Accra as the world book capital : All Ghana a stage

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With titillating titles like “The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born,” “Dilemma of a Ghost,” and “The Marriage of Anansewa,” our illustrious literary elders sought to exercise their creative and intellectual rights to tell the stories of Ghana to Ghanaians and the larger world, and their fabled efforts have helped many of the next generations find their voices and identities.

The millennials of today may be blissfully unaware that the late, great Efua Sutherland took her activist and bookish pursuits much further, initially discussing the setting up of an indigenous publishing house in Ghana in the 1950s with academic luminaries like Dr Busia and Dr J. B. Danquah. She eventually put thought into action by incorporating and establishing Afram Publication in February 1973 with the late Prof. Kwabena Nketia, another erudite virtuoso, at Dzorwulu in Accra. This is aside from her pioneering work in theatre arts at the University of Ghana.

Accra has always been a confluence for ideas and ideals, hosting important conversations and serving as fertile ground for the pollination of opinions and thoughts. W.E.B Du Bois lived in Accra before passing away at 95; Maya Angelou uncaged her creativity in Accra in the 1960s, becoming an administrator at the University of Ghana, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, writing and broadcasting for Radio Ghana, and working and performing for Ghana’s National Theatre, among others. From Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X, various thought leaders, activists, and writers have forged new paths and sailed new worlds of ideas with Accra as a guiding lighthouse.

The decision by UNESCO to announce Accra as the World Book Capital for 2023, the 23rd city on our planet to be named so, and only the second city in Africa to receive that honour, is therefore apt, thrilling, and a tad bit challenging. UNESCO’s World Book Capital designation is a global acknowledgement of the power of books as cornerstones for more inclusive, peaceful, and sustainable societies. By winning and receiving the baton for a year, Accra and indeed all of Ghana have affirmed their “commitment to literacy, lifelong learning, respect for copyright, and freedom of expression,” values that I personally hold very dear.

Like many avid readers of my generation, I made my way through Enid Blyton’s books, Nancy Drew stories, and “The Baby-Sitters Club” series as a teenager. Mind you, I had also read many of the socially and politically charged books in the African Writers Series, and the latter is what developed in me an intrigue for the people on this continent that I call home. Then there were Pacesetters also African but more modern and, from a teenager’s point of view, more interesting. The sparkling interest in books had grown into a conflagration by this time.

SEHP’s Work in Literacy Promotion

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Samira Bawumia reading to a child

Having always harboured an enchantment for books and intellectual pursuits when I started the Samira Empowerment and Humanitarian Projects (SEHP) in 2017, a not-for-profit organisation working on literacy programmes and fostering the love of reading was a very natural fit. At SEHP, we believe strongly in the expression of self through writing and the positively addictive power of books. Over the years, we have run several programmes and projects on literary and educational causes that have shaped the lives of many, from urban to rural areas.

Library-In-A-Box

 

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The significance of education and literacy has remained central to SEHP’s interventions. This is exhibited in our various educational projects, including the Library-In-A-Box (LIAB) project, where books and reading materials are provided to school children across the country to encourage and foster positive reading habits. At SEHP, we augment the government’s efforts at resourcing schools with books under LIAB by partnering with international and local organisations such as Book Aid and EPP to provide books in diverse categories to deprived basic schools. Since 2017, the LIAB project has donated over two hundred thousand books (200,000) to sixty-five (65) basic schools across the country. Recently, SEHP commissioned the Kanda Cluster of Schools’ Model Literacy and Learning Centre, which is fully refurbished and resourced with books and computers.

Basic Education Certificate Examination Revision Project

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SEHP also has a Basic Education Certificate Examination Revision Project, which provides final-year Junior High School pupils and teachers in selected districts across the country with support and resources to improve outcomes. In 2021, the Krachi West district in the Oti Region benefited from the project, with a positively inspiring BECE pass-rate improvement from 31% to 63% in 2022. This project does not only provide the revision materials to students but also includes a comprehensive training workshop, where Chief Examiners are brought in to train Headteachers and Teachers on essential examination preparation and the best usage of the revision packs.

Samira Bawumia Literature Prize

The intervention of which I’m most proud, and with which I hope to gain the most profound impact, is the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize launched in 2020 to challenge aspiring young Ghanaian writers to express their creativity while sharing their art with the world. Out of this intervention, which is so dear to my heart, we hope to unearth and encourage the next Ayi Kwei Armahs, Atukwei Okais, and Yaa Gyasis among others.

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I was excited to receive 1,629 entries from Ghanaian youth between 15 and 25 years of age in the maiden edition, who shared their diverse experiences of growing up in Ghana through poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction along the theme “Everyday Ghanaian Life.” Out of 1,022 qualifying entries, 30 winners were shortlisted and awarded cash prizes and books, with the top 3 winners of each category receiving laptops in addition. We achieved a major milestone by publishing the winners’ stories in an anthology titled “All Ghana A Stage.” The prospect of having more creative authors in the writing community excites us, as we support homebred writing talents through publishing opportunities, cash prizes, and publicity across print, radio, and digital channels.

When we set out to establish the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize, it was to give our upcoming griots an outlet. The young talents attended writing workshops by seasoned writers and were given the opportunity to impress their work. Now in its second iteration, and with the next anthology set to come out before the end of this year, this collection of the voices of young Ghanaians is our contribution to the body of Ghanaian Literature. If our young people are to love Ghana and develop a sense of citizenship and patriotism, they must see themselves in the works they read. A compelling story set in Wli must make them want to go and see the place one day. This is why I take this opportunity to commend those holding up the flag of Ghanaian literature in all its forms: novels, non-fiction, poetry, spoken word, drama, and film, among others. I hesitate to mention names and leave anyone out. They have my unwavering salute and respect.

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The designation of Accra as the World Book Capital could not have come at a better time. While we remember with fondness literary geniuses who have passed on, including the venerable Efua Sutherland, whose centenary is in 2024, and the recent passing of the legendary Ama Ata Aidoo, we seize the opportunity to ask ourselves hard questions about our reading habits, nurturing writers, and the book and publishing industry as a whole. How can we better foster the love of reading, especially in our young ones, so it becomes a lifelong habit? How do we take advantage of digital technologies to improve access to literary works as well as school texts?

In commemoration of the Accra World Book Capital 2023, we have made the anthology “All Ghana A Stage” freely available to download on the Ghana Library Authority app. “All Ghana a Stage” is an ode to the shared experiences of young Ghanaians, inspired by the theme of the maiden edition of the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize, ‘Everyday Ghanaian Living.’ This collection of poems, short stories, and essays explores themes such as the angst and fulfilment of youthful love, the daily struggles of ordinary Ghanaians, the culture of our politics, the journey of self-discovery, coming of age in a global pandemic, and fears for the future of our natural environment.

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In the course of this year-long celebration, SEHP, like many other literacy and culture CSOs, will work on many projects in conjunction with the City of Accra, the Ghana Library Authority, the Ghana Book Development Council, the Ghana Commission for UNESCO as well as many talented industry players to do public readings, book donations and also give our voices to audiobooks.

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Samira Bawumia and the making of Ghanaian writers

 

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