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An Unnatural History: Hedley Twidle Reviews Henrietta Rose-Innes' Green Lion

Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

Video: Mbali Kgosidintsi Reads Niq Mhlongo’s Story “Goliwood Drama” (Next Up: Abena Ayivor Reading Chibundu Onuzo)

Long Story Short has shared a video of Mbali Kgosidintsi reading a story by Niq Mhlongo entitled, “Goliwood Drama”.

AffluenzaDog Eat DogAfter TearsWay Back Home

The actress, playwright and poet performed Mhlongo’s story for the second event on the Long Story Short calendar, which took place at the Hammanskraal Community Library recently. “Goliwood Drama” was a finalist in the Twenty in 20 project in 2014.

The Long Story Short initiative is produced by the Pretoria-based art consultancy Kajeno Media under the leadership of Kgauhelo Dube and funded by the Department of Arts and Culture. At the launch of the innovative digital project Hlubi Mboya read “Tender” by author Nozizwe Cynthia Jele.

Watch the video for Kgosidintsi’s spirited performance of “Goliwood Drama”:

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The Spider King's DaughterFor the third public library reading actress Abena Ayivor will perform “Going Home” by Chibundu Onuzo, author of The Spider King’s Daughter.

The event is centred around the theme of engendering tolerance through exposure to African literature and will take place on Saturday, 23 May, at the Saulsville Community Library in Atteridgeville.

Dube says of the message of the day: “Through literature we travel to places we would never be able to, so I believe that the more we read about each others’ realities as Africans; we will stop ‘othering’ each other but rather grow in our mutual acceptance as human beings.”

Press release

#longstorySHORT’s Africa Month reading features popular TV actress Abena Ayivor reading a short story by Nigeria’s Chibundu Onuzo; the award-winning author of The Spider King’s Daughter.

This is the third reading as part of the #longstorySHORT public readings where a capable TV or stage performer reads a short story or novel excerpt to an audience. These recordings are then recorded and packaged into FREE podcasts for consumption at any time.

In reference to the shameful violent attacks against African nationals in South Africa, the usual Q&A after a reading will focus on the potential of stories in prompting forbearance as fellow Africans. Residents of Saulsville and Attredgeville will have the opportunity to share their views of their own personal experiences in relation to Afrophobia and the story that will be read.

“Through literature we travel to places we would never be able to, so I believe that the more we read about each others’ realities as Africans; we will stop ‘othering’ each other but rather grow in our mutual acceptance as human beings,” executive producer Kgauhelo Dube says.

Onuzo’s story “Going Home” will strike a chord as it deals with a UK-based family’s trip to Nigeria. The patriarch of the family is anxious for many reasons: he didn’t marry a Nigerian woman, his children are mixed race and the trip is reawakening many cultural and identity crises within him. Suddenly, he wrestles with where home is.

Ayivor asked to read a West African story, given her ancestry. Her mother is Zambian-South African and father is Ghanaian. She grew up in the Eastern Cape where she was taught to take pride in her Africanness versus nationality.

“#longstorySHORT appealed to me because of its Pan-African focus. Stories speak to these issues of Afrophobia by reminding us that the journey may be different but the core issues are the same. We all want the same things,” she says.


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Join Abena Ayivor, Reading “Going Home” by Chibundu Onuzo, for the Next Installment of Long Story Short in Pretoria

Long Story Short

The Spider King's DaughterFor the next installment of Long Story Short, actress Abena Ayivor will be reading “Going Home” by Chibundu Onuzo, who is also author of the novel The Spider King’s Daughter.

The event will take place at the Saulsville Community Library Arena, from 11:30 AM to 1 PM on Saturday, 23 May.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, 23 May 2015
  • Time: 11:30 AM for 1 PM
  • Venue: Saulsville Community Library
    Malebye Street
    Atteridgeville | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Abena Ayivor
  • RSVP: , 081 312 6957

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Fiction Friday: “Discovering Time Travel” by Nigerian Writer, Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari

Don’t we all wish we could travel to simpler times, or foretell the future by experiencing it first-hand?

