The African Po­etry Book Fund

Poets and Writers - - Trends -

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).

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