Africa’s new stories

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Few things give me greater joy than reading and talking about African literature. So I had a big fat smile on my face when I opened this week’s East African to find a full-page article on the current direction of African writing. The East African rocks. I hope our local dailies are listening.

Aside: did I just describe a newspaper as rocking? I need a new hobby.

The writer of this article, a Kenyan, doesn’t particularly address anything novel.

Yes, our continent’s new writers are increasingly being given voice by Western publishers – Adichie’s writing comes out of US publishing houses, and even Achebe happily set up camp at Brown University.

Yes, African readers often tend to discover their own talent ironically after said talent is honored with a Western literary prize – the Caine, the Booker, the Orange Prize and so on. I’m not saying our writers don’t deserve international acclaim, but what does it say about our continent’s reading culture that we don’t know who Olufemi Terry is until he wins the Caine Prize?

And yes – whether as a direct result of these factors or not – African writers hoping to be discovered are adopting a more ‘global’ language; beyond war, famine and the ills of colonialism to dates in coffee houses, interracial romance and new technology.

What I loved most about this article was the writer’s acknowledgment of our continent’s vast young talent. In Uganda at least, Achebe, Soyinka, wa Thiong’o; these men are still mandatory reading on any student’s list. And rightly so. The stories of our past are fiercely important and there’s no denying that our “all-time greats” have greatly influenced our young writers’ voices (a la Achebe and Adichie).

I’m just waiting for the day when Adichie and Baingana will be taught alongside the greats. Their stories are Africa now – the Africa that studies abroad and returns mind and heart full of cultural confusion, if they return at all; the Africa that is struggling to find a voice and place among a rapidly-evolving technological playing field; the Africa that has to worry about civil war, about HIV/AIDS, about homosexuality.

The writer was good enough to share a list of his personal 25 favorite authors out of Africa. Before I share a short personal favorites list, I must admit to suffering from the indecision that plagued wa Thiong’o about what or who exactly is an ‘African’ author; to being limited to the Anglophones only; and to being kind of a rookie at this 🙂

  1. Chimamanda Adichie (all 3 books so far)
  2. Doreen Baingana (Tropical Fish)
  3. Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Decolonising the Mind)
  4. Achebe (Anthills of the Savannah; No Longer at Ease)
  5. Ayi Kwei Armah (The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born)
  6. Segun Afolabi (A Life Elsewhere)
  7. Monica Arac de Nyeko (Jambula Tree; Strange Fruit)
  8. Naguib Mahfouz (The Cairo Trilogy)
  9. Wole Soyinka (the Brother Jero plays; The Man Died)
  10. Ben Okri (The Famished Road)

I’d like to know your thoughts on African literature as you’ve come to know it, and which writers make your favorites list!

Update: Naija’s new chapter of literary history, CNN

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7 responses »

  1. I bought all three of Chimamandas books but I’m yet to Half of a yellow sun and Purple hibiscus.
    Her aside Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Ama Ata Aidoo, Peter Abrams, Ayi Kwei Armah………are just but a few. But Chimamanda, like you said, is something else.

  2. i’ve read many of the books on your list. from your brief review i want to read tales of freedom. who is the author. please spill at mbabaziannet.blogspot.com

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