Thursday 23 February 2023


In autumn 2021, hundreds of book lovers gathered in one of the “chicest” areas of France’s capital to attend the inaugural African Book Fair of Paris, surprising even the organizers, who hadn’t expected the first-time event to be such a resounding success, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the Salon du livre africain de Paris (its French name) is back this year at the same location - the town hall of the 6th arrondissement, replete with striking chandeliers and ornate, painted ceilings. But it’s taking place in March, at the start of the spring season for which the city is so famed, and it promises to be more expansive.

Erick Monjour, the fair’s French director, said that around 200 writers and 50 publishing houses will participate from March 17 to 19, with Guinea as the “country of honour”. The full programme is set for release March 1.

The fair will also pay homage to South African icon Nelson Mandela, ahead of the 10th anniversary of his death (in December), and will celebrate the work of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007), who would’ve been 100 years old this year.

Among the main attractions are the debates and lectures involving renowned writers, and in 2021 readers were able to hear from authors who had travelled to Paris from different African countries, and to interact with French-speaking African and Caribbean writers based in France.

Monjour told SWAN that the idea for the fair “started with the realization that for several years there was no book fair in Paris devoted to African literature and that there was a need for this because there are so many readers”.

(The annual Paris Book Fair for some time did have a section focused on African writing, but that was discontinued for various reasons, including financial issues.)

“We wish to give the greatest visibility to African literature but also to books that are about Africa,” Monjour said, adding that the focus was mainly on French-speaking countries because of a limited budget.

“We don’t really have ‘Anglo’ writers, from countries like Nigeria for instance, coming to the fair, because of the cost. But there are publishers with books translated from English.”

The publishing houses present in 2021 featured an array of literature that reflected the increase of writing from the continent. They included pioneering companies such as Editions Présence Africaine, which began in Paris in the late 1940s and went on to publish leading francophone African writers as well as anglophone writers in French translation. The founders organized the first International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in 1956.

During the 2021 fair, readers flocked to Présence Africaine’s well-stocked table which carried books by writers such as Goncourt Prize winner Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a host of others - all against the backdrop of French architectural splendour (with its inescapable reminders of conquest and colonialism).

“One of the things about this festival is that, even with a limited budget, we wanted it to be in a prestigious location, in the centre of Paris, because sometimes events like this can be on the ‘periphery’,” said Monjour. “This venue is a beautiful place.” - SWAN

Photos (top to bottom): a poster for the 2023 Salon du livre africain de Paris; the stand of Editions Présence Africaine at the 2021 book fair (credit AM/SWAN).

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Saturday 18 February 2023


Acclaimed American writer and 1993 Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will be the focus of a “revelatory exhibition” at Princeton University Library opening Feb. 22.

Curated by Autumn Womack, assistant professor of English and African American Studies, the exhibition titled Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory is aimed at “excavating” the creative process of the iconic author, who died in 2019. It will be the “center of a community-wide exploration of how Morrison’s archive continues to influence the past, present, and future,” the organizers said in a release.


“It is difficult to overstate the importance of Toni Morrison’s writing to American literature, art, and life. This exhibition draws us toward the unexplored corners of her writing process and unknown aspects of her creative investments that only live in this archive,” Womack added.

The Toni Morrison Papers archive includes research materials, manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs, and other resources that Princeton University acquired in 2014.


Running until June 4, 2023, the exhibition - at PUL’s Milberg Gallery - will also “anchor a series of programs” that include several wide-ranging events, such as an art exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum’s Art@Bainbridge with artist Alison Saar, and newly commissioned performances “responding to Morrison’s work” presented by the McCarter Theatre and Princeton University Concerts, which stages classical music productions.


In addition, a three-day symposium will take place March 23-25, gathering some 30 writers and artists “to reflect on Morrison’s relationship to the archive”, with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat scheduled to deliver the keynote address; and there will be public tours of Sites of Memory, children’s programming, a spring lecture series, and undergraduate courses on Morrison’s work, PUL stated.


The events reflect the “enormous influence” that Morrison had not only on Princeton University, where she taught for 17 years beginning in 1989 (later lending her name to Morrison Hall, home to the school’s Department of African American Studies), but also on the culture of American life, say the organizers.

“In imagining this initiative - from exhibition to symposium to partner projects - I wanted to show the importance of the archive to understanding Morrison’s work and practice. But I also wanted to show how this archive in particular is a site that opens up new lines of inquiry and inspires new kinds of collaboration,” Womack said.


The exhibition includes some 100 original archival items curated into six categories, according to PUL. “Beginnings” charts Morrison’s emergence as a writer, editor, and the author of The Bluest Eye, published in 1970; “Writing Time” draws from her day planners “to emphasize the process of her craft, which she often honed in spare moments around her full-time career” as an editor; and “Thereness-ness” explores the role of place in her work and presents “rarities” such as drawings of architectural spaces for the famed novels like Beloved (winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize) and Paradise.


Furthermore, “Wonderings and Wanderings” stages Morrison’s “creative process from start to

finish" and reveals how her published work holds a "capacious archive” of Black life; “Genealogies of Black Feminism” uses correspondence between herself and other Black women to “excavate an alternate account of Black feminist thought in the 1960s and 1970s”; and “Speculative Futures” spotlights unfinished projects and "unrealized possibilities that only live in the collection”.


As readers and teachers of Morrison’s work around the world equally recognise her importance and celebrate her literary legacy, some are hoping that Sites of Memory will be a traveling exhibition to make her archives available to a global audience. During her lifetime, she received awards from several countries, including France which bestowed on her one of its highest decorations - the Légion d’honneur - in 2010, two years before then U.S. president Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


“She was always very open to young readers internationally, and very generous,” said Andrée-Anne Kekeh-Dika, associate professor of American and Anglophone Caribbean literature at Université Paris 8 in France.


“I remember when she came to the Louvre and she was asked a question about the reception of her work and her legacy, and she responded that ‘I’ve done my part and I have to let my work go’. I was really impressed by that because sometimes there’s a sense that you can’t engage with the work if you’re outside the culture.” 

On the American national level, meanwhile, the United States Postal Service will honour Morrison with a commemorative stamp in 2023, the thirtieth anniversary of her receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Photos: Toni Morrison, courtesy of Princeton University; an early edition of Beloved

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale