OGOV Roundtable Discussion #2 - Africans Abroad

For the second time here at OGOV, in lieu of a poem this week we will receive the privilege of "listening in" on a conversation on poetry held between some of Ghana's (and Africa's) brightest up and coming poets, moderated by One Ghana, One Voice's own Julian Adomako-Gyimah, and featuring Prince Mensah, Martin Pieterson, Emmanuel Sigauke, and Mariska Taylor-Darko. So please have a read, and be sure to use the comment section to join the conversation yourself!

Julian Adomako-Gyimah:

As Ghanaian (and Zimbabwean) writers living abroad, how best can we promote writing amongst Ghanaians at home?

Emmanuel Sigauke:

This question applies to the idea of what African writers in general should do to promote writing back home. If we go back to the classical argument of the writer as teacher, visionary, voice of the people, we find ourselves subscribing to a type of thinking that associates writing with advocacy or social responsibility. So, having lived away from home, I find myself seeking a true definition of self, culture and belonging through my writing.

But at one time I was a writer based in Africa, concerned about the importance of my Africanness to me, but there was also the temptation of departing from home artistically, wooed by schools of writing associating themselves with radicalism, individualism, loneliness. This applied to all forms of artistic expression, for instance, music -- I remember my generation's general attachment to foreign music, but once I was away, I started to rediscover the beauty of art produced at home. Not everyone enters exile in order to discover the necessary artistic self hood, so it is the duty of the ex-pat writer to share the renewed (sometimes just new) vision with the artists back home.

One best way of helping writers back home is to take advantage of the access to resources that being an exile often provides to help out the talented but often disadvantaged writers back home. One way I have offered to help writers back home (in my case Zimbabwe) has been to start a literary journal that the writers can submit to. But I have noticed that since the journal is internet-based, it has not yet reached those most in need.

So I have been thinking of ways in which I can work with writers groups to provide access to needy writers. This is no easy task, which is why a forum like this one will definitely help us brainstorm (and act on) the various ways we can help.

Prince Mensah:

Powerful point, Emmanuel.

There has to be a concerted effort with foreign-based African writers, local universities and stations (TV and Radio) to encourage writing among our people. There is an over-emphasis on ways to get rich quick. Even the smartest people get caught in this tyranny of becoming 'rich' by any means necessary. This is the bane of our countries. There is so much poverty that the only tangible thing to do is to hustle. Our countries are caught up in the illusion of unrealistic sitcoms and movies that are nothing but fiction. The fact of life is that you have to work and work hard at anything worth having. Our people also have to be taught to not only work hard, but work smart.

We, as writers in other countries, must challenge the status quo by becoming leaders on issues we talk about. For the sake of writing in our countries, we can apply for grants, collectively or individually, directed to providing an intellectual infrastructure wherein literary institutions and competitions can be established. There has to be several steps taken in making the writing and appreciation of poetry, novels, plays and essays an accepted norm in our societies. Local radio and TV stations can become partners in the creation of programmes that reward writing efforts.

In Africa, a huge chunk of the general readership is semi-illiterate or illiterate. This makes an interest in written and spoken English extremely difficult. We have to adopt towns or areas in our home countries where we can channel resources in the forms of books and study aids. These things do not have to come out of pocket, necessarily. All we have to do is raise interest in the foreign countries where we live in, by writing to libraries, publishers, schools and literary organizations.

In Ghana, slapstick shows, popularly known as concert parties, have more patronage than theatrical productions. The sad thing is that inasmuch that concert parties are popular, they have no marketability to outside markets. Our literary efforts must enable our local writers to attain marketability to the outside world as well. There is a dire need for us to do something in 2008. A campaign to world literary circles would not be a step in the bad direction. We need to unearth the great stories that lie hidden in the minds of our people.


Let's do something in 2008. We could become one of the groups that writers back home can rely on at different levels of support. Something as simple as contributing resources (a little bit of money, publicity, etc) will go a long way in helping writers back home. Often we look to other people's endowments as sources of support -- what if we could provide one. We as a group can start a fund that helps writing activities back home. I have always had visions to fund a poetry contest through one of the writers' groups back home. What we need to bear in mind, though, is how to ensure that the money, the support, goes to help those it's intended to support.