Time travel. Such a powerful concept. A beautiful wish. An elusive dream. Especially after reading a few horrendous headlines or spending another hour with someone who had to google at least three times in order to have a simple conversation.

So many books have been written on this topic, including 11/22/63 by Stephen King, The Time Machine by HG Wells, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and, of course, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.

11/22/63The Time MachineThe Time Traveler's WifeSlaughterhouse-FiveThe Shining Girls

Nigerian writer Suleiman Agbonkhianmen Buhari has also flirted with the idea, writing a short story titled “Discovering Time Travel” which was published on the pan-African writers’ collective, Jalada.

Buhari is a full-time writer who lives in Nigeria and divides his time between Lagos and Benin. He attended the 2013 Farafina Writers Workshop and has been shortlisted for many prose and poetry awards, including the 2012 Creative Alliance Short Story Prize.

Read his story as today’s Fiction Friday offering:

A brightly lit, white walled room.

Two men are sitting, facing each other across a legless table.

One man is dressed in a white coverall, the other is wearing a black uniform.

One man has a story to tell, the other is eager to listen.

The blue chairs they are sitting on also have no legs.

Everything in the room defies gravity.

The story the man in white is about to tell defies logic.

“Please state your name and official designation for the record.”

“Dr. Kehinde Obaseki. GND57903. Research Scientist, Gondwanan Institute of Light.”

“Former Research Scientist, you mean.”

“Yes, of course … former.”

“Okay Doc’, tell me the truth. Where is the inertium? We both know you took it. We …”

“I have never denied that.”

“Okay then, where is it?”

“It’s lost in time.”

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Gif courtesy of GIPHY

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Don’t Miss Award-winning Nigerian Author Helon Habila with Nthikeng Mohlele in Joburg

Waiting for an AngelMeasuring TimeOil on WaterRusty BellSmall ThingsThe Scent of Bliss

The Sylt Foundation and the Goethe-Institut kindly invite you to a Literary Crossroads event with Nigerian author Helon Habila and Nthikeng Mohlele.

The event is entitled “From Faction to Fiction? How does reality inform the art of writing?” Two writers in different stages of their careers will share their texts and let us take part in their routines of writing.

The event, curated by Pumla Dineo Gqola and Indra Wussow, will take place at the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg on Thursday, 7 May.

Literature does not come out of the void and writers are very much part of the world they live and write in. It will be interesting to investigate what role reality plays in the conception of the work, how it is aliented and transcended to something new, that opens new worlds and perceptions, opens new realities beyond the obvious.

What is the starting point of a book or a sory? Where does the inspiration come from? What role does research play and how does a writer succeed to transcend into something new? How important are the conditions of production? The social and political parameters of the place of living? Does a perception changes by changing places and worlds?

About the authors

Helon Habila is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at George Mason University, USA. He worked in Lagos as a journalist before moving to England in 2002, and in 2005-2006 was the first Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York.

His novels, poems and short stories have won many awards. They include Waiting for an Angel (Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel: Africa Section, 2003) and Measuring Time (Virginia Library Foundation’s fiction award in 2008). Oil on Water was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (2011) and the Orion Book Award (2012), and a runner up for the PEN/Open Book Award (2012).

Helon has been a contributing editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review since 2004, and is a regular reviewer for The Guardian. He co-edited the British Council’s anthology, New Writing 14 (2006), edited The Granta Book of African Short Story (2011) and was a DAAD fellow in Berlin (2013-2014). In 2015 he won the prestigious Windham Campbell Award.

Nthikeng Mohlele was born in 1977 and grew up in Limpopo and Tembisa township, South Africa. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand, where he studied BA Dramatic Art and African Literature. He enjoys things that appeal to the senses, and holds some permanent opinions.

He published three novels: The Scent of Bliss (2008), Small Things (2013) and Rusty Bell (2014).

