So, Nancy, tell us about AFREADA – what is it, and how did It start?
I get this question a lot. It’s usually the first question I answer when I find myself sitting on a panel or in front of a studio microphone. But even so, I still pause before answering. I give interviewers the whole “wow, where do I start?” look in an effort to pretend that everything I’m about to say hasn’t been memorised and rehearsed in front of my bathroom mirror. When I eventually clear my throat and lean into the mic, I like to go for the cool, chilled, “look at me, I’m so effortless” vibe – but what’s crazy is that I don’t think I’ve ever shared the AFREADA story with you. What’s crazier is that I don’t think I’ve even introduced myself. So, here it goes… I’ll try to make it quick.
Hey! My name is Nancy Adimora. I am the founder and editor of AFREADA, a literary magazine showcasing stories from incredible writers across Africa and the pan-African diaspora. How did it all start? Hmm, good question. *dramatic pause* Well, I was born and raised in London but I’m an unmistakeable Nigerian [insert obligatory jollof rice joke here]. We used to travel home often, but one summer we didn’t and that coincided with the year my Aunty bought me a copy of Half of a Yellow Sun for Christmas. I’d enjoyed reading when I was much younger but the books we were forced to read as part of our school syllabus made reading feel like a chore. But, as I flicked through the first couple of pages of this particular book, something inexplicable ignited in my spirit. It’s almost impossible to describe, but as I met new characters with familiar names and saw Igbo so clearly and beautifully sprinkled across the pages, it suddenly didn’t matter that we hadn’t travelled to Nigeria that summer, because for the week it took me to finish that book, I felt right at home. From that point on, I discovered a new love for reading and made it my mission to explore the continent through the words of some of our greatest writers. Chimamanda led me to Chinua Achebe (crazy, I know) and Achebe led me to books from writers all over Africa. Abraham Verghese took me to Addis Ababa, Pede Hollist walked me through the streets of Freetown, Irene Sabatini was responsible for my quick trips to Harare, and Alain Mabanckou was my introduction to Pointe-Noire. I read everything. But when balancing university and internships got intense, I swapped thick novels for bite-sized short story collections that seemed to require slightly less commitment. They matched the pace of my life at that time and I loved how quickly I could dip in and out of different worlds. At the same time, I’d started following some promising writers on Twitter, and would occasionally click links to read stories that they’d shared on their personal blogs – to my surprise, they were actually pretty good. Most could do with a couple of small edits here and there, but otherwise, they were just as brilliant as the stories in the anthologies and collections I was reading on my morning commutes. Their links were retweeted a couple of times by friends and family, and maybe they got a few “claps” on Medium, but it was nowhere near the hype and attention I felt these stories and writers deserved. So, on the one hand, readers like myself were increasingly looking for quick reads to squeeze into our busy schedules and, on the other, incredible writers were looking for new readers without having to cringe their way through relentless self-promotion across their social media pages. One day, I sat down, probably with a small plate of calamari, and thought about the best way to bridge this gap. AFREADA was born soon after to support the work of so many other incredible journals and platforms dedicated to amplifying African storytelling. One of our defining visions is to give our readers the opportunity to travel across the continent through everyday stories; loud stories about elaborate dinner parties in Tanzania, to quiet stories about love and loss in Guinea-Bissau. I wanted readers to discover how people “do life” in other parts of the continent, and how cultures and languages affect how we engage with the world around us. But most importantly, in all of this discovery, I wanted to recreate the what I experienced when I flicked through the first few pages of Half of a Yellow Sun. I wanted our readers to feel at home.
Ok so that’s a much longer explanation than I’d usually give but I hope it gives you a snapshot into the vision behind AFREADA and the reason I set up a really embarrassing holding page back in 2015, and literally begged for submissions.
