Renee Edwige Dro and Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire
(Clockwise, from the top left): Mamadou Diallo, Dame Diop, Ibrahima Baldé, Mohamadou Fadel Diop, Valérie Bah, Djibril Drame, and Toussa Senerap.
During the next months, Bakwa will publish stories (flash fiction) which are the product of Writivism workshops in Dakar, Kinshasa and Abidjan. This collaboration is the fruit of a partnership between Writivism and Bakwa, which aims at connecting emerging writers to African publishing platforms. Writivism runs workshops all over the continent (and a mentoring programme), including in French-speaking countries; up to four creative writing prizes; publishes creative work by emerging African writers; and curates an annual literary festival in Kampala (and extends activities to schools).
Renee Edwige Dro and Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire discuss what Writivism is, the challenges of translating “Writivism” and the role writing workshops and digital publishing platforms play in shaping the African literary ecosystem.
The two of us were discussing, in Kampala, at the annual Writivism Festival, about extending the programme to parts of the continent that do not use English when the issue of a French equivalent for the word ‘Writivism’ came up. Writivism, even if it is a combination of two English words, ‘writing’ and ‘activism’, only became a word of its own because we created it.
Since we need no permission to add new words to vocabularies of any language, instead of translating it to French, we decided it would remain the same in any other language. We decided not to translate it to Amharic, Hausa, IsiZulu, Kiswahili, and other languages we intend to work in, with time. It could have been Ecrivisme in Abidjan, Dakar, Kinshasa but we asked ourselves: what precedent would then have been set? What if we needed to hold workshops in Lingala, Yacouba, or Bambara?
The call went out; a lot of friends contacted us on Facebook asking what it was all about. We explained that it was a pan-African writing workshop and mentoring programme; a project they were excited by and entries started coming in. We thought that they would pour in, but we consoled ourselves with the fact that it was the first edition. We had three and five participants for the Abidjan and Dakar workshops respectively.
In the case of Abidjan, we had a lot of participants sending in non-fiction, a couple of works of poetry, and there was even a screenplay. This made us wonder if, due to lack of a real writing culture, the terms “fiction” and “non-fiction” got interchanged somewhat. We know that in Abidjan, and in the conversations with Mamadou Diallo, the coordinator of Writivism Dakar, there is still very much a focus on the “intellectualisation of writing”.
Well, what are a people to do when they have had Leopold Senghor, one of the fathers of Negritude and a French grammar graduate? Truly, I ask, what are a people to do? While, in the Anglophone sphere, counterparts are active on the literary scene, primarily out of passion, the Francophone focus too much on academic degrees. Much is made of a writer’s doctoral degree even if a PhD isn’t necessary in the process of writing a novel, which reads more like a sermon of the Puritan era.
On the Francophone scene, writers are separated into two groups, the real writers who hold degrees — with the least being a Licence [BA degree] — and who write to speak of the ills of the society, and those who are simply just “écrivains de poubelle”, loosely translated as dustbin writers. Of course, these are generalised broad strokes, but that painting is present in the francophone, and not just the Ivorian writing sphere.
But back to Writivism. The Kinshasa workshop had the most participants with seven people. Apart from the teething problems, which will be addressed in coming years, it felt good, both for the workshop leaders and the participants, to take part in a writing workshop, which demystified the writing process. Works by Ahmadou Kourouma, Régina Yaou, Yehni Djidji, etc. were used to illustrate various writing techniques. The Abidjan workshop had the honour of hosting esteemed Ivorian writer Régina Yaou, rising star Rites Massemba, and François Etien, the director of l’Harmattan Côte d’Ivoire.
Some of the stories that the writers worked on in the workshops and with the mentors are flash fiction. We define flash fiction as pieces below 1,000 words. These get published through African digital periodicals. We hope that at some point we will have them translated such that they are published in both French and English.
We are delighted to partner with Bakwa Magazine to publish the stories from the Dakar, Kinshasa, and Abidjan workshops. Each digital publisher we work with provides an editorial experience to the writer. It is important for writers to work with editors in this process. It builds on the mentoring support we give. A writer is only half-formed without an editor. Work rises to life in the hands of an editor. It lies as a lifeless mass, waiting for the editor to breathe life into it. And the publisher gives it wings.
African digital publishers like Bakwa magazine are a very core pillar to the building of an African literary infrastructure. Writivism is interested in these behind-the-scenes structures that do not come with glamour and pomp. The editors and publishers are the foundation on whose shoulders future super-star writers will sit.
For a long time, the grumbling about the English-speaking ‘West’ choosing Africa’s best writers has ignored the fact that writers need shoulders to sit on and are naturally attracted by places that have working structures. At Writivism, we are interested in building from the ground up, making mistakes in the process and learning from them. We are proud that we connect emerging writers to African publishing platforms and build these synergies that are central to any literary community.
This year, we are particularly taking lessons from the Kwame Nkrumah Pan Africanist era. The politicians and artists of that time were able to cooperate and work together despite the linguistic diversity that has always been an African reality. Language is not a barrier. Language should not be a barrier. These are important connections to not only restore but strengthen. We strongly believe that we shall build the African literary infrastructure in our life time, with small and modest efforts. A long-lasting building does not spring to life overnight.
We hope that you will enjoy the stories.
Renee Edwige Dro is a writer, translator, and editor based in Abidjan. She facilitated and coordinated the Writivism workshop in Abidjan.
Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire is the co-founder at Writivism and Director in charge of Partnerships.