PEN World Voices Festival | NYC April 25 – May 1, 2016

Africa in Two Acts

Boubacar Boris Diop
Photo by Sophie Bachelier

Africa In Two Acts focused on the notion of a collective African identity—who are African writers speaking to? How do language and politics intertwine? Achille Mbembe spoke about how collective identity is crucial (“an entirely different map of the continent is in the making”), but Boubacar Boris Diop adamantly disagreed. Diop argued that this is reductive—every African nation has an autonomous identity, and people shouldn't ignore the reality of the nation-state mentality. Aminatta Forna argued that the notion of the nation state is becoming obsolete—that the future will be about the city state. She asked the panel how the rise of city states might affect Africa. Lola Shoneyin brought up the paradox of African writers writing in English—that there are “all the arguments etched in my palm about why it’s better to write in English” and, at the same time, the hope to one day be translated back into her native languages. Billy Kahora discussed the sense of an encroaching determinism on Africa—economically, politically, culturally (“your very essence is determined for you because you are told you’re a certain identity”). Finally, the panel discussed the present and future role of China in Africa.


Sponsored, in part, by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and NYU Africa House.