The African Poetry Book Fund
It is not surprising that several world-class writers collaborated to bring the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF) to life. Nor is it surprising, given the vast number of prolific African American and African-born writers in America, that such a fund—whose mission is to celebrate and promote the poetic arts of Africa—could have its roots here. What might be surprising, though, is that the APBF is based not on either U.S. coast, or in one of the nation’s largest, most multicultural cities, but in Lincoln, Nebraska. The heart of the Corn Belt. Willa Cather country. The home of Go Big Red football.
Nebraska’s distance from Africa is wide, but the connection is not so unlikely. Lincoln and other parts of the state have long welcomed refugee communities: Vietnamese, Hmong, Sudanese, and, most recently, Yezidis have all tilled new lives in the state. But the key to the African Poetry Book Fund calling Lincoln its home lies in the hands of acclaimed poet Kwame Dawes, the founder and director of the APBF, who teaches at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “It is necessary for me to bring the party, if you will, to wherever I am,” says Dawes. “Now we are the center for African poetry, and the party is coming here.” Established in 2012, the APBF publishes and promotes the work of poets who were born in Africa or have African-born parents.
A mix of award-winning poets and colleagues who share, as Dawes says, “a deep passion for writing, writers, and for Africa” has propelled the program forward. Poets Chris Abani, Gabeba Baderoon, Aracelis Girmay, John Keene, and Matthew Shenoda are among the U.S.–based members of the editorial board, which also includes British novelist Bernardine Evaristo and South African writer Phillippa Yaa de Villiers. “This team is what drives the APBF,” says Dawes. With the help of a four-member advisory board, the team has also developed international partnerships to help realize the APBF’s mission, such as recent collaborations to open poetry libraries in Gambia, Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana.
A reader browses the African Poetry Library in Nairobi, Kenya. Right: New chapbooks from New-Generation African Poets (Akashic Books, 2017).