About the Sylt Foundation Residency

The privately-funded Sylt Foundation supports artists, writers and composers with residencies on the island of Sylt in Germany and in Johannesburg, South Africa with the purpose of providing a conducive creative space to reflect on their work as well as to access the foundation’s international network of artists, cultural facilitators and audiences.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 7 May 2015
  • Time: 7 PM
  • Venue: Goethe-Institut
    119 Jan Smuts Avenue
    Johannesburg | Map
  • RSVP: Estelle Cooper,

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Ben Okri to Feature as African Representative at 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival

The Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF) – set to take place from 18 to 24 May 2015 – will feature Ben Okri as one of the international highlights on the programme. He will be the only representative from the African continent.

Ben Okri at the Festival of Ideas
The Age Of MagicIncidents at the ShrineTales of FreedomSongs of EnchantmentStarbookWild
Astonishing the GodsStars of the New CurfewDangerous LoveA Time for New DreamsInfinite RichesThe Famished Road

Okri has published nine novels, including The Age of Magic and the Booker Prize-winning The Famished Road, as well as collections of poetry, short stories and essays. His work has been translated into more than 26 languages. Okri is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has been awarded an OBE and has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa, the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction and the Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize. He was born in Nigeria and lives in London.

He will be speaking at four events:

SWF features an incredible line-up of international literary stars, including Mohsin Hamid, Helen Macdonald, David Walliams and Alan Cumming, Richard Flanagan, James Petterson, David Mitchell, Michael Connelly and Anthony Horowitz among others.

  • Dates: Monday, 18 May to Sunday, 24 May 2015
  • Venues: Sydney Writers’ Festival’s main precinct is at Walsh Bay. This comprises venues at Pier 4/5, Pier 2/3 and Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay. Events are also held at venues throughout the city, and in suburban Sydney and regional NSW. Detailed information on how to get to venues is available from individual event pages.
  • Ticket cost: Free to $25
  • More information: SWF
  • Follow: Twitter / Facebook

For more information on the festival visit the SWF website, or read the press release sent out by the SWF organisers:

2015 Sydney Writers Fesival Press Release

Links related to Ben Okri:


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Fiction Friday: Read Excerpts from Nigerians in Space and We are the Olfanauts by Deji Bryce Olukotun

Nigerians in SpaceDeji Bryce Olukotun leapt onto the literary stage with his 2014 debut, Nigerians in Space, which Matt McGregor described in a review for Warscapes as “a transnational mystery novel replete with assassins, abalone poaching and an international fashion model who exudes light from her skin”.

Olukotun was born in New Jersey and is half-Nigerian, half-American. The author obtained an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town under the guidance of André Brink, Mike Nicol, Andre Wiesner and Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Electric Literature chose Olukotun’s new ePublication, We are the Olfanauts, as their recommended read of the week and shared an extract from the chilling story.

Renton, the protagonist, works for Olfanautics, the “global pioneer in scented social media”, and holds a world of smells at his fingertips.

Read the excerpt:

Our team was based in a multibillion-dollar technology park fifteen kilometers outside Nairobi, and our data servers, which would have made us liable under Kenyan law, floated above national airspace in tethered balloons. The Danish architect had modeled the Olfanautics complex after a scene from Karen Blixen’s novel, as if that was what we secretly aspired to, a coffee ranch nestled against the foothills of some dew-soaked savannah. The cafeteria was intended to replicate the feel of a safari tent. Catenary steel cables held up an undulating layer of fabric, which gleamed white in the midday sun. In reality, the tent was the closest I had ever been to a safari. I only left Nairobi to go rock climbing.

Aubrey found me as I was ordering a double veggie burger with half a bun and six spears of broccollini. I could tell from the few frayed braids poking out of her headwrap that she had not slept well last night, nor had she gone to the campus hairdresser to clean herself up. I reached for her thigh as soon as she sat down but she swatted it away.

“I told you to send it up.”

“Nice to see you, too, Aubrey,” I said.

