Maraget Busby on “How we chose the Africa39″ and Binyavanga on how “We Must Free Our Imaginations”

The selection process began last year, with Caine prizewinning author and founder of the Kenyan literary journal Kwani?, Binyavanga Wainaina, consulting publishers, agents and critics to identify hundreds of writers from which to choose 39. Apart from the age criterion, contenders had to have published at least one work of fiction, and to show stand-out potential for development.

Importantly, Wainaina guaranteed that attention would be given to writers working in African languages, and that fiction in its broadest sense would be considered. “Wild, weird, explorers of the imagination” were encouraged to participate, as were those who use pseudonyms for safety and creative freedom. More than 20-plus years after the publication of my pioneering anthology, Daughters of Africa, I was delighted to see that more than half of the writers were women.

We judges were spoiled for choice: the 100 nominees embraced every kind of literary writing, from erotica to romance to science fiction to thrillers. We reduced it by half, then edged happily towards the final list. Except that it is not, by definition, so “final”. We are simply saying: “Here are 39 of the best … ”

Africa39 is not an exercise constrained by labels, fashion and preconceived rules about genres, nor by what constitutes African writing. Twenty countries are represented by work created in a variety of African and European languages – Kiswahili, Igbo and Lingala as well as English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Understandably, with the continuing debate about the validity of the “African writer” category, there are those who feel uncomfortable about participating in this venture (indeed, some have chosen to opt out).

source: Margaret Busby, “Africa39: how we chose the writers for Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014”


Binyavanga Wainaina elaborated his unique perspective on the current state of cultural production and creativity in Africa in his well-loved and eccentric style in a series of seven videos on freeing the African imagination.


source: “Watch Binyavanga’s Brilliant Documentary”, Africa Is A Country.

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