The African Poetry Book Fund has launched a new Initiative, opening poetry libraries in five African Countries.

Poetry reading libraries are scheduled to open in five African countries in September thanks to the efforts of the African Poetry Book Fund (APBF), Prairie Schooner, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s literary journal, and UNL Libraries, in conjunction with individuals and organizations in the Gambia, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Each library will house contemporary poetry books and journals available to poets and lovers of poetry in these five countries and beyond.

A continuation of APBF’s mission to spread the poetic arts, the African Poetry Library Initiative began as the brainchild of Kwame Dawes, APBF series editor and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner.

“Too many poets working in Africa today have limited access to contemporary poetry, partly because of poor distribution by international publishers within Africa and partly because of the cost of books,” Dawes said. “We felt it would be a great idea to establish small poetry libraries in as many places as possible.”

All five libraries have been established through partnerships with writing organizations, arts organizations, existing libraries and influential individuals in the arts from each of the five launch countries, and all have received start-up donations of books collected and sent to them by APBF.

In Uganda, poet and arts organizer Beverley Nambozo was influential in making the necessary contacts. Poets T.J. Dema in Botswana, Kadija George in the Gambia, and Michael Onsando and Clifton Gachagua in Kenya were key partners in accomplishing setup work. The partnership in Ghana involved the participation of the Ghana Library Association, Dr. Helen Yitah at the University of Ghana, and the Ghana Association of Writers. The innovative arts and publishing organization Kwani Trust was further instrumental in establishing the library in Kenya.

Each library contains room for more than 1,500 titles, offers resources for those interested in publishing poems and will serve as a hub for poets to meet and collaborate, while remaining open to all.

“During my trips to Africa last year, the enthusiasm for this project was tremendous,” Dawes said. “We’ve boxed and mailed almost 500 books to each of these countries in this first mailing, and will continue to do so each year beyond this.”

Some of the initial mailing consists of poetry collections donated by select literary journals from across the United States. In addition to books from the Prairie Schooner office, APBF has received donations from Poets House, University of Nebraska Press, Poetry Foundation, Poet Lore, The Iowa Review, Four Way Books, Wesleyan University Press, Truman University Press, BOA Editions, Peepal Tree Press, Copper Canyon Press and Gulf Coast. The initiative’s focus has been on new authors and contemporary collections from around the world, and APBF further plans to reach out to publishers and literary journals in the United Kingdom, Canada and Africa.

The project was aided by the leadership of library consultants, along with Lorna Dawes, assistant professor of libraries at UNL, and Charlene Maxey-Harris, assistant professor of libraries and chair of research and instructional services.

While APBF provides book donations, promotion, and other support, each library is expected to partner with other worldwide organizations as it works toward achieving self-sufficiency. Though the five launch libraries are all located in English-speaking regions, APBF hopes to expand into other languages after the project’s first three years.

“These libraries have been made possible by the resourcefulness, professionalism, and energy of some key people in these countries,” Dawes said. “This is why I have full confidence in the project’s long-term success.”

The African Poetry Book Fund, based at Prairie Schooner, promotes and advances the development and publication of the poetic arts through its book series, contests, workshops, seminars and collaborations with publishers and other entities that share an interest in the poetic arts of Africa. More information about the African Poetry Library initiative can be found at the APBF Poetry Library website,

Writer: Ian Rogers, Prairie Schooner

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