Time out, July in London

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“A person who is tired of London is not necessarily tired of life; it might be that he just can’t find a parking place.” – – Paul Theroux

After three months in Uganda, I returned to London for a change of scenery, I had intended on staying two weeks but ended up staying a whole month.  The good weather definitely had something to do with it, although on the day I arrived it was so gloomy and wet I felt like getting on the next flight out.

I packed so many things into the month that it feels like I was in town much longer.  Aside from catching up with friends and family, my time was spent out at literary events, at the theatre or at some festival or other.  My first outing was Africa Writes.  Africa Writes is a two day annual literature festival organised by the  Royal African Society with the aim of showcasing established and emerging talent from the African continent. The festival features book launches, readings, author appearances, panel discussions, youth and children’s workshops, as well as a book market with a variety of  great titles by African writer at reasonable prices.

Africa Writes

The event this year was held at the British Library and although the line-up was great, I didn’t find it as exciting as last year’s.  The highlights for me were;

  • The discussions with the Caine Prize shortlisted writers, where they talked about everything, from being nominated, to writing and their stories.
  • Diaspora Strikes Back, a performance poetry event with Leeto Thale, Nii Ayikwe Parks, Warsan Shire and Nick Makoha.  Although I have known Leeto Thale for some time, I had never actually seen him perform, he is amazingly captivating.  Listening to him out me in a trance, his recital was like listening to soft drum beats, I was mesmerised and transported to another world.
  • The Panel discussion on relevance of prizes for African Literature was one of the more lively events with Ngugi Wa Thiongo from the audience and Bernadine Evaristo going head to head at one point.
  • The headline event was Two Writers, Two Generations, except it turned out to be three writer two generations as Ngugi wa Thiongo and his two sons(who both write) in conversation with  Margaret Busby.  They discussed everything from writing habits to the need for Africans to write their stories in their own languages. 

The following Monday I attended the Caine Prize dinner where the winner Tupe Folarin was announced at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  How I got the invite, I don’t know but all I can say is that I am glad I did.  I got to rub shoulders with the big names in African literature in beautiful surroundings, I love my life!  The highlight was Ben Okri’s tribute to Chinua Achebe and the conversation with Martin Kenyon who told be about his daughters, his flat and his life in Africa in his younger days.  Fascinating guy, he certainly made the trip down from Oxford in the early hours of the morning more interesting.

An Evening with Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith reading from her book NW

The intelligent, stylish and beautiful Zadie Smith gave a reading from her most recent book NW and discussed her writing, books that influenced her, and the importance of libraries amongst other things at Swiss Cottage library.  A truly great evening for a mere three quid.

Sometime at the Theatre

I wanted to see The Book of Mormons but couldn’t get hold of tickets.  I managed to catch Fences and the Amen Corner, both very entertaining and thought provoking. Fences is a play about a family trying to hold itself together after the man at the head of the family is robbed of his dreams.  Staring Lenny Henry, it is based on August Wilson’s play this is a magnificent and heart-warming production.  After the show we(the Black Londoners Meetup Group) met and hung out with the cast for  a couple of hours, how cool is that?  

Based on the play by James Baldwin The Amen Corner is about a pastor who is so consumed by religion, and the need to put God first in her life that she fails to see the effect it is having on her family and congregation.  Things finally come to ahead when her estranged and dying husband returns.  With a superb performance by Marianne Jean-Baptiste and affecting gospel from the London Community Gospel Choir, I felt like I was in church and at some points had to restrain myself from leaping from my seat to join them in song.  A  play for all, Christian or not.

Open East Festival

This was a two day festival to mark the anniversary of London 2012 was held in the last weekend of July.  It included everything from a live steel band, a cookery theatre, some sheep(still not sure why they were there), food, and not forgetting the live music with acts such as the Waterboys,  Amadou & Mariam, Seun Kuti,  & Egypt 80 with special guests Robert Glasper & Dead Prez, as well as a live DJ set at the Caught by the River stage.

Africa Centre Summer Festival

Kultureseekers in London
The Africa Centre Festival London

I spent my last weekend at the first Africa Centre Summer Festival.  The Centre is moving from its current location in Covent Garden to God knows where, and the festival was held to mark the new phase in its life.  Although I am not entirely happy with the trustees decision to sell off the building in Covent Garden, I enjoyed the festival. 

So, the time to leave is finally here, back to slow internet access, flies, insects, fresh fruit, and glorious hot weather. 

Goodbye London, hello world!