African literary enthusiasts will from June 23 to 26, storm the Conference Centre of the University of Ibadan to discuss “Literature Since Makerere 1962: The African Writers’ Pan-African Agenda for Peace, Security and Cultural Development.”
The conference is being celebrated to mark the 60th anniversary of the June 1962 conference of African literature in the English language.
That conference, the first African Writers Conference, was held at the Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda.
Officially called a “Conference of African Writers of English Expression,” it was sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Mbari Club in association with the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of Makerere, whose director was Gerald Moore.
The conference was attended by many prominent African writers such as, Wole Soyinka (later Nobel Laureate in Literature), John Pepper Clark, Obi Wali, Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo, Bernard Fonlon, Frances Ademola, Cameron Duodu, Kofi Awoonor; Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, Lewis Nkosi, Dennis Brutus, Arthur Maimane; Ngugi wa Thiong’o (then known as James Ngugi), Robert Serumaga, Rajat Neogy (founder of Transition Magazine), Okot p’Bitek, Pio Zirimu (credited with coining the term “orature”), Grace Ogot, Rebecca Njau, David Rubadiri, Jonathan Kariara and Langston Hughes.
The conference was “not only the very first major international gathering of writers and critics of African literature on the African continent; it was also held at the very cusp of political independence for most African countries.”
The conference dealt with the issue of how the legacy of colonialism had left the African writer with a dilemma with regard to the language choice in writing.
At the conference, several nationalist writers refused to acknowledge any literature written in non-African languages as being African literature.
Ngugi noted the irony of the conference’s title, in that it excluded a great part of the population that did not write in English, while trying to define African literature but accepting that it must be in English. As he would describe it in his 1986 book, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature: “The bullet was the means of the physical subjugation. Language was the means of the spiritual subjugation.”
That conference is regarded as a major milestone in African literature, and is thought to have defined many African authors’ style of writing. For example, Currey notes that Ngugi wa Thiong’o as a young student ventured to ask Chinua Achebe at the conference to read the manuscripts of his novels The River Between and Weep Not, Child, which would subsequently be published in Heinemann’s African Writers Series, launched in London that year, with Achebe as its first advisory editor. Ngugi subsequently rejected Christianity in 1976, and changed his original name from James Ngugi, which he saw as a sign of colonialism. He also resorted to writing in the Gikuyu language instead of English.
“SOAS African Literatures Conference – 55 years after the first Makerere African Writers Conference” was organised as a memorial event taking place on 28 October 2017, with a keynote speech by Wole Soyinka.
Now, in commemoration of that conference 60 years ago, the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA), the Nigerian Academy Of Letters (NAL) as well as the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) will organise the Writers International Conference at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, on Friday, June 24-26.
The conference which will be conducted in a hybrid fashion (physical and virtual) is expected to host writers, academicians and diplomats from about 40 African countries.
Already, PAWA National Writer’s Associations from Ghana, Congo;, Togo, Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroun, Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Liberia, Mauritania, South Africa, Tanzania, Chad, Botswana, Burundi, Benin, Somaliland, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Gambia, Mozambique, Angola and Algeria have confirmed their participation. The writers will also be joined by other distinguished writers, scholars and statesmen from the African continent and the Diaspora.
The historic event will examine the progress of African literature since Makerere.
The keynote addresses on the theme of the convention at the conference will be delivered by a renowned expert on African literature, Professor Bernth Lindfors, and an award winning Egyptian journalist and poet, Ashraf Aboul-Yazid.
Panel discussions will follow after presentations by lead paper presenters such as Professor Femi Osofisan (Nigeria), Virginia Phiri (Zimbabwe), Professor Sarah Agbor (Cameroun), among others.