African lit goes pop

2012-06-15 12:45

‘The Web is changing the way we exchange literature,” says 23-year-old Nigerian Emmanuel Iduma.

“We have a long history of graffiti and comics in Africa, and now we are combining this with literature and bringing it to the Web to engage comic lovers as well as story lovers.”

Iduma is talking from the Nigerian port city of Lagos about his fledgling project 3Bute (pronounced tribute) and its collaboration with one of Africa’s most influential – and richest – literary awards, the Caine Prize for African Writing.

The prize, which is for short stories, aims to support emerging writers while exposing the rest of the world to new African voices.

The five shortlisted writers this year are Constance Myburgh of South Africa, Kenyan Billy Kahora, Stanley Kenani of Malawi, Zimbabwean Melissa Tandiwe Myambo and Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde.

Their stories range from a gay scandal in a Malawian village and the urban realities of Nairobi as seen through the eyes of a drunken protagonist to a piece of existentialist detective noir in Cape Town.

What 3Bute is doing is turning each of the stories into a graphic comic on the internet – and then making it interactive.

If you visit the website ( and run a cursor over any given frame, you will see information popping up.

These are tags provided by readers who offer links to reviews, news stories, tweets, videos and archives that offer context that’s often lacking from mainstream media.

It is a particularly interesting way to engage readers not on the African continent and bring them up to speed on the Mother Continent’s issues.

“We call it a ‘mashable’ surface,” says Iduma, who began to develop 3Bute late last year with fellow Nigerian Bunmi Oloruntoba (39),
new media expert, blogger and graphic artist based in Washington in the US.

Iduma and Oloruntoba began by transforming excerpts of fiction and pieces of narrative journalism from Africa into comics and immediately attracted kudos from the online community.

Says an enthusiastic Oloruntoba: “The vast writing about Africa needs to be embedded in the larger world of things we care about. We think 3Bute’s platform allows some of that embedding.

“We hope to engage a larger online audience for African stories and journalism.”

» The winner of this year’s Caine Prizewill be announced on July 2 in Oxford in the UK

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