Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wainaina Has No Right To Speak For All Africans

Betty Caplan asks an interesting question that seems to touch the core of Binyavanga Wainaina's ideology. "What, I want to ask, gives Wainana permission to speak on behalf of all Africans? Where does the royal “we” come from?"

To establish her argument she quotes Wainaina:

"With that wonderful Kenyan burr and distinctive accentuation, he rhetorically pronounced: “We are not interested in Oxfam, we are not interested in Tony Blair, we are not interested in what Oxfam is doing for America (Africa?), we are not interested in what aid donors are doing....we never have been. We don’t talk about it, we don’t discuss it.”

Like authors all around the world, African writers were interested in the lives of people around them. “If you ask me what are the greatest issues in Africa I would say that it is that people love, people, fuck, people kiss, people speak.”

Is Betty Caplan correct in her analysis? Is her analysis fundamentally flawed? Is she being patronizing because of her skin color? I am happy that some discussions about the African intellectual state of affairs are taking place.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Trials of Chris Abani and the Power of Empty Words

The gadfly is at it again.

"When the history of Africa’s troubled journey is accurately chronicled, the world will come to realize the horror of the self-serving perfidy of Africa’s intellectual leaders. We are the new self-serving colonialists perpetuating black-on-black crime on our own people."

An educative read, a good piece about a disturbing development.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kenyan author attacks insularity of British fiction

"Binyavanga Wainaina says authors fail to tell 'universal' stories, leaving their books 'indigestible' for modern Africans." The Guardian.

I understand that Wainaina's words need some contextualization in order to understand where he's coming from. At any rate, it does appear that he makes the same mistake he accuses the West of: generalization, slippery slope, and perhaps, some degree of ideological antithetical positioning. When he claims that Africans don't understand British writing, what on earth, does he mean by African? Who, exactly, does not understand British writing? Wainaina? Kenyans? When has Wainaina become representative of Kenyans, and when have Kenyans become the sum of Africans? Has Wainaina read Ian McEwan?Julian Barnes? Zadie Smith? Monica Ali? And what, on earth, does he mean by "universal?"
As one who owes his life to good luck and the empathic gestures from Europeans during the Biafran war, I find it somewhat disturbing that Wainaina, who was born circa a decade after the Biafran war, and far removed from the scenes of Biafran horrors, would make a sweeping condemnation of rescue/aid agencies such as Oxfam. In my case, in 1968/69, it was the Irish aid agency "Concern" that saved me and many other famishing, kwashiorkor Biafran kids. Without Concern, and perhaps, Oxfam, I would have perhaps succumbed to the famine that was orchestrated by fellow Nigerians/Africans. Why would any person in his right mind ever condemn Bob Geldof for having responded to the human tragedy that took place in Ethiopia and Somalia? I am sincerely baffled. I get the impression that Wainaina's need to save the good image of Africa has blunted his sensibility to the pains of the African bodies. I only hope that this is a special case of an ideological pitfall, which time and intellectual maturation would take care of. But this, of course, does not imply my support of the contemporary African beggarly mindset. Quite the opposite. I have been saved so that I can help save others.

Listen to Binyavanga's interview on the books podcast

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2nd African Women Writers' Forum

This is from my sister-blog, Wordsbody. Great development in African writing. I've always known that it the African women's writing that would save African literature from its self-defeating obsession with the West, and little concern with the African body. Go sisters. I love the panel, "The Worldliness of words."

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Granta Book of the African Short Story edited by Helon Habila – review

Bernardine Evaristo lauds the collection of African short stories, edited by Helon Habila.
"This book is a landmark, a historic record and, most of all, a celebration of what has been an unprecedented decade for African fiction."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Miracle

"Ifemelu's father sat in his well-worn sofa, silently reading his well-worn book. He had been jobless for months, fired from the federal agency for refusing to call his new boss mummy. "If you have to call somebody mummy to get your salary then you do so!" Ifemelu's mother had said when he, wracked with bitterness, came home with his termination letter, complaining about the absurdity of a grown man calling a grown woman mummy because she had decided it was the best way to show her respect."

