Poetry festivals in Africa

May 2005 -

Six years ago on March 21, the first World Poetry Day was held. UNESCO hopes that this initiative will encourage ‘the reading and writing of poetry throughout the world’. Every year, this day is used to draw people’s attention to, and recognise the importance of, regional, national and international movements in the world of poetry.

In Africa too, there is increased interest in literature, as can be seen from the fact that three literary festivals were held there recently. The most established festival is the Time of the Writer festivalorganised by the Centre for Creative Arts, which is affiliated with the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. The end of March saw the holding of the first Nairobi International Poetry Festival , which took as its main topic HIV and aids.

In April, the festival Les Rencontres Poétiques Internationales de Conakry celebrated its fifth birthday. This festival was set up by the Guinean poet Thierno Souleymane Barry. ‘The aim of our festival is to offer poets a platform, in order to bridge the gap between African poets and poets from other continents', says Berry. The programme included seminars, readings, and performances of music and poetry. There were also poetry competitions in both the French and national languages.

Barry is happy to report that the festival was a great success. ‘During the four days of the festival, we were delighted to welcome more than 2,000 visitors and 75 poets, comedians and musicians. The preparations for the sixth festival are already in full swing. This time, we hope to be able to work together with other countries, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada. Every cultural exchange is welcome.'

Barry is optimistic about the future of poetry in Africa. ‘In the 1960s, it was poetry that stood up for the liberation of the African continent. And now, after a period of relative calm, the rising number of festivals are ensuring that poetry is becoming more popular again - especially amongst young people.’