What Makes African Fiction, ‘African’?

I remember listening to a talk by Chimamanda Adichie, where she said some of her writing had been criticised for not being African enough. I wonder if the quota of starving children and ‘savage’ rituals had not been met. With so many ‘African’ writers out there, the world is spoilt for choice. African writers in Africa and the diaspora write fantasy, romance, thriller, crime, historical, satire and so many more genres than you can name (Don’t forget Tales by Moonlight o – oral tradition). However, walk into most mainstream bookstores, you are likely to see this diverse group of writers lumped together into one bookshelf labelled ‘African Fiction!’

 

So What is African Fiction/Writing?

When we put the word ‘African’ before the word fiction, it seems that we are talking about a preconceived idea about Africanness that is divorced from or supplementary to the ideas of space and place that are inherent in other geographical writing. For example would you say European fiction? If you study North American writers, you expect that Mark Twain is different from Edgar Allan Poe is different from John Steinbeck is different from Emily Dickinson is different from James Baldwin is different from Harper Lee is different from Langston Hughes is different from Toni Morrison is different from Zora Neale Hurston is different from Maya Angelou. But when we encounter ‘African’ fiction, there seems to be some unspoken collective suggestion that no matter how different the subject matters and the plots and the styles and the genres, there must be some thread of similar Africanness that binds them. Like all Africans live in one hut so must have the exact same lived experiences. We place an invisible cage on the writing. The writing must tick our superimposed ‘Africanness boxes’ or else it fails as writing. This is a false and possibly dangerous misconception. Labels can be prisons, if they deny us the dignity and the luxury of multiplicity of existence. If they deny us the ability to dream new worlds as we envision them. If they limit what words we can speak into the atmosphere. Each writer writes and speaks his/her own truth. As African writers we are many and our visions are many. We are part of this world, not an exotic aside that the world should look upon to appease it fetish longings, a side and optional dish in the smorgasbord of literary delights. In terms of writing fiction, ‘African’ is an identity marker, not a literary genre. Africa is a continent, not a cause, not a curse.

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Misogynoir: Did Not Start with Saartjie, Will Not End with Serena

This was not an easy one to write. But we must confront our devils and our demons. Silence is how black women die. We fall into the world’s silences, like we fall into oceans, drown, like we fall into open graves, in the fields, like we disappear into social prisons, held there by malicious silences, and wilful blindnesses. Cold and callous. So we need to talk. We need to talk about misogynoir. Continue reading “Misogynoir: Did Not Start with Saartjie, Will Not End with Serena”

So, we went to vote

A vote is a dangerous thing to waste. Politics is almost certainly never something to be left to politicians. And that is why we vote and fight for the right to vote. I always find it slightly amusing when people begin a statement by saying ‘Politics aside.’ Politics is never aside and politics is never an aside. The personal is always political. Those in government decide the quality of life you can aspire to, funding for schools, health, who you can marry, who you can meet, how well the nation develops, societal rights and wrongs, the quality of air, what schools you can go to, what schools teach, the food that you eat … none of these things is completely personal and none of these things is solely political. And so, we go to vote. Continue reading “So, we went to vote”

Why All the Fuss about Cultural Appropriation?

So a few weeks ago, I wrote about Afronesia and Afrotortion – the acts of erasing Africa and distorting her value. I suggested that the only way to end this toxic relationship between Africa and the rest of the world was for those of us who care to seek truth and speak out.  Damien Hirst then went to look for my trouble that I hid in a far away place. Oshisko! Alaparutu!! Atoole!!! So what did Damien actually do? Continue reading “Why All the Fuss about Cultural Appropriation?”

Ending Afronesia and Afrotortion

A few weeks ago I wrote about Afronesia and Afrotortion – the interrelated acts of forgetting Africa and distorting the ideological remnants of her image. In the weeks following that post, I have tried to direct my mind to how these two epistemically violent acts can be ended. For seekers, epistemic violence is the violence of knowledge production, the discourse involved in the practice of ‘othering’, using language to differentiate, demarcate, demean and ultimately dehumanise, thus inevitably creating the conditions for physical violence. When we think about it in this way, we see that Africa’s symbolisation as other, as less than human, as incompetent, has always framed African interaction with the rest of the world, whether it be on the continent or the diaspora. Continue reading “Ending Afronesia and Afrotortion”

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