Achebe, African Writers and Readers

In the end @mababiom asked why and I replied:

(With thanks to the writer @NovuyoTshuma who posted an excerpt on her facebook page and a nod to @osarpong who’s always telling me to blog instead of tweeting such issues).  Below is the text compiled from my tweets on May 23rd, the day of Chinua Achebe’s funeral.

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“As Achebe is laid to rest today, let’s acknowledge all the work that his generation of African writers have done for African literature. A lot of Achebe’s (and other older African writers’) struggles for African lit was at cost of their creative time. Some costs proved deadly. But Achebe and his generation did the necessary work to secure the space of African literature.

Crucially, Achebe and his generation held the West at bay, defended us and our culture. Tried to get the West to see us humanely. Lots of books, articles, conferences, dialogues where Achebe & his generation talked, wrote back to the West, screamed, ranted. Time & energy.

So it pains me when I see a younger generation of African writers rehashing the old arguments, ground already covered by Achebe and cohorts. If in 2013, the West still doesn’t get us, or refuses to, then in gratitude/recognition of work done by Achebe and cohorts, let’s stop.

I cannot and refuse to continue a dialogue better articulated by my elders, whose engagement with West came at a cost to them. I refuse. Either the West get it or they don’t. Either way, explaining myself and my people, insisting that it is ‘not a single story’, that’s over. I look inward. I stand in the space they created. looking in, into Africa. Achebe and his generation made this possible.

And to all those younger writers who carry the title of ‘African writer’ proudly, I thank you. I know the title can be burdensome at times. To identify as an African writer, is to belong to a lineage of fine writers who have written us to freedom, who’ve imagined & reimagined us. I would be lost without African writers and their work. And by African, I mean all of it – Diaspora, Caribbean, all of it.

Also, younger African writers, it’s our (the readers) job to develop audiences that will consume your work here on this continent. An apology to younger African writers for our failure in not fighting harder for a literary culture on this continent. An apology to African writers for a linguistic situation which renders most of our written materials inaccessible to most of our citizens.

But you please write, you continue to write us and we will do our best to remedy this ugly situation. Accept our promise.

To younger African women writers: Writing is good parenting, writing is not selfish. The children, familial obligations will all be fine.  I am daughter of an African woman writer and I’ve watched my mother struggle with demands of motherhood, sisterhood, all sorts of ‘hoods’.  To younger African woman writers: you cannot re-create time. Books won’t write themselves as you try to balance demands on your time.

Explain to me, fellow Africans here on twitter: you can read and yet some refuse to read. Why? And how exactly is that working out for you? So you are pleased your president is attending Achebe’s funeral and you’re celebrating #PanAfricanism. But you don’t read African writers.

You don’t read but you carry around a vision of your future children as readers. Stop deluding yourself. You don’t read, they won’t read. You like to insult some of our uninformed leaders, especially parliamentarians, but your don’t read. The nerve!

African writers turn themselves inside out, fight to gather resources just so they can write stories that some of you refuse to read.

Sure, you nonreader, can stupidly say that ‘I didn’t ask any African to write a book’. Go hang your head in shame if thought occured to you. And the next you’ll ask me is ‘but who succeeds Achebe, are there younger Africans writing’? Hang your head further. But I’ll help you out:

Here on twirra there are: @lolashoneyin @BinyavangaW @Imagine_This @elnathan @taiyeselasi @NovuyoTshuma @CliftonGachagua @tejucole. And that’s just some of the published African writers on twitter. And yes, some do write poetry so Soyinka and co also have successors.

Next, you African nonreader, will whine: ‘I can’t find the books to buy’. Get out, we all face that problem. I’m not excusing the problem. But if you bother to spend one hour looking, you will find a bookstore in your capital city that sells some African writers.

Next, you African nonreader, will say: “I’m tired of old post-colonial issues in African literature’. Let your head actually touch floor. Because the last African authored book you read was in high school for exams, you have probably missed the last 5-10 years in African lit.

Let me assure you, African nonreader, some African writing has gone past post-colonial, even as we Africans are still neo-colonial. You don’t like calabash, drumming and villages in your fiction. African writers have you covered on that. For goodness sake, our writers are improving how they write sex into our fiction.

Again, why haven’t you read an African writer lately?

In case you are still whining ‘I don’t know where to go to find info on African writers’, there are book bloggers who are read and review. Bloggers of African literature include @freduagyeman @bookshy @adjoaofoe @MaryOkekeReview and myself.

There is @zunguzungu who will run his Caine Prize Blog Carnival this year. Bloggers will read and review the 5 shortlisted stories. I mean, the @CainePrize stories are available online. There is @Sarabamag @kwanitrust and @wwborders that publishes African short stories.

Speaking of @kwanitrust, you nonreader, probably heard of @BinyavangaW piece on how to write about Africa, you probably retweeted links.  Well, @BinyavangaW has published a book. Look for it and read it. Likewise, you listened to Chimamanda’s Ted talk. Well, she’s actually a writer you know. Buy any of her books and read it.

You African nonreader, Twitter is not the only place to find us. African readers and writers have taken to other areas of the interwebs. We’ve taken this our passion for literature online. We encourage you to read, we need you to read African writers, to consume African art

Our culture, this Africa is under attack from within and without. We give up too much of ourselves by our inaction and unwillingness to act. Our writers and artists make a stand for us everyday when they commit to produce creatively. You do them and us no favors by ignoring art

On Achebe’s funeral and as Africa Day approaches, what better way to implement #PanAfricanism ideals than to read an African writer.

And by the way, Kwame Nkrumah was also a writer.”

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7 comments

  1. Thanks for the post – I really like what you have to say about women who write. An ongoing conversation!

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  2. So glad you put this together in blog format. I’d favorited some of those tweets to storify and share…will be sharing this.

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