Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Things Are Happening to African Literature

Sefi Atta’s novel, Everything Good Will Come, I think, is a prophecy of better days ahead and an exhortation on all Africans to look beyond the overwhelming negative news headlines and the lamentations that come with them. With persistence, moral vision and hard work, everything good will come.

The past few years have witnessed an unprecedented blossoming of African literature, a renaissance that many believe has come to stay. The major reason this will be a permanent feature in the African intellectual world is that, unlike the renaissance of the African writing in the 50sand 60s, this one is not born of a reaction directed at the historical oppressor. Indeed, it is not a reaction; it is a square human response to the experience of existential pain, a sort of wisdom that Aeschylus talks about in his Agamemnon. “Wisdom comes through suffering. Trouble, with its memories of pain, drips in our hearts as we try to sleep, so men against their will learn to practice moderation.”

African literature has experienced lots of favors from the Muses, and from what I’m hearing through the grapevine, there are still more things to come. While we have just one calendar year to round off this first decade of our century, we’d like to take note of some important events that have given me reasons to rejoice. I do this with apologies to names that are likely to be left out owing to my ignorance of their impact.

I hardly say this about a country or a people, but I have to admit that I’m beginning to believe that there’s something unique about Zimbabwe. The air they breathe? The water they drink? Their languages? Whatever, there’s something in that country that makes its people undyingly creative. Students of African intellectual history can hardly ignore the influence of Zimbabwean writers like Marechera, Vera, Hove, Chinodya, Dangarembga on the African literary discourses of the 80s and 90s. This year alone three important books emerged from the country, thus keeping the Promethean spark alive: Brian Chikwava, Harare North, Petina Gappah, An Elegy for the Easterly and Irene Sabatini, The Boy Next Door. Did I forget Sarah Oladipo Manyika’s novel, In Dependence? Besides these novelists, there are many writers who not only write but also promote and review other writers: Ivor Hartman of StoryTime, Emmanuel Sigauke of Wealth of Ideas, Jane Morris of amaBooks.

South Africa is Africa’s literary powerhouse per se; it is literally a world of its own, providing nearly innumerable avenues for its writers. See for example this: There are numerous instances of literary good news to choose from. For this write-up though, I would like to mention two exciting names that came to our notice in the past years: Henrietta Rose-Innes, the 2008 Caine Prize and HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award winner. Mary Watson, the winner of 2006 Caine Prize.

From Kenya, Kwani continues to discover and nurture amazing literary talents. Kudos to Binyavanga Wainana and his coeditors and literary conference organizers? Recently, Mukoma wa Ngugi published a novel, Nairobi Heat that is receiving a heated reviews everywhere.
With this year’s winner of the Caine Prize, EC Osundu, Nigeria wrapped up a year of great harvest, a year that saw Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie win the McArthur Fellowship, Chris Abani, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award. And of course, Sefi Atta saw the prophecy of her book fulfilled in her winning the Noma Award for publishing in Africa. Not to be forgotten is the ultimate shebang of it all, Uwem Akpan making it onto Oprah book club. Say You’re One of Them has now spent more than fourteen weeks on New York Times bestseller list. This is, to my knowledge, the only African writer to achieve this feat. Nigeria also boasts of lesser known writers, who have made themselves known to important reviewers: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Lola Shoneyin, Tolu Ogunlesi, Jude Dibia, Tade Ipadeola, etc.

Besides these writers of muscular stature, what pleases me infinitely as a Nigerian is the emergence of two robust publishers, Kachifo Limited and Cassava Republic. They appear determined to not only publish the writers already known to the West, but also discover and promote new writers in Africa.

Readings, conferences, retreats, prizes of note: Abuja Literature Festival, Baobab Prize, Writing Kenya.
Literary magazines and blogs of note: African Writing, Saraba Magazine, Kwani, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Naija blog, Petina Gappah, Wealth of Ideas, StoryTime, Bookaholic, Cassava Republic blog
Reviewers of Note: Ikhide Ikheloa: He has a fine way of burning a book into your consciousness. Which is what all great reviewers do. You might agree or disagree with his observations, but you do so while holding the book in your hand. In that way a discourse takes place. I bet, he will one day be known as the great midwife of modern African literature. May whatever he worships keep him alive and happy for the next several decades. Isee!
Emmanuel Sigauke: If he is not yet popular among the lovers of African literature, it is perhaps because he does more reviews of international literature than African. Anyhow, whenever he takes up and dissects an African book, it’s a pleasure to read him.