A monthly literary prize of $50 will not be bad. However, that $50 should be in the form of books that assist with writing. A quarterly prize of $100 can be organized to not only give books but to assist the writer with stationary for their manuscript. An annual prize of $500 can be given to a writer who has completed a manuscript and needs a publisher to complete the project. The numbers are all suggestions and emanate from conservative projection. We have to agree to everything as a group.

Martin Pieterson:

In my opinion, writing in Ghana can be promoted by setting up writing clubs in communities and in schools (primary, secondary and tertiary). Not only do we need to set up these clubs, we need to ensure they are run professionally. Especially in the 1st and 2nd cycle institutions, writers must be made to know all that goes into the craft such as finding markets, analyzing the publications to submit work to, approaching the various genres (short stories, poetry, articles, religious writing, travel writing etc..), using grammar and punctuation, finding inspiration, handling writers' block, and much more.

Some writers clubs have sprung up in the past in Ghana but many haven't worked because people don't see what they gain from them. One of the problems up-and-coming writers face in Ghana is the issue of getting published. Many submit pieces to publications without analyzing what kind of work the publication accept (if it's sports, leisure, travel, politics, etc.), length of articles, style of writing etc.., and when they aren’t published they give up entirely on writing. I believe if people know some of these things they will do things correctly and thus stay in the craft.

I would like to take this opportunity to request all poets who have been published on OGOV to begin thinking of setting up writers' clubs in their communities so that we get this professional approach into our writing. Writing has so many benefits: apart from making us advocates, it also helps us to sharpen our skills of observation and communication. The latter is very important for us Ghanaians and Africans now that the world has become a Global Village. It also helps us improve on our vocabulary and thus become more confident.

Another point is that every fun activity that is done in the running of these clubs should be that which will add to the competence of the writers. During excursions to places of interest, for example, writers should be told not only to go and have fun but also to observe everything and report. In this way, we can help produce many travel writers.

In addition to setting up writers' clubs and running them professionally, there is the need to have more publications. One of the joys of writing is getting published, and this is why I would like to commend OGOV for making it possible for many talented Ghanaian and African writers, who may otherwise have had difficulty in getting published, to get published. OGOV has shown us that we have more quality and great writers than we thought. I believe there are even many more to emerge once given the opportunity.

I would like to suggest that OGOV begins a corner for teenagers and kids or 1st and 2nd Cycle institutions so we can get the spirit into them. Many of them would love to see their poems published. [ed. note: we currently have a call out for poems by children and youth - visit the Submission Guidelines page for more details]

Congrats Julian for your help in getting Ex-pat writers published. Let's do the same for many of the great writers in Ghana. Prince and Emmanuel, thanks for your wonderful ideas as to how we can sponsor writing events.

I am sure if we organise ourselves properly, there could be a time when people could even take writing as a full-time job in Ghana, we just have to start discussing the business side of it. We can begin to organize poetry evenings first free of charge and later charge a little money depending on the interest and then we can move to other literary events. KSM did it with his shows; we can also do it with writing. We just need to begin talking.

Friends, I see a great hope for Ghana and Africa from this corner. I see we are the generation to make Africa what it is supposed to be. Let's keep this spirit. And after our forums, let's move on to implementing our decisions. This is what our present leadership is not doing. And as a generation of hope, let's begin to do this.


Great idea, Martin.

There is the need for a multiple-pronged approach to this issue. Writer's clubs are definitely the way to go. We need to identify people and organizations who share this vision. We have to build the foundation so that when the real job is done, it won't collapse. Let's brainstorm, brethren. The world is watching.


Working with writers who are serious is a prerequisite to successful literary promotion. Clubs are a good starting point, and sponsoring contests, and helping writers gain access to publishers and agents would be a great step in this process. Although we all live in places where publishing resources are available, it is not always easy to break our ways into publication since the issues we deal with may not appeal to publishers here. There is thus the issue of which publishers and promoters should be involved in the nurturing of talent back home.

Mariska Taylor-Darko:

Hi all of you.

First of all I must say that it was only after being abroad that I saw what other countries do to promote the work of their writers. Apart from the intellectuals in Ghana and among the ex-pats, the average Ghanaian only heard of poetry when they were in school - for Literature lessons. As a writer who commutes between countries I feel that one of the ways we could help would be to organise poetry readings, get published in the media, get some good PR, have competitions among the youth and try to get sponsors interested in writing of all forms with attractive rewards for talent. The Universities should invite outsiders to participate in events regardless of their educational background. The TV and Radio stations should also give exposure to the up and coming writers with fun programmes - not the serious heavy events that have been seen.

