OCM Reissues Covers of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Damon Galgut, Tsitsi Dangarembga, & Maaza Mengiste
After 2 Years Covering African Literature, Open Country Mag Expands into Film & TV

After 2 Years Covering African Literature, Open Country Mag Expands into Film & TV

One of the last conversations I had with my mother, ten years ago, was about Nollywood. I grew up watching the films like most young Nigerian millennials, in a late ‘90s street culture that applied larger meaning to them, primarily as moral mirrors and sub-primarily as entertainment. The life I knew was on the screen every week, in a new cassette or DVD, as was the life that I was encouraged to not know. The stories were guides in how to live, maps in how to deal with people; they were one of the first things people talked about when they weren’t talking about the grind of daily living or politics. For devotees like my mother, though, it was pure entertainment, and by the early 2010s, as I became curious about storytelling as art, as a reflection in experience, she and I spent the duration of entire films lovingly arguing about art and value. One day, she said, “If you don’t like their stories, why not write your own?” It was late 2012 and I was 18, and that conversation was the final spur in my becoming a writer. Yet my chosen medium was literature, not film. It would take some time before I found an intellectual love for film, and a shorter while later before I began to work in media, in literature beyond being a writer.

Phase 1: Our Impact in African Literature

When I first had the idea for Open Country Mag, in May 2020, it was a way to protect myself and fellow young writers, mostly Nigerian, from an African literary establishment committed to blacklisting us for speaking up against rape culture. It was a way to guarantee our future in literary media coverage. The name is self-descriptive: Open Country: writers of my generation were saying that their country, Nigeria, was finally open for expression. It was the inkling that young Nigerians were ready, only months later, for a massive revolt like the End SARS movement. Most importantly, for me, the time was overdue: if we were already stepping up, we needed to step even higher.

In the months before our launch, in December 2020, Open Country Mag quickly outgrew its first purpose and underwent different ideations. I took it as a chance for me to test all the ideas I have had for years. I felt that our chief mission should live on a new level from everything else: the contextualization of African literature in the global conversation, a re-contextualisation where need be. It is something that mostly takes place in American and British magazines, and we could bring all of that back to an African platform, and we could do more: illuminate, among other things, histories of ideas that shape African writers. What it demanded was a depth of talent and experience and a new level of planning and synthesizing. Building the core of the platform took us 14 months from launch time (we’d planned for 11), and the results were unprecedented in African literature.

Our Profiles, which found strong readership beyond literature, launched with cover stories on Tsitsi Dangarembga, for December 2020, for her Zimbabwe Trilogy: Nervous ConditionsThe Book of Not, and This Mournable Body; and on Maaza Mengiste, for January 2021, for her historical novels, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze and The Shadow King, and her 3541 photography project on Ethiopia. The stories also marked the two authors’ shortlistings for the 2020 Booker Prize—the first time that two Black African women were finalists. Our third cover story, for July 2021, was on Teju Cole, whose debut novel Open City turned 10 and whose commitment to prose and photography opened a new path in African literature. Our fourth, for September 2021, was on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun. Then Damon Galgut, for February 2022, following his Booker Prize win for his ninth novel The Promise.

In April 2022, we released our debut special issue, The Next Generation, which profiles 16 writers and curators, from nine countries, who have influenced continental literary culture in the last five years. It was a landmark project in African literature, the first time that that number of significant writers from one generation had been considered in context. They include NLNG Prize winner Romeo Oriogun, Roving Heights bookshop founder Tobi Eyinade, Lolwe editor Troy Onyango, Doek! editor Remy Ngamije, 20.35 Africa founder Ebenezer Agu, The Cheeky Natives podcasters Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane and Alma Nalisha-Cisse, and fiction writers Nana Nkweti, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, Keletso Mopai, and writer-editor Donald Oghenechovwe Ekpeki.

We also published regular news; impactful book reviews and spotlight features, especially on new voices that would not have been given serious treatment elsewhere; important interviews, including with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop director Lan Samantha Chang, and with writers targeted by their governments, including Nigeria’s Okey Ndibe and Uganda’s Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. A highlight was securing an exclusive from the O. Henry Prize, announcing that it was opening, for the first time in its 103-year history, to African publications.

When small media platforms get crucial stories first, it leaves them vulnerable to big international platforms. This happened to us when Al Jazeera published a replica of our in-depth story on Anglophone Cameroonian literature and, despite our notification, kept the stolen work, siphoning Google searches of the original story on our website. We take it as a compliment. Plagiarism is a high form of flattery.

But everywhere else, our unfunded work managed to earn positive notice. In an Instagram post last year, Adichie described us as “An ambitious new magazine committed to African literature.” In a Tweet last year, also, Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo wrote about us: “Talent will read it for opportunities, readers can get inside the literature, and industry insiders can discover new talent.” It is priceless, to have our work be so described in public, without us asking, by two writers as titanic as they come, especially these two, whose work, as writers and organizers, have made them the most important for writers of my generation.