We look forward to a very fruitful 2010, a year that should be rich in controversies, discourses, noises, births, births, and more births. Be well, friends.
Chielo Zona Eze.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Troubling Authenticity

Teju Cole trains his critical guns on what he calls the Controversialists' assessment of Petina Gappah's statement about being an African writer. Here he goes:
"Accepting this year's Guardian First Book award, the short-story writer Petina Gappah said, "I don't see myself as an African writer." Controversialists zoned in on the statement like so many heedless flies towards a honey jar. But there was a context that was being ignored. Gappah's book, "An Elegy for Easterly," had initially been published with a press release describing her as the "voice of Zimbabwe." Gappah objected to the term, but the copy was already out."
Teju has interesting arguments in defense of Petina. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Interview - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria and says it was only when she went to America to study at the age of 19 that she became aware of the labels black and African.

She talks to Carrie Gracie about how she has tackled the problems caused by race, gender politics and her country's colonial history, and how she thinks her generation can turn Nigeria around.

A fine art of self-promotion

This is an activity in a small act or art of self-promotion. Not entirely bad, after all. Well, I just found this fine review of my book, The Trial of Robert Mugabe.
Here is a taste of what the writer is saying:
"The plot is aptly interwoven into various subplots which are catalogues of the various episodes of the transgressions against human rights by the Mugabe regime against the Zimbabwean populace. The writer employs a subtle literary technique which mixes satire, caricature, mystery and suspense to create a gripping tale which keeps the reader engrossed till the end."
Not bad, friends.
I can't seem to establish a link to this damn article. Anyway, here's the homepage. Hope you find some luck.
Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Make the Mind Matter in Nigeria

I thought you might want to read this little piece of mine. If you are rich-and I pray that you are-consider sponsoring some of the ideas expressed in that article.
It's about developing a sound intellectual culture in my dear home country, Nigeria, a place where my soul resides.
Anyway, before I'm carried away by some unclassifiable emotion, I urge you to read the piece and judge.
Here now is the correct LINK!

Chika Unigwe on the Streets of Antwerp

Another scoop on one of the amazing literary stories from the continent.

"A proud African, Unigwe adds to the debate about the name tag that limits writers born in Africa as merely “African writers.” “I’m African, and I never question my African identity,” says Unigwe. “What I question sometimes are the expectations that come with being labeled an “African writer.” What you are supposed to write, how you are supposed to write and so on. But then that is the problem with labeling; it comes with a whole box of expectations, usually people’s projections of what the label ought to cover. It’s not always right or accurate.”"
Enjoy the rest of the story:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Between Kan and Cole... revisiting Lagos, Nigerian writers' most re-imagined city

Anote Ajeluorou is a vibrant and tireless literary journalist. Now you see his name in Nigerian Guardian, the next time you read his excellent article elsewhere, like this one, in Nigerian Daily News. In this fine resume of the literary activities organized by one of the really good Nigerian publishers, Cassava Republic, Anote draws our attention, among other issues, to the importance of Lagos in Nigeria's literary imagination. Here he goes:
"It was Jeremy Weate, co-founder of Cassava Republic, who, while moderating the reading session, raised the searching questions about how faithful and encompassing writers have fared in capturing the entirety of nuances of Lagos life. While Kan believes Lagos is not under-written, Cole disagrees. Kan thinks since fiction started in Nigeria, Lagos has featured prominently in the works such writers like Ekwensi, Soyinka and Achebe and the other younger writers that followed over the years."
Enjoy the rest of the article here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

You won't progress until you return to your language

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is not the only one harping on the importance of the native language of a writer in his/her writing. Prof Chukuezi is not only a medical doctor, he is also a writer. Indeed, he acknowledges that before becoming a medical doctor he was a writer. He has some dire warning for all writers. Every creative thinker essentially does so in his or her native language. I think he is right in many ways. Anyway, read his words: ENJOY!

Pambazuka on Petina Gappah

This is the Pambazuka version of my little piece on the controversy of the term, African writer.
I thought they did an excellent editorial job. Thanks guys.
"Petina Gappah isn’t betraying her roots by objecting to ‘being labelled the voice of Zimbabwe’, Chielo Zona Eze writes in this week’s Pambazuka News, she just doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed into the ‘transcendental role of saving the African, by telling his or her story’.

Friday, December 18, 2009

2009... Year of the Nigerian short story

Anote Ajeluorou has a great assessment of Nigerian writing in the short story genre. Great review, I would sag:
"Over the years Nigerian writers have latched on the short story format as a significant medium to express their creative ingenuity, however, no other year has this genre occupied a central place than in 2009.
Of course, the short story format has been exploited by Nigerian writers over the years with amazing results."
Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Petina Gappah Ashamed of Being an African Writer?

In her first interview after winning the Guardian First Book Prize, Petina Gappah vehemently objected to her being labeled the voice of Zimbabwe. Rightly, so, one would say, for she is just a voice, a very confident one for that. She is a voice that, like others before her such as Yvonne Vera, Marechera, Tsitsi Dangarembga, addressed the human condition from a given position (at least for now), Zimbabwe. All literature is local.

