Literary legend F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Litfest Harare is a festival that truly embodies the spirit of that quote. It brings together the best minds in literature, arts and culture to read, recite, perform, debate and celebrate literature in all its forms.
Litfest Harare is an annual international literature festival held in Harare, Zimbabwe. Founded in 2014, the festival’s stated main purpose is to allow writers and artists a platform to present their work while also allowing academics, critics, other writers/artists and the reading public the opportunity to hear and discuss works of literature. Local and international participants come together to interact over four days, although this year’s version was held over two days due to a number of challenges.
The 2017 edition was held on the 2nd and 3rd of November at the iconic Theatre in the Park in the Harare Gardens under the theme ‘Give and Take’. It was a carnival of literature with academics, poets, comedians, musicians and writers participating and performing. The first day began in the evening with the official opening; the highlights of which were a stand-up comedy performance by legendary Zimbabwean comedian, Edgar Langeveldt, and a magnetic live music performance by afro-soul group, Tambira Band.
The second day boasted a full day’s programme including poetry readings, a presentation on African science fiction by Professor James Arnett from the USA, theatre readings on climate change, a discussion on African identities in the global writing space led by Irish writer Joseph Woods, as well as an entertaining quiz on environmental and women’s issues in literature where winners won books donated by Zimbabwe Women Writers Association.
The highlight of the second day was a presentation by Willet Hunyani of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, with a response by Professor Kizito Muchemwa. The presentation led to a robust and heated debate that had the audience highly engaged. The day was capped off by an after party curated by Book Café Pop-Up and included performances from veteran crooner Steve Makoni, Chikwata 263 and Machena Band.
Commenting on the 2017 edition of the festival, director and founder, Chirikure Chirikure, said that although shorter, the festival ran mainly due to the support of its long standing partners and the dedication of the participants, many of whom attended at their own cost. Although he bemoaned the lack of institutional support and the challenging economic environment, Mr Chirikure was glowing in commending the team for working throughout the year in preparation of the festival on a voluntary basis. He added, “It is quite a feat that the event was held as there was no budget at all for administration and logistics. This commitment on the part of the participants and the team has helped lay a solid foundation which will see the festival growing to its full potential in the next few years.”
The festival’s artistic manager, Zaza Muchemwa, thanked the media for the coverage they afforded Litfest. She further extended her gratitude to the public that attended the festival inspite of the liquidity challenges prevailing within the country. Zaza concluded, “LitFest will continue to engage more partners, with a view to grow the festival programme, participants and audiences.”
First time attendee, Sheila Zengeni, stated she thoroughly enjoyed her Litfest experience. She mentioned that she found the discussions interesting and was especially enthralled with the quiz that saw her walk away with a small library of books for her collection.
It is quite inspiring that the festival organisers were able to host the event inspite of all the obstacles they faced. Events such as Litfest Harare are a critical part of the nation’s cultural calendar as they provide a necessary platform for local artists to showcase their talents, as well as discuss and debate critical issues within the arts industry. It also provides a perfect breeding ground for the exchange of ideas between local and international forward thinkers. It is my hope that such initiatives will receive the governmental, corporate and institutional support that they require to enable them to reach more minds and touch more lives.
Review by: Kudzanai Thondhlana
Director – Creative Natives Africa
FB: Creative Natives Africa