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AK Kaiza Examines the Changes in African Literature Since the African Writers Series

Much has changed in African literature since the African Writers Series was first published by Heinemann half a century ago, writes Ugandan literary critic AK Kaiza on the Kwani? Manuscript Project website.

Things Fall ApartNo Longer at EaseMine BoyA Grain of WheatThe Beautyful Ones are Not Yet BornSo Long a LetterMaru

At the time, Kaiza says, each book in the seminal series was like a “flag-hoisting, a coming-into-independence for literature”. However, he notes that the series’ approach caused some unease with its implication that writers from Africa could not simply be called “writers”. The subjects covered in these books have also become dated.

Half of a Yellow Sun One Day I Will Write About This PlaceKaiza goes on to discuss the new generation of writers who were no doubt influenced by the AWS, but have formulated their own writing philosophy.

He mentions Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, which he finds to have more “psychological accuracy and engagement of the kind not seen since Soyinka”.

He also praises Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for tackling ethnicity in Half a Yellow Sun – “the one topic the AWS generation pretended did not exist”.

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. And on this most ancient of ancient matters—passing the family seed—unyielding traction develops. Hence, through the father, who daily rouses the family at dawn for supplication to the new deity, the contradiction wells out into the open:
“My son…I understand what you say. But this thing is deeper than you think.”

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