Someone said somewhere that Adichie is a better novelist than a short story writer. That person might be right. There is a déjà vu element in this short story, something that makes you forget each paragraph the moment you are done with it. Perhaps I'm particularly biased because I'm Nigerian, and the incidents described in this short story are what I see on daily basis in Nigeria. But I miss the psychological depth that informed the short story, "Tomorrow is too Far."
Anyway, ENJOY!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

World Fantasy award goes to Nnedi Okorafor

Nigerian-American novelist Nnedi Okorafor has beaten a host of big names to win the World Fantasy award for her novel set in a post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa.

"Who Fears Death" is the story of Onyesonwu – her name means "who fears death" in Igbo – a woman with great magical powers who was conceived when her mother was raped during a battle.

To those of us who know Nnedi, the prize doesn't come as a surprise. There are more to come.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

African Writers Trust

What is African Writers Trust?

Established in 2009, African Writers Trust is a non-profit entity which seeks to coordinate and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers on the continent to promote sharing of skills and other resources, and to foster knowledge and learning between the two groups. AWT is governed by an Advisory Board and administered by the Director. It is assisted by a working group and volunteers. It is operational in London, United Kingdom and in Kampala, Uganda, where it’s registered as a company limited by guarantee. AWT’s activities and programmes are sponsored through donor funding, friends, philanthropists and supporters of African writing.


Stepping out of the light

Those of us who nearly cried when Ikhide announced his retirement from NEXT can now be heartily consoled: He's back! He now has his blog, which I am happy to introduce here. I am particularly happy that he is not restricting his writing to Facebook.
Anyway ENJOY his introductory offering. Aperitif!

Alexandra Fuller's top 10 African memoirs

"From JM Coetzee to Nelson Mandela, the author chooses her favourite 'performances of courage and honesty' that have come out of the continent."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Baingana returns home to share literary experience

Doreen Baingana is following the example of writers I admire such as Molara Wood; she has gone back to Uganda after several years abroad. Here is her belief: “I love my country; east, west home is best, and I wanted to bring up my child in Uganda –he has already learned the national anthem!"

To me, the best contribution a talented person, indeed, anyone, can make to one's country is to live there. Great example, Doreen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000 – 5000 words). Submissions must be made by the author of the short story. Regional winners receive £1,000 and the overall winner receives £5,000.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Octavia McBride-Ahebee

Introducing a blog of great interest and an emerging poet that deserves serious attention. Octavia McBride-Ahebee has just published a collection of poems,Where My Birthmark Dances, one of which is dedicated to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian environmentalist and human rights activist, who sacrificed his life for the survival of his people and Nigeria. A sample:

"A Chase Through the Niger Delta"

For Ken Saro-Wiwa

When my feet pound the damp earth

distancing themselves from the fears of the day


as my toes collect mineral wealth

and ancestors’ blessings,

the hope of the world

because I am chased by a lover

in heat

in whose mouth sprouts mango-colored hibiscus,

our blissful flight is still broken,

overthrown by surface pipes,

snaking conduits of slick poison,

fallen piñatas full of slippery promises

lined in fire and incessant flares


with fury and inflamed detachment

the tops of our crop’s heads

drowning our stomachs in greasy blackness

stuffing our chest with soot and oil’s disdain

is how a pair of lovers

whose day began unspoiled

fueled by the thrill of a dreamy chase

became uninspired and polluted.

The blog, "Octavia McBride-Ahebee is a work of art that introduces you not only to the world of poetry, but also to that of human rights activism, and beautiful people. A click will convince you.

The blog: Octavia McBride-Ahebee
The collection,Where My Birthmark Dances, is available at


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Humanity's willing curator

Percy Zvomuya sketches a beautiful portrait of the Nigerian poet, novelist and jazz trumpeter, Chris Abani. Well, it's Chris Abani sketch of himself that brings most smile to my face. Here you go.
"I am complicated, contradictory, lazy, always looking for the right question (because that is all there really is to life), happy, moody and always up for spicy food."
I can assure you this. Go to any of his readings, repeat his line to him, then hang around. He will take you out for some spicy food. But be ready to talk literature.

