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Should Science Fiction and Fantasy be Included in the “New Wave of African Writers”?

Nigerian American Science Fiction author Nnedi Okorafor has expressed “anger” at being left off a recent New York Times list of what it called the “New Wave” of African authors.

AfroSFWho Fears DeathDark Matter

Purple HibiscusHalf of a Yellow Sun Americanah

CrossbonesAll Our NamesWe Need New NamesEvery Day is for the ThiefGhana Must GoDustBoy, Snow, Bird

The article, entitled “New Wave of African Writers With an Internationalist Bent”, mentions Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu, Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Teju Cole, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Taiye Selasi, among others, and outlines what are perceived to be the main trends in African and African American writing.

The newspaper quotes Adichie on the subject of different categories of black. “In the US, to be a black person who is not African-American in certain circles is to be seen as quote-unquote, the good black,” Adichie said, adding that people may comment: “You’re African so you don’t have all those issues.”

The article also highlights the new international inclination in African writing, with books beginning to feature more characters who are “citizens of the world”. Manthia Diawara, professor of comparative literature and film at New York University, comments: “Now we are talking about how the West relates to Africa and it frees writers to create their own worlds. They have several identities and they speak several languages.”

According to the article, apart from certain exceptions such as Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri, who broke through in a “fallow period” for African literature, publishing tends to follows trends: “Women, Asian-American, Indian and Latino writers have all been ‘discovered’ and had their moment in the sun”, with African-Americans currently in vogue, and more ‘authentic’ African voices even more preferable.

But for all the different themes and kinds of writing, the novelist Dinaw Mengestu said that he saw a thread. “There’s this investigation of what happens to the dislocated soul,” said Mr Mengestu, 36, the author of All Our Names and a MacArthur “genius” award winner, who was born in Ethiopia but left at age two and grew up in Illinois.

The novelist Okey Ndibe, 54, said for his part, “My reflexes are shaped mostly by life in Nigeria, but so many aspects of me are in the American mode.”

However, it seems the “different themes and kinds of writing” do not stretch to the corner containing the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Writer and publisher Sheree Thomas, who edited Dark Matter, an anthology of African-American science fiction and fantasy that won the World Fantasy Award, was incredulous, and took to Twitter to protest: “I’m trying to figure out how an article on the new wave of African writers does not include Nnedi Okorafor…smh @ the separation of genres”.

Okorafor replied, thanking Thomas, and admitting that she felt “angry” at her omission, but declining to expand too much on the subject:

Do you agree with the New York Times’ summation of current African writing? Do you think genre fiction should be included in a discussion about African fiction? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.

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