Huge boost for African poetry portal

Huge boost
for African
poetry portal

An online portal for African poetry – whose international team of researchers includes Cambridge University Libraries’ Jenni Skinner – has been awarded a $750,000 grant by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Initially established in 2017, the African Poetry Digital Portal documents the work of African poets and provides digital access to related creative and intellectual artifacts, materials and research.

It is currently made up of two major sections, “Contemporary African Poets” and “African Poets and Poetry in the News.”  The international team is led by Kwame Dawes, professor of English, and Lorna Dawes, associate professor of University Libraries at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the United States.

 The three-year Mellon Foundation grant provides support for the portal’s next phases: expanding research and scholarship relating to African poetry and joining with other institutions to create a digital collections hub that will give access to materials held by institutions worldwide.

 “Poets have always understood themselves to be part of an ancient tradition that dates back into antiquity,” said  Dawes, George Holmes Professor of English, Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and editor of the African Poetry Book series, published by University of Nebraska Press.

“Unfortunately, racism and other forms of power dynamics have limited our understanding of the threads of this tradition in parts of the world that were exploited. The fact is that rich and sophisticated poetic practices and traditions have always existed in African societies and continue to thrive in Africa.

 “Our work, we hope, will bring this to light and in so doing, will give poets a chance to engage this tradition as part of their understanding of poetic form and practice. It has been a tremendous honor to form partnerships with individuals from such venerable institutions from around the world.”

"Kwame and Lorna have given us the exciting opportunity to work with new colleagues from Ghana, Togo, South Africa and the States, and I’m really looking forward to developing strong relationships in this wonderful network.

 “The energy surrounding this project is tangible, and will present opportunities for our scholars and students to explore and engage with African poetry and poets who will not have previously been centred at this scale in our institution. 

“This important collaboration comes at a significant moment in our approach to anti-racism and decolonisation work, by bringing together scholarly expertise and remarkable collections from across the University to the benefit of the world.  This is a truly inspiring project.”

Jenni Skinner, African Studies Library Manager, University of Cambridge

The portal project has attracted an impressive array of partners from Africa and beyond: the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the University of Lomé in Togo and the University of Ghana; the University of Cambridge, and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; Northwestern University, the University of Michigan and the Library of Congress in the United States.

 The portal is closely associated with the African Poetry Book Fund, an ambitious publishing enterprise that has produced numerous volumes of the best poetry composed by African poets. In partnership with the University of Nebraska Press and Akashic Books, the fund has published almost 100 African poets in six years. The fund also has established poetry prizes that are changing the poetry landscape.

 Mark Button, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Nebraska, and Claire Stewart, dean of libraries, said the Mellon Foundation’s generous support will lead to more scholarship and information about African literature.

 “We have a remarkable opportunity to overcome distance, unifying in one place information about African poets and poetry, and linking together the collections that house their work in Africa and the diaspora,” Stewart said.

The original version of this story can be found here.

Images courtesy of the Cambridge Digital Library:

Title image: Xosa motherhood, Grahamstown
Image 2: Swazi girl, Mbabane
Image 3: Swazi dandy, Gollel area, Swaziland