Friday, January 28, 2011

Adaobi Nwaubani reacts to The Sun interview on Feminism

I got this email from one of the editors of NEXT234, and I thought I should share it in the spirit of fairness.

Here we go:
"Our attention has been drawn to an interview published in The Sun newspaper of Saturday, January 22, 2011, which quotes our client, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, as saying, "...feminism is when a woman wants to be a man." Whilst Ms. Nwaubani declines from public engagement even when errors of facts are made regarding her person or her work, we find it necessary to clarify this particular statement.
Following a review of the transcribed recordings of the interview, we would like to confirm that Ms. Nwaubani was grossly misquoted.
In response to the reporter's query on why she wrote a book about 419 instead of dealing with feminist issues, Ms. Nwaubani explained that she did not feel constrained by her being a woman to write only about women issues. She then went on to comment on the various expectations some people in Nigeria tend to have about women: "...the impression I get from people when they talk about feminism is that they expect you to be a woman who is angry or who wants to be like a man or who wants to grow a beard."
Ms. Nwaubani's debut novel, I Do Not Come to You by Chance in fact had a male character who expressed this ignorant view point. This is not her view point.
In an interview for, Liesl Jobson stated: "In an interview with a Soweto radio station that morning, (Nwaubani) had been asked whether she wrote romance or chick-lit. She found the limitations frustrating. She's also experienced the other extreme, specifically in Nigeria, where if you call yourself a feminist, the expectation is that you are a 'very angry woman; a man-hater'." That was the same sentiment Ms. Nwaubani was communicating to The Sun’s reporter. Unfortunately, it got presented way out of context.

The Sun has informed us that they will delete the misquote from their online version. We appreciate their cooperation with this. This embarrassing situation was apparently not a result of mischief on the reporter's part. It was simply a case of editing gone very bad – however, we believe it is necessary that Ms. Nwaubani’s correct sentiments are shared with the public."
COMMENT: It is a sign of greatness to acknowledge flaws. My respect. African political leaders should take a cue from their young, talented intellectuals. I think our better days are ahead of us.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Suffering Is Worse Than Yours By Okey Ndibe

Chinua Achebe wrote a seminal essay called "The Trouble With Nigeria." In it he blamed the dysfunction in the country on the political leaders. I am not sure whether he also blamed intellectual leaders.
Okay Ndibe's piece "My Suffering Is Worse Than Yours" to me, approaches something like the first step towards seriously diagnosing the seeming defeatist mentality of most Nigerians. It has to do with a low, or nonexistent self-esteem, the understanding that you really worth nothing, and therefore it made no difference if you are oppressed. This is cultural; it is also the first place for any African intellectual worth the name to begin. A people that never heard they had dignity will not suddenly begin to think that they deserve to be respected.
Thanks, Okey.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Three Rs: Reading, Reading and Reading

I don't like to talk about myself, but it seems I have to do it this time around if only to help make my point. I was born in 1962. I was five years when the Nigerian civil war began. Being Igbo I had to be on the run. Three most important years of my life lost to mindlessness, on the one hand and inhumanity on the other. It takes two mad people to fight, doesn't it? I began to learn ABCD at the ripe age of 9. It could have been 10 given that I had to recover from the unmentionable hangover from that war. Ever since then I've been playing catch up. Anyway, I somehow discovered the mystery of written words. I began to read and to read and to read. I know what Ikhide means when he declares that it is child abuse not to have children read. I'll steal this idea. It's better than what I told my students sometime last week: If you want to write what is to be read you have to read what has been written. Nuff said.
Anyway, here's Ikhide's warning against child abuse.
An excerpt:
"Today, there are homes that house no books. Unfortunately, there are children in those homes. That is child abuse. A child should be immersed in all sorts of books. I know, I know, I have said that the book is dying a long slow death. A house should be slaphappy with books and ideas. Look at it another way: This is a great time to buy books because no one wants them anyway. Buy them and leave them lying around the house. A child may just read them."

