The 15th annual ‘72 Hours of the Book’ festival recently took place in Guinea, filling a sports stadium with people eager to celebrate literature and literacy skills.
Publishers, writers, editors and readers from across West Africa took to the Guinean national sports stadium in Conakry on April 28, to promote literacy, reading culture and enrichment. According to World Bank figures, over half the population is illiterate and there is limited access to libraries.
Guinean novelist Bademba Barry said, “We Guinean authors have mobilized strongly to come together and promote this event”.
Despite a low literacy rate, Guinea holds on to a rich literary heritage and boasts more than a dozen publishing houses, some releasing works in French and the six Indigenous National Languages of the country: Fula (or Pular) Maninka, Susu, Kissi, Kpelle and Toma.
Fula – also known as Fulani, Fulah or Pular, is a Senegambian language spoken by approximately 25 million people as a set of varying dialects across West Africa. In Guinea, around 30% of the population speak Fula as a native language.
Most Guinean publishers however, struggle to raise funds for large production runs and therefore focus on foreign works.
However at the recent event, scenes were far from sparse and became a haven for industry professionals and readers to meet. Established authors took to the stage to expand their fan bases and readers eagerly awaited the chance to meet their favorite writers.
Kamano, an 11-year-old student in a children’s writing class, explained, “…what makes me come here is learning things with games… creating stories with things you yourself create out of your own imagination.
Ousmane El Hadj is a local author who has attended the festival to expand his readership for the last three years. He credits high attendance with efforts made by authors to display their works in many different languages throughout the event.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for authors to be seen,” he says. For those three days, the sole focus will be on books and reading.”