In Ghana it seems that poetry (I mention this because its my area of interest) is not given much regard outside the tertiary establishment, although a few poetry reading sessions are being organised - all late at night and in venues that are not easily accessible. We have to make events more accessible to the masses and get more youth interested.


Mariska, the issue of access, as you pointed out, is very important. Most writers nowadays self-market on the internet through forums like Myspace and Youtube. While I am happy about the proliferation of online poetry journals, I am aware that some talented young writers in Africa do not have access to a computer, or cannot afford the rates of the internet cafes. So to ensure access, we need to help in the provision of resources, without waiting for the "generous Western sponsor" of writing. Of course, access is not everything; trainers would need to identify interested and talented writers who can be helped to realize their dreams. As you stated, Mariska, writing contests, conferences, excursion, etc. would help.


Emmanuel, I agree with you also. The lack of access to the electronic world would be a hindrance to a lot of budding writers. I think we all agree that closer interaction between writers would be a major development, as we’ve mentioned wanting locally organised programmes in nearly all our comments. So now, how do we start? The biggest hurdle would be the funds to set up these programmes. Where do the youth meet a lot? In clubs, churches, sports grounds, etc. Clubs could, on days when they have not much patronage, arrange poetry reading sessions to bring exposure. Meeting the youth groups in churches and organising such events would also be a possibility. Making use of the churches weekly bulletins and monthly magazines is another outlet. These are just a few ways we could start without depending on any Western sponsors...

This way the talented writers would gain acknowledgement, a following of friends and like minded persons and the encouragement to continue with their dreams.

For those of us who can speak pidgin or local dialects, poetry recitals could be organised in these dialects to reach a wider audience. Even mixtures of good English and pidgin would make things more interesting.

We should show our love for what we do to the point that it touches and awakens the feelings in others. We should be vocal and vibrant in our delivery of both written poetry and spoken word and let other writers know that just because they are not living outside of their own countries does not mean that they do not have much to offer. They do have much to offer, and should be passionate about it without fear of criticism. It is better to keep on trying than never try at all.


Yes, Mariska. As we assume this task of inspiring others, we are called upon by that responsibility to lead by example: we have to demonstrate that we are writing and publishing works. The fellow writers back home are not just recipients of our encouragement, but partners in this effort. What I remember working with young writers in Zimbabwe in the 90s was the passion they had; we had the passion, but persistence was another matter.

As Mariska pointed out, the passion has to turn into persistent writing that does not get easily discouraged by criticism or rejections. As most us would attest, publication is difficult even here (especially here, where sometimes the editors turn down our works because they don't seem to address a familiar world). So let there be a balance in approach: we should inspire and encourage each other without so much as hinting that this is an easy process. We also don't want to give false impressions about art and livelihood, or to steer aspiring writers towards a disabling dependence policy. Often, we feel, as aspiring writers, that we are the chosen few, but, really, writing demands great effort, knowledge (if not respect) of your market or readership, and realistic goals.


Writing, like any other human talent, gets better with use. The rubber band principle must be applied wherein we stretch ourselves to a point in our careers where we have exhausted everything we are capable of producing. This enables us to accommodate the happiness and heartbreaks of a career in writing.

I think action must be 75% with us and words be the rest. In as much as we serve hope as breakfast, reality must be served as lunch. We have to sponsor groups in our country, by exposing their works to people and groups we know. We must give our people an audience. Most of us have personal websites, why don't we get poetry from a bunch of good, but struggling, writers from our countries and post them on our sites? Why don't we organize a monthly newsletter that will give our people a list of places they can get help from? Why don't we use our network of friends to promote our brothers and sisters? The concept of community, as we are doing now, can be inculcated in our sibling-scribes at home.

Leading by example, as Emmanuel suggested, can start by all of us agreeing to do something and sticking to it. If it is funding, let us agree on a ball park figure. If it is logistics, let's figure a solution out. Remember, a problem is an opportunity wrapped with rags.

Let's get going on our plans because not only is African suffering from economic and intellectual dysfunction---our people are living under an iron sky. It is up to us to let them believe in themselves once again. The world is respectful of one who knows his destination.

Read Previous Roundtable Discussions:
#1 Politics and the Power of Poetry (Issue 1.32)


Anonymous said...

