Africa’s leading AKÉ arts and book festival shifts online to celebrate black excellence

Taking place during Black History Month, Aké Festival is the world’s largest festival of black voices in the arts

Aké Festival (22-25 October) will this year take place online during Black History Month, to drive international conversations around the importance of diversity in the arts and consistently showcase the freshest and most exciting voices in the arts from Africa.

Now in its eighth year, Aké Festival is world’s largest collection of African creative voices and hosts some of the most sought-after, innovative voices in black thought. For anyone wanting to engage with black writing and black voices, Aké Festival is a who’s who of the most important of the time.

This year’s festival includes Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction; Booker Prize-winning Jamaican author Marlon James; Esi Edugyan author of Washington Black; Tochi Onyebuchi, American author of the urgent – and somewhat prescient – dystopian novel Riot Baby and Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American author of Headscarves and Hymens.

Attending this year will be Maaza Mengiste, talking about her novel The Shadow King. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, as has Tsitsi Dangarembga part of the beating heart of African and BAME publishing and Aké Festival’s headline author for 2019.

With panels including ‘Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change’, ‘Writing Black, Writing Queer’, ‘Blacktivism Around The World’, and ‘Why Africa Needs Feminist Giants’, the 2020 edition of the Aké Festival will be more thought-provoking than ever.

Aké Festival’s theme for 2020 is ‘African Time’ in recognition of the global anti-racism movement that has gathered momentum and visibility in recent months. Audiences across the world will be able to join this free event, engaging with luminaries from literature, poetry, film, theatre, music and visual arts in discussions around critical issues, including race, gender, identity, equality and empathy.

Lola Shoneyin, Director & Founder, Aké Arts and Book Festival, said: “Our world has changed forever; the magnitude of recent world events cannot be ignored. In 1918, African nations were in the clutches of imperial forces that degraded our stories, culture, history, language and belief systems. More than a century later, the COVID-19 pandemic finds Africa struggling with the colonial hangover of poor leadership and a predatory global order.

“Now is the time for Africa to recalibrate and break the cycle of betrayal by those elected to lead. It may have come later than hoped for, but, for the children of Africa everywhere, this is African Time.”

Aké Festival Programme

Throughout the festival, attendees will be able to participate in 27 stimulating panel discussions, 20 author talks, storytelling sessions, three workshops, a concert, poetry performances, films and a stage play. Panellists will also discuss intersectional feminism, blacktivism and colourism, the burgeoning post-COVID mental health crisis and decolonisation of black spaces.

On the morning of Sunday 25 October, a cross-religion communion will be held with leaders and practitioners from multiple religions and beliefs including Christianity, Islam and indigenous Nigerian faiths. Together they will ask universal questions like ‘why are we here?’ from their religious perspectives.

This year’s Aké Festival line-up of more than 130 authors, artists and creatives, includes:

  • American Tayari Jones, winner of the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction and New York Times best-selling author who will speak about her new novel Silver Sparrow;
  • Booker Prize-winning Jamaican author Marlon James who joins award-winning Nigerian-American science-fiction and fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor in a panel discussion titled ‘When African History Meets Futurism’;
  • Two-time Giller Prize-winning Canadian author Esi Edugyan will speak about her acclaimed work Washington Black;
  • Winner of African Literary Person of the Year 2016, Zimbabwean novelist Petina Gappah will speak about her novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light;
  • Tochi Onyebuchi, American author of the urgent – and somewhat prescient – dystopian novel Riot Baby;
  • Nigerian-born Abi Daré, who will talk about her latest book Girl with the Louding Voice, awarded Amazon Best Book of the Year So Far in 2020 and New York Times best-seller;
  • British-South African Sara-Jayne Makwala-King, whose debut memoir Killing Karoline reflects on how her biracial identity was shaped by racism, colourism and Apartheid, will explore ‘Africa’s Isms: Colourism and Tribalism’;
  • Ugandan feminist and gay rights activist Stella Nyanzi, who was released from prison earlier this year after insulting the Ugandan President and remains a fierce and uncowed advocate for change will discuss ‘Why Africa Needs Feminist Giants’ with intersectional feminist Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian-American author of Headscarves and Hymens (2015)and The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019);
  • British writer and filmmAkér Afua Hirsch, who joins Irish-Nigerian author Emma Dabiri (Don’t Touch My Hair) and British actor Kelechi Okafor in a panel discussion titled ‘Black Women Harnessing Anger for Social Change’;
  • Best-selling Canadian journalist and author Desmond Cole who will lead a panel discussion on ‘Blacktivism Around The World’;
  • Jamaican Nicole Dennis-Benn, best-selling author of Here Comes The Sun and Patsy, who will explore the topic ‘Writing Queer, Writing Black’;
  • Ugandan-American founding member of the African Feminist Forum Jessica Horn, chair of the discussion Decolonising Feminism in Africa;
  • British author Derek Owusu, who will talk about his acclaimed work That Reminds Me, which won the Desmond Elliot Prize for debut fiction;
  • Cambridge University alumnus Okechukwu Nzelu will discuss his debut book The Private Joys of Nnena Maloney; and
  • Founder and CEO of LifeBank, Africa’s healthcare supply chain, Nigerian-American Temie Giwa-Tubosonwho is celebrated for her innovative use of drones and speedboats to deliver urgently needed blood supplies – will draw on her decades of experience with the Department For International Development (DFID), World Health Organization, UNDP, and the Lagos State Government to answer the question: How Efficiently Can Technology Solve Africa’s Problems?


Beyond the world of literature, Aké Festival has an incredible programme of film, music, theatre and visual arts.

A new art project for 2020 titled WS 20 for 20 will see Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate Wole Soyinka present 20 works from his astonishing collection of African antiquities, explaining their histories and personal significances. The contemporary art exhibition curated by Jessica Byenyan Bitrus, will adopt ‘African Time’ as its theme and feature artists from all over the world.

  • Thursday 22 October, the new film ‘Elders Corner’ will be screened. Part of Sheffield Doc Fest 2020’s Official Selection, the film traces how Nigerian music – from the colourful, celebratory sounds of Juju music to the politicised urgency of Afrobeat – has spearheaded some of Africa’s most prominent musical movements and asks what has happened to these pioneers since their heydays?
  • Saturday 24 October, the acclaimed new theatrical work Venus vs. Modernity will premiere in the evening. Produced by poet, artist, and activist Lebogang Mashile, the play explores the life of Sara Baartman, aka the Hottentot Venus.

You can find more information on the Aké Festival here.
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