New writing and new voices from Sub-Saharan Africa

The “39 Project” aims to celebrate the most vibrant voices in literature. It consists of a selection of 39 writers under the age of 40 from a given region. In 2014, the 39 Project focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa.

This year, the Africa39 Project provides a platform to expand the conversation about the future of literature in Africa. The Africa39 Project, as part of the Port Harcourt (UNESCO World Book Capital 2014) Book Fair, will culminate in the publication of an anthology featuring new writing by selected writers from Africa, south of the Sahara, and its diaspora. This anthology will be jointly published by the Hay Festival, the Rainbow Book Club, and Bloomsbury.

Across the world, and from 2014 to 2016, a series of events will seek to showcase the Africa39 authors, their work, and the Africa39 anthology. During this period, we will provide updates and news on Africa39 events, interviews and profiles of Africa39 authors, excerpts of the Africa39 authors’ work, and discussions on African literature.

In November 2013, Binyavanga Wainaina—founder of Kenya-based literary journal, “Kwani?”, and author of acclaimed memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place”—took on the task of researching and compiling a list of 120 writers from Sub-Saharan Africa for the Africa39 Project. This long-list would then be sent to the official judges (Margaret Busby, Elechi Amadi, Osonye Tess Onwueme) who would then decide upon a short-list of 39. For one month Binyavanga and his team worked to issue calls to Anglo-, Franco-, Lusophone, and Kiswahili literary writers and to publicise the project across Africa.

The response in the first week was immediate and encouraging and as the month wore on, more writers, their agents, and their publishers responded. Using his extensive range of literary contacts, Binyavanga ensured that as many as possible of the best African literary communities, within and without Africa, were contacted. Early on, Binyavanga emphasised that the places on the long-list must be apportioned equitably according to gender. Also important to the project were those authors writing in African languages. He and his team successfully ensured that both these imperatives were met.

In outlining “The Spirit of the Africa39 Project”, Binyavanga made provisions for writers who might be “at risk” or who, for reasons of safety or security, publish anonymously or using pseudonyms. He ensured that as many different types of writers were encouraged to submit including, “[w]riters of children’s fiction, prose fiction blogs, erotica writers, romance,” as well those who have published “writing done in Braille.” The resulting long-list was as diverse as possible, reflective of the complexity of the continent, and populated with “the wild, weird, [African] explorers of the imagination.”

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