African Literature in the Digital Age

In between checking in on our digital storytelling workshop in Nairobi this week, I’ve been catching up on some reading. I was very excited to hear about this book from Shola Adenekan, as it is a subject close to my heart – when writing my book Literature and Social Media I was very conscious that there were huge gaps in terms of my knowledge of the subject beyond the UK.  This book takes a similar line to what I tried to do, taking as it does quite an eclectic and open approach to the idea of the literary, and focusing on the wider cultures in which the literary circulates, rather than just on literary texts themselves. So there is reference to how literature is shared on social media, to flash fiction and literary blogs, and Adenekan is also keen to explore how literature in the digital age engages its audience, linking this to oral storytelling traditions in African culture. Most of the examples come from Nigeria and Kenya, so it was very exciting for me to learn a bit more about some of the works emerging from the digital sphere and from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  I have previously read works by some of the writers discussed, for example Binyavanga Wainana and Chimamanda Adichie, but the book has given me a lot of new names to check out – I’ve already started following the poet Warsan Shire who posts her work on Instagram and YouTube.

Warsan Shire reading from Trying to swim with god on YouTube


Although our project focuses on readers, I’ve always been keen to explore reading cultures beyond the book and to approach how the digital breaks down barriers between writing and reading, creating and consuming, and this has given me some great insights into how similar practices to the ones I wrote about are also much in evidence in Kenya. Adenekan’s book is not afraid to confront issues around persistent inequalities which mean that the ‘digerati’ may be confined to privileged classes in urban contexts, but he is also optimistic about the potential for digital literature to provide an opportunity for new writers from underrepresented communities to find an audience.


I’ve really enjoyed reading this book and would recommend to anyone interested in exploring some of the latest work emerging from digital platforms in Kenya.  Like so many academic books, unfortunately this is quite expensive (I was fortunate that my university purchased the copy I’m reading). But hopefully it may become available soon in more affordable formats, and the good news is that many of the literary projects discussed – for example Koroga (Poetry Meets Photography) are free to view online.



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