Harnessing The Flow: The 2016 Goethe-Institut/ Migrations Flow Workshop Series

Writing is building worlds out of thin air. Maybe that's why when writers congregate to do it, it tends to be called a workshop. Sounds difficult doesn't it? Words from air. Well sometimes it is. This wrangling of invisible elements is usually a solitary craft but it helps to have a writing community made up of mentors and colleagues to give you a nudge in the right direction and help talk your characters or plot down from a cliff. 

When Short Story Day Africa with the support of the Goethe-Institut set out to hold day-long workshops across the continent this year, we had only a small idea of the demand there would be. The previous year's workshops in partnership with Pro Helvetia had been a success in Botswana, Malawi, and Zimbabwe but we weren't sure what would happen when we widened "The Flow".

In June 2016 we held Flow Workshops in Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Yaoundé and Windhoek  - African cities that reflect the feeling that the centre is moving from the traditional book capitals of London, Paris and New York to the equally vibrant and cultured hubs of the global South. 

The response was both overwhelming and heartening. Many writers applied to be both attendees and facilitators and in the end each workshop had a healthy mix of different kinds of writers. Some workshop participants were filled with raw talent but needed guidance on how to sculpt a piece of writing. Others although more experienced as writers, even formally published, needed help getting out of a creative slump or surmounting writer's block. Through spirited discussion, free writing exercises and haiku composition we encouraged the writers to dig deeper and push the limits of their creativity further. Everyone learnt something new - from themselves, each other and our wonderful facilitators. 


 "...the best writing, the best stories come from those places. ...Sometimes you can tell that a writer was not fully committed to their story, sometimes the page is dry; there is no blood on it, and you, the reader, can tell when you read. 'Bleed onto the page', she [Muthoni Garland] says."Wanjiku Mungai, Nairobi workshop participant


This year when sorting through entries for Migrations, we were especially glad to see that several attendees had submitted stories that they'd either started working on during the Flow Workshops or created after being inspired by the experience. Eventually, through the blind reading process some were even shortlisted for the final collection!

Apart from what was laid on the page, amazing personal stories came out of every workshop; in Johannesburg, one writer hitchhiked to get there. In Nairobi, a Kiswahili writer gained more confidence in writing in English, and in Dar Es Salaam, a social anthropologist included some of the emerging African women writers present in her thesis. 


"I don't know what it means to be an African writer but I do now know what it means and how to put it on paper. This workshop has calmed down my mind, created images and had me do some introspection that inspired me to write. Mimi Mwiya, Namibian participant


Many thanks to our programme facilitators, sponsors and all the writers who contributed their time, effort and ideas to the workshop events. Short Story Day Africa is committed to continuing to strengthen writing networks, and igniting writing communities that give rise to new and innovative forms of African literature. Next year we want to nurture more writers and their talents, possibly in a city near you. We hope to share more laughter, swap more writing tips and have new debates in the next series of Flow Workshops.



'You awoke to a lukewarm gnawing at your stiff memory.' A Quick Q&A with #WriterPrompt winner Chukwuebuka Leonard Ibeh.

Falling. Slipping. Descending.

You awoke to a lukewarm gnawing at your stiff memory. You knew you were on air, falling, perhaps to hell. But when you placed your palms down, you felt solid cold floor. You did not know if your eyes were open, or closed. That discomforted you.

You knew that by now Aunty Jidenna would be standing by the corridor, glass of water, undrunk in her hand, asking Mohammed for the hundredth time if he had seen you. Uncle Mezie would be propped on the sofa, eyes blazing furiously, snapping at Aunty Jidenna, "How extravagant! A girl of sixteen! You couldn't even watch her." And Aunty Jidenna would say, "But she was upstairs chatting with her laptop when I last checked."

You felt a being beside you. The person had a strong stench of semen and smoke. She spoke : “They are coming for you, sister."

You bit your lip until you could taste the saltiness of your blood. You wanted to cry. You turned to her to speak but stopped. You did not need to ask her to know that she, like you, had been told by the smooth-voiced John on Facebook to meet him somewhere. John, the good boy. Or so people said.

The 2nd person voice in Chukwuebuka's dark short about the web was unexpected and gripped the judges. We had to know more about the precocious young talent behind it 

You are Managing Editor of Bougainvillea Magazine. Could you tell us more about the project and your role in bringing it forward?

IBEH: Yes, I am. Bougainvillea Magazine is an online literary magazine. We’re starting on the web and hoping to expand our horizon as time goes on). It is dedicated to publishing fiction, art, poetry, creative non-fiction etc. from any part of the world, although our main focus is Africa. The magazine, actually, is not fully launched yet. We are kind of taking our time because we want to come out great. It was totally my idea, supported by a few remarkable people who share this dream with me.  So, when it is fully launched, I'll serve as the Managing Editor.

Do you find it easier or harder trying to shape an idea for a micro short rather than a novel? Why?

IBEH: Um, It depends on the story itself. Sometimes I find it easier trying to shape an idea in a short story and sometimes a novel. Micro fiction is something else. Most times, it's not more than 300 words, and trying to shape a meaningful story within these limited words can be extremely difficult.

What African writers motivate you to raise your writing game?

IBEH: I think I'd have to say [Chimamanda Ngozi] Adichie. I absolutely adore her, really. And then Helon Habila, Chika Unigwe, NoViolet Bulawayo, the amazing Pettina Gappah and E. C. Osondu. I could go on and on but these are authors whose stories have a kind of connection to me.

Chukwuebuka Leonard Ibeh was born in Nigeria in 2000. His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Tuck Magazine, Dwart Online, Jotters United, PenEgg etc. He won the inaugural JohnVic Short Story Prize in 2011.

