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Afropolitans Teju Cole, Ben Okri and Taiye Selasi “Drop the Colonial Hangover” in Jaipur

At the recent Jaipur Literary Festival, Taiye Selasi, Ben Okri and Teju Cole featured on a panel titled “The Afropolitans”, where the three authors discussed their efforts to annul the “prevailing romanticism” of writing about Africa. The three authors were interviewed by Tehelka Magazine, which says that one of the most striking things about this year’s festival (apart from the Salman Rushdie saga) was the “onrush of young writers from the continent, writers who want to drop the colonial hangover and tell stories of and explain their own local experiences”.

Okri, who also spoke to The Daily Beast about the changing landscape of literature, mentioned how Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has shaped “outsider” perceptions of Africa. Okri says, “it has been so persuasive because it is a very rich text. There is only one way to counter it, and that is with good writing, to write back.”

Cole, author of the acclaimed Open City, spoke about the connection between photographic attention to detail and writing, and his “Small Fates” on Twitter. Says Cole, “My Twitter feeds are like tiny compressed novels”.

Selasi, to whom the term “Afropolitan” is attributed, and whose short story “The Sex Lives of African Girls” features in Granta 115, says that there are not enough stories about love in African writing. She says, “I think it could get a little more playtime along with sex. But we’re getting there.”

Your books have been tagged as magic realism. Yet, in the country where you come from, myth and reality merge seamlessly. Is your writing closer to reality than magic?

I disagree with the label of magic realism. As a writer, one is trying to get stories to bend to reality. The reality in my writing is just the different versions of myths, history and beliefs.

Are there any common themes emanating from contemporary African literature?

Colonialism was once an idea addressed by most authors. We have moved past that. Now there are novels of the city, novels of the countryside, there is a wide range in African writing. All this is slowly changing the idea of African literature.

Open CityGranta 115A Time for New Dreams

Cole also spoke to Geetanjali Jhala of Daily News and Analysis about censorship, life in New York and his next writing project:

Are you daunted by the success of your first book?

No. I’m very happy that the book has done well. But ultimately, when you look at it, the world of literary fiction and writing novels is actually quite a small one. It’s not like being a movie star or even being a rock musician. So among the world of people who even read these kinds of books, there has been lots of very nice conversation about my book. So it’s not like I’m walking down the street in Brooklyn and people are asking for my autograph. So it’s been a manageable form of sort-of success. My priority really is to make sure that I keep giving time to my writing so that my future books are better.

Selasi furthered her part of the discussion in conversation with The Daily Beast. According to Selasi, one of the main challenges in writing about Africa arises out of the fact that Africa is still considered as a single cultural-political entity:

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Photo courtesy Tehelka


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