If anyone told me that we’d be here, in 2020, having published well over 200 stories from Madagascar to Mauritania, with dedicated readers from French Polynesia, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it (mostly because French Polynesia sounds like one of Disney’s fairytale countries) but here we are, counting down to our 5th year in the publishing game and that’s not a reflection of me and my hard work (OK, it kind of is, let me not bring fake humility into the new year) but most importantly (and I mean it) it’s a reflection of everyone who has supported us through offering their time to read through submissions and sharing valuable editorial feedback. Perhaps most importantly, AFREADA is a product of our incredible writers who trust us with their words, and our cherished readers who pick us over the millions of other things they could be doing online. So, whether you just skimmed through one story in 2017, or you’ve been here every Friday since we launched, we don’t take your support for granted so we took an intentional break in September to sit down and think about how we can shake things up and better serve you going forward.
On that note, my friends, we have five key announcements that we’re excited to share with you!
We are the home of African fiction and…
Non-fiction. Yes! You read right. People have asked, and we have finally delivered. Starting from today, we will be accepting creative non-fiction submissions from writers everywhere. Now, I need you to read this part carefully. We’re not looking for scholarly articles or opinion pieces – we absolutely love them, and if that’s what you’re specifically interested in, there are a number of African publications that are doing such an incredible job of curating that kind of content such as The Republic, Africa Is A Country, OkayAfrica, Brittle Paper (and so many more) – what we’re looking for isn’t set in stone, we expect different writing styles and approaches but, for the avoidance of doubt, we scoured the web and found an insanely talented writer and a piece that we felt is a brilliant example of the kind of narrative non-fiction we’re looking for. You can read it here, and view our slightly updated submission guidelines here.
We are commissioning content…
AFREADA is still a labour of love that is carefully balanced alongside full-time jobs so we are not in the position to pay for every submission we accept, but we don’t support the “starving artists” trope either so we are definitely working on it. In the past we’ve opted for competitions so we can occasionally offer a more tangible show of appreciation, but going forward we will be working with partners to produce more digital and print collections where we will be paying each writer a fixed fee for their contributions. We will share more information about this shortly.
We are starting a podcast…
Ok I lied. It’s not a podcast in the traditional sense, there won’t be regular hosts and we won’t be discussing our favourite books and characters over bottles of red wine (although we’d love to listen to that podcast – send us a link to your recommendations, or start one yourself!) but think of this more like a series where we have angelic voices reading out some of our stories. We love words and reading can be extremely therapeutic, but in this digital age of reduced attention spans, we’re also happy to accept that some people are more inclined to listen to a 10-minute audio clip than to sit down and process words on a screen. So we’re particularly excited to explore this opportunity and we’ll keep you updated on our progress in the coming months.
We are bringing back our monthly newsletter…
On the last Sunday of each month we’ll be shipping AFREADA newsletters to inboxes all over the world, and I know what you’re thinking – you are so over email newsletters, but give us a chance to convince you. There will obviously be a round up of the stories we’ve shared in the month, but the newsletter will also have links to brilliant books we’re reading, interesting articles from across the publishing world and Africa’s wider creative scene, and we’ll even throw in regular writing prompts (with the option to submit your response for a chance to be featured the following month) so if you’re not on our mailing list, this link is for you!
We need your help…
It’s as simple as that. I’m grateful to have worked with a diverse team of readers who have helped screen and edit work, and we’re delighted to have two incredible team members joining from next month, but we’re still on the look out for a few more. So whether you’re an editor, a project manager, or an Instagram addict, if you feel like you can contribute to the next chapter of AFREADA – please get in touch. Send an email to email@example.com, let us know how you can support and we’ll take it from there.
That’s all from me! Thanks for making it this far. I’ll go back to hiding behind the scenes but, before I do, I really want to stress that this is a community effort – and I don’t use that word lightly. AFREADA is as much yours as it is mine so even if you don’t have the time to come on board as a member of the team, we hope you find time to read, enjoy and share our stories every now and again, and maybe 2020 is even the year you submit (or resubmit) something of your own. Either way, we appreciate your support and we’re genuinely looking forward to growing with you and taking AFREADA to new heights in the coming year.
Happy New Decade! Let’s make it a good one.
– Nancy Adimora