Words by Natasha Cowie, with contributions by Hannah Finnimore

We were delighted to help organise Africa Writes Leeds, curated by Khadijah Ibrahiim and supported by Africa Writes, the Geraldine Connor Foundation and the British Library. The day celebrated contemporary African writing, in particular the work of Nigerian author, playwright and University of Leeds graduate Wole Soyinka.

The day of activities started off with Leeds Black History Walk led by Joe Williams. Over the 2 hour walk around Leeds University campus, he kept the group captivated telling the story of the African presence in Leeds, from thousands of years ago until the present day. We learnt about key figures such as the Ivory Bangle Lady of York, Ira Aldridge and Olaudah Equiano, which allowed us to reflect on how this history has been hidden and the true contribution of Africa to modern day Britain.

Next a group of young people were invited to attend a Special Collections Workshop at the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery in the Parkinson Building led by Special Collections staff Sarah Prescott and Laura Wilson. They had the opportunity to access the original correspondence, speeches and drafts of Wole Soyinka’s work, and even see a preserved piece of toilet paper on which he wrote when he was barred access to paper! Next, writer Jacob Ross led a creative writing workshop in which the group produced touching work with the prompt of Soyinka’s emotions whilst being wrongly imprisoned.

A Guerrilla Theatre workshop also took place, led by Jane Plastow of the University of Leeds centre for African Studies and actors Tunde Euba and Tunji Falana. The group looked at sketches written by Wole Soyinka in the 1960s, when his political satire was played on the streets. We then used these techniques to come up with our own sketches based around various prompts on the topics of politics and race. It was a wonderful opportunity to work in groups to bring out our creativity by engaging both brain and body.

To conclude the day, Jason Allen-Paisant facilitated a panel between the poets and writers Malika Booker, Rommi Smith, Pete Kalu and Susan Kiguli (in pre-recorded sections). They discussed contemporary African literature of the diaspora, celebrating Soyinka's most recent novel ‘Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth' (2021). Each discussed how the work can be potentially opaque but lyrical, political and darkly funny, and the greater influence of Soyinka's writing on their own and writing at large. It was fascinating which sections from 'Chronicles' they chose and how it related to their past and current projects.

 

Over the day our creative minute takers Orange and Lilian captured the day in drawing form on a colourful, eye-catching banner, which they unveiled to attendees in the evening. See the full banner linked below, or scroll to the base of this page:

View the full banner

Overall the day was an amazing and immersive dive into the work and impact of Wole Soyinka - special thanks to Khadijah Ibrahiim, the British Library, the University of Leeds and Africa Writes for creating such a unique and varied event.