A book launch and two readings – a busy two weeks in Accra

A couple of very busy weeks on the books and information side – that is, apart from work which included a four-day workshop on critical thinking and writing – and I am feeling rather guilty about not posting earlier.  No really valid excuses though.  But the long weekend for 1 July (Ghana’s Republic Day) is definitely providing a bit of inspiration!

I have to admit that I am usually fairly happy to attend book launches here in Accra, though I do admit that I tend to prefer those that involve fiction and/or some kind of historical orientation.  Business and management related books I tend to be a bit more picky about, but an invitation to the launch of Elikem Kuenyehia’s Kuenyehia on entrepreneurship was irresistible. Held at British Council Accra, this was a pretty high powered affair, with fairly sophisticated decorations, and many VIPs or should I say VVIPs present (including Sam Jonah as Chairman, Nigerian businessman and entrepreneur Tony Elumelu as Guest of Honour, Joyce Aryee as Chief Auctioneer and Kwasi Kyei Darkwah as MC)!  It was also great to see several Ashesi students and alums assisting in making the programme go smoothly – I know a lot of effort goes into this!

I attended two book readings:  one by Nii Ayikwei Parkes – which was held at Sytris, and wonderfully described and photographed by my colleague, Kajsa, so I won’t really go into any details, as she has really said it all.  Sytris was a good location, and having a small cafe as well meant that we were not only feeding our brains and hearts!  It was great actually seeing Nii Ayikwei Parkes in person, and hearing him perform some of his poems.

The second reading, held at the Goethe Institut, as part of their collaboration with Writers Project of Ghana,  was also by an expatriate Ghanaian/Nigerian writer, Taiye Selasiwho is known for having coined the term “Afropolitan”. There were excerpts from her short story “The Sex Lives of African Girls” which was published in Granta 115 and also from the manuscript of her forthcoming book, Ghana must go, which is due to be published in 2013. She was funny and at times biting in her critique of contemporary Ghanaian life.  Definitely someone to watch out for!

And because it was the last week of the month, there was our usual Accra Book Club gathering, a relatively small group, as usual, discussing – not in much detail though – Dan Rhodes Little hands clapping.  Most of us didn’t really like it, but that was OK.  And while munching on our pizzas, we talked about other books, including science fiction, the Twilight series, and the phenomenon of Fifty shades of grey – which none of us had read!

I am not sure what events will be coming up in July – but I am sure there will be some.  A good time to read though, as the weather here in Accra is definitely cooler!

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Reactions to “Is science fiction coming to Africa?”

At one point in my life – my teens and early twenties – I was a devoted science fiction reader. It was one of the genres that I used to borrow a lot of from the local public libraries I patronized – either the Cleveland Park  or Friendship Heights  branches of the DC public library system (at least as they existed in the mid 1960s and early 1970s). I think I pretty well exhausted whatever stock they had! And though I haven’t read as much in the years since that time, I still buy and/or read the occasion SF.

Last weekend (17 June) I was doing my usual Sunday morning activities of tidying up and cleaning, with the BBC World Service on in the background when I heard a trailer for a programme coming up just after the news: “Is science fiction coming to Africa”, plus I thought I heard a voice I recognized… Naturally I listened a bit more carefully.

I was thrilled to hear that one of the key people featured on the programme was Jonathan Dotse (http://www.afrocyberpunk.com), a third year student at Ashesi University College (where I work), who has published short stories and is writing a science fiction novel, set in Accra – which many of us are avidly awaiting.

Plus I had actually read the presenter of the programme, Lauren Beukes’ prizewinning novel, Zoo City, though I do admit that I found some bits of it a little difficult to follow. I have also read one of Nnedi Okorafor’s novels, Zahrah the windseeker, and have several others on my wish list.

Admittedly on the film side, I haven’t done so well – I haven’t seen District 9 [was it on DSTV and I missed it? probably? possibly?] and my curiosity is certainly piqued regarding Pumzi.

