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.
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.
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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