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.


  1. I am not surprised at Sefi Atta's outburst. The woman does not take criticism well. I remember her almost tearing me apart with insults on the internet a couple of years ago simply because I dared to criticise her 'Everything Good Will Come' book. I will say now what I said then, if she cannot stand the heat, she should get the heck out of the kitchen. Writers will always have to deal with the criticism of their work, if after so many years, she has not learnt that, I do not know what she is still doing writing.

  2. The review of "Swallow" was not that bad given that the reviewer had taken pains to explain what he did not like about book. Also, the reviewer had pointed out how the book compared with her previous book which he had liked. Most good authors, if they write enough books, will write that one book that leaves readers pondering what went wrong!

  3. Great comments, friends. I think the only excuse for Sefi Atta's comment is that we all have our bad days. Sometimes we say things we wouldn't be proud enough to repeat much more have it published. Otherwise I think Sefi has always been a gracious woman; she will take your words seriously, Kinna.

  4. She must have had a bad day or she's like that always - whatever, she writes good books and that's what counts 100%.