Ellah Wakatama Allfrey helps “authors write books and readers read them.”Young and old filled Reith Hall on Tuesday to listen as Jan Bender Shetler, professor of history, interviewed Allfrey, visiting professor of English and communication.
The Yoder Public Affair lecture, titled “The Development of Sustainable Creative Economies: Telling Stories and Making Culture” focused on Allfrey’s work helping non-Western, specifically African, writers share their stories to wider audiences and get the recognition they deserve.
Allfrey has spent much of her career “creating a body of work that challenges our single view of African people as victims worthy of our pity and rather demonstrates deep thriving experiences and narratives of people working through their own futures,” said Shetler.
The two professors discussed Allfrey’s time working at larger, well-known publishing houses, such as Penguin and Random House. During her time at Random House Books, Allfrey had the opportunity to help young African authors tell their story – “a story that everyone was ignoring,” she said.
When Shetler asked Allfrey whether African writing matters to the community of Goshen College, she replied: “It does matter…. If we’re thinking about what fuels us as cultural beings, as thinking beings, it’s not just the stories from next door, but the stories from abroad.”
Much of what Allfrey’s career has been dedicated to is being what she described as an author’s “best reader.” Allfrey has worked closely with many authors, editing their books to perfection with hopes that the book would be read by a large audience.
Allfrey has judged numerous writing prizes, which helps authors fund their writing careers. She noted the need for more literary prizes, as well as literary festivals, which would help authors be able to financially support themselves and make writing their number one priority.
Lydia Dyck, a first-year student, attended the lecture and was blown away by Allfrey’s dedication. “I think it’s pretty amazing what she has started already, and what she’s really passionate about,” she said. “She’s gone through this journey, but she’s still really passionate about the future.”
Allfrey said, with confidence, that in “40 years’ time, I want students to read about this movement in African literature, and to be studying it. All of my work is based around making sure that it’s populated with the very best books. That’s my job.”