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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Bulawayo, Oduor, Huchu, Kahora and Chela Tackle the Tricky Subject of African Writing, and Hail the Rise of Afro-futurism

NoViolet Bulawayo, Okwiri Oduor, Tendai Huchu, Billy Kahora and Efemia Chela have all been in the news recently, contemplating the controversial topic of African writing.

Feast, Famine and PotluckThe Gonjon Pin and Other StoriesWe Need New NamesAmericanahGhana Must Go

Zimbabwean Bulawayo, whose debut novel We Need New Names won the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature, was a guest at the Writivism Festival in Kampala recently.

Bulawayo took part in an event hosted at the FEMRITE Readers and Writers club, alongside Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and 2014 Writivism regional winners, Kelechi Njoku and Ssekandi Ronald Sseguja. On the question of African literature, Bulawayo said that despite seeming reductive the classification still has an important place. Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire, who chaired the event, describes the conversation:

Abubakar tells us that whether African Literature exists or not is not important. He thinks that the debate is exaggerated. He says that when he is writing, he never tells himself that he is writing an African story. He just writes. The rest is the business of the academics. Kelechi agrees with him. He is not bothered by the debate. Any position is fine. NoViolet takes a strong stand on the matter. African Literature exists to her. She is interested in where literature comes from. She notes that African literature was never recognized by gatekeepers of so-called ‘human’ literature. Its existence is thus in itself a protest against what was essentially ‘European’ literature masquerading as universal ‘human’ literature. She adds; “Literature does not become less of literature because it is African. I am Zimbabwean and so everything I produce is African”. Ssekandi agrees. I am pleased. How can literature, cultures of a whole continent disappear? I want to thank NoViolet for spelling out why African Literature will never disappear, but I restrain myself. I must remain a balanced moderator.

In a recent article by CNN, entitled “These are the African writers you should be reading right now”, the very African writers quoted emphasise the problems and pitfalls associated with the term.

Oduor, winner of the 2014 Caine Prize, said: “I don’t know what ‘African Literature’ means, but I think there are many ways of thinking about it. I would hope for it to diversify – I’d like to read more science fiction, multiculturalism.”

Zimbabwean Huchu, Kenyan Kahora and Zambian Chela, who were all shortlisted for the Caine Prize, agreed that there is a need for experimentation with genre fiction, and argued against the over-simpiflication of the idea of African literature.

“I would hope for more diverse literature – by this I’m saying a lot more stuff in different genres,” he explains. “There’s the pulpy, entertaining stuff that goes to the masses but at the moment, we have a situation in which you do a story and someone says: ‘What does this tell you about Africa?’ which is problematic.”

For Zambian writer Efemia Chela, also shortlisted nominee, just talking about African literature is “a bit of an absurd idea.” She explained: “You could say European literature is like talking from Russia all the way to the Hebrides – no one really does that and it’s a bit tricky with African literature. It’s 54 countries and so you know, there’s so much scope and range of voices.”

Meanwhile, Kahora, also shortlisted for this year’s Caine Prize, said that this desire for different styles and genres was already on its way – and growing.

“A lot of people now are very interested in afro-futurism,” he said. “A lot of sci-fi, a lot of fantasy, a lot of erotica, and then a lot of cross genre — a kind of cross pollination of genre,” added Kahora. “You will also see [more] forms — you will see some straying to visual storytelling online that attempts to do what a book does.”

But despite these complications, most Africans would not deny feeling a twinge of pride when a writer from the continent bursts onto the world scene. In this spirit, we share Flavorwire’s recent list of “50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read”, which includes three African novelists:

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you haven’t heard of Adichie, you haven’t been paying attention. Hell, Beyoncé sampled her TED Talk, so you really have no excuses. Americanah is a breathtaking and dare I say important novel about race, identity, and love, and I know I’m not the first to tell you to read it, so, you know, go read it.

We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo

A powerful debut novel — shortlisted for the Booker, no less — that tells the story of a ten-year-old girl’s journey from Zimbabwe to America, and all the things she didn’t expect when she gets there. Fierce and sometimes terrifying in her prose, Bulawayo is one to watch.

Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi

An elegant novel about a splintered family painstakingly stitching itself back together.

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New Excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie We Should All Be FeministsRead an extract from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new ebook short, We Should All Be Feminists, based on her TEDx Talk of the same name.

Adichie’s talk combined reflections on her personal experience growing up female in Nigeria with lucid and insightful observations about the nature and discourse of modern feminism. Part of the talk was sampled by American pop star Beyoncé in the song “Flawless” on her most recent album, Beyoncé.

Now, Adichie’s essay has been published as an ebook short by Vintage Books, and is available for download.

