I’ve been an attendee at a few Ake festivals, but this year I got invited to be a moderator (yes, life upgrade!) and I couldn’t have been happier about the timing.
The 2017 theme was ‘This F Word’, and the whole festival was about the intersections of feminism and literature: the representation of women and our realities in literature, African women writers historical and current, African feminisms, the impacts of gender(ed bias, for example) on publishing, women in film, women in journalism and political resistance, women, women, women. It felt like home in more ways than one.
I especially enjoyed moderating the panel titled ‘Silencing the Silence: How We Talk About Rape’, which focused on the way sexual violence is framed in the popular imagination. It was an insightful and illuminating conversation with four brilliant and powerful women: Ayodeji Osowobi, the founder of Stand to End Rape, one of only two anti-sexual violence and survivor support organisations in Lagos; Laure Beaufils, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria; Jude Kelly CBE, artistic director at the Southbank Centre and founder of the Women in the World festival, and the inimitable Professor Pumla Gqola, who authored the seminal work “Rape: A South African Nightmare”.
(If I look tired in that photo, it’s because I was: the panel was the first one of the day, and I had spent most of the night before responding to phone calls from Otodo Gbame evictees informing me that they had been brutally attacked. They were sleeping in front of Government House following a JEI-led peaceful protest that I attended just before leaving for Abeokuta, and police forces attacked them. 158 people were illegally detained, including women, an elderly man and several minors, and many more were beaten and injured.)
The absolute highlight of the festival for me was meeting the guest of honour, Ama Ata Aidoo. Now, Ama Ata Aidoo is a giant of African literature (hello?!), and possibly the most original voice of her time, so of course I completely spazzed out when I got invited over at breakfast to say hello. And then during her talk in the final event of the festival, she broke down in tears describing how my awe made her feel, so of course I started crying in my seat because, reasons. Best of all, the festival convener, Lola Shoneyin, organised for me to do a conversation with Ms Aidoo for the BBC, so now there’s incontrovertible evidence that Ms Aidoo actually knows my name. She said to me, “so you can actually talk!”, and that was the best compliment of the whole festival.
Lamide Akintobi, who is one of the many inspiring women I met at the festival–literally too many to name–made a great recap video of the Ake experience that you should definitely watch. And most importantly, you should make plans to attend this year’s edition!