Mostly Books

Introducing a blog every lover of literature ought to know, and a beautiful anthology of African writers, "African Roar." I got a preview of the anthology, and you should be reading my review of the great stories in it. Well, friends, Dawn Promislow has beat me to that. This is her beautiful review.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sentinel Nigeria

For those of you who do not know about the existence of the literary journal, Sentinel Nigeria, I wish to use this opportunity to draw your attention to it.
Here are the words of the eagle-eyed editor, Richard Ugbede Ali:
"Without further ceremony, with the utmost humility and the most responsible sense of pride, I welcome each and every one of you to the seventh berthing of the Sentinel Nigeria ship. This issue is but a glimpse of greater destinations to come the fruits of voyages to be weathered even better than we have done in the year months—for the double assurance of our readership’s faith in us and of our confidence in our contributors’ abilities remains the most fateful wind in our sails."

There are great stories and poems and interviews and much more.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Hello friends, I am organizing a panel on the present generation of African women writers at the upcoming African Literature Conference, in April 2012.
Here is the official announcement. Please help me to get this info to those who might be interested in discussing any of the recent works by our great writers.
Here is the announcement.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How Publishing is Rigged

If your stories have been rejected and rejected and rejected, the problem might not be with you or them; it might have to do with the enormous rigging going on in the publishing world. Interesting observations?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

You don't have four kids without having a lot of sex.

Well, you can accuse me of borrowing a leaf from the Boulevard press in regard to the title above, but you have got to like the mindset that produced the saying. One thing I have observed about my dear Nigerian people is that most of them claim to worship God and hate sex. None of this is true.
In a Q&A session during a reading by some Nigerian women writers, a man from the audience asked these women why/how they felt comfortable writing about sex in their stories. One of the women shot the answer above.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Try, Try Again: Rejection and Persistance - by Andrew Scott

"Two months before I moved to New Mexico to study fiction writing with four writers I deeply admired, I submitted a short story to magazines for the first time. Knowing a response would take a while, I listed my future address on the SASE. I had only written one story good enough to send out. A shocking coincidence: It was the only story I had ever seriously revised."
A good read.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Prize of Thoughtlessness

A friend of mine once told me that much of Nigeria's problems is that Nigerian leaders seem to have taken an oath never to think through any of their decisions. Their policies are cut to meet the need of the present ... as if they lived in a refugee camp.
An example of a shameless waste of mind, time and resources is the Nigerian literature prize, presently tagged at $100.000 dollars. I hope you read this correct: HUNDRED THOUSAND US dollars for a book.
Anyway here is my piece on the Nigerian literary prize. While you read it, remember that iconic phrase: "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wanted dead or alive: Happy African Writers!

Mukoma wa Ngugi disagrees with Ikhide Ikheloa on the aesthetic parameters of African literature.

"But that is the weaker principle in his argument. What I am interested in is his assertion that “many writers are skewing their written perspectives to fit what they imagine will sell to the West and the judges of the Caine Prize.”

Does Mukoma have a strong argument, or is he just trying to shoot down Ikhide?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wole Soyinka Prize for African Writing

This is potentially the greatest prize for African writing. One of its initial defects has been that it was only for books that have NOT won any award at all. This debilitating clause has now been removed. So the prize is now open to all really, really, good books by any African anywhere. This is Soyinka spirit as I know it. Excellence! Friends, let the good books win.
Here are entry rules.

And should I forget, I need to send some profound words of admiration to Ogochukwu Promise for her excellent work at Lumina. Profound spirit!

Insights from an insider and outsider

Colin Gardner lovesPius Adesanmi's
"YOU'RE Not a Country, Africa: A Personal History of the African Present"

"The picture that he paints is in many ways very grim. Yet his writing is buoyant and he is not without hope; hope that Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, will pull itself together and use its best instincts to devise a valid ideal and workable political and economic policies. This book helps one to entertain such a hope."