Participate in #WriterPrompt by following Short Story Day Africa on Facebook

Interview by Tiah Beautement a.k.a. @ms_tiahmarie

'They invented gods to beg.' An Interview with TJ Benson #WriterPrompt Winner.

All they wanted was water. The one thing their money could not afford. They roamed from city to city. They scavenged the jungles and wilderness. In the desert they painted hills black to absorb the sun and melt the clouds. They dug dry river beds and coaxed wells.

They invented gods to beg. They divided rocks for at least its memory. They believed the memory of it was better than nothing. Soon some of them began to fall into a death sleep lured by its refreshing memory. Those who fought it to survive were terrified.

A little girl gave up her life to bring water. She closed her eyes, stretched out her hands and got swept up in a nostalgic flood. It came down in torrents, darkening the sky and they stretched their hands to receive it. They didn’t know it wasn’t going to stop. They didn’t know they were going to die.

What motivates you to be a better writer?

BENSON: Life itself. It can be so beautiful and painful at times. Even the pain can be beautiful.

Do you approach writing as a craft or as an art?

BENSON: As an art first before craft, maybe if I had an academic training in creative writing it would be different. I saw the last sentence of my piece without knowing how to end it but I just continued anyway. Little leaps of faith, like walking into a room full of antiques to explore with a blindfold. I don't know if that is a craft that can be honed.

Who are the African writers that grab your attention?

BENSON: I love Mehul Gohil. The range of his imagination is just aaah! Then I love Ndinda Kioku aah Ndinda! Then Okwiri Oduor, her stories make me proud to be a part of this generation. Everything I've read from her is a masterpiece, no sentences to waste: in every sentence she blows your mind. There is Clifton Gachagua and Michael Ogah, the consistency of his genius and everydayness of his stories is just refreshing.

Tell us about your experience with Expound magazine.

BENSON: Well I just want to say I am proud of the team. The quality of work produced each issue is really impressive so I am happy to work as the photography editor. Just to add also, I love Leslie Nneka Arimah! The brusqueness of her stories has sharpened my short stories.


TJ Benson is a Nigerian short story writer, creative photographer and pasta enthusiast whose works have appeared online and in print journals like Kalahari Review, Paragram (UK), Afridiaspora, and Contemporary Literary Review India. He is the photography editor of Expound Magazine and his short story ‘An Abundance of Yellow Paper’ won the Amab-HBF prize this January. Another story of his, ‘Passion Fruit’ was shortlisted for the Awele Prize. He has multiple projects in the works including a collection, Self, of photography and poetry, a collection of Afro Sci-Fi stories titled We Won't Fade into Darkness and a novel. He cooks and share thoughts on Twitter and Instagram via @tjbensonng

Participate in #WriterPrompt by following Short Story Day Africa on Facebook

Interview by Tiah Beautement a.k.a. @ms_tiahmarie


'I would like to see Africans reading more African writers.' An Interview with Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.


Abubakar Adam Ibrahim has a novel out later this year. He is judging the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize along with Mary Watson and Billy Kahora. We spoke to him about his work and what he thinks winning stories are made of. 

Tiah: You are the Arts Editor at the newspaper Daily Trust. What influence has journalism had on your fiction work?

Abubakar: For me, the two are interrelated as one is the product of the other. My decision to become a journalist was born out of the fact that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Realising I needed exposure and experience to be a good writer, I made the decision to be a journalist. It has given me opportunities of interacting with all sorts of people and has helped my fiction writing in terms of creating more believable characters. At least that is what I like to think.

Tiah: Do you ever write by hand before hitting the keyboard?

Abubakar: Only when I am caught somewhere without my computer and I have a Eureka moment when I am struck by an idea I have to pen down. If this happens when I have a pen and paper at hand that would be perfect. When I was younger I always, always had a pen and paper with me for such eventualities. But mostly it is easier to just hit the keyboard directly. At least it saves a lot of trees and time, too.

Tiah: Short stories seem to need a PR makeover. As a reader, what about them appeals?

Abubakar: The appeal is that they are brief, and in this age where there are so many things competing for peoples’ attention, the short story can engage a reader’s attention for only a short period as compared to a novel and sometimes they deliver more punch than the novel. The novel is a complex beast. It takes stamina to write and I think smart writers have realised that not all of them have that stamina. It also takes stamina to read. The novel is a marathon; the short story is a sprint. You pick which one works better for you.

Tiah: What would you like to see change in the African literary landscape?

Abubakar: I would like to see more intra-continent engagement and better utilization of the literary space. I would like to see Africans reading more African writers. I would like to see South African and Kenyan books in Nigerian bookshops, I would like to see Nigerian books in Tanzania and Uganda. I want to read Ghanaian books in Abuja. I want to see better engagement between Anglophone and Francophone Africa, with more translations across the two divides. It is a shame that Togo is just next door and I have absolutely no idea what the literary landscape looks like over there. I want this to change.

Tiah: You are one of SSDA's 2015 judges (thank you). What are your writing pet peeves? What makes you grin?

Abubakar: I am not too keen on works that convey a desperation to impress rather than a need to tell a story. If that is your proclivity then perhaps you are better off writing an essay. I am not too keen on sex scenes for the simple sake of titillating the reader. I don’t have a problem with them if they are integral to the story. And of course, I think everyone hates lazy writing so invest a little time in finding exciting new way to say things.


Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is a Nigerian writer and author of the short story collection, The Whispering Trees, (Parresia, Lagos, 2012) which was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize for literature, with the title short story shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013. He is a winner of the BBC African Prize, among other awards and is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow and a Civitella Ranieri Fellow. His novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms will be published in November in Nigeria by Parresia Publishers and in the UK by Cassava Republic in 2016. He also works as a journalist with one of Nigeria’s biggest newspaper.