African Book Festival 2019

A snapshot of the African Book Festival 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

The African Book Festival 2019 was hosted in Berlin, Germany from April 4-7, 2019.

Writers from across Africa and its diaspora attended the first edition of the InterKontinental organised African Book Festival in April 2018. The festival curated by Olumide Popoola was attended by some of the biggest names in African writing today with Chris Abani as headliner. By all reports this, the biggest platform that was accorded to African writers in Germany for a very long time, was a huge success.

The second edition of the festival would have to meet the expectations that had been raised by the first one. It was off to a good start when Zimbabwean author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga was announced as the festival curator and Booker Award winner Ben Okri as its headliner. The theme of the festival happening at the Babylon Theatre in Berlin was “transitioning from migration.”

The festival had an array of activities that you would expect at a literary shindig from panels to book readings, poetry performances, and loads more. April 4 was the opening day of the festival and on that day there were two main activities; the opening roundtable and the opening ceremony in the evening.

The opening roundtable had festival curators for this year Tsitsi Dangarembga, for the previous festival Olumide Popoola, and Ellah Wakatama Allfrey moderated by Prof Flora Veit-Wild. You can read about that panel here. The opening ceremony had a cracking keynote address by Ben Okri followed by a question and answer session with Dennis Scheck. It was a nostalgic affair as Scheck spoke to Okri about the days leading to his famous Booker Prize win. Read about that event here.


With the festival having been officially opened the panels came fast and furious over the next two days. Magda Birkmann moderated Namwali Serpell, Sue Nyathi, and Ijangolet S Ogwang in the panel, “New Places, New Voices: influence and reflection of migration in literature.” Also strutting that stage was Ayesha Harruna Attah, Thando Mgqolozana, and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma as they discussed, “Writing Beyond History.” Their moderator was the laptop-wielding Clementine Burnley.

Also on stage,  was Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Ayinde Howell, and Syl Ko moderated by Josephine Apraku. Their topic of discussion was “Going Vegan, We Are What We Eat” presented by the African Food Festival.

Shadreck Chikoti, John Eppel, and Elma Shaw were on stage on April 5 for the panel entitled “Witnessing Myself and the Other” moderated by Ainehi Edoro. Also on that stage was the panel “Authentically African? Why, When and How Queer Writing in a Homophobic Context” moderated by Jude Dibia. On his panel were Zakes Mda, Chike Frankie Edozien, and SchwarzRund. Another panel with Zakes Mda as panellist alongside Sefi Atta and Christopher Mlalazi was “Transitioning To Freedom: How to Write Under Fire.” That panel was moderated by Jorg Petzold.

The digital among us were treated to “Digital immigrants: Transitioning From Migration Daily” moderated by Musa Okwonga. On the panel were Ainehi Edoro of, Emanuel Sigauke of, and Thando Mgqolozana who replaced the previously advertised panellist Fungai Tichawangana. The three spoke about the life of the digital immigrant and how their work was involved in that.

Dr Jama Musse Jama, Yana Makuwa, James Murua, and ShaNon Bobinger
Dr Jama Musse Jama, Yana Makuwa, James Murua, and ShaNon Bobinger

The Sunday would end with a few panels starting with Dr Jama Musse Jama, Yana Makuwa and James Murua recommending to the audience “Your Next Good Read” moderated by ShaNon Bobinger. Dr Jama Musse Jama recommended Nadifa Mohamed’s Black Mamba Boy and Orchid of Lost Souls, Yana Makuwa recommended Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater and Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence is my Mother tongue, while James Murua recommended Peter Kimani’s Dance of the Jakaranda and Maimouna Jallow’s Story Story, Story Come.  You can find a review of the panel here.

Also sharing their insights that day, moderated by Franza Drechsel, were Fred Khumalo, Pumla Gqola, and Sefi Atta on the topic “Should All Writers Be Feminists.” (fun fact: they should be). The other panel of that day was “Crossing over” featuring Christopher Mlalazi, Panashe Chigumadzi, and Siphiwe Ndlovu. Their panel was moderated by Claudia Kaiser.


Some of the best aspects of attending literary festivals is getting to meet your favourite authors and talk about their work with them. There were ample opportunities to meet them over the period in the sessions that were titled “tête-à-têtes” chatting with the writers of different books with mainly local moderators over the three days. Tsitsi Dangarembga engaged with Flora Veit-Wild, Emmanuel Sigauke chatted with Nora Chirikure, Syl Ko was with Stefanie Hirsbrunner, Elma Shaw was engaged by Andrea Benson, Christopher Mlalazi was with Karla Kutzner, and Fred Khumalo was with Hannah Shuzt.

Then there was Namwali Serpell chatting with Charlott Schönwetter, Safia Elhillo chatted with Nick Makoha, Thando Mgqolozana was with Edward Belleville, Frankie Chike Edozien was with Giacomo Maihofer, Ijangolet S Ogwang was with Susanne Gehrmann, Shadreck Chikoti was with Musa Okwonga, Siphiwe Ndlovu was with Marlene Schneider, Ayesha Harruna Attah was with Venice Trommer, Pumla Dineo Gqola was with Christiane Frohmann, and Zakes Mda was with Jörg Petzold.

Also at the tête-à-têtes were Sefi Atta who was with Michaela Maria Müller, Panashe Chigumadzi with Lydia Ciesluk, Novuyo Rosa Tsuma with Venice Trommer, Sue Nyathi with Anti Serfontein, Donald Molosi with Stefanie Hirsbrunner, Harriet Anena with Sophie Sumburane, and SchwarzRund was with Amélie Kroneis.


There were many memorable performances at the African Book Festival this year. On the first evening, Venice Trommer conducted “Poetry Night” where Safia Elhillo and Harriet Anena performed their poetry and blew away the audience. Also on stage was Donald Molosi reading from his new book Dear Upright African; this was the first reading of the book since it was published earlier in the year.

On Saturday, April 5 there was a concert and party which featured the considerable talents of musician, performer, and poet Chirikure Chirikure alongside his band Ernest and Tawana Sithole.


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