History & Poetry at the Macondo Literary Festival 2022

A moody, grayscale image of power lines, clouds and a tree


Down River Road invites Sylvie Kandé to introduce our collaboration.

On not-so-rare-occasions, historians and poets gather at the same crossroads, under Hermes’ watchful eyes. The said “Silent Barter” is a commerce (i.e. one of those manners of dealing with people) of interest to both poets and historians. Its economy rests on a powerful metaphor — one in which thoughts about the consensual nature of value, necessary negotiations between distance and presence, between conversations and symbols, and above all, trust in trust are all at play.

In medieval Sudan — Bilad al-Sudan, that is — nomads would bring salt from the desert and drop it in small piles on the savanna fringe. If amenable to the offer, people of the Mali empire would bring gold dust and set it in identical piles near the salt. The equivalence of those mutual offers would be refined through asynchronous visits to the piles, until each party (silently) rejoiced in the deal.

Invited to participate in two panels at the 2022 Macondo Literary Festival in Nairobi, I also conducted a workshop on history and poetry. I offered my grain of salt; in response, the writers and poets who attended this workshop shared their gold.

I am grateful to Anja Bengelstorff and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor for the opportunity to meet those brilliant wordsmiths.
I am grateful to Alexis Teyie for welcoming their works in the columns of Down River Road.

Sylvie Kandé is author of three collections of poetry published by Gallimard. (The English translation of the second one, penned by Alexander Dickow, was published in 2022 by Wesleyan U. Press as The Neverending Quest for the Other Shore. An Epic in Three Cantos.)
Recipient of the 2017 Prix de poésie Louise Labé. Recipient of the 2022 Tyler Stovall Mission Prize granted by the Western Society for French History.


Thank you to the authors in this series: