By Yinka Olatunbosun
Dr. Allwell Uwazuruike, a writer and lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom (UK) is exploring the virtual platform to showcase literary offerings. He is the co-editor, Afritondo, an online magazine based in the UK. Afritondo was borne out of a collective project as a platform to promote and share African as well as black minority stories. Africans in the diaspora are aware of the difficulty with featuring African content in mainstream western media. Hence, Afritondo was instituted to publish opinion pieces, stories, poems and pictures with African themes. Uwazuruike gave some insights into this literary odyssey.
“We also wanted to contribute to what I consider to be an ever increasing and fast rising symphony of African and black minority voices across the world,’’ he began.
Meanwhile Afritondo online magazine is the organizer of the Short Story Prize Competition to discover new talents and bring out the best of African literature albeit in a competitive literary environment.
“We did not want a competition with a theme that is focused solely on negatives, if you will, or that puts the continent or black minorities in a certain pre-determined box. This was why we chose the theme of love for the inaugural contest. Something ordinary, yet special. Something everyone could relate to whether you were African or European or Asian. We want the world to read and appreciate African love stories—to see what love means to us and the different ways we express it,’’ he added.
In his assessment of African writer, Uwazuruike remarked that the continent boasts of very talented writers who tell authentic African stories.
“I’ve had the opportunity of reading the long listed stories and was awed by their quality. The expression “authentic African stories” is, of course, open to interpretation. My view is that everyone’s story is unique and
authentic to them in the context of their lived experiences. For the competition,
we just wanted to see a hint of Africa for instance in the setting or
characterization of the story,’’ he said.
For its 2020 edition, Afritondo selects ‘love’ as the theme of the competition. Of course, people have varying conceptions of love in Africa and across the globe. The contest will serve as a collage that exhibits different colours of love. No fewer than
421 short story entries had been received from 19 Countries.
“We were impressed by the number of
entries and we plan to publish an anthology of the long listed stories
in August. With regard to a formal presentation, our plans have
certainly been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are working on
ways around it. We will contact distributors across Africa
to ensure that our readers can get a copy of the book when it is released.
We have published writings of hundreds of writers on our website. These include short stories, poems, and articles. We
are only now taking the plunge into book publishing and are looking to
publish five to six titles by the end of 2021,’’ he said.
In spite of the lingering challenge of publishing stories, African publishers have shown some measure of commitment towards reaching a wider audience by offering equal opportunities to Africans and other minority writers.
“There are, of course, challenges with funding and piracy but the situation is getting better. What do you think is the role of arts in shaping African politics? I think it has a very important role to play. There is, of course, the role of drawing attention to poor leadership through, for instance, books and satire. There is also the crucial role of shaping and forming young minds who will be the leaders of the future,’’ he said.
With the clampdown on live outdoor events, most people have rediscovered reading as a rewarding pastime. While some still prefer paperbacks to audiobooks, the readers of electronic copies can listen to them whilst driving or walking. Despite the proliferation of e-books, the scholar argued that hard copies will not fizzle out.
“E-books have certainly won over a lot of readers due to its convenience. For instance, you could walk around with one thousand books in your phone and read them any time you want. You cannot do this with hard copies. However, some people still want to hold the book in their hands, flip through it, rustle the pages, smell it, stroke the cover, line it up in a bookcase. For this latter group of book lovers, the book is more than just the words written on its pages and I doubt e-publishing will end that any time soon,’’ he argued.
On the rise of female writers in Africa, he expressed his delight in the trend, making references to a few examples of those with outstanding writings.
“African female writers are certainly leaving their mark across Europe and the rest of the world. Some, like Violet Bulawayo, have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Jennifer Makumbi was awarded a $150,000 Windham-Campbell literature prize in 2018. Here, in the UK, Oyinkan Braithwaite was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019. Another writer of Nigerian heritage, Reni Eddo-Lodge, an alumnus of my University, also earned national and global acclaim for her book ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.’ I am sure there are still many such talents within Africa and it is our job to discover and support them,’’ he said.