In Marrakech, this beginning of the year 2023 sounds the celebration of African art in all its forms. The heart of the ocher city vibrated last February to the rhythm of the pulsations of the 1-54 Fair and the first edition of the Marrakech African Book Festival, which brought together renowned writers, publishers, artists and lovers of literature. of the continent and the diaspora around a common objective, that of promoting African creativity from a literary angle and dreaming of Africa on African soil.
The festival literally set the cultural capital of Morocco ablaze. Four days of literary and cultural effervescence during which some forty writers and artists gathered at the cultural center Les Étoiles de Jamaâ El Fna. JMG Le Clezio, Lilian Thuram, Sami Tchak, Rodney Saint-Éloi, Ken Bugul, Ananda Devi, Blaise Ndala, Abdhourham Waberi, Fouad Laroui, Fawzla Zaroui and many other talented writers attended this first edition. A success beyond all expectations for the organizers: "The miracle of the conception of this project has largely continued with the expectation of the public and the quality of the exchanges and debates with the writers", underlines Younes Ajarrai, l one of the founders of the festival. And for good reason, animated by a plethora of stimulating lectures, discussions and debates around important social, cultural and political questions in Africa, such as literature and engagement, racism, decolonization, the question of identity, the ecology, the festival has paved the way towards territories of plural, rich and diversified expression.
The organizers Mahi Binebine, Younes Ajarrai, Fatimata Wagne, Hanane Essaydi, started from the observation that "rare were the literary events organized on the continent with an international and pan-African dimension and the need to reconcile territories divided by the borders of the Sahara and colonial history". But also "the imperative need to meet at home between neighbors", specifies Mahi Binebine.
Another of the major aims of the festival was to promote access to reading and writing among young audiences. "We wanted to dream of Africa together and give these young people the desire to stay in Africa," says Mahi Binebine. It is moreover on the initiative of the Moroccan painter and novelist that the cultural center Les Étoiles de Jamaâ El Fna in Marrakech was born, a space dedicated to the promotion of culture, the transmission of excellence in art and creation to underprivileged young people. It is also in this line that this event is registered. Enthusiastic youth, hungry for knowledge, reading and writing, to whom the festival opened the doors wide, had access to privileged exchanges with writers at the center or even in universities and high schools. An ephemeral bookstore, free comings and goings in the heart of a distinguished architectural jewel like Riad Lekbir in a warm and festive atmosphere also made it possible to create this "miracle".
Another highlight of the festival is the importance given to female voices. Recalling in his inaugural speech that women were "a force" for literature, JMG Le Clezio hailed the indispensable presence of women in the African literary landscape. Ken Bugul, Ananda Devi, Fawzla Zaouri, Djaili Amadou Amal as well as a new line of authors Anni Lulu, Yasmine Chami, Ernis, Jennifer Richard, among others, have brought an important voice to the discussion on contemporary African literature. At the heart of the concerns: the place of women in literature, intergenerational transmission and the question of the visibility of African authors. The great Senegalese writer Ken Bugul expressed "the need to meet to talk about the works started, to confront the imaginations, to embrace them to contribute to the development of African culture and to give impetus to this young generation of 'passionate writers for whom the need to write is very strong around questions of identity, gender and on political and societal issues'. And to continue: "The continent retains the impulses that were at the origin of the construction of the world, this rhythm, this light which carries you along. We are going to design the world of tomorrow. »
A strong message shared by another great female figure in African literature, the Mauritian Ananda Devi, who recalls that: "Africa is a crossroads of ancestral cultures which is witnessing the emergence of new cultures and different modes of expression. . With regard to African literature, many cultural and spiritual feelings have not yet been written, carrying a proliferation of the imagination. It is also a question of tapping into the unspoken, of being free with regard to language and of relying on publishers who are increasingly attentive. » A literary work whose strong markers can be found under the pen of promising young authors such as Annie Lulu, who after La Mer noire dans les grands lacs, Prix Senghor 2021, signs a second novel, La Peine des faunes, published by Editions Julliard, which deals with environmental and gender-based violence through a gallery of unforgettable portraits of women fighting for freedom and justice. "As an Afro-descendant, I am an heiress of the plurality of crossing and traversing voices of the continent, I engage part of my emotional and intimate gaze to face unprecedented challenges and bring to light with this hybrid voice and unique to Africa-specific issues,” she says.
A light shone at the cultural center Les Étoiles de Jamaâ El Fna, confirming the richness of African literature and the prospects offered for Africa. The FLAM captured the hearts of lovers of literature and Africa and inspired the organizers of the festival with a message of hope for the continent: "We can be different in many ways and come together around a common friendship in a humble and sincere approach. »