Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse

An interesting piece by Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani. Here's a taste.

"Here, each successful seller of plantain chips spawns a thousand imitators selling identical chips; conformity is esteemed while individuality raises eyebrows; success is measured by how similar you are to those who have gone before you. These are probably not uniquely African flaws, but their effects are magnified on a continent whose floundering publishing industry has little money for experimentation and whose writers still have to move abroad to gain international recognition."

To me though, what began as a promising essay somehow turned into a mishmash of cowardly ideas, the core of which sought to suggest that it is separatist for a writer to write in his native language or even to claim that he is a writer from his ethnic group. Is Soyinka not Yoruba? Does it make him less a patriotic Nigerian? To me, the more Yoruba he is, the better for me as Igbo. He has single-handedly introduced me to the riches of Yoruba culture. Denying who we are doesn't make us more universal-minded. What cripples a nation is when individuals fail to empathize, when they believe that others are there to serve them

By the way

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I love Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You By Chance, and I started reading her NY Times op-ed expecting to enjoy it. When she started celebrating the fact that Ngugi did not get the Nobel, I thought she was going to make the point that we don't need to have a Nobel to celebrate our great writers. I also could sympathize with her on encouraging young writers step out from under the shadow of the greats to experiment with their own style--especially humourous writing. Her segue into then attacking those who write in the languages they grew up speaking confounded me.

    Perhaps the reason Nwaubani has not found funny, light-reading works of African literature is because she is too busy "shuddering" at the thought of writing in African languages. Ngugi's satirical Devil on the Cross (originally written in Gikuyu) is one of the funniest (and cutting) works of African literature I've read. Similarly, novels coming out of the booming Hausa-language literary scene have some of the best dialogue--very funny banter--that I've read in any language. (They also have a lot of good thrillers and an reading public of millions.)

    I've written an essay in response to this
    piece, which you can see on my blog here: