KISUMU, Kenya – While completing his Masters in Creative Writing in England two years ago, Troy Onyango remembers with his friends lamenting the lack of literary publications devoted to black writers, poets and photographers like them.
For Onyango, he said, it was “How do we find a space where we can all come together? “
This question led to Lolwe, an online literary magazine he launched in 2020 with the aim of publishing black people in Africa and the world. Lolwe – which takes its name from the Luo name of Lake Victoria, whose waters embrace this town in western Kenya, and means “endless lake or body of water” – has published dozens of works of fiction, from non-fiction, poetry and photography from over 20 countries. .
In June, as the magazine set to release its third issue, it also won coveted recognition: “The Giver of Nicknames,” a story about students at an elite Namibian private school, was shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing, awarded each year to the best short fiction film by an African writer in English.
Onyango, 28, was also shortlisted for his story “This Little Light of Mine,” written from the perspective of a recently disabled man who is trying to cure his loneliness with online dating apps. It was published last year in Doek, a literary magazine based in Namibia. Its co-founder: Rémy Ngamije, author of “The Giver of Nicknames”.
“When I heard the news, I felt like it was a joke,” Onyango said of the cross-nominations. When Ngamije learned that the two articles and the two magazines had received nominations, “it reassured me, because it let me know that we were doing something right,” he said in an interview. telephone interview from Windhoek.
Considering the novelty of the two publications, the selections were a “victory because it shows that African literary publications are doing the job,” Onyango said, adding: “With the right support, more of this collaboration can help. to develop our literature. “
Across Africa, literary journals run by young writers and artists are springing up with the goal of publishing new and established voices, collaborating across geographies, and using the internet and social media to reach their audiences. They build on predecessors such as Transition, which shaped post-independence Africa, as well as Chimurenga, Kwani, Jalada, Brittle Paper and The Johannesburg Review of Books, which introduced powerful African storytellers to the global stage at the over the past two decades.
New headlines, which besides Lolwe and Doek include US-based Isele Magazine and South Africa-based Imbiza Journal for African Writing, often elicit reactions just by name.
Down River Road, for example, is a Kenyan newspaper that started last year and is named after Meja Mwangi’s 1976 novel “Going Down River Road”. Doek means fabric or scarf in Afrikaans, but it’s also a play on the name of Namibia’s capital, Windhoek. By tying the name of the newspaper to something familiar, Ngamije said, he and his co-founder Mutaleni Nadimi wanted to present literature as a “visible and accessible thing” while also arousing the curiosity of readers beyond Namibia and from southern Africa.
“All you’ve heard of Namibia are our sand dunes, our lions and our black rhinos,” Ngamije said. But with Doek’s emphasis on the publication of works by Namibians, he added, he hoped “to not only bring Namibian writing to Africa and to the world, but also to bring us a bit of Africa ”.
Magazines also provide platforms for art forms beyond writing, and often topics or perspectives that wouldn’t matter as much in Western publications. Down River Road released an audio performance as part of its Ritual issue, featuring poetry by Chebet Fataba Kakulatombo and music and mixing by Petero Kalulé and Yabework Abebe. The second issue of Doek featured a series of photos on work anxiety by South African journalist Rofhiwa Maneta, while a photo essay by Laeïla Adjovi in the latest issue of Lolwe focuses on women in Senegal, Côte d ‘Ivoire and Burkina Faso whose husbands emigrated to Europe. .
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a Ghanaian writer and administrator of the Caine Prize, said editors and contributors to emerging newspapers are less constrained by donor demands or “by the burden – real or imagined – of having to shape a post-independence identity for Africa which was formulated with respectability.
For this reason, he said in an email, they are “capable of being more progressive, more radical, more expansive, more subversive”.
Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, who won the 2003 Caine Prize for a story in the Kwani literary magazine, sees the publications attracting a new and young group of African writers, artists and readers. They “seem to excite a global generation that transcends typology, identifies with them, for whom themes, ideas, style and method replace traditional politics and imaginations,” she said.
But even as they strive to give voice to a new generation, the new journals face the same challenges as their predecessors. Among them, financial constraints are at the fore, many of them relying on individual donations or their own money to stay afloat.
To stay sustainable, outlets like Down River Road sell print copies of their publications in cities like Nairobi with exclusive material that is not online, said Frankline Sunday, one of the founders of Down River Road. . Lolwe chose to organize writing workshops with African writers, while Doek partnered with a local bank to support him.
Another challenge facing new literary outlets is high staff turnover, with founders sometimes poached by more established outlets or attracted by better opportunities.
“They go to a publishing house, they go to a newspaper, they go to a communications department in an organization,” said James Murua, a journalist whose blog extensively documents the African literary scene. “And that’s usually the end of the magazine.”
But whatever the challenges, Murua believes this new generation of literary journals will pave the way for more publications and encourage young Africans to write the next bestsellers.
“It’s only good for the future,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”
It is this long-term vision that holds founders like Ngamije together as he tries to put Namibia on the African and global cultural map.
“We are taking small steps in this literary marathon,” he said, “and we always have to fight that feeling that we are late, that we are in last place. “