“Feminism is when a woman wants to be like a man” Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

If you have not read the brilliant novel, “I Do Not Come To You by Chance,” please do everything possible to do so. You will be grateful to the writer for the many delicious passages, anecdotes, humor. Usually, when you’ve been this impressed by a book you’ll watch out for anything written by the author. Adaobi gave a couple interviews here and there. And based on some of her dazzling ideas she won me over.
Then came the Op-Ed piece in New York Times. The essay started out well on a seemingly smart, or perhaps smarty note, refreshingly brash. Not really bad, given that that’s exactly what attracted me to Nietzsche whose foulmouthed attack on all established philosophers from Socrates to even Immanuel Kant was not only refreshing, but solidly backed by profound insights. I thought Nigeria was about to produce a new, fearless writer; one who is finally ready to take it to the establishments. But then after the effervescence of the first paragraph, the essay quickly simmered down to a bland brew. Her jab at Achebe and Soyinka was so simplistic that I thought it was an attempt to puncture the moon with AK-47.
“Achebe and Soyinka are certainly masters, but of an earnest and sober style.” Achebe and Soyinka have no humor? And Adaobi forgot that humor is just an aspect of an important element of good writing. That element is entertainment, and the question that guides that element is this: is the writing pleasing? Does it entertain? Entertainment is, however, not only when I break into whoops of laughter while reading a book. I could be duly entertained by the author’s efficient uses of metaphors, sentence structures, diction, characterization etc. But entertainment is just an aspect of a realistic work of fiction. Indeed, without taking pleasure in the work, we wouldn’t go beyond the first ten pages unless we have to. To apotheosize humor in literature seems a bit off the mark. Of course I do not want to comment on her belief that in order to embrace Nigeria we have to reject our ethnic origins. This has been given due attention by others. I had however trusted that what has been perceived as misjudgment in her NYT piece was a slip of the pen. But then I read the interview in which she said this: “The impression I get when people talk about feminism is when a woman wants to be like a man, and am not interested in that at all.”
Nwaubani’s observation is not malicious. No, not at all; it is wrong. And it reveals a pitiful ignorance in the world of one who has attracted a significant global name recognition.
One thing is to not want to have anything to do with a particular thing/issue; it is another thing to reveal that you don’t even know what that thing/issue is. The idea that feminism “is when a woman wants to be like a man” is as pedestrian as Sarah Palin claiming to have expertise in foreign policy because Alaska is close to Russia. If my 81 year old, illiterate mother says the same thing, I will simply grin, knowing where she got her idea from. But for a winner of Commonwealth prize in literature to reveal ignorance of Virginia Woolf’s main concern (A Room of One’s Own); the existence of Mary Wollstonecraft, Simon De Beauvoir, or Buchi Emecheta (Joys of Motherhood), or Oyeronke Oyewumi etc, that makes me sad.
Should I throw in works by Nwaubani’s own contemporaries that should teach every Nigerian the ABC of feminism? Lola Shoneyin’s (So All the Time I was Sitting on an Egg and Baba Segi’s Wives) Unoma Azuah (Sky-High Flames) Sefi Atta (Everything Good Will Come) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Purple Hibiscus), Sarah Manyika (In Dependence). These are works that have opened (my already opened) eyes to the necessity of addressing the position and dignity of women in our uber-patriarchal African societies. Do I need to give another definition of feminism?
He who wants to write what is to be taken seriously should first read what has been taken seriously. At some stage in our lives the task of acquiring knowledge becomes a moral obligation if not for our private uses, then for the interest of those who may learn one or two things from us.

By the way, here is the interview in Daily Sun: I decided to write before I knew what to write on.
And here, again, is the NYT Op-Ed piece: In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Rules For Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition And More

I thought you might like this. The ten commandments for being a successful writer destined for immortality. I loved reading it. Hard rules, eh? An example:

"1. Disobey the System. The system--from the MFA program to that fat-ass editor sitting in glorious judgment over your manuscript--will never reward originality. So fuck it! The more you humiliate yourself before it, shape your writing, your lifestyle, your public persona, your habits of endearment and hostility, according to what you think "they" want, the more it'll ruthlessly crush you. The system is for the benefit of insiders--and you don't get to be an insider by being an original."


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Militant Intellection Complex... a Conversation with Pius Adesanmi

Pius Adesanmi displays a wide range of knowledge of the African intellectual world in his interview granted to African Writing Online. There are ample great ideas to be gleaned from the copious interview. This, I think, is just a sample of what to expect from his upcoming book, for which he won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing in the non-fiction category. I look forward to the book.

