Most of us spend a lot of our time on the Internet, all thanks to the advent of affordable smart phones, power banks and affordable data bundles.
We’re constantly surfing the web, poring through our social media pages – if it is not updating about our private lives, we are engaged in online activism or following links to stories and articles.
Social media has also revolutionised the world of literature in many ways. Whether or not it is in a good way is a matter of discussion. However, there is no denying the influence that social media has on literature.
Today it is not enough to simply be the author of a book. You also need to have a presence on social media. Let us take the Kenyan scene for instance.
There are not so many literature festivals and public book readings that take place outside the annual Storymoja Festival, Kwani? Sunday Salon, and the gatherings at Nairobi’s Goethe Institut.
Thus there are not enough opportunities for authors to interact with their readers and vice versa. The remedy to this is social media.
Speaking to Zukiswa Wanner — the South African author currently resident in Kenya — about the influence of social media in literature today, she said: “I suspect I became known out of SADC (Southern African Development Community) because of social media. Now travelling to different countries for literature fests, I made friends in those countries who would later quote, blog or review my works on social media.”
She is not alone. When Oduor Jagero released his satirical thriller, True Citizen, word spread around via the simple act of people making his book cover as their profile picture and cover photos on Facebook and Twitter.
There are also the online literature journals that keep coming up. They provide content for free; in most cases an anthology of short stories and poems. The most notable one is Jalada Africa. Oduor Jagero recently established another digital anthology called KUT. Brittle Paper, established by Nigerian writer, Ainehi Edoro, also releases several anthologies for example The Valentine Anthology (in collaboration with Ankara Press) and Adunni. All these online publications are powered by social media. Jalada’s Managing Editor, Moses Kilolo, admits that “social media is how we announce that there is a coming Jalada project, or when we publish. I bet that close to 99 per cent of the readers we get on the website have been refered to us via social media. It is also one of the ways we get feedback and answer questions.”
This is a term that was coined by Penguin, to capture the interesting twist to the whole interaction between social media and literature. Have you ever heard of the #TwitterFiction? Well, it is basically a group of writers in US who are bringing fiction to life using Twitter.
Every year since 2012 there is a #TwitterFiction Festival. They invite authors from across the industry to create original fiction, using the Twitter platform. Anyone at anytime can jump in and join the fun by telling stories on Twitter using the #TwitterFiction hashtag.
This year’s festival is aimed at “assembling an anthology of humorous reworkings of literary classics for the twenty-first century intellect, in digestible portions of 20 tweets or fewer”.
Using Twitter to tell stories is nothing new to us, here in Africa. Teju Cole, Nigerian author of Open City did some amazing work last year with his Twitter account. What started out as an experiment ended up with the Nigerian author orchestrating his followers into writing a collective short story titled Hafiz by simply retweeting a number of tweets by his followers.
When asked about it, Teju said “..I think I have a natural inclination to try new things when it comes to storytelling…. I don’t think that print media has to be the be-all and end-all. A lot of the people I want to be read by, a lot of the people I want to speak to, are not people who have subscriptions to The New Yorker or The New York Times, so it’s important for me to speak to them this way also.”
To quote Justin Alvarez, “Ultimately, while social media’s focus is seen as marketing and publicity, for everyone involved it can also be a potent reminder of what the original goal of the publication was and still is: to get people to read.”
This therefore begs the question; “Could the next great title be simply a collection of tweets and Facebook updates?” For most traditional readers, the idea seems like the tell-tale signs of a literary apocalypse. But who knows? History has proved time and time again there is nothing as nebulous and uncertain as the future of literature.