AmericanahHalf of a Yellow Sun Purple Hibiscus

Read an excerpt from the book:

The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. Not about the teaching material, because I was well prepared and I was teaching what I enjoyed. Instead I was worried about what to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously.

I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit.

The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to a business meeting doesn’t wonder about being taken seriously based on what he is wearing—but a woman does.

I wish I had not worn that ugly suit that day. Had I then the confidence I have now to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my teaching. Because I would have been more comfortable and more fully and truly myself.

In an interview with Vogue, Adichie says she has become quite “bored” by the constant questions she receives about Beyoncé, but admits that she was pleasantly surprised by having her thoughts on feminism go “viral”.

What was it like to have your ideas about feminism go so viral?

It felt strange and surprising. I had done one TED Talk and I felt that I had already said what I could, in fact, say, and I didn’t think I had anything else worth talking about. But then I also realsed the one thing I cared about is gender, feminism. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” But I thought, This is not going to be popular, because it’s obvious that feminism for many people is a bad word, even if you believe in it, the word is off-putting. I thought seven people would care. I was surprised, but pleasantly so.

What was your first thought when Beyoncé asked if she could sample the song?

I’m so bored by this question, but I will say that I’m happy that my thirteen-year-old niece calls herself a feminist—not because I made the speech, but because of Beyoncé. Having attained the status of “cool” to my niece is wonderful.

Watch the original TEDx video:

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Tributes Pour in for Wole Soyinka in Celebration of His 80th Birthday

Wole Soyinka

Nigerian playwright, novelist and poet Wole Soyinka, the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, turned 80 on Sunday.

AkeHarmattan Haze on an African SpringOf AfricaWole SoyinkaThe InterpretersSelected PoemsYou Must Set Forth at Dawn

Being the first black Nobel laureate, and the first African, the African world considered me personal property. I lost the remaining shreds of my anonymity, even to walk a few yards in London, Paris or Frankfurt without being stopped.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Soyinka explained where his love for literature came from:

“I suspect that I probably come from a long family of ‘word spinners’. I mean that in the sense of an extended family, because ‘family’ as we use it is a very large one. I was constantly surrounded by aunts, uncles, my father’s intellectual companions. All of them were raconteurs of some sort or the other,” he said.

As part of his birthday celebrations, Soyinka personally presented this year’s Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa to fellow Nigerian author Akin Bello recently.

The winner of this years Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa was announced at a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos this past Friday night. His name is Akin Bello and the work that won him the award is the play The Egbon of Lagos beating the two contenders Toyin Abiodun and Othuke Ominibohs. He went home with the prize money of $20,000.

Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986, has always been vocal about political and social injustice, and has been outspoken on Nigeria’s Boko Haram kidnapping crisis this year. However, in an interview with The Guardian in 2011, Soyinka appeared to announce his retirement from political life. In an article for Nigeria’s Premium Times, Tolu Ogunlesi offers his sympathies to the man for the “random act of pre-existential allocation” that twinned him with Nigeria, a country that “delights, more than most, in numbing its people with unoriginal frustration”.

Ogunlesi quotes Soyinka’s interview with The Guardian:

“I’m getting a little bit bored with this Sisyphean struggle. I’m not exhausted; I can drop down dead tomorrow, that’s irrelevant, I want be around to witness the event. At the moment I do not feel I’m devoid of energy; [or that] my energy is diminished, whether mentally or physically. No. But something in me is getting very weary. And that is the burden of repetition; that it is possible in my own state for someone to sit down and try and turn a town house meeting into his own thuggish platform. It’s over fifty years now, I’ve been marching, I know the number of times I’ve been tear-gassed and of course gone through trials, a prisoner without trials, and so on and so forth. I don’t mind any of that. Mandela spent one entire generation of his life in jail; so I don’t grudge any of that. But if I feel inside me that I’m getting bored on a subject or theme or endeavour I become less creative and I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Tributes to the great man flooded in on Twitter:

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Image courtesy of Victor Dlamini

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Book Bites: 13 July 2014

Good Morning, Mr MandelaGood Morning Mr Mandela
Zelda la Grange (Penguin Books)
Book buff
From her beginnings as a self-confessed Afrikaner racist to her professional apogee as the right-hand woman of the greatest statesman of our times, this is a pretension-free, no-holds-barred yet poignant account of how Zelda’s relationship with Madiba changed her fundamentally. As she said at her book launch, the good stuff in the book far outweighs all the negative things that happened at the end of his life. If there is just one other book to read about Madiba besides Long Walk To Freedom then this is it.
- Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Life DrawingLife Drawing
Robin Black (Picador)
Book fling
“A painter looks. That’s what she does. But she doesn’t always look in the right direction.” Life Drawing is the shifting portrait of Augusta and Owen’s marriage. The seductive prose peels back the skin of apology and excuse, exposing how tragedy can be created by the smallest of mistakes, misunderstandings and misplaced good intentions. For it is a myth that marriage is kept alive on love alone.
Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Nnedi Okorafor (Hodder & Stoughton)
Book fiend
It is difficult to imagine a fresh type of alien invasion story when there are so many that have already been written, but Nnedi Okorafor has created just that. Set in the ordinary chaos of Lagos, her book tells the story of three extraordinary people and the aliens who descend on them – and their city. Soon, Lagos is burning, monsters like Mami Wata walk among soldiers, and the streets are more alive and dangerous than ever. Lagoon is the most original novel (African or not) that I have read in some time.
– Bontle Senne @BontleSenne