New Nigerian writers are in need of spirit

Here is a provocative essay by one of the very few Nigerian intellectual gadflies, Obi Nwakanma. He takes Nigerian writing to task.

"...the trouble with my own age of writers. We have no story; no drama, simply because we have lived in diapers all our lives, secluded from the messier details of real power; sheltered by the romantic view that writers are isolate figures, shielded from the rest of society by their moral sensibilities."

See the rest of the essay below, but here is my take on the piece.
Nwakanma's goal is to rouse his generation of writers from their creative slumber. I love that project. In fact,the more Nwakanmas and Ikhides we have, the better for Nigerian writing. Anyway, for a better judgment, I trim Nwakanma's arguments to their basic logical form.

Thesis: modern Nigerian literature is a joke.
Support: The current crop of writers are apolitical.
Conclusion: Their products are therefore anemic.

Actually, given his very first sentence, "Writing is an intensely political act," I think that he is basically correct. If you don't believe that writing is political then his essay crumbles. One might tell him that being political is just one of the many aspects of literature. In this regard, if the Achebe and Soyinka generation chose to be political and therefore made their marks in the literary world, the third generation of Nigerian writers could choose to be apolitical; they could be existential, or purely ethical and still make their mark on the world literary map.

The good thing in his essay, though, is that he challenges writers and critics, including himself, to dig deeper and explore the Nigerian human condition. I have lately read a number of young Nigerian writers. There is a lot to discover in their works. They are just waiting for clever, profound critics.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Caine Prize diary

A good piece by Tolu Ogunlesi

"I've come to realise that there will never be an end to all those debates - around "authenticity", "identity", "stereotyping" and "audience" - that follow writers of African origin wherever they go. African writers will forever carry the burdens of having to comment, not merely about their "Africanness" as individuals, but also about the Africanness of their writing."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Six writers make 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist

This is the richest literary prize in Africa. $100.000 dollars for the winner. Did you get it? I repeat. One hundred thousand US of dollars!
Here are the shortlisted authors.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


One day I Will Write About This Place gets Oprah's nod.
Congratulations, Binyavanga.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Writing: the Short Story Edition, with Dawn Promislow

A few nuggets on the nature of the short story. The collection, "Jewels and Other Stories," is set in South Africa.
"It's a collection of short stories set in apartheid-era South Africa. I tried to capture that time and place, a time and place I lived in. I tried, above all, to see it with fresh eyes, to uncover something in it that I knew was there but hadn't seen or found or even read. The stories are told from the perspectives of a wide range of characters: black and white, old and young, rich and poor. They are fictional stories, but the world the characters inhabit is very real, and this was very important to me, to be faithful to the history of that time."
I loved reading it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who speaks for Black Africa?

At least one writer has realized that African writers/thinkers have argued/written us all into an ideological blind alley. This is largely because the trajectory of our thought world has been directed towards meeting the gaze of the white man. Things Fall Apart is all about matching Heart of Darkness roar for roar. With very few exceptions, African discourse world has been primed to answer questions raised by the white man, not really questions Africans themselves raise. It is little wonder that our writings have been apologies that shape-shift from blame on one hand, and to horrifying portrayal of Africans as lacking agency, on the other. Writers have chosen to deify Africa's victimhood.
Anyway, I'm beginning to ramble. I thought I should present this cool piece by our gadfly, Ikhide.

Monday, July 11, 2011

NoViolet Bulawayo wins 12th Caine Prize for African Writing

NoViolet Bulawayo wins 12th Caine Prize for African Writing

Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo has won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story entitled ‘Hitting Budapest’, from The Boston Review, Vol 35, no. 6 - Nov/Dec 2010.

The Chair of Judges, award-winning author Hisham Matar, announced NoViolet Bulawayo as the winner of the £10,000 prize at a dinner held this evening (Monday 11 July) at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Hisham Matar said: “The language of ‘Hitting Budapest’ crackles. Here we encounter Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho, a gang reminiscent of Clockwork Orange. But these are children, poor and violated and hungry. This is a story with moral power and weight, it has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary. NoViolet Bulawayo is a writer who takes delight in language.”