“I’m your boss, Renton. If I say send the video up, then send it up. You’re making me look bad.”

That was the problem with dating your supervisor. She thought any discussion could be resolved by pulling rank.

“Didn’t you whyff the strawberries? They were hilarious, hey. That girl’s an actress or something.”

TBN Fiction also shared an extract from Nigerians in Space, a crime thriller about Africa’s “brain drain” set in South Africa, Nigeria and America.

In the excerpt, Leon is trying to teach Thursday the intricate art of harvesting abalone:

It took four nights of heavy drinking, cajoling, and a wet kiss from Leon’s girl Fadanaz for Thursday to say he would consider going into the water. Even then he never thought it would come to pass. But soon they were sitting in the Merc next to a row of strelitzia palms that wound along a dirt road to the beach in the dusk, their fronds spreading out like press-on fingernails. He would have been able to hear the pounding surf if Leon wasn’t thumping his Kwaito music, and they’d both grown up near the sea so he didn’t smell the seaweed any more. Thursday had resolved that this time he would be firm with Leon—he was not going in the water, there was no way he was going in.

“I can’t do it, my broer,” Thursday declared. “I don’t know how.”

“Come on, Thursday,” Leon said. “I started with nothing. I was out there in the rocks all alone with the police, pulling myself on the kelp.” Leon laughed, in awe of himself, reminiscing. “Should have been on the news. I can barely even swim. You’ve got the breather and my lank equipment. The breather is easier than a tank.” He began pumping his head to the syncopated rhythms of the Kwaito.

“Can’t you give me your mask?”

“I gave you my old mask, voetsak. My new one cost a thousand bucks. It’s not my fault you’ve got a conch for a nose.”

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Photo courtesy of ReturnoftheDeji and Deji Olukotun (@dejiridoo) on Twitter

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Teju Cole’s Every Day is for the Thief Shortlisted for the 2015 PEN Open Book Award

Quel che abbiamo in comune

Every Day is for the ThiefEvery Day is for the ThiefAlert! Teju Cole has made the shortlist for the PEN Open Book Award with his novel Every Day is for the Thief.

PEN America confers a number of prizes annually in a number of categories, awarding a total of $150 000 to writers, editors and translators of excellent literature. The Open Book Award is given to “an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2014″.

In an article for Flavorwire, Jonathon Sturgeon wrote about the strength of the shortlist for the award.

Read the article:

The last of these, awarded as the PEN Open Book Award, is by many lengths the strongest shortlist of the bunch. Finalists include Rabih Alameddine for An Unnecessary Woman, Teju Cole for Every Day Is for the Thief, Roxane Gay for An Untamed State, Claudia Rankine for Citizen: An American Lyric, and Samrat Upadhyay for The City Son.

An Unnecessary WomanThe five authors on the shortlist were selected from a longlist of 11 by judges R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks and Chinelo Okparanta. Rabih Alameddine, who came to South Africa last year for the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, has also been shortlisted for this award for An Unnecessary Woman.

Read more about the prize, longlist, and judges and see all the shortlists for the 2015 PEN Literary Awards on PEN America’s website:

The PEN Open Book Award was created by PEN American Center’s Open Book Committee, a group committed to racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities. The award confers a $5,000 prize upon an author of color.

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Image courtesy of Internaz

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Don’t Miss Achal Prabhala’s Public Lecture “Thugs and Coconuts” at Wits University

Thugs and Coconuts

Miscellaneous WritingsAchal Prabhala will be presenting a public lecture called “Thugs and coconuts, or three black writers who defied South African literature” at Wits University.

In his lecture, Prabhala will be speaking about Valentine Cascarino, Omoseye Bolaji and Zebulon Dread. Raimi Gbadamosi of the Wits Art School will offer commentary.