I knew that our work in African literature had reached the tipping point when, months ago, the great Wole Soyinka replied in an email to say, among other things: “I am well acquainted with your magazine, frequently receive links to its contents. Always a stimulating read.”

Phase 2: African Literature + Nollywood + A Bit of Culture

The months before Open Country Mag launched were essential in what it eventually became. One influence was that I left the literary scene and became Editor of Folio Nigeria, then CNN’s exclusive media affiliate in Africa, covering innovation in the culture scene. I saw up-close the potential of culture as a force for storytelling, a conduit for national soft power. Literature has, for long, been on exile from the rest of culture, so I revisited an idea I always had: How would it look, what would we benefit, if literature were bridged back into culture? For obvious reasons, the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, has the most potential for a beneficial alliance. My plan for Open Country Mag was to build it to a level where it could afford impactful collaboration, where literary media could be on par with culture media.

If the story of literary media in Africa has been one of lack, the story of film media has been one of make-shift functionality. Decades after Nollywood became an international draw, there is still no media platform dedicated solely to serious journalism on it: publishing well-written reviews, features, and Profiles, moving beyond the screen to production, tying the present to the past. Open Country Mag is also invested in film for its own sake, and so we will be doing these and more. Our film and TV coverage will unfold in line with our mission: contextualization in the global conversation.

Beyond film and literature, we will also cover a bit of everything else, which we categorize under the increasingly broad term “Culture.” There will be interviews, Profiles, and analyses of creatives, thinkers, and doers, in art, music, fashion, business, and society. But our Culture coverage will be limited, to keep energy on our twin foci: Film and Literature.

Revamped Coverage

Even as we cross industries, our angle of storytelling remains to be revelatory, and our style literary. To enhance this, our website has been re-sectioned.

Across the three categories of Books, Film & TV, and Culture, we will publish Profiles, interviews, and spotlight features. In our main categories of Books and Film & TV, we will also publish reviews. In Books, we will publish book excerpts and, when we get funding, new writing. In Film & TV, we will share exclusive snippets from shows. In place of regular news across the board, we will publish roundup features titled Front Page.

For in-depth coverage, we will prioritize exclusives.

Relaunch Stories

We begin, in Film and TV, with reviews of the neo-noir thriller La Femme Anjola, the Netflix hit Blood Sisters, the AMVCA-winning Igbo-language film Nne, the bromantic web series The Men’s Club, the banned lesbian-love short film Ife, and a novel adaptation in Swallow. They are accompanied by a feature on the musical YE!, with stars Dakore Egbuson-Akande and Tony Okungbowa; interviews with Adeola Osunkojo, director of the Ndani TV series Love Like This, and Collins Okoh, co-writer of Omo Ghetto: The Saga, Nollywood’s highest grossing film of all time; and a recommendation: 20 books that could be adapted into film.

We open Culture with a feature on Awaiting Trial, a police brutality documentary by Chude Jideonwo focused on the families of young men murdered by SARS; an interview with Henry Igboko, executive director of Centre for Memories, a hub conserving Igbo history; and an interview with the multidisciplinary designer Emeka Ugwu, our new Art Director and the architect of our new website look, on his creation of a visual language of Africanness (A.K.A. our website!). The earlier pieces remain, of course, including a profile of theatre practitioner Lanaire Aderemi and an interview with the pioneering cryptoartist Osinachi on his collaboration with Afrobeats producer Don Jazzy.

OCM Bookshop and OCM Streaming

Embedded in our new website are a small bookstore and a streaming section. Still at their preliminary stages, and yet to contain affiliate links, they are part of our efforts to take advantage of our surging site views and evolve into a truly multiplatform business. We will keep you updated as we develop both.

Redesigned Website

All of this, of course, is why our website was offline for the last two weeks. We’d told you, dear reader, after we reissued our covers, that it would be just one weekend, just for a redesign—because we were keeping our expansion under tight wraps. But combining a redesign and an expansion, implementing this extend of rebrand, demanded much more than a weekend.

You might notice, among other elements, the combo of tech and fashion that we’ve pulled off by using ankara. Each category post and archive page is styled differently, pairing a background colour with complementary ankara: green for Books, sangria for Film and TV, brown for Culture, blue for Issues and Covers, and a dark yellowish-brown for Videos.

The site building is still in its final stages, but it is already the visual delight it needs to be. It gives me great pleasure to say this: there is no other website like this one.

Same Foundation, Bigger Mission

The expansion of Open Country Mag into film and TV, with focus on Nollywood, widens our mission. We are looking to tell untold stories, stitching contexts that allow for a refreshed look at the literary and film industries, and, ultimately, the place of African creatives in global culture. In short: we want our stories to be a new but foundational collection of ideas and attitudes undergirding 21st century African literature, Nigerian filmmaking, and, in general, cultural storytelling.

This is the part I left out earlier about that conversation with my mother 10 years ago: we made a bet. I just didn’t think it would come around like this.

We hope you enjoy the new Open Country Mag. ♦

Otosirieze for Open Country Mag

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