Ghana library showcases black and African literature

Sylvia Arthur, founder of the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora poses for a photograph in the library in Accra, Ghana.
Sylvia Arthur, founder of the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora poses for a photograph in the library in Accra, Ghana.
Image: AFP/ Nipah Dennis

A small group of visitors waits eagerly at the entrance to a single-storey building in Ghana's capital Accra, looking to explore the literary treasure inside.

This is the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora — a passion project launched by Ghanaian-British writer Sylvia Arthur.

Based around Arthur's personal book collection, the library provides a remarkable opportunity to bring literature from the global black community to a country considered a cradle of African civilisation, and which was once a hub of the transatlantic slave trade.

“Our work has been neglected, it's not been showcased, it's not been respected, it's not been archived and that's the purpose of this library,” Arthur said as she guided her visitors around.

How much does it really cost to make a difference where it matters? In this interview, Sylvia Arthur talks about some of the charitable work she has been involved in while in Accra, and how everyone can make a difference regardless of how well-off or not they may be. First, Sylvia explains how she turned her vast private collection of books into Ghana’s first subscription model library, and why after two years, she felt the time was right to give the library a makeover, move it to a new (and bigger) space, and reintroduce it to the world as LOATAD - the Library of Africa and the African Diaspora. Moving on (or looking back), she recalls some of the events that led to her starting Libreria in the first place, including how a friend she met at a writers residency prompted her to consider a move to Ghana - where it all began. #LOATAD #LibraryOfAfricaAndTheAfricanDiaspora #SpotliteByLiterandra Follow us for more regular updates and literary content: Blog - http://www.literandra.com/ Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/literandra_/

The library was founded in 2017 when Arthur moved to Ghana after working in Europe.

It was renamed and relaunched this year, welcoming its first guests again in July as restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus were eased in the west African nation.

The library boasts around 4,000 books, from almost every country on the African continent.

Many names will be familiar to those who have seen the growing international acclaim for African writers such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ben Okri, Mariama Ba and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

But this collection is a rarity in Africa.

It not only spans the entire continent, including authors such as Assia Djebar from Algeria and Naguib Mahfouz from Egypt, as well as white authors from southern Africa such Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee — it also includes black writers from across the world including the US, Caribbean and Europe.

It also has a special collection of rare and out-of-print books, drawing historical links between the works of African and diaspora writers, and offers residences for authors from abroad.

“We started off in one room and now we are in a whole house,” Arthur said.

It shows people that no matter what they've been taught in schools, and in Western schools, we actually come from a race of people who are intelligent, smart, literate

Black Lives Matter

The library's aims have been made even more relevant by the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the globe and sparked renewed debates on history and equality.

“I definitely think what we do is very empowering,” said Arthur.

“It shows people that no matter what they've been taught in schools, and in Western schools, we actually come from a race of people who are intelligent, smart, literate.”

Ghana — a beacon in Africa's struggle for independence — has long played a role as a hub of thought and memory for the broader black community.

American writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou lived in Accra in the early 1960s and the government has tried to attract black people to move to the country.

In 2019 the authorities staged the “Year of Return” — four centuries after the first slave ship landed in what is now the US — urging African Americans to “come home”.

A library in Ghana’s capital Accra is showcasing black and African literature at a time, when the world is experiencing a wave of Black Lives Matter protests, triggered by the death of a black African man George Floyd, in the hands of Minneapolis police custody. The Library of Africa and the African Diaspora is a passion project launched by Ghanaian-British writer Sylvia Arthur. Based around Arthur's personal book collection, the library provides a remarkable opportunity to bring literature from the global black community to a country considered a cradle of African civilisation, and which was once a hub of the transatlantic slave trade. "Our work has been neglected, it's not been showcased, it's not been respected, it's not been archived and that's the purpose of this library," Arthur said as she guided her visitors around. The library was founded in 2017 when Arthur moved to Ghana after working in Europe. It was renamed and relaunched this year, welcoming its first guests again in July as restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus were eased in the West African nation. The library boasts around 4,000 books, from almost every country on the African continent. The collection is a rarity in Africa as it has a special collection of rare and out-of-print books, drawing historical links between the works of African and diaspora writers, and offers residences for authors from abroad. "We started off in one room and now we are in a whole house," Arthur said. The library's aims have been made even more relevant by the Black Lives Matter protests that have swept the globe and sparked renewed debates on history and equality. "I definitely think what we do is very empowering," said Arthur. Adding, "It shows people that no matter what they've been taught in schools, and in Western schools, we actually come from a race of people who are intelligent, smart, literate."#s63 #blacklivesmatter

'Don't lose our identity'

But despite those official efforts, there is often little knowledge of writers from across Africa and the black community.

Visitors said that the library, while small in the numbers of books it has compared with others, is a seed that can grow, filling those gaps.

For an annual fee of 600 cedi ($100, 90 euros), members can borrow books or simply peruse the shelves lined beneath portraits of renowned writers of African descent.

“I'm truly overwhelmed by the trove of materials I've seen here, especially such a brilliant and classical collection of pan-African writers,” said Appiah Kusi Adomako, who works on regional integration.

“These are great materials everyone should come and read to add to their knowledge of African history so we don't lose our identity.”

Young writer Nasirudeen Jabbaru agreed the collection offered a fantastic window into an often-neglected area.

“Having all these books together in one place is special,” he said.

“Most of them are scarce on the market and this is a whole inspiration for me.”

Researcher Jeffrey Boadu described the library as a “good foundation for future writers”.

“I've really been inspired and I'll definitely come back to read some more,” he said. — AFP



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