“Boundless: Africa” at the Kennedy Center highlights African writers and literature

Two-day mini-series showcased writers with a non-Western perspective

“Boundless: Africa” at the Kennedy Center highlights African writers and literature

During “TALKING HOME: A Writer’s Life,” African writers Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Titilope Sonuga describe their creative processes behind their literature.

During Black History Month, the Life section is publishing a series of stories highlighting various forms of African and African American art in Washington, D.C.

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts held a two-day literary mini-series called “Boundless: Africa,” highlighting creative works from 14 writers from Africa and the Diaspora. “Boundless: Africa” was a part of the Kennedy Center’s 2019-2020 WORLD STAGES season. The series was presented in collaboration with the Caine Prize for African Writing, the Camargo Foundation and The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center at George Mason University.

Alicia Adams, the curator for “Boundless: Africa,” said she had been working on the series for a few years. She is also the vice president of international programming and dance at the Kennedy Center. 

Adams said she is passionate about literature and that all of her festivals include literary elements. She wanted to create “Boundless: Africa” to showcase international artists from Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“It’s a little offbeat from the norm,” Adams said in regards to “Boundless.”

The series had five events. Some featured panel discussions while others were performance-based. Not All Canoes Sail Back Home: Maya, Maryse and Efua in Nkrumah’s Ghanawas a theatrical reading of Camargo Foundation fellow Femi Osofisan’s play, “Not All Canoes Sail Back Home.” After the reading, there was also a panel discussion about the play.

Ben Okri, vice president of the Caine Prize Board, was given an hour and a half to read some of his books, plays and poetry during the event “A Voice in the Wind.” His readings were also set to music.

“I call it sort of writing in performance,” Adams said. “It’s not just a straight reading or something you might typically do at a literary event, but something that includes the performing arts.”

At the panel discussion, “TALKING HOME: A Writer’s Life” on Feb. 5, award-winning writers Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Titilope Sonuga participated in a panel discussion moderated by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, chair of the Caine Prize for African Writing. The writers talked about how they delve into the creative process when writing their literature. Additionally, they discussed how they wanted to create literature for African audiences, not Western audiences.  Arimah said she is not interested in writing the “glossary version of stories,” in which every element of her culture has to be explained to a Western audience.

“I’m writing to my people,” Makumbi said in regards to her Ugandan roots.

Sonuga agreed with this sentiment. “There is an audience out there that doesn’t want to be spoon-fed,” she said.

The last event in the series was called “At Home, From Home, Home and Away.” Over a three-course dinner, participants engaged in conversation with all 14 writers involved in the series. 

The Kennedy Center presented “Boundless: Africa” just in time for Black History Month. The mini-series allowed audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the works and creative processes of African writers.


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