So what does this mean for this book lover? Naturally I have to follow up – maybe even order a book by Okorafor which I haven’t read? and also try to watch a couple of African SF films!

Two recent Accra book events

In the way of things here in Accra, I attended two book events back-to-back last week [sorry for not posting about them earlier – any excuse would just be that].

One was a set of readings at the Goethe Institut by Kojo Laing, an older Ghanaian writer who has published only a few works – under the auspices of the Writers Project of Ghana. His books are not the easiest to read, and listening to Laing’s answers to questions one could understand why.  Although he grounds his work in Ghana, Ghanaian life and culture it has many fantastical elements in it. At times I almost felt like saying that he was on a rather different planet to we mortals! Plus I understood why I had struggled to read, understand and finish the three of his novels which I have read.

  • Women of the aeroplanes
  • Search sweet country
  • Major Gentl and the Achimota wars [not read]
  • Big Bishop Roko and the altar gangsters – the only book I actually have, and of course, I forgot to bring my copy to be autographed! 

The other book event I attended was the launch of a huge (more than 1,600 pages!) two volume work entitled Reclaiming the human sciences & humanities through African perspectives (edited by Helen Lauer and Kofi Anyidoho, and published by Sub-Saharan Publishers). This compendium of historical and contemporary essays/articles was launched at the University of Ghana, Legon, and obviously aimed at academics and senior level students.  I actually arrived early, and watched as the Nketia Conference Hall at the Institute of African Studies gradually filled up.

The programme more or less kept to time, but it still went on.  However you count it, fifteen eight minute speeches/comments/presentations still mount up to two hours,  but I suppose there were a lot of people who had to be recognized and who would be offended if they were not publicly acknowledged.  There wasn’t an auction, for which I was very grateful, but there were plenty of copies of the books to be bought.

I did buy a set for work, but felt that it was a bit much to purchase for my personal collection, even though it was sold at a relative discount!

Interesting that both these events involved rather challenging tomes!

May 2012 bookish activities

My “bookish” month of May definitely had an African/Ghanaian orientation to it, especially for reading and buying of physical books.

Of the six books I completed, five were either by African/Ghanaian authors or took place in Africa/Ghana, and these are not necessarily books I had planned to include in the Africa Reading Challenge . So this is what I read this past month:

  1. Patchwork, by Ellen Banda Aaku [won the Penguin prize for African fiction in 2010. Has won other prizes for children’s books.]
  2. Foods and food related practices of cultural groups in southern Ghana, by Faustina Amoako-Kwakye. [talks about traditional foods and ways of preparing them. Some recipes.  Not totally a cookbook, which is why I included it]
  3. Indigo, by Catherine McKinley [read for Accra Book Club. More a story of the author’s obsession with the cloth indigo, and her experiences in Ghana, and elsewhere in West Africa]
  4. Tickling the Ghanaian, by Kofi Akpabli [entertaining essays about contemporary Ghanaian culture]
  5. Snow crash, by Neal Stephenson [pretty seminal science fiction novel; I kept having having to remember that it was written in 1993! My favourite read of the month.]
  6. Zoo city, by Lauren Beukes [fantasy thriller, set in South Africa; not the easiest of reads, mainly because of its innovative language]

On the “books” acquired front, it was a pretty quiet month.

I bought two physical books for myself:

  1. Ancestor stones, by Aminatta Forna [I really should read this author’s books – I now have three on my TBR shelves]
  2. Crossroads, by Mike Adjei [I bought it partly because of the cover!]

And one on my Kindle: Little hands clapping, by Dan Rhodes [slightly macabre novel, for Accra Book Club]

And received the following as gifts:

  1. Engaging ideas, by John C Bean [actually this is for work!]
  2. The night circus, by Erin Morgenstern [has been on my wish list for a while]
  3. Death comes to Pemberley, by P D James [the combination of the author plus Jane Austen characters proved irresistable]
  4. Quiet, by Susan Cain [all about introverts]

Not a bad month, but a little quiet, in my opinion.