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  • Eddie Hewitt

Saraba magazine launch

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

After nine years online, Saraba magazine has now been launched in print. A special event, hosted jointly by the Royal African Society and Africa Writes, was held on Monday 2nd October to celebrate this momentous occasion.

I hastily picked up my copy on the way into the Khalili lecture theatre at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), eager to have a quick preview before sitting back and hearing all about the joys, the revelations, the frustrations and the rewards in producing a prestigious literary and cultural magazine. A fine panel had been convened to provide entertaining and thoughtful insights, to read a selection of extracts from this special, first print edition, and to answer questions from the audience.

The editor and co-founder Emmanuel Iduma was present, along with fiction editor Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, contributors Irenosen Ikojie and Abbiola Oni, with Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed in the chair. They all have many strings to their bows but essentially they are all writers and they all share a passion for African literature.

Left to right: Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, Emmanuel Iduma, Irenosen Okijie, Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed and Abbiola Oni

The editors gave us a fascinating history of the publication, from humble undergraduate beginnings to doubts about whether any one at all was reading Saraba, to a fully-fledged, acclaimed literary magazine. The mission was to “create unending voices by encouraging writers at the outset of their careers, offering a reflection on the world, and how literature can speak to, about and for, basic human interaction” (Saraba event handout).

Pausing to reflect on the many editions of Saraba over the years

Prominent, creative voices informed and entertained throughout the session. Abbiola read an excerpt from her short story Elephants Attack When They Are Threatened. Irenosen picked out what she called one of her ‘quieter’ stories, Magnata, and read an extract from that. I’m looking forward to reading their stories in full. Ayobami read from Let’s Talk About Something Else by Suzanne Ushie. Zahra had plenty of searching questions for all of the speakers.

Irenosen reading an extract from her short story

More history. Saraba is more than a name; it’s a cultural reference. Emmanuel was happy to recount how the name first came from a poem submitted for consideration and, soon after, the founders discovered that Saraba is a place that doesn’t quite exist in Senegal, but is known to be a ‘utopia’. This seemed be the perfect name, representing something wonderful and inspiring, with a hint of mystery.

Each edition is given a one-word title. This allows for a broad range of interpretations and connections. The new edition is titled Transitions. The editors gave a few clues in the flyer for the event; the magazine is exploring transitions through ‘questions of time movement, and sexual identity, among others’.

The front cover of the first ever print edition

The latest collection contains eight short stories, poetry by Gbenga Adisina, non-fiction, photographs of Lagos by Ladan Osman, artwork by Olajide Ayeni and an interview with Ayọ̀bámi on her fine novel Stay With Me. My favourite item in this edition (which happens to be the first edition of Saraba that I have ever come across – where have I been?!) is the short story Pretty Bird by TJ Benson, whose writing I have admired for some time.

There is so much to choose from. There is always far more that the editors are able to include. As Ayọ̀bámi pointed out, ‘Nigerians send in a lot of contributions’.

Ayọ̀bámi reaching out for more submissions(?)

The editors plan to release at least one printed edition each year. I welcome this decision. At question time, I commented that I like to have a book (magazine) in my hands), to give my eyes a break from screen reading. But, I had to acknowledge that I first found out about Saraba, and contemporary African literature more widely, via Brittle Paper, in the eyes of many the leading online portal for African writing and culture. So, the two platforms – online and printed – complement each other well.

The Saraba team must have been through some challenging times in the past, but they have worked tirelessly to realise their vision, and they have set a standard of excellence in the field of literary magazines. They are also great friends and enjoy working together, and much fun was had in the interplay between them at SOAS.

Taking us through the covers of early editions

At the end of the launch, I had the pleasure of chatting to Emmanuel and he was both friendly and inspiring. There are early indications we can develop links, and I hope to pick up some editorial tips along the way. Connected Cultures is wholeheartedly behind Saraba as a creative force and as an engaging, inclusive platform.

I also met Ayọ̀bámi, and was delighted when she kindly autographed my copy of Stay With Me. Her novel has been causing quite a stir, to put it mildly, and it was great to be able to gain further insight into her craft and style. See the Connected Cultures review of Stay With Me here.

Pose With Me

A final tribute: to paper, and the traditional printed format. The next task I have is to decide where on my bookshelf to place Saraba once I've read it from cover to cover. There are many books it could fit between; all I can say is that I have a certain continent in mind.

© Eddie Hewitt 2017


Saraba magazine

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Irenosen Okojie

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