November 20 through 28, 2022, I traveled to Lagos, Nigeria to attend the second biennial conference of the Global Association of Literary Festivals. The Aké Arts & Book Festival immediately followed the conference. Both events were organized by the inimitable writer, publisher, and leader Lola Shoneyin and her team at the Book Buzz Foundation. It is worth an transatlantic flight merely to witness the magic that Lola creates, and being the tiniest part of that was a joy and a privilege.
Second Biennial Global Association of Literary Festivals Conference
Delegates traveled to Lagos from as far away as Newcastle, Australia, and as nearby as the Hausa International Books and Arts Festival in Northern Nigeria. Of course, we also came from many places in between: Cyprus, Ghana, Turkey, Trinidad & Tobago, Great Britain, Botswana, Norway, the UAE, and more. The program ranged from introducing new festivals, hybrid events, collaboration, fundraising, and beyond.
If you’re running a large book/arts festival, it means you are likely the only similar event in your geographic area. This makes gatherings like the GAoLF conference unmissable opportunities to connect with colleagues from other festivals for education, inspiration, and a little commiseration. We definitely found all three in Lagos, as we talked about ways to manage and prevent burnout, how to work together, and made plans for international tours of all of our peer events. (Does anyone know someone who wants to fund that last one?!? Let me know! My passport’s ready.)
Aké Arts & Book Festival
After two full days of talking about book festivals, it was time for the real thing: the tenth Aké Arts & Books Festival. Portland Arts & Lectures 2022/2023 author and 2021 Nobel Prize winner in literature Abdulrazak Gurnah was there! I had moderated the on-stage Q&A when he was here in Portland, and it was so delightful to reconnect with him and his wife, Denise. One of the most powerful moments of Aké was when fellow African Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka made a surprise appearance. It was the first time the two laureates had been together since Gurnah’s win, and extra-special that the meeting happened in Africa.
Aké’s 2022 theme was “Homecoming,” celebrating African writers and artists from across the continent and the diaspora. The festival has one stage, with events back-to-back. One of the most enjoyable parts of that set-up was seeing authors show up in the audience to listen to and support their colleagues. So much of the memorable conversation happens behind the scenes, and sharing delicious meals with the authors and guests in the green room was one of the best parts of each day. As evidenced by some social media videos of the dancing, we all had a great time (partly thanks to the palm wine, brought in special from Abeokuta, I’m told) at the Friday evening concert.
As a programmer and curator, I am hugely inspired by the connections made at GAoLF and Aké. Although virtual communication is invaluable, especially for an international group, the deep connections and inspiring conversations we had in Lagos are only possible in person. We made plans to stay in touch and to support GAoLF leader Carmel Rosato of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature with planning the 2024 conference. I am so deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to spend some time in Lagos, and I’m looking forward to what will grow out of the experience.
P.S. If you’re inspire to do some book festival international travel, GAoLF maintains a helpful calendar of events worldwide!