A snapshot of the Macondo Literary Festival 2023

A snapshot of the Macondo Literary Festival 2023

The third edition of the Macondo Literary Festival 2023 was held at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi from September 15 – 17, 2023.

The Macondo Literary Festival is a creation of the Macondo Book Society, a term which comes from “Macondo,” the fictional place where magical things happen in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Colombian Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Previously hosted in 2019 and 2022, it is aimed at initiating and encouraging the engagement of the wider public with literature. The 2023 edition ran under the theme “disrupting home” with guests coming from Arab, English, French, Italian, and Portuguese writing language zones across Africa and its diaspora. It was a weekend for bibliophiles to meet some of their favourite authors from across the continent and further afield who would sign their books while meeting one another. One of the only disappointments was that the numbers of those who attended were quite low.

Here are some highlights;

Opening Ceremony

The Orature Collective
The Orature Collective

The Friday evening opening ceremony anchored by the ever-excellent Mshai Mwangola and Aleya Kassim started off with speeches from event organisers led by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. The authors who had done a press event earlier in the day would do a more structured event after this. On that stage were Aminatta Forna, Leila Aboulela, Hemley Boum, Youssef Fadel, Kalaf Epalanga, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Masande Ntshanga, Kossi Komla-Ebri, Yvette Edwards, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.

The highlight was the Orature Collective where Mueni Lundi, Aghan Odero, and Wambua Kawive joined by new members did dramatised readings of the work of the authors in attendance. By dramatised, we mean they stood in front of the audience and read it dramatically from scripts with drums in the background making it very memorable. While writing this it doesn’t seem like much but it was quite enjoyable for anyone in the audience.


Chief Nyanweya session at macondo workshop
Chief Nyamweya’s session at the Macondo Festival

One of the best aspects of any festival is the workshops where those who want to get into the trade get valuable insights from the masters. This year young artists learned about drawing stories from Chief Nyamweya, Character Development from Makena Onjerika, and exploring your niche through poetry and storytelling from Slim Shaka.


This past weekend saw bibliophiles clutching programs and going between the two venues within the theatre complex; the main stage and Ukumbi Mdogo. The “Visual Novel: African World-Crafting & Imagined Histories” panel moderated by Grace Kerongo had Mutendei Nabutete, Salim Busuru, and Gado as panellists while the Oduor Odera moderated Leila Aboulela, Hemley Boum, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi on the panel “Writing Generations, Writing Countries, Writing Home.” Mshai Mwangola moderated “Let’s Talk Africa” with Aminatta Forna, Youseff Fadel, Djamila Ribeiro, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. The “Kenya Writes” session moderated by Beverly Ochieng featured Lutivini Majanja, Carey Baraka, and Silas Nyanchwani.

Natasha Kimani moderated the panel “One Day I Will Write About This Place” which had Kossi Komla-Ebri, Kalaf Epalanga, and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Garnett Oluoch-Olunya continued in her famously disjointed moderation style on the topic “Imagine, Future, Maps” with panellists Jennifer Nansubuga Makumba and Masande Ntshanga. Ismail Einashe led the session “The Home in a Story” with Leila Aboulela, Youseff Fadel, and Yvette Edwards as well as the panel “The Displaced/Unplaced Other” with Djamila Ribeiro and Masande Ntshanga as his co-conspirators.

A unique session was the Mshai Mwangola discussion with Aminatta Forna on the latter’s memoir The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion. This was one of the highlights of the whole festival with a well-researched moderator speaking to one of the smartest people working in African letters today. Another unique offering was the session 100 Years of Samosa: An East African Story by Aleya Kassim first seen at the Story Sosa event in July this year.

Meet The Author

Kossi Komla-Ebri
Kossi Komla-Ebri

Audiences got to meet authors who they may not have had a chance to encounter before at these sessions. Those who were introduced to the Nairobi audience were Hemley Boum, Youseff Fadel, and Kossi Komla-Ebri.

Book launches

Festivals and book launches go together like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and mother tongue language advocacy so of course they had to be there. One was the launch of the English translation (from Portuguese) of Whites Can Dance Too by Kalaf Epalanga and another was the Nairobi presentation of New Daughters of Africa. The latter is an anthology edited by Margaret Busby and the session, brought in conjunction with Stimmen Afrikas, had Yvette Edwards and Makena Onjerika.


Juliani performs at Macondo 23
Juliani performs at the Macondo Festival

The festival ended on Sunday evening with a performance by Juliani, one of Kenya’s most celebrated musicians.






4 responses to “A snapshot of the Macondo Literary Festival 2023”

  1. Shabahang avatar

    You missed the standing-room-only Sunday events! So many showed up that I think the organisers will have to consider expanding spaces. Word went out and Gen Z turned up. For a first-timer who travelled from Uganda I was so impressed by Nairobi and Kenyans. If these are what you folks call low turnout, then I bow down before the nation and book lovers of Kenya.

    1. James Murua avatar
      James Murua

      I guess I missed those.

  2. Odunga Zad & Kim avatar
    Odunga Zad & Kim

    Hey, nice article. Also for the first time we the graphic novelists felt seen and represented in a cool way. Gado, Mutendei and co…best session ever. We have things to say. Hope more literature events acknowledge our role and importance in writing Africa. We could do with the amplification. Could you ever consider doing a follow up on the graphic novel and story worlds of Africa?

    1. James Murua avatar
      James Murua

      Graphic novelists really do need to be seen so I am happy Macondo platformed y’all. I would love to do more on graphic novels.

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