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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Ben Okri to Receive Honorary Doctorate in South Africa

Ben Okri

Alert! Nigerian author Ben Okri will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria next week.

The Famished RoadSongs of EnchantmentInfinite RichesDangerous LoveWildTales of FreedomIncidents at the Shrine

It will be the first time an African university has honoured Okri, one of the continent’s most prominent voices. The author won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Famished Road in 1991.

Okri will receive a DLitt (honoris causa) on 25 April, during the university’s autumn graduation ceremonies.

The degree is meant, in the words of Vice Chancellor Prof CM de la Rey, to serve as a token of the fact that Okri is “widely recognised as an international writer and scholar”, and also to acknowledge Okri’s “contribution to the contemporary world of literature”.

Okri’s will be the second honorary doctorate awarded by a South African university to a major writer in recent times. In December, the University of the Witwatersrand conferred an honorary degree on JM Coetzee.

Here’s the press release from the University of Pretoria:

Ben Okri, Honoris Causa, University of Pretoria by Books LIVE

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Image courtesy the Guardian

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Mohlele, Mzobe and Watson Join Adichie, Megestu, Selasi on the “Most Promising” Africa39 List

Alert! A number of South African writers have made the Africa39 list, along with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu and Taiye Selasi.

AmericanahAll Our NamesGhana Must Go
Small ThingsYoung BloodThe Cutting RoomThe Lazarus Effect
The Orchard of Lost SoulsSoPhiaLondon - Cape Town - JoburgShadows

The Africa39 list, which was unveiled yesterday at the London Book Fair, names the most promising 39 authors under the age of 40 from Sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora.

South Africans Nthikeng Mohlele, Sifiso Mzobe, Shafinaaz Hassim and Mary Watson made the final cut, as did Liberia-born Hawa Jande Golakai, Zambia-born Zukiswa Wanner and Zimbabwe-born Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, who have all published in South Africa.

Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina compiled a longlist of 120 writers late last year, which was then whittled down to the final 39 by judges Margaret Busby, Elechi Amadi, and Osonye Tess Onwueme.

The project, run by Bloomsbury Publishing, Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club, aims to “celebrate the most vibrant voices in literature” and “bring worldwide attention to some of the best new fiction from Africa south of the Sahara”. New work from the 39 authors will be compiled into an anthology, to be launched in October 2014.

The book will be published in English throughout the world by Bloomsbury, in conjunction with Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club. It will be launched at the Port Harcourt Book Fair in October 2014.

This will be followed by events across the world throughout 2014 until 2016, including appearances at Manchester Literary Festival, Hay Festival, Norwich Writers’ Centre and the British Library, funded by a grant for the arts from the Arts Council.

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Ainehi Edoro Reviews The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani

The Secret History of Las VegasVerdict: carrot

In a 1986 interview, the Zimbabwean novelist, Dambudzo Marachera, speaks of a strange artistic sensibility. He speaks of how the will to write often takes him to “a region where a ghost has rights.” In the same interview, he confesses to having a bizarre fascination with history. “For me, as it was for James Joyce,” he says, “history is simply a nightmare from which I am trying to wake up.” As luck would have it, one of the two epigraphs in the opening pages of The Secret History of Las Vegas is Joyce’s quote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.” – See more at:

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Teju Cole Insists Twitter Improved his Writing

Open CityEvery Day is for the ThiefTeju Cole on reading Things Fall Apart before he was 10, his ideal literary dinner companions, and his Twitter essay that defied its medium.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Cole revealed his voracious childhood reading habits, affirming that he “began early”, at the tender age of six, and quickly moved on to some daunting books, including Chinua Achebe’s postcolonial classic and “an abridged edition of Tom Sawyer”.

“I wasn’t a prodigy,” the Nigerian-American author, photographer, and art historian admits, “but I developed a sense that access to any book was limited only by my interest and my willingness to concentrate.”

Cole attracted widespread praise for Open City, and the highly anticipated revised edition of his first book, Every Day Is for the Thief, was recently released. He says his prolific output on Twitter (@tejucole, if you are so inclined) has helped him refine his writing:

It’s such a combative place at times that it makes me less worried about putting ideas out into the world. [...] But being active on Twitter also means that the literary part of my brain – the part that tries to make good sentences – is engaged all the time. My memory is worse than it was a few years ago, but I hope that my ability to write a good sentence has improved.

Cole recently published a longform essay, A Piece of the Wall, using Twitter, sending out around 250 tweets over a period of seven hours from a custom-made account. The groundbreaking work was designed specifically for the social network, with each person in the piece being given their own Twitter account, and their quotes retweeted into the narrative.

View the essay here:

According to Cole, the question that sparked the idea for A Piece of the Wall was: “Why does a serious longform investigative piece have to be in print in a major magazine?” He tells BuzzFeed:

In various parts of West Africa, there are different iterations of the idea that “white people like paper so much that they even wipe their butts with it.” [...]

I love paper too. I love print. But maybe not everything has to be on it. And in the case of Twitter (and, before that, blogging), I just feel so strongly that there’s an audience here, and audience that deserves to be treated with the same seriousness as the paper crowd.

