Take a look into libraries and book collections holding some of the rarer and often forgotten publications, which are nonetheless essential to the discourse on both sides of the spectrum. Featured this time: Library of Africa and the African Diaspora in Accra.
Sylvia Arthur in her Library in Accra. Photo: Serine Mekoun
By Serine Mekoun 30. July 2020
The Library Of Africa and The African Diaspora (LOATAD) in Accra is the recent accomplishment of the young British-Ghanaian writer and independent cultural entrepreneur Sylvia Arthur. She has tapped into the rich literary potential of the African continent to take an active part in the process of restitution of African artefacts by putting her private collection of rare books and archives in the Ghanaian public space.
“It’s difficult to get books from African writers in Ghana or on the African continent. Of the books by African authors that I acquire, 98% are from the UK and America, which is an irony in itself. All these writers of the postcolonial era and post-independence exist outside of the continent. Through this private enterprise, I am willing to link the questions of restitution to the return of literary artefacts by bringing them into the public domain.”
Sylvia Arthur did not wait for the Year of Return to create a reconnection space between the African continent, its global Diasporas, and Ghana. After having toured second-hand bookstores in Europe and the US for almost ten years, Arthur decided to return to Ghana in 2017 with her acquisitions and start a library inspired by the African American bibliophile Arthur Schomburg. With another three libraries outside of Accra, the writer hopes to reach out to places that do not have easy access to such books due to the country’s socio-geographic constructs.
Inside the LOATAD Library in Accra. Photo: Serine Mekoun
Pan-African and decolonial, LOATAD has a collection of over 4,000 English-language books spanning the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. It covers forty-four countries of the continent, from Cairo to Johannesburg, and extends to the Caribbean and African Diasporas in Europe and the US. It hosts a spectrum of literary genres encompassing fiction, non-fiction, philosophy, music, Diaspora politics, Afrocentric literature, a rich children’s library, a small section dedicated to writers from the Global South, out-of-print publications and archives, an in-construction exhibition space, and a residency space for future, much-anticipated writing residencies.
“There’s an active choice to not lock the readers into one kind of story but make them travel throughout the continent so they can identify with narratives other than slavery and colonialism. It’s one thing to have a cultural production, but what’s the point of always telling the same story over and over again?”
Lyrics of Lowly Life by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Photo: Serine Mekoun
Lyrics of Lowly Life by the African American poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of the oldest books in the library. This 1901 edition is one of the first influential Black poetry collections in American literature. This compilation originally published in 1896 offers 105 poems written in Standard English and in African-American vernacular English.
Modern African Prose by Richard Rive. Photo: Serine Mekoun
This 1964 South African anthology of Modern African Prose was compiled by writer Richard Rive and illustrated by Albert Adams. It was an early volume in the British publisher Heinemann’s African Writers Series,which started in 1962 and became one of the biggest literary series commercializing African authors on the African continent, providing texts that many African universities have used to address the colonial bias in the teaching of literature.
Tales of Mogho, African Stories from the upper Volta by Frederic Guirma. Photo: Serine Mekoun
African Stories from the Upper Volta:Tales of Mogho is a children’s book written by Burkinabe writer and diplomat Frédéric Guirma. Produced in 1971 by British publisher Macmillan, it collects eight folktales reflecting oral traditions of the Mossi people of West Africa as retold from memory by a native of Upper Volta, adding a glossary of sixty-four words.
Ride me, Memory by Koffi Awoonor.Photo: Serine Mekoun
This forty-seven-page poetry chapbook was written in 1973 by Ghanaian author Kofi Awoonor when he was a teacher in the US. It tells of his experience there and analyzes the relationship between African Americans and Africans through the lens of the author’s own Ewe culture.
The Hidden Face of Eve by Nawal El Saadawi. Photo: Serine Mekoun
The Hidden Face of Eve, from 1980, is one of the best-known works by Egyptian psychiatrist and feminist writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi, who has spent her life writing about women in patriarchal African societies and denouncing misogynist practices in Egypt.
Serine Mekoun is a Belgian literary journalist of Beninese-Togolese descent based in Brussels. Born at the cusp of Generations Y and Z, she is interested in spaces of reconnection in the constant back and forth between popular and high culture, between Europe and Africa, and in all the spaces where different futures can germinate.