Since her interview, various internet discussion groups have devoted considerable attention to what is perceived by some as a betrayal of her African roots. The title of her interview, “Petina Gappah: ‘I don't see myself as an African writer,” is provocative enough to make one ask whether she has contracted Michael Jackson’s “yellow” fever. Is it possible to create art that is not rooted in some place? Is she merely a copycat of her famous dead compatriot, Dambudzo Marechera?

Not so fast, friends. I think we are witnessing the birth of a robust thinker, a kind of Nietzschean philosopher with a hammer. Prove me wrong.

To start with, it is abundantly peculiar even to a troubling degree, that only African writers appear to be burdened with the seemingly annoying issue of identity, with the question of whether they are writers from, of, and for the continent. As one writer in my internet discussion group, coming to Gappah’s defense, said, you don’t ask water whether it is wet, do you? Yet, the writer rightly pointed out the tricky issue of identity. Thank God, identity is not as settled as the wetness of water.

It has to be born in mind that the issue of the African writer is fraught with contested meaning. If other writers from other continents do not face the same niggling problem–which I doubt–it might have to do with many factors one of which is that writing in Africa, literature as belles-lettres, has been closely associated with liberation struggle and the definition of self. Chinua Achebe gave this type of writing a definitive form not only with Things Fall Apart, but also, and indeed more robustly, his subsequent essays and interviews and interpretation of his own book. Thus, since the publication of that epochal book, African literature has largely been seen as a mode of writing-back, fighting the West’s misrepresentation of the African image. To be sure, Achebe cannot be identified with the Negritude movement, but his project is not far removed from Negritude’s redefinition of the maligned image of the African. The subtle different might lie in the Senghor’s lionization of the past and Africa’s perceived essence.

This century has witnessed a robust renaissance of the African literature, thanks in large part to Caine Prize. This rebirth boasts of such fine writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, Sefi Atta, Brian Chikwava, Helon Habila, Chika Unigwe, and of course Petina Gappah. Reading their works, one discerns their allegiance to, or the influence of, what could be termed, for lack of proper terms, the Achebean and Soyinkan schools of thought. The Achebean school sees its role as primarily redefining the African. It does this among other things, by challenging the West’s “single story.” The Soyinkan, is of course different from the first in the sense that it appears to ignore the gaze of the white man, and explores the human condition as it is found in the African households, villages and towns. It does not even shy away from employing Western concepts and idioms to elucidate African native ideas. Doing so, simply telling normal stories of normal people, is understood as engaging in a deeply universal exercise.

Among the new crop of African writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie unapologetically positions herself as the torchbearer of the Achebean tradition. This is evident in her writings and speeches, the most renowned of which is “The Danger of a Single Story.” Chris Abani and Sefi Atta appear, at least temperamentally, to have sided with Soyinka, caring little about the burden of meeting the gaze of the white man. Put Gappah in this group. She seems to be interested in just being, telling stories, indeed, confronting life rather than in defining herself.

When Petina Gappah says that she doesn’t see herself as an African writer, it is important to note that she never denied being African, or black. Nor does she contest her being Zimbabwean. She, I think, avoids being holed in a given, transcendental role of saving the African, or a perceived essence, by telling the authentic African story.

Perhaps one day the term “African writer’ will lose its Achebean stamp when it becomes obvious that writings from that continent will be read also for their aesthetic wealth and not for their apology. The day has actually arrived, and reading Petina Gappah’s short stories, you feel as aesthetically fulfilled and as morally confronted as you would ever be. Hopefully, her little controversy goes a long way to instruct interviewers and commentators of African literature that the question of who is an African writer is as redundant as the medieval problem of wanting to know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or to use a better example, setting up a symposium to determine whether Ian McEwan is European.

Chielo Zona Eze teaches Postcolonial African literature and theory at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago. He is the author of The Trial of Robert Mugabe

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What is Illuminating about Adichie’s ‘The Danger of a Single Story’?

You have always wanted to know what I'm loving about the new African literature? The discourse is getting more complex, more nuanced, more critical. People's voices are becoming more pronounced, stronger and more individual. Did you know that Petina Gappah has launched an all-out war against the sentimental hogwash about authentic African writing and African writers? Param pam pam paaaa.. I'm loving it.
Her's an interesting essay by Nnorom Azuonye on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's critique of the Western single story of Africa:
"She went on and on and on with one example after another of this thing she called a Single Story that I suddenly stopped the playback and asked myself; is Chimamanda’s theory of a Single Story a rechristening of Stereotyping, of Branding, of Methodising, of Pigeonholing, of Typecasting, etc? It appeared so"
Enjoy the rest of the essay.

