With Afritondo, Allwell Uwazuruike promotes African writers
Worried at the way western media projects Africa and Africans, including those in the Diaspora, in a negative light, Dr. Allwell Uwazuruike and his brother, Confidence, have set up Afritondo, an online magazine in the United Kingdom, to tell the African story. Not ending with the magazine, they recently organised a short story competition for African writers living in the continent.
Impressed with the outcome of the competition, whose theme was love, the brothers are now thinking of publishing some of the touching stories alongside a book on human rights in the continent.
Allwell, a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, United Kingdom, disclosed that the magazine was specially created for promoting and sharing African and black minority stories.
He said: “As Africans in the diaspora, it was not always easy convincing media platforms in the west to feature African content. Even some platforms that claimed to be ‘African’ are only so in name. We also want to contribute to what I consider to be an ever-increasing and fast-rising symphony of Africans and black minority voices across the globe.”
Also doubling as the co-editor of the platform, he revealed that they have to add the short story competition to the online platform to discover new talents and bring out the best of African literature.
He noted that though, there are other writing contests that seek to reward African writers, their initiative was to encourage writers in their very challenging and competitive literary environment to bring out their best.
With the maiden edition of the competition won by Jarred Thompson, a South African, Uwazuruike disclosed that the competition aimed at sharing the African stories with the world; normal stories of normal people.
“We did not want competition with a theme that focuses solely on negatives or put the continent or black minorities in a certain pre-determined box,” he said. “This was why we chose the theme of love for the inaugural contest. Something ordinary, yet special; something everyone could relate to whether he/she is an African, European or Asian. We want the world to read and appreciate African love stories and to see what love means to us, and the different ways we express it.”
With 421 entrants from 19 African countries, including the black minority groups across the globe, the publisher expressed delight at the quality of stories summited, saying each writer’s story is unique and authentic to him/her in the context of their experiences.
The varsity teacher revealed that African publishers are creating opportunities for diversified African and black minority writers to publish their stories and get heard across the globe.
Comparing the current situation to the past, when it was difficult for some Africans to be published, Uwazuruike said despite the challenges of funding and piracy, the situation is getting better, especially as new publishers are sprouting up to give writers wider space to express themselves.
The publisher disclosed that their outfit, Afritondo, has published the works of many African and black minority writers in the genre of short stories, poetry and essays on their website, afritondo.com. He revealed that their outfit will be taking a plunge into book publishing and would publish five to six titles by the end of 2021.
According to him, some people like e-books, while others prefer hard copies or audiobooks and would listen to them as they drive or take a walk.
He observed that many people prefer e-books for their convenience, saying one could walk around with 1,000 books in his/her phone and read them any time he/she wants, adding that one cannot do this with hard copies.
“However, some people still want to hold a book in their hands, flip through it, rustle the pages, smell it, stroke the cover and line it up in a bookcase. For this group of book lovers, the book is more than just the words on the pages and I doubt if e-publishing will end that anytime soon,” he noted.
To him, there is a concern that some people that want to read do not have easy access to the books. Recalling his 2006/2007 experience in Owerri, Imo State, where he wanted to buy a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun and a book on chess and had to visit all the main bookshops in the city without getting either of the books. He noted that one could have probably found any of the books in Lagos or Abuja, but certainly not in Imo State.
He observed that things have changed a lot since then, particularly with the advent of e-publishers like Okada Books, stressing that stakeholders in the publishing and education sectors need to do more to cultivate reading culture across Africa.
“I don’t know if movies and TV series are helping, but these days, there are some people that prefer watching a movie adaptation to actually reading a copy of the book. But it could also work the other way round — people buying books because of a popular movie adaptation. Apart from cultivating a reading habit, we should also appreciate the effort and resources that go into writing and publishing. Sometimes, when you tell a friend that you have just published a book, rather than ask how they can buy it; they ask how they can get a free copy. So, there is still reluctance, in some quartres, to buy and read books,” he noted.
Commending African female writers, including NoViolet Bulawayo, who has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize; Jennifer Makumbi, who was awarded $150,000 Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in 2018 in the UK; Oyinkan Braithwaite, shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 and Reni Eddo-Lodge, whose book, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, is making waves across the globe, the publisher noted that there are still many of such talents within Africa and it is their job to discover and support them.
He revealed that African writers in Europe are better placed to be published than their counterparts in Africa because they have access to resources, agents and publishers.
He noted that his outfit is trying to work out modalities with other publishers to alleviate these challenges.
“I believe the continent may have missed out on some talents simply because they did not have access to the necessary resources and no one discovered them. If you look at some of the ‘big’ and emerging African writers, you will notice that quite a number of them either write from abroad or have some form of foreign connection or contact. This, I think, should raise some concerns,” he said.
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