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Binyavanga Wainaina Explains why He’s Not “The Black Franzen from Africa”

Binyavanga Wainaina

Books LIVE sat down with Binyavanga Wainaina in Johannesburg today. The Kenyan author is in town to deliver a public lecture commemorating Africa Month at the Johannesburg Theatre tomorrow night, “Being African in the World”, and was in good spirits.

Related story: “Africa is Taking its Own Shape – and You are Not Even in that Conversation” – Binyavanga Wainaina Delivers a Public Lecture in Joburg

One Day I Will Write About This PlaceKwani?How to Write About Africa

What he’s reading

CitizenCitizen by Claudia Rankine. It’s a beautiful book. She’s American, but of Jamaican extraction. It’s a really amazing book. It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in both poetry and criticism [and won for the former - ed.]. It’s prose poems … for me, it’s the text of thinking about the politics of Black Lives Matter. It’s really amazing, a meditation on race, she talks about Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane. It’s an incredible, incredible book.
The FishermenChigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen … I’m on page 10 and already I have goosebumps. He’s something quite serious.
KintuUgandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, who won the Kwani? Manuscript Project for The Kintu Saga – that book is going places. It’s not been published in the West, but everybody in East Africa is reading it and loving it – it’s selling like hot cakes. It’s a really incredible novel. She’s doing something really amazing.

The industry itself is not going to reform itself. We have to build our own here to create better diversity. I feel like, younger writers are not taking enough risks, so far. I would like to see some more literary sci-fi, I would like to see something off the social realism mould.
What African sci-fi he recommends

There’s no one really to recommend! There are a few anthology things going on but nothing really exciting. There’s a young kid called Damilare who’s writing a lot of sci-fi, and he was blogging, a really amazing blog called Dragons of Lagos. He’s got enough to make a manuscript. So I’m looking for a way to work with him to maybe collect his short stories.

What he’s working on

I got back from New York last week, and I think I’ve settled on a publisher for my next two books. I’m doing a collection of essays and then a “big Africa book”, with the working title It’s Only a Matter of Acceleration Now. I want to go under the skin of the shifts. So I’m going to look at selected tectonic plates.

What he’s not reading

American self-irony, I’m no longer reading. You know, Jonathan Safran Foer. I did that, but I’m done. There’s nothing wrong with it as an idea. I’m detoxing from “big-boyism”. As a young writer – which I was 10 years ago – you open the New York Times literary review and you’re like, wow. About four years ago, when the point came to decide, “do you want to be with those cool guys in New York, saying you’re doing African writing, but you’re trying to be there, with those guys” – not socially but in terms of a certain way the world is framed, right? I realised I can’t. I don’t want to.

That phase of writing, you had the McSweeney’s irony … always, the fiction that gets attention is responding to some kind of politics. So for example there was already some liberal disaffection with the Bush project, and that created a certain kind of work, which I love – it’s just I’m not thrilled to buy them in the same way any more.

That’s why I’m reading Citizen. It’s all these other tangents of how to use language. I learnt already how to write that Franzen sentence 10 years ago. I know how to do it. And then at the time that you’re supposed to exact that force so you can get the real money – “he’s the black Franzen from Africa!” – your body cannot do it. Just that.

Book details

  • Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
    EAN: 9789966159892
    Book homepage

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