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Read a Preview of the New Issue of Chimurenga’s Pan-African Gazette, the Chronic

One Day I Will Write About This PlaceHead on FireBurma BoyGirls at War

The new issue of Chimurenga‘s Pan-African gazette, Chronic, features Binyavanga Wainaina meeting Youssou N’Dour; Willem Boshoff; Lesego Rampolokeng’s interview of Mafika Gwala; Mogorosi Motshumi on the lack of Black Consciousness in South African comics; and an insert containing the lost issue of Zebulon Dread’s Hei Voetsek!

For the new issue of Chimurenga’s pan African gazette, the Chronic, the focus is on graphic stories; comic journalism. Blending illustrations, photography, written analysis, infographics, interviews, letters and more, visual narratives speak of everyday complexities in the Africa in which we live.

Chronic, a quarterly publication which was launched in March last year, was born out of “an urgent need to write our world differently”. It is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Goethe-Intitut. The print edition is available at selected stockists, or direct from Chimurenga’s online shop.

Read an excerpt from Chronic’s interview with Mogorosi Motshumi:

Graeme Arendse: After the end of apartheid much of the cultural activity that accompanied the struggle dissipated…

Mogorosi Motshumi: That’s right. Some of the casualties included what was known as the alternative media. I think there was the mutual belief among both funders and activists that certain objectives had been achieved and that the road to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow had been cleared. There was so much hope for, and anticipation of, new beginnings. Suddenly there were no publications like Learn and Teach and Upbeat and Staffrider and New Nation. I ended up doing sports cartoons for City Press and Daily Sun. For me, the transition from pre- to post-apartheid cartooning and general cultural activism matter is as basic as right versus wrong. Evil cannot be right simply because it wears a black face.

Chimurenga Chronic New Edition – Preview! by Books LIVE

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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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Film Adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun to be Censored Before Release in Nigeria

Half of a Yellow Sun The film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun will not be released for viewing in Nigeria until edits demanded by the National Film and Video Censors Board have been made to it.

According to ABC News, the censors want cuts to the movie, set partly during the Biafran War, because it could “undermine national security”.

The article further states: “It comes as Nigeria is threatened by an Islamic uprising in the northeast, jeopardising unity between the mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.”

Bella Naija reports that the NFVCB has sent a letter “requiring the distributor to expunge or edit some clearly stated objectionable aspects of the movie”. Caesar Kagho, NFVCB’s acting head of corporate affairs, has defended the move, saying: “The actions of the board are a routine procedure … it is underpinned by the superior logic of safeguarding overall public interest.”

Meanwhile, Adichie had expressed her dissatisfaction with the board’s decision in the New Yorker, saying: “the censors’ action is more disappointing than surprising, because it is part of a larger Nigerian political culture that is steeped in denial, in looking away.”

Nigerian censors say parts of the movie “Half of a Yellow Sun” could undermine national security and they want cuts to allow the film, partly set during Nigeria’s 1960s civil war, to be shown in its home country.

A statement Wednesday says the board has not received a response from the exhibitors to a May 27 letter “requiring the distributor to expunge/edit some clearly stated objectionable aspects.”

As fans of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s novel – Half of a Yellow Sun in Nigeria, continue to wait for a screening date to watch the movie adaptation, NFVCB is speaking out on reports that the board banned the movie.

On Wednesday, the National Film and Video Censors Board shut down speculations that they have banned the million dollar production.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun Film Unearthed Untold Stories of the Biafran War

Half of a Yellow Sun AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a moving piece about taking her family to watch the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun, although the movie is still being withheld from the Nigerian public by censors.

Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board recently released a list of 35 films approved for release in May, but Half of a Yellow Sun – which deals with the Biafran War – was nowhere to be seen:

The still-snubbed Half of a Yellow Sun — starring Oscar nominee, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton — was scheduled to be premiered in Nigeria on April 25, 2014, but NFVCB denied the movie certification, claiming that “certain aspects of the film have some unresolved issues, which have to be sorted out in accordance with the law and laid-down regulations”.