As for which of the “paper crowd” he would invite over for dinner, Cole keeps it literary, choosing Alice Oswald, Laila Lalami and Zadie Smith.

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Image courtesy of Lavin

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Video: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe Gets the Thug Notes Treatment (Plus: Fan Fiction Erotica “Thighs Fell Apart”)

Things Fall Apart“Okonkwo got one of the illest reps of any hood in the Nigerian Umuofia clan, but being a high-baller don’t run in the family. Errybody know that Okonkwo’s daddy was nothing but a broke-ass scrub.” So starts Sparky Sweets, PhD’s Thug Notes summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times writes that Thug Notes, and Sparky Sweets, are the creations of comedian Greg Edwards, who explains that the videos are his “way of trivializing academia’s attempt at making literature exclusionary by showing that even highbrow academic concepts can be communicated in a clear and open fashion.”

Sweets summarises works of literature in short videos, usually under five minutes long, and then shares his analysis. On Things Fall Apart he says: “Ain’t no doubt that those crooked-ass imperialists took a big old dump on Africa, but like we can see with Okonkwo icing his boy and disrespecting the gods, maybe things started falling apart before they got there.”

Watch the video and read more about Thug Notes in Genzlinger’s article below:

YouTube Preview Image

In 1848, a reviewer for Graham’s Magazine described “Wuthering Heights” as “a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors, such as we might suppose a person, inspired by a mixture of brandy and gunpowder, might write for the edification of fifth-rate blackguards.” Presumably, this grumpy writer would have cared even less for the Thug Notes version.

If you didn’t appreciate that nontraditional interpretation of Achebe’s work, then we strongly suggest you don’t read this fan fiction erotica featuring Okonkwo and his second wife, Ekwefi. The piece, titled “Thighs Fell Apart”, was commissioned by Ainehi Edoro for Brittle Paper and written by Nigerian Kiru Taye:

Okonkwo paced the confined space of his hut. His feet bounced off the mud floor, his back and shoulders ached with tension. In three long strides he reached the end of one wall, grunted and turned to stomp in the other direction.

Silver light from the moon filtered through the cracks in the door, shedding some light in the otherwise gloomy chamber. He had blown out the flame from the wicker lamp hours ago. Only a rich man could afford to waste money burning the lamp all night long.

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Image courtesy Smashpipe

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Book Bites: 23 March 2014

The KeptThe Kept
James Scott (Hutchinson)
Book buff
Set in upstate New York in the late 1890s, the story follows 12-year-old Caleb and his mother Elspeth, the only survivors of a family slaying. Together they track the killers through snowy wastelands to a rough lake-side settlement. Scott’s debut novel is starkly beautiful, a Gothic delight, but also thrillingly mysterious as questions are posed and answered, affording the reader growing insight into the otherness at the heart of both of the characters. Family, the nature of right and wrong, kindness, cruelty and forgiveness are explored with delicacy as Caleb discovers what was “The Kept”. – Aubrey Paton @AubreyPaton

BransonBranson: Behind the Mask
Tom Bower (Faber & Faber)
Book buff
Tom Bower really has it in for Richard Branson. He’s already written one scathing biography, Branson, an attempt to kill the world’s love affair with the self-made tycoon. Now in Behind the Mask he sets out to expose Branson once and for all as a sinister and selfish trickster whose fake benevolence and daft dare devil stunts are all just a facade. He focuses his criticism on Virgin Galactic, Branson’s company that’s busy creating the first commercial, reusable space-rocket. Bower says that this will never happen. This is supposed to be a take-down of the billionaire, but all it does is demonstrate that Bower hates Branson. A lot. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

High RollersHigh Rollers
Jack Bowman (Bantam)
Book thrill
Dip into this while in the departure lounge and you might find yourself cashing in your plane ticket and driving instead. Tom Patrick is a National Transportation Safety Board investigator who has his own theory on why Boeing 737 engines are tearing themselves to bits. Trouble is, Patrick has what Americans euphemistically call ‘anger management issues’ and has so pissed off his bosses that he’s been redeployed to investigating pipeline leaks in remote places, rather than air crashes. Bowman’s writing is uneven, at times implausible and condescending in the passages set in South Africa. But he bears acquaintance with others in the McDonald’s genre: fast, filling, and unpretentious. – William Saunderson Meyer @TheJaundicedEye

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Siyanda Mohutsiwa Muses on the Purpose of African Literature (Plus: Interview with Abubaker Adam Ibrahim)

When American writer JC Hallman suggested to Siyanda Mohutsiwa over beer in a bar in Swaziland that “a writer should always consider the purpose of literature when they seek to contribute to it”, it set the 20-year-old mathematics major thinking about the role of African literature.

Sterile SkyA Memory This Size and Other StoriesChairman of FoolsIn the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and other storiesA Man Who is Not a ManMen of the SouthThe Whispering Trees

While the term “African literature” itself has previously been questioned, and defining the over-arching purpose of it seems rather ambitious, Mohutsiwa believes that the role of African writers can be summed up as “showing us the world we have through their own experiences, and showing us the world we should want”. As example of the former, she mentions Shimmer Chinodya’s Chairman of Fools.