NoViolet Bulawayo was born and raised in Zimbabwe. She recently completed her MFA at Cornell University, in the US, where she is now a Truman Capote Fellow and Lecturer of English. Another of her stories, ‘Snapshots’, was shortlisted for the 2009 SA PEN/Studzinski Literary Award. NoViolet has recently completed a novel manuscript tentatively titled We Need New Names, and has begun work on a memoir project.

Also shortlisted were:

· Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana) ‘In the spirit of McPhineas Lata’ from The Bed Book of Short Stories published by Modjaji Books, SA, 2010

· Tim Keegan (South Africa) ‘What Molly Knew’ from Bad Company published by Pan Macmillan SA, 2008

· David Medalie (South Africa) ‘The Mistress’s Dog’, from The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories 1996-2010 published by Picador Africa, 2010

· Beatrice Lamwaka (Uganda) ‘Butterfly dreams’ from Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham, 2010

The panel of judges is chaired by award-winning Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, whose first novel, In the Country of Men, was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. His second novel, Anatomy of a Disappearance, was published by Viking this March.

He is joined on the panel by Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey, publisher, film and travel writer Vicky Unwin, Georgetown University Professor and poet David Gewanter, and the award-winning author Aminatta Forna.

Once again, the winner of the £10,000 Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, Washington DC as a ‘Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence’. The award will cover all travel and living expenses.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Sierra Leonean writer Olufemi Terry. As the then Chair of judges, Fiammetta Rocco, said at the time, the story was “ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative. Olufemi Terry’s ‘Stickfighting Days’ presents a heroic culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception. The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future.”

Previous winners include Sudan’s Leila Aboulela, winner of the first Caine Prize in 2000, whose new novel Lyrics Alley was published in January 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, as well as Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya, who founded the well-known literary magazine, Kwani?, dedicated to promoting the work of new Kenyan writers and whose memoir One Day I Will Write About this Place will be published by Granta Books in November 2011.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Africa’s imaginary Gay crisis - Ebenezer Obadare

"A SPECTRE is haunting Africa - the spectre of homosexuality. But it is an unusual spectre: it does not exist. It is a phantom. Over the past decade, a curious and totally unlikely coalition of religious leaders, the ruling class, and sections of the mainstream media, has launched a vigorous campaign against homosexuality and perceived homosexuals. Trading in the most spiteful rhetoric and symbols imaginable, members of this alliance have sung from the same hymn book, affirming, implausibly, that homosexuality is a recent import intoAfrica, and that homosexuals are responsible for the continent’s postcolonial throes."

I enjoyed this essay. I thought you might. ENJOY

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Learn to Be Open to Criticisms" _ Jude Dibia advises in this interview with Jeff Unaegbu

"You can say so. Nigerians are renowned for taking just about anything you dish at them. If you don’t provide them with light, they will find a way of getting light. If you don’t give them pipe borne water, they will dig boreholes for themselves in their homes. If you give them bad roads, they find a way of buying big cars to maneuver the potholes etc"
This is a smart observation, friends. I believe it gives you an inroad into the mind of our one of our excellent young writers.

So, You Know How To Write About Africa

"Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina is inexhaustible, a public intellectual very much engaged with the literary and political worlds. His memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, published this July by Graywolf Press, chronicles the multiplicity of his middle-class African childhood: home squared, we call it, your clan, your home, the nation of your origin."
Great interview. I like this guy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Once upon a life: Helen Oyeyemi

"As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, novelist Helen Oyeyemi knows how hard it can be to feel at home. But when she was assaulted in broad daylight in a London park, she had no option but to pack her bags."
There are many traits I've inherited from my parents. Among them are a love of, and geeky interest in, perfume (that's from my mum), an innate conviction that the plausibility of a piece of information is in no way connected to its truth (that's from my dad), and (from both of them) the idea that you don't have to stay in a place just because you were born there, or because you're used to it.
An insightful essay. Philosophical. Deep.