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!


  1. Yes! I like what Teju is saying here. It's our choice as black people to express ourselves from our own personal experiences. Or not. When I first read that Petina was against this "the voice of Zimbabwe" thing, I was concerned. Thought maybe she was pandering. But it may be that all African writers don't actually have to blow the trumpet of any cause or fight against anything in their writing. That's why I so love Zora N. Hurston, because she understood this back in 1930 or so. We black folks can write about our experiences as people and we can blow trumpets, if it suits us.

  2. Beautiful comment, Renee. I love Zora to death. One appreciates her ingenuity especially given all she had to endure in her struggles to be accepted as a writer of note among the male writers of the Harlem Renaissance era. It was an era in which the question of identity (the New Negro) dominated nearly all African American discourses.