince Claus Fund, who have supported the Imagine Africa 500 project said this anthology represents an attempt to establish an African perspective on what is needed to transform the future of the continent.
“It is especially in the spaces where freedom of expression is limited or condemned that such an endeavor is crucial. This anthology therefore gives voice to African authors and thinkers from different corners of the continent who wish to create openness, inclusivity and freedom in restricted spaces, whether they be physical or mental,” said Selim.
Selim further said the articles in the anthology “show us that literature not only engages the reader, but also gives narrative to notions such as future, hope and longing.”
Art has power and Chikoti said he strongly believes that in this century, art will continue to shape the affairs of our societies.
“Art is an architectural model, while science is the actual building project. The power of art is in the imagination, while the power of science is in making those dreams material. In this century art will be as important as science,” he said.
Chikoti said it was in this realisation that art can actually contribute to the discourse on Africa’s future that the Imagine Africa 500 initiative was born.
He recalled that in November 2014, Pan African Publishers and The Story Club – a club gathering anyone with an interest in literature and art in Malawi – hosted a writer’s workshop in Lilongwe.
It was then that 10 young Malawian writers developed skills in a short story writing and the last assignment for the participants was to write a story for an anthology, keeping in mind the subject of Africa 500 years from now.
Chikoti said apart from Malawian stories, there was also a call for submission for writers across Africa, who ably contributed their thoughts about the continent’s future.
“We believe that this anthology will contribute African thoughts about futurism at the same time showcasing some of the exciting voices emerging from the continent,” he said.
While Muthi stands out with One Wit’ This Place, the other Malawian writers in the anthology are Tiseke Chilima with her story Women Are from Venus, Tuntufye Simwimba brings Tiny Dots, Aubrey Chinguwo blows trumpet with his story Closer to the sun while Hagai Magai stars with Those Without Sin.
The other writers in the book are Ugandan Dilman Dila with Snake Blood, Nigerian writer Chinelu Onwualu with The Wish Box and South African writer Stephen Embleton with Land of Light.
Reading some of the stories in the book which has such an attractive cover, one gets to be reminded of the times when people used to scramble for African writers series.
We surely need such anthologies if our writing has to grow because for one to feature in such books then you have to dig deeper and come up with good content.
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