Collaboration establishes 5 poetry libraries in Africa

The five poetry libraries created through a unique UNL-led collaboration includes the Uganda Poetry Library in Kampala. Other libraries have been created in Gambia, Botswana, Ghana and Kenya.

A partnership between UNL's Prairie Schooner magazine, University Libraries and the African Poetry Book Fund has established poetry reading libraries in five African countries.

The libraries, established through agreements with individuals and organizations in Gambia, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda, are scheduled to open in September. Each library will include contemporary poetry books and journals available to poets and lovers of poetry.

The African Poetry Library initiative, a continuation of the APBF's mission to spread the poetic arts, started as an idea by Kwame Dawes, Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and APBF series editor.

“Too many poets working in Africa today have limited access to contemporary poetry, partly because of poor distribution by international publishers within Africa and partly because of the cost of books,” Dawes said. “We felt it would be a great idea to establish small poetry libraries in as many places as possible.”

All five libraries have been established through partnerships with writing organizations, arts organizations, existing libraries and influential individuals in the arts from each of the five launch countries, and all have received start-up donations of books collected and sent to them by the APBF.

In Uganda, poet and arts organizer Beverley Nambozo was influential in making the necessary contacts. Poets T.J. Dema in Botswana, Kadija George in the Gambia, and Michael Onsando and Clifton Gachagua in Kenya were key partners in accomplishing setup work. The partnership in Ghana involved the participation of the Ghana Library Association, Helen Yitah at the University of Ghana, and the Ghana Association of Writers. The innovative arts and publishing organization Kwani Trust was further instrumental in establishing the library in Kenya.

Each library contains room for more than 1,500 titles, offers resources for those interested in publishing their poems, and will serve as a hub for poets to meet and collaborate while remaining open to all.

“During my trips to Africa last year, the enthusiasm for this project was tremendous,” said Dawes, a professor of English at UNL. “We’ve boxed and mailed almost 500 books to each of these countries in this first mailing, and will continue to do so each year beyond this.”

The APBF has also received donations from Poets House, University of Nebraska Press, Poetry Foundation, Poet Lore, The Iowa Review, Four Way Books, Wesleyan University Press, Truman University Press, BOA Editions, Peepal Tree Press, Copper Canyon Press, and Gulf Coast.

The University Libraries aided the project through consultations and the direct assistance of faculty Lorna Dawes, assistant professor; and Charlene Maxey-Harris, chair of research and instructional services

While the APBF provides book donations, promotion, and other support, each library is expected to partner with other worldwide organizations as it works toward achieving self-sufficiency. Though the five launch libraries are all located in English-speaking regions, the APBF hopes to expand into other languages after the project’s first three years.

“These libraries have been made possible by the resourcefulness, professionalism, and energy of some key people in these countries,” Dawes said. “This is why I have full confidence in the project’s long-term success.”

The African Poetry Book Fund, based at Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts through its book series, contests, workshops, seminars, and collaborations with publishers and other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa. For more information, visit the APBF Poetry Library website.

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