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50 Years On: David Kaiz Considers the Legacy of the Heinemann African Writers Series

In the latest issue of the Du Bois Institute’s Transition magazine, David Kaiz offers a critique of the Heinemann African Writers Series, which celebrates 50 years in 2012. The Heinemann series, revamped by Penguin Books in 2009 under the editorial eye of Chinua Achebe, has been home to many of Africa’s literary greats, including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ben Okri, Buchi Emecheta and Achebe himself.

According to Kaiz, the series’ “gift to literature” was the “introduction of a language, a climate of metaphor” – he refers, by way of example, to the “Eneke bird” of Nigerian fable, which can be found in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

No Longer at EaseA Question of PowerThings Fall ApartDistant View of a MinaretAs the Crow FliesWeep Not, ChildWeep Not, ChildArrow of GodYou're Not a Country, AfricaThe River BetweenA Grain of WheatThe Beautyful Ones are Not Yet BornGod's Bits of WoodThe Blind FishermanThe Joys of MotherhoodSeason of Migration to the NorthFrom a Crooked RibPatchworkThe Grass is SingingThe InterpretersBlack SunlightMhudiI Write What I LikeDangerous LoveHouse of HungerA Shattering of SilenceChanges

The essay opens with a passage from Achebe’s No Longer at Ease:

In the oIl-lamp lit room, the father, sitting across from his British-educated son, attempts to assert his authority on a matter violently testing his faith. We can almost hear his voice tighten:

“You cannot marry the girl.”

“Eh?”

“I said you cannot marry the girl.”

“But why, father?”

“Why? I shall tell you why. But first tell me this. Did you first find out or try to find out anything about this girl?”

“Yes .”

“What did you find out?”

This “anything” about “this girl” (Clara, whom we do not dislike), concerns a resilient pre-colonial taboo. Just as Roman Catholicism had, nearly two millennia before, wound the revolutionary faith from Judea around pagan Roman rites, so too will Christianity not pry loose Obi’s family from old Igbo don’ts. And on this most ancient of ancient matters—passing the family seed—unyielding traction develops.

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