Voice of America by EC Osondu – review by Helon Habila

Yet another one.
Helon Habila applauds a collection that examines the Nigerian immigrant experience in the US

"In "A Letter from Home", an exasperated mother writes to her son: "Why have you not been sending me money through Western Union like other good Nigerian children in America do? You have also not visited home. Have you married a white woman? Do not forget that I have already found a wife for you. Her name is Ngozi. Her parents are good Christians and her mother belongs to the Catholic Women's League like me. Please do not spoil the good relationship I have built over the years with Ngozi's parents."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Voice Of America: Osondu's brisk, unadorned prose is powerful

If you live in the West, dear fellow African, then the path to the Western Union knows you. Unless, of course, you are one of the few ones from a rich families. I'm not. And E.C. Osondu's stories make me smile and laugh till tears run. Whenever I get calls from Nigeria I pray that the words "Western Union" do not rear their shitty heads in our conversation, and when they do not, I usually end the conversation this way: "I love you."
Chei, an aging Igbo man telling his 81 year old mother that he loves her. And in English!!

Anyway, here's a short review of E.C. Osondu's stories that will help you understand me and other "Western Union" pilgrims:
"There’s a neat irony in E C Osondu’s title for his debut collection, as the majority of these flinty short stories are set in Nigeria. Yet many of the characters here have a relationship of sorts with the US (where Osondu now lives), be it the refugee children who dream of being adopted by US parents or the mother who writes to her son who has emigrated to the US asking why his Western Union payments to her have dried up."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Write For People Not Critics — Atta

One of Nigeria's fine writers, Sefi Atta, reacts to Ikhide Ikheloa's review of her novel, Swallow.

Here is the core of Ms. Atta's reaction:

"Actually, I’m only aware of one critic who reviewed "Swallow" negatively, and that was in Next. Apparently, he is a bit of a joke and his reviews barely qualify as blogs. An American friend who lives in Lagos asked why he was so spiteful. I said that’s what bloggers do to get attention. They go tabloid on you. I just wondered what I’d done to Next to deserve such a debut.
Critics don’t need to denigrate writers to review our works. They only expose their own flaws when they do. They can point out flaws in our works without being rude. I mean, I’ve heard of dissatisfied readers hurling books across rooms, but really, does reading a book you don’t enjoy constitute a personal affront that justifies retaliation against the writer? It’s absurd."

Well, I loved Sefi Atta's "Everything Good Will Come," and I even wrote an assessment of the work that will be part of my upcoming book on African literature and culture. I haven't read "Swallow" - it's on my shelf. But it's unfair to allege that a critic, Ikheloa, who celebrated "Everything Good Will Come," denigrates writers (Sefi Atta).
Well, that fine wisdom that comes with age tells me that it is often more professional when writers just keep writing instead of reacting to how their works were received.

Here is an excerpt of Ikheloa's review of "Everything Good Will Come."
"Sister Atta, you speak to me in your book. You speak to me from deep in the bowels of my ancestors’ coven. You speak to me howling, bawling, and soaking me in the song of our mothers’ grief. In the feverish insistence of your voice, in the feverish insistence of your rhythm, in the pounding of your feet on the earth of our mothers, you speak to me. And joy rides our senses going places in the heart where fear still clings to life. Our sister, look at joy bounding up and down the streets of happy memories. Our sister, in your book, joy takes me by the hand and sets me free to dream of the way things used to be. I don’t remember much of Chicago. I will never forget Everything Good Will Come." (See Nigerian Village Voice)

So, sister Atta, why would you allege that this writer is out to denigrate you? Just why? Because he didn't praise your second novel as he did your first?
And by the way, here is Sefi Atta's interview. ENJOY.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Polygamy, sex and Baba Segi's wives

An interesting article by Bunmi Ajiboye. And here is Lola in action. I wish I was there.
Okay, here is an excerpt:
"On December 21, the Life House on Victoria Island, Lagos, played host to literary enthusiasts, writers and friends of Lola Shoneyin who came there to watch her give a delightful reading from her newly published novel, ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives'."