The lecture will be delivered on Wednesday, 8 April, at 6 to 8 PM at the Humanities Graduate Centre Seminar Room.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 8 April 2015
  • Time: 6 PM to 8 PM
  • Venue: Humanities Graduate Centre Seminar Room
    South West Engineering Building
    Wits University
    1 Jan Smuts Avenue | Map
  • Interviewer: Raimi Gbadamosi
  • Refreshments: Refreshments will be served
  • More information:

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Read “Apollo”, a New Short Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Published in The New Yorker

The New Yorker has published a new short story by Nigerian literary darling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in their latest issue. The story is titled “Apollo” and tells of Okenwa, a young man who visits his elderly parents, only to find that the way he relates to them has changed dramatically.

Willing Davidson spoke to the author to find out more about the characters in “Apollo”, the condition the title refers to and the undercurrent of attraction that is so evident in the story, albeit in a subtle way.

“I am drawn as a reader to stories of childhood told in an adult voice, stories full of the melancholy beauty of retrospect. I am interested in the regrets we carry from our childhoods, in the idea of ‘what if’ and ‘if only.’ A novel I love, ‘The Go-Between,’ by LP Hartley, does this very well,” Adichie says.

Read the short interview:

Raphael eventually contracts conjunctivitis. In the story, the condition is called “Apollo.” Where does this name come from?

In Nigeria—and in some other parts of Africa—Apollo is the colloquial term for conjunctivitis. I remember a friend telling me, in primary school, that it was called Apollo because the men who went to the moon had returned with the red-eyed infection. This friend and I had just had Apollo, and it was perhaps her way of making our plight seem special.

Read the story:

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon. Retirement had changed them, shrunk them. They were in their late eighties, both small and mahogany-skinned, with a tendency to stoop. They seemed to look more and more alike, as though all the years together had made their features blend and bleed into one another. They even smelled alike—a menthol scent, from the green vial of Vicks VapoRub they passed to each other, carefully rubbing a little in their nostrils and on aching joints. When I arrived, I would find them either sitting out on the veranda overlooking the road or sunk into the living-room sofa, watching Animal Planet. They had a new, simple sense of wonder. They marvelled at the wiliness of wolves, laughed at the cleverness of apes, and asked each other, “Ifukwa? Did you see that?”

Half of a Yellow Sun Purple HibiscusAmericanahAmericanahAfrica's Best StoriesThe Thing Around Your Neck


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I Felt Violated: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Reveals Her Anger at The Guardian Over Article on Depression

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Image courtesy of The New Yorker and Riposte Nagazine

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“A New Cartography for Africa”, the Latest Edition of Chimurenga’s The Chronic – Read an Article on Amos Tutuola

Chimurenga Chronic

Chimurenga has just released the latest edition of their quarterly gazette The Chronic: New Cartographies. The issue concerns itself with devising a “New Cartography for Africa”, as the way that people imagine space and place is so inextricably linked to the history, ideologies, practices and politics that are understood as reality.

Read the introduction:

Since its launch in 2011, every edition of The Chronic has engaged with this question: when will the new emerge – and if it is already here, how do we decipher it? But no edition has addressed this query as centrally as our current project on new cartographies.

Broadly, the project contests the narrowness of the notion of the “failed state” that publications such as Foreign Policy and various think-thanks mainstreamed at the peak of the structural adjustments of the late 1980s to justify Western interventionism in the so-called developing world. And of course, this notion does not exist in isolation, it is inextricably tied to the idea of development and the resulting instrumentalist logic in which our imagination is imprisoned. These are conceptual frameworks that we, Western-educated Africans who came of age during the 90s have absorbed – it is the thinking that shapes, in the main, our thinking on policy and our imagination of “the good life”.

The Palm-Wine DrinkardMy Life in the Bush of GhostsThe Chronic editors have shared an excerpt from the issue with Books LIVE: Harry Garuba’s article “And the Books Lived Happily Ever After”.

In the article, Garuba speaks about the importance of Nigerian novelist Amos Tutuola and his effect on African literature. Tutuola’s writing is playful and casts off systems of classification. His works brought Africa to the literary world, and the literary world to Africa.

