- Introduction:The Performance of Pan-Africanism
In recent years, animated debates about African literature have continued to unfold. The heated questions engaged include who may or may not be an African writer; what geography, lineage, and citizenship have to do with this question; and whom such writers write for. The field of African literary studies, then, increasingly incorporates a plethora of structures well beyond the world of text. Authors are not only in close collaboration with their editors and publishing houses, but also with a panoply of promotional structures whose best function is to connect writing with reading and, most importantly, writers with their readers. To publish a book with Cassava Republic in Nigeria, Kwani in Kenya, Modjaji in South Africa, Becky Ayebia Clarke in the UK, or the African Poetry Book Fund/Nebraska in the US may signal success, but publishing with traditional presses alone no longer secures the visibility that prizes, festivals, conferences, and other sites of literary sociality do. And at the same time, the renewed vitality of such structures on the African continent has drawn out new controversies over the status of well-established awards in the Global North. It is certainly the case that, nearly twenty years after its introduction, the Caine Prize for African Fiction remains deeply influential even as some of its very own laureates call into question its relevance. Rather than a choice between legitimacy and cooption, however, the most hopeful result of such debates is the rise of other awards like the Kwani Book Award and the Etisalat (now 9mobile) Book Award. Alongside these we have seen a vast expansion of book events, extending the history of the fifty-year-old Cairo International Book Fair into new territory with events like the Aké Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta, Babishai Niwe Poetry Festival in Kampala, Storymoja, Writivism, Time of the Writer, and more. At the same time, African writers, particularly women, are finding unprecedented welcome and headline-making advances from major publishing houses of the US and Europe, with presses like Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Norton; Knopf; Random House; and others. When we find Chimamanda Adichie on the cover of Ms. Magazine, or Warsan Shire not only sampled, but in fact providing many of the lyrics for Beyoncé's most successful album, Lemonade, we know that African literature has entered a new era. Or has it?
The articles in this dossier emerged from a conference convened on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the First World Festival of Black Art and Culture (Le Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres) in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966.1 When co-organizers David Murphy, Martin Munro, and Tsitsi Jaji issued [End Page vii] the call for papers for Performance of Pan-Africanism: From Colonial Exhibitions to Black and African Cultural Festivals, we invited participants to think about the long history of such arts festivals, to reflect on the sometimes unsettling continuities between colonial exhibitions, world's fairs, and other large-scale spectacles of culture and later cultural festivals, but also to consider the ways that local histories and practices of gathering for durbars, masquerades, and other community rites reverberated in the state-sponsored arts festival of 1966. Because that festival was organized by the founding editor of Présence Africaine, Alioune Diop, and sponsored by Senegal's poet-president Léopold Sédar Senghor, Dakar '66 has proven an especially rich vantage point from which to consider earlier efforts at collocating African writers and locating them within broader frameworks, particularly in relation to others in the African diaspora. The festival also serves as a frame through which to think about the performances that authors and artists engage in today in the many spaces where their presence translates to an excess beyond their oeuvre, producing forms of distinction, celebrity, and marketability that challenge our more text-based methodologies.
From a literary standpoint, Dakar '66's most obvious predecessors include the 1956 Congress of Black Writers and Artists also convened by Alioune Diop, in Paris, and its second iteration in 1959 in Rome. For Anglophone writers and scholars, the Makerere conference for writers of English-language expression in...