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.


  1. Don't be modest and leave out your own powerhouse of a book Chielo, The Trial of Robert Mugabe, one of my favourite reads of 2009.

  2. You are indeed a powerhouse of generosity. Thank you for your positive and infectious energy throughout the year. And yes, I agree with you about Zimbabwe ... then again, I would, wouldn't I?:) And that Ikhide, sometimes I want to throttle him, even though he is my favourite critic, or let me say, my favourite critic that I want to throttle. :) All best to you for 2010. Isee!