To borrow a phrase from Ben Okri, Tutuola overcame the “mental tyranny” of the black writer to become great, and allow African writers that followed in his footsteps to do the same.

Read the article:

If Amos Tutuola had not lived, and written stories in English, African literature would probably have had to invent him. So central has he been to the story of the making of modern African literature that it is difficult to imagine what or who else would have occupied the unique space he fills in the plot of this story. Without him, African imaginative writing in English would have been continually vexed by the melancholia of a “missing link”, because it would have had to account only speculatively and in abstract terms for the transition from the oral tale to the written text and from the indigenous languages of Africa to writing in the languages of European colonialism. Tutuola saves us all that ache and nostalgia, keeping at peaceful rest our conventional narratives of modern African and postcolonial literature and its transitions from one phase to the other.

The recent re-issue of Tutuola’s novels by Faber and Faber shows the continuing appeal of the works of this Nigerian novelist, whose first book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was published to international acclaim in 1952. That the 2014 edition carries an introduction by Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize-winning author, is significant because Tutuola’s countrymen scoffed at the accolades this novel received from reviewers in Europe and the USA when it was first published. By getting Soyinka to write this introduction, the publishers are, as it were, providing the final seal of authority that binds the initial international recognition to the belated embrace of the writer by his local constituency.

In a symbolic but very real sense, the Soyinka introduction signifies the coming together of local and global forms of cultural capital in a unified, consolidated endorsement of the Tutuola phenomenon. Just think T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and then bring in Soyinka, and the picture is complete. I will risk the prediction that the Thomas extract, which has made it into every blurb of the many editions of the book since publication, will in later editions be supplemented with a Soyinka quotation. Shouldn’t we have one from Tutuola’s compatriot? Remember: we already have a Chinua Achebe quote on the blurb of this edition.

The Tutuola story is told again and again, yet it always bears further retelling. In a sense, it reads like an episode taken from one of his marvellous tales. A young man in one of the “bush” outposts of empire, with barely six years of formal schooling and a stuttering familiarity with English, decides to write a novel in the imperial language. He writes a tall, episodic tale, creaking at every joint, of an improbable protagonist journeying through worlds known and unknown, the world of the spirits, the gods, the dead and the unborn – all in a prose style that could only have come from the “African bush”. As the fates of Tutuola’s imaginative world would have had it, this handwritten manuscript lands on the desk of a certain T.S. Eliot, publisher at Faber and Faber, one of the high priests of literary modernism and, arguably, one of the most influential cultural arbiters of the 20th century.

Instead of thrashing this quaint object, Mr Eliot responds with curiosity – rather as Pablo Picasso was excited by those incomprehensible masks that had a career-changing effect on him. The question on Eliot’s mind must have been: how would a simple primitive, whose literary sensibility has been recently stirred by a smattering of English and a colonial, English education, write if he were so inclined? Is this the real thing – the first truly untainted “primitive” writing a novel in English? To answer the question, he sends the manuscript for review to none other than Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet with a similar interest in primitivism. Thomas is equally fascinated and sends in a rave report. The book is published, complete with a facsimile of the author’s original handwritten manuscript, to authenticate his existence as a real person and not a figment of someone’s imagination. The rest, as they say, is history. Yes, perhaps this is a story that should begin with the classic folktale formula: Once upon a time… and end with: and the book lived happily ever after.

Certainly we will live happily ever after with the things that we love about Tutuola’s novels: the oral storytelling voice that suddenly announces its status as print, with the copious capitalisations and the many character names placed in inverted commas as in the graphological oddities in a Lagos signwriter’s workshop; the numerous titles that signal the entrance of a new unusual character or begin a new, bizarre episode; the references to monstrous creatures who trade in British pounds, shillings and pennies, with the little fractions of the currency noted in detail, and so on. Imagine this bit of reverse intertextuality: “Then I told my wife to jump on my back with our loads, at the same time, I commanded my juju which was given to me by ‘the Water Spirit Woman’ in the ‘Bush of Ghosts’ (the full story of the “Spirit Woman” appeared in the story book of the Wild Hunter in the Bush of Ghosts).”