Hey there,

Great discussion! I think all of you raised some very good ideas, which we should try to put into practice at once.
There is an important subject matter I want to address, which most of you mentioned during this discussion: getting published. As you pointed out, it is very important to encourage Ghanaian writers to get published - but there is a great lack of information on how to do so. Poets and writers will need help to find the correct publishers, to know how to present their work, to understand all the issues involved in publishing contracts and how to ensure their rights aren't violated.
Prince suggested a newsletter with a list of places to get help from. I think this idea should be taken into account - and the information should not only be made available on the internet, but could be distributed in the form of leaflets (for example) at universities, clubs and similar meeting places. This would need some of us to gather information, sit down together and write guidelines that address the most important challenges a writer faces when he/she wants to get published. The resulting documents (I imagine some foldable DIN-A4 page, with a well-structured, succinct text and maybe even one or two drawings/caricatures) could then be made available on OGOV and be printed out and distributed at local clubs.
What do you think?

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Elena makes a good point. Let's strategize the compilation of information on publication for distribution in community centers, schools, libraries, and colleges back home. Some contributors to OGOV are at universities and public institutions in Ghana, they might be a starting point in giving awareness of the exisistence of such fora as OGOV, Munyori Poetry Journal, African Writing Online, etc.

I know in Zimbabwe I can contact the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), which is instrumental in outreach programs that take writing to the rural areas. Once these networks begin, those in with access to resources can continue to gather and contribute information through OGOV, etc...

Of course, I don't want to pretend that this is an easy task, but as our roundtable discussion shows, we are committed to see African writing continue to develop.

Anonymous said...

Publishing is a very sensitive issue with writers. How do you get publishing houses to take an interest in your work and publish them? How can you get published without the huge capital outlay that one doesn't have? I attended the Ghanaian Women Writers forum in 2002 in Accra and publishers were invited to interact with us budding young writers. More experienced writers - those already in print also held workshops with us. Something like this should be a quarterly or twice yearly affair where all parties are invited to talk about options available. Publishing houses who will publish and promote unknown writers, and even promote them after they are published should be allowed to advertise themselves at such forums.

In Accra the Pan African Writers Association do give advice and guidelines and information that all writers need to know. But Elena is right, more has to be done in this respect and it is not only a problem in our part of the world but internationally too. That is why many turn to the self publishing companies to have their work published. Maybe each writer should send in details of publishers in their countries who are approachable or ones that they have used before so that a directory of these could be built up.

Wineglass Court Poets of Howard County, Maryland said...

Why not generate a Pan African Poetry Organization with chapters in all African countries? An annual conference and prize-giving ceremony will rejuvenate interest in African poetry. We can get corporate sponsors to initiate a prestigious literary prize that is reflective of core African writing.

I believe that as writers we must find a way to put these words into action, because the pen is mightier than the sword. We have to find out ways that other countries built their literary communities. There are artist colonies spread out in the USA. They give you a place to stay for three to six months and you get the peace of mind to write a manuscript. This helps a lot of American writers who have to cope with the difficulties of juggling writing and work.

Like sponges, we have to absorb knowledge so that we can aid the refining of our own mother cultures. Winston Churchill once said, courage is to stand and speak up and courage is to sit down and listen. We have to take all we can get from our experiences in diaspora.

Prince Mensah

Rob Taylor said...

Hey all,

Great discussion, as usual! I have a challenge for everyone:

You have brainstormed many, many great ideas - so many that implementing them all right away would be impossible.

What then, are the 1 or 2 things that we can practically and effectively take on in the short/medium term in order to have a real impact?

What's a realistic plan of action? And who is willing to take a leadership role on this?


Emmanuel Sigauke said...

I would contribute is by making myself available for editorial assistance: we all need other people to look at our writings. Writers can send their works to a team of qualified volunteers (at first) who offer some advice on improving the writing.

OneGhanaOneVoice said...

The following is a comment from Prince Mensah, accidentally deleted while removing spam comments:

Emmanuel's suggestion to do editorial work is invaluable. First of all, I must thank him for publishing my poetry in his equally outstanding journal, the Munyori Journal. I know this might sound over-ambitious but can we work out contracts with book publishers in our home countries so that an annual prize(s) for local poets will result in publication. This will not only help the book publishers with cross-marketing. It will open a new market internationally for them.
Also, we must work hard at gaining recognition from world literary bodies. We have to have an identity that will build credibility and marketability enough to pose as an international advocate for African writers.
We have the ideas, guys. We have to act on them.