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Akin Adesokan Finds Writers’ Disavowal of Their African Identity a “Strange Compulsion”

The debate over what exactly makes an “African” writer and whether this identification is at all relevant, has been taken up by Nigerian writer Akin Adesokan, author of Roots in the Sky, in an opinion piece for the December 2013 edition of Chronic Books, the books supplement of the Chimurenga Chronic. An extract from his article has been published on the Chronic’s website.

Roots in the SkyOne Day I Will Write About This PlaceAmericanahAn Elegy for EasterlyA Life in Full and Other Stories

Adesokan identifies “two paradoxical attitudes” to the topic. One the one hand, there are writers like Binyavanga Wainaina and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who, while being among the most popular African writers worldwide, are highly critical of Western representations of African realities. This critique can be seen in Wainaina’s essay “How to Write About Africa” and Adichie’s lecture “The Danger of a Single Story“.

On the other hand, Adesokan names Petina Gappah and Olufemi Terry as examples of writers who routinely reject the label of “African writer”, something he calls a “puzzling compulsion to disavow”. In response to Terry’s statement that there is “no African writing, only good writing and bad writing”, Adesokan says: “No. No sir. There is African writing, and it could be good or bad….”

One is an African writer, or rather one becomes an African writer, it seems, not so much by writing as by winning a prize. Better if the prize is awarded to a work of fiction. Better still if the prize is awarded from Western Europe or North America. Much better still if the winner is young, privileged, and well-spoken, and the author of a first book about “difficult”, “heartbreaking” subject matter written in clear, simple prose.

This state of things has resulted in a situation of endlessly amusing irony, an odd turn of things, of which two paradoxical attitudes are symptomatic.

Book details

  • A Life in Full and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2010 by The Caine Prize for African Writing
    EAN: 9781906523374
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