Dogs of war still prowl

Chenjerai Hove is one of Zimbabwean writers I admire so much. I just reread his Sheeben Tales. Sweet. He believes it's not yet time for him to get back to Zimbabwe. Why go when your life could be stamped out like I used to do to some stubborn ants as a child.
Anyway, here is a taste of this nice article about him and other diasporan Zims. "Some people think Zimbabweans are on the cowardly side when they employ what I call survival strategies. Faced with extreme danger to their person, Zimbabweans use two major approaches: run away or fall silent. So, the diasporans took the first option, to escape "to live to fight another day", as Bob Marley says."

Monday, December 14, 2009

After the Storm: NLNG Poetry Prize’s Report and Matters Arising

Sorry, friends, I nearly missed this one. E.E.Sule is one of the few African literature professors whose opinions I take seriously. He has many interesting things to say about the latest literary award fiasco in Nigeria, the so-called NLNG Literary award. Mind you, this award hands a whopping $50.000 dollars to the winner. Good Lawd! But like all things Nigeria - I should actually say most things Nigeria- the prize has never been taken seriously. The latest attempt was fumbled.
Anyway, here is what E.E. Sule has to say:"the panel of judges had earlier released a long list of nine, with the promise that a shortlist would follow, but the shortlist, eagerly awaited, never came. Though it seemed unusual for some, the generality of contemporary literary minds in Nigeria waited fervently for the winner."
Please read the whole thing HERE. Beautiful, powerful analysis.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Black Sisters' Street

Ikhide Ikheloa strikes again. Look at this: "Every character in this book is driven by a deep hunger. Perhaps the monotony of yearning is the story of a Nigeria gradually turning soulless from material lust. In the process, we have learnt to hate ourselves. Energy seems reserved for mimicking the otherness that resides in the West. Unigwe’s book showcases Nigeria as a nation of people deeply invested in acquiring the trappings of an otherness that emanates from the West."

Beautiful, balanced review. It must be to Chika's credit that she created characters driven, as you put it, by "a deep hunger" or like most of us here in Obodo Oyibo, by a deep pain, cut off from the natal source of our being; here prostituting our talents rather cheaply. This is where I locate the beauty and relevance of Chika's work. I am happy she is ever ready to address the "open sore" of our continent out of the abiding love she has for it. This is our story, unapologetically ours, and we are happy she tells it without flinching.

By the way, isn't she an enenebe eje olu? - Admire and you won't go to work to day. ENJOY

Friday, December 4, 2009

Petina Gappah: 'I don't see myself as an African writer'

Petina Gappah, the newly minted winner of the Guardian First Book Award, objects to being labeled an African writer. Interesting to read her defense. She might have some points. On the other hand, what is wrong in being an African, Zimbabwean, Shona writer? Does being an African writer mean writing for Africa?
Anyway hear Petina in her own words:
"It's very troubling to me because writing of a place is not the same as writing for a place," she says. "If I write about Zimbabwe, it's not the same as writing for Zimbabwe or for Zimbabweans. I have to remember that as much as there are many people unhappy with Robert Mugabe's regime, there are many who are not: about 49% [of the electorate] voted for him." Read on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Petina Gappah's An Elegy for Easterly wins Guardian First Book Award 2009

It's now official, what many of us have rightly anticipated. Petina Gappah has won a major literary prize for her collection, An Elegy for Easterly.
"A Geneva-based international trade lawyer whose poignant, humane and funny collection of stories about her home country, Zimbabwe, has impressed critics was tonight named winner of the Guardian First Book Award."
Good Luck, Petina. Many more are on your way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The new black celebrity authors

Hei, have you read this? I find it oddly interesting. Sandile Memela is a senior marketing manager for the Department of Arts & Culture in South Africa. He seems to be of the opinion that all criticism of black experience amounts to a betrayal. Hmmm! He seems to be particularly offended by Zakes Mda's writing especially his latest novel,Black Diamonds. I like Zakes Mda. Surely I was frustrated by his Heart of Redness (too historical, postmodernist), depressed by The Whale Caller (an experiment in arts for arts sake - you can't get me interested in a man having an imaginary sex with a whale - give me a break), but, friends, his Ways of Dying is just brilliant. It's one of the best ten books written by Africans in the past fifty years.
Anyway, here is what Sandile Memela has to say. ENJOY!

The Education of a British-Protected Child - Charles Larson

CHARLES R. LARSON. This name sounds familiar, right? Those of us with a minimal knowledge of the history of the reception of Things Fall Apart will not easily forget Larson. Yes, his sharp criticism of the novel helped shape the discourse that would emerge in the course of the past 50 years. Now, the same Larson is again one of the first few to take on Achebe's latest offering: The Education of a British-Protected Child. Oh, he likes the book. SEE WHY!