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The Guinean capital of Conakry is set for a yearlong celebration of its literary culture as the World Book Capital for 2017.
The honor, bestowed by UNESCO, serves to both recognize nations that are working towards improving literacy and also celebrate their cultural heritage; Guinea, the home of Camara Laye (L’enfant noir, and Le Regard du roi) was selected in 2015 to be this year’s World Book Capital “for its well-structured budget and clear development goals with a strong emphasis on youth and literacy,” in addition to “the quality and diversity of its program, in particular its focus on community involvement.”
It’s remarkable that back in 2015, when it was declared the World Book Capital, Guinea was still working to halt the Ebola epidemic that had broken out the year before, and had hit the capital.
That’s all in the past now, and authors, publishers and stakeholders in the book industry are flocking to Guinea to celebrate with the nation. And hopefully inculcate a reading culture.
“We are making a big push because Guineans don’t like to read,” said Mamadou Diallo, the head of a Guinean booksellers association.
A reading culture is a bit of a challenge in a nation where, as of 2012, the total adult literacy rate was a dismal 25.3%.
But then again, this is why Conakry is the World Book Capital 2017; the fete will facilitate the dissemination of books, both physical copies and a digital repository, and will also involve teachers in order to improve a reading culture especially among children; after all, it is estimated that only about 40% of school leavers read regularly.
Furthermore, because the World Book Capital celebrations also honor neighboring Senegal (as a guest of honor), the program will probably serve as a springboard for francophone African writers to become more visible on the African literary scene, which is largely dominated by Anglophone writers.