“And then of course there are writers who pick a specific issue they want to outline and shine a light on it, neither too harshly nor too softly, with an unspoken desire to have the viewer decide for herself that said issue should no longer be tolerated,” Mohutsiwa says, mentioning the title story in Lauri Kubuitsile‘s collection In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories, Thando Mgqolozana‘s A Man Who Is Not a Man and Zukiswa Wanner‘s Men of the South as examples.

Mohutsiwa also interviews Abubaker Adam Ibrahim, author of The Whispering Trees, about the purpose of African literature, to which he responds: “I don’t think there is a universal accord on what the purpose of African literature is, or the literature of any people or nation for that matter.”

“A writer should always consider the purpose of literature when they seek to contribute to it. How can a person dedicate their life to something whose point they cannot grasp?” my friend, American writer JC Hallman, said as he ordered another drink.

If you had entered the smoky bar packed with noisy locals cradling semi-full jugs of beer in rural Swaziland right in the middle of this conversation, perhaps you would have considered it odd.

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Rashiq Fataar Reviews Afropolis: City/Media/Art

Afropolis: City/Media/ArtVerdict: carrot

Against the backdrop of rapid growth, urbanisation and globalisation across Africa, Afropolis: City, Media, Art showcases the evolving nature of 5 African cities through a showcase of media, art, and narratives; each exhibits of contemporary urban African life.

Born as an exhibition at the opening of the Rautenbauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne in 2012, and then translated into English, the book is produced with the support of the Goethe-Institut and edited by Kerstin Pinther, Larissa Förster and Christian Hanussek.

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NoViolet Bulawayo Wins the Inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature

We Need New NamesAlert! Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo has won the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature for debut fiction, for her novel We Need New Names, it was announced in Lagos, Nigeria a short while ago.

Having missed out on both the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award – it was shortlisted for both – Bulawayo’s novel bagged what amounts to Africa’s richest open literary award.

She receives £15 000; by comparison, the Caine Prize – which Bulawayo won in 2011 – is worth £10 000. (The on-again, off-again NLNG Prize is worth considerably more at $100 000, but is only open to Nigerians; the Sunday Times Fiction Prize, at R75 000, is worth about £4 150 and is only open to South African citizens and residents.)

Bulawayo was shortlisted alongside Yewande Omotoso and Karen Jennings.

The winner of the Etisalat flash fiction competition was Uche Okonkwo:

The news broke on Twitter on Sunday evening:

Congratulations to Bulawayo and Okonkwo!

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John Preston Lists the Ten Novelists that Have “Defined Africa” For the Rest of the World

Following the announcement of the shortlist for the inaugural Pan-African Etisalat Prize for Literature literary critic John Preston has listed the ten authors that “defined Africa” and “brought this 
evocative continent to the rest of the world.”

Preston describes how in 1957 Chinua Achebe was told there was no market for fiction from Africa when he sent his only copy of Things Fall Apart to a London publisher. Now, however, Preston writes that “Africa is the source of some of the most distinctive, vibrant novels being produced — novels that often make a lot of Western fiction look very pale and watery in comparison.”

Half of a Yellow Sun So Long a LetterWe Need New NamesSecond Class CitizenDisgrace

Nairobi HeatThe Famished RoadGhana Must GoOf AfricaThe Good Doctor

Starting with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Preston mentions the Nigerian writer’s first two books, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. Other Nigerians on the list include Buchi Emecheta, author of Second Class Citizen, Ben Okri for The Famished Road and Wole Soyinka, author of Of Africa.

Senegal is represented by Mariama Ba with her novel So Long a Letter, while Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo is on the list for her Man Booker shortlisted debut novel, We Need New Names.

Interestingly, Preston includes Kenyan Mukoma wa Ngũgĩ for his crime novel Nairobi Heat, but not his father, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Taiye Selasi, who was raised in America by Ghanian parents, is included for Ghana Must Go. South Africans JM Coetzee and Damon Galgut are also on the list, for Disgrace and The Good Doctor respectively.

Tell us what you think – any other novelists that should have been included?

Later this month, the shortlist for the Etisalat Prize, the first-ever Pan-African literary prize for first-time novelists, will be announced. Fifty years ago, anyone suggesting that there should be such a thing as an African literature prize would probably have been regarded as a little mad. Back in 1957, the late Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, sent off the only copy of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, to a publisher in London — he couldn’t afford to get it duplicated. Months went by without Achebe hearing anything. When he asked if they’d read it, he was told sternly that, ‘fiction from Africa had no market potential’. But Achebe was undaunted. He kept plugging away and eventually Things Fall Apart was published. Immediately, it was hailed as a masterpiece and went on to sell more than eight million copies. Where Achebe led, others soon followed — slowly at first and then in something approaching a flood. Now Africa is the source of some of the most distinctive, vibrant novels being produced — novels that often make a lot of Western fiction look very pale and watery in comparison.

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