Prominent Nigerian filmmaker Tunde Kelani even took to Twitter to appeal the censorship:

In response to the censorship of the film, Adichie wrote a piece for The New Yorker, in which she called the action a “knee-jerk political response” in the context of upcoming elections and the Boko Haram crisis. But she insisted: “we cannot hide from our history”.

On a personal level, however, Adichie admits she found this difficult. Writing for The Telegraph, the author describes her trepidation in taking her mother and father, and extended family, to the Lagos premier of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Despite not suffering much in the way of “material deprivations”, Adichie lost both of her grandfathers in the Biafran War, and it was a harrowing time for her family – although it was rarely spoken about afterwards. Adichie says before she began asking questions about the war, while writing Half of a Yellow Sun, her parents’ memories “had long lay untouched”.

But after watching the film Adichie says parents “referred to Biafra more often in a week than they had in years”. In addition, the film jogged her siblings’ memories of the war, and even brought some new, untold stories to light:

In the new version of the story, told in the aftermath of the film, my mother added that the soldiers had threatened to beat her, and that my father, to protect her, had jumped on one of the soldiers, and that she begged him to stop, terrified that they had survived the war with their three children only to have her husband killed at a checkpoint. I was surprised. I had never heard this before. I turned to my father. He mumbled something, an acknowledgement of the memory, and looked away. He said nothing else. I tried to imagine him, tired and worried and afraid, lungeing at an armed soldier. What had been a story about soldiers doing what soldiers have done at the end of many wars – harass civilians – now became something entirely different: the specific story of a husband keen to protect his wife, of a wife keen to preserve her family.

The film rights for Adichie’s most recent book, Americanah, have been snapped up by Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o, who won this year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 12 Years a Slave.

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Ben Okri: The Abduction of Nigerian Girls by Boko Haram is the “Nation’s Wake-up Call”

What Nigeria does about the abduction of 276 girls by Boko Haram will determine the nation’s future, award-winning author Ben Okri writes in a powerful plea to the country of his birth in The Guardian.

Okri notes that the Nigerian government has been slow to react, despite international outrage at the abduction, supported by Michelle Obama, for example.

Incidents at the ShrineTales of FreedomStarbookSongs of EnchantmentWildThe Famished Road

He says that this should be a wake-up call for the country that has failed to live up to the promise it showed at independence in 1960. While there are many reasons for this, including the colonial division between north and south, a failure to heal as a country after the civil war and “the endemic poverty, the politics of inequality, the politics of corruption, that have been eating away at the nation’s heart”, Nigeria must now, with its response to the abduction, choose a new path.

“There are only two roads to take. Either more of the same, which will inevitably lead to further outrages and eventual fragmentation, or Nigeria wakes to the call which sounded at independence, and begins again on that road towards its destiny as one of the great nations of the world,” Okri says.

This may be the most critical moment in Nigeria for a generation. The threat of Boko Haram has been a fuse burning away in the powder keg of Nigerian political life for the last seven years, and has been largely unconfronted. The political class, with a few distinguished exceptions, has long been in a state of smugness, complacency, and collusion. A kind of informal high-grade corruption has become part of national life.

When Boko Haram began its campaign of cultural, religious and educational separatism – decrying western education and trying to bring Nigeria under the shadow of sharia law – it was seen as a small outfit, a ragtag band of fundamentalists, not to be taken seriously. At the time the nation was distracted by the fallout from the Niger delta protests in the south-east, the sabotage of oil pipelines, and the rash of kidnappings that made the area particularly dangerous. The protests were due to the extreme environmental pollution by oil companies that had devastated farmlands, rivers, whole villages and towns. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 was the last outrage during the long Nigerian sleep.

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McBride Wins the Baileys, Big Names (Adichie, Tartt) Lose Out

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Donna Tartt lost out as the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction went to first-time novelist Eimear McBride, for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.

McBride was awarded the prize by best-selling novelist, and co-founder of the Baileys Prize, Kate Mosse. She receives £30,000 and the “Bessie”, a limited edition bronze figurine.

Adichie was shortlisted for her new novel, Americanah, for which Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o recently acquired the film rights.

The shortlist comprised McBride, Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland), Hannah Kent (Burial Rites), Audrey Magee (The Undertaking) and Tartt, who recently received the Pulitzer Prize for The Goldfinch, who was not in attendance at the awards.

This year’s judges – Mary Beard, Denise Mina, Caitlin Moran, Sophie Raworth and chair Helen Fraser – had the unenviable task of narrowing down the six shortlisted books to just one winner.

Helen Fraser, chair of judges, says of McBride’s startling debut: “An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice – this novel will move and astonish the reader.”

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