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Tutuola’s second novel, was published in 1952. But in this first novel, the narrator-protagonist is referring to it as an already “appeared” story book. In short, he is referencing a book yet to be published as if it were already in the public domain. Is this a form of oral intertextuality? Is there a realm in which all the stories of the world already exist, simply waiting for the artist to bring each to voice or into print? We are used to the notion of art imitating life; what are we to do with the proposition that art prefigures life? It is this sense of reversibility, this playfulness before postmodernism, this toying with our expectations, troubling our knowledge systems and classificatory grids and upsetting our categories (even our tenses) for grasping the world, which makes Tutuola’s world perennially fascinating. Though The Palm-Wine Drinkard remains his most engaging text, this quality is present in all his works.

As the Tutuola texts begin another phase of life with these 2014 editions, they once again stand at a crucial conjuncture in the institutional organisation of literature and literary studies. Within a decade of the publication of his first novel, African literature took its first tentative steps towards becoming a discipline of study in institutions of higher learning in Africa and elsewhere in the world. As we hurtle down the road towards what is increasingly being touted as World Literature, we need to take Tutuola’s texts with us, because they will help us reflect on and understand the implications of this new form of organisation of literary knowledge.

So much has been said about how Tutuola marks a crucial stage in the evolution of African writing, but one important part of his epochal significance remains unexplored. What the uneven reception history of The Palm-Wine Drinkard marks is that historical moment when a chasm arose between the local/national evaluation of a text and the international value attached to it. While the foreign reviewers thought highly of it, the local commentators were less impressed. In the usual course of literary evaluation, a text is first valued by the local audience in whose language it is written and this valuation usually passes on to the international audience. This often occurs through translations undertaken on the basis of the local construction of literary value, thus creating one extended circuit of value. But with Tutuola two circuits of value emerged and the divergence between the two could not have been wider. Happily, in the course of time, both circuits converged as the local commentators quickly conceded (implicitly) that they had been mistaken in their initial evaluation.

But were they really mistaken? Perhaps – but not entirely. In their assessments they were inserting the text into a local circuit of value, placing it beside works of a similar genre in the local tradition. In their estimation, read within this tradition, Tutuola’s novel falls short when placed beside the towering figure of D.O. Fagunwa, the pioneer of the Yoruba novel. Some went so far as to call Tutuola’s work a poor imitation. But Fagunwa’s works were not written in English, nor were they published in London; they were written in Yoruba, published in Lagos and sold through a local distribution infrastructure. Their publication was not mediated by an Eliot or Thomas or reviewers in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker or The Observer, to name a few. In effect, they were largely limited to a local circuit of value. To use Soyinka’s apt phrase, they did not “suffer rediscovery by the external eye”.

What lesson can we take from this Tutuola story as we move into the future, as globalisation engulfs us and World Literature arrives at the doorsteps of academic institutions? The lesson is this: that while writers in local languages and writers of English texts published locally insert their texts into local/localised textual/social formations and these texts participate in local circuits of value, texts written in English and published in the metropolis are inserted into an international/global literary space and acquire value in relation to the value criteria and mechanisms operative within that space. While the former are often engaged in the project of national dialogue and partake in a local field of discourse, the latter enter into the international literary space, often on the basis of their distinct “civilisational” or geopolitical, cultural contribution. This is, of course, a different discursive field, usually with its own set of priorities and value criteria. Here is a Tutuola-esque image to describe this process: And a “MONSTER WITH ONE EYE FACING NORTH AND ONE EYE FACING SOUTH” entered the room.

What better image can there be to welcome the re-issue of Tutuola’s novels and to highlight the many lessons we can draw from them?

This story features in the new edition of Chronic Books, the supplement to the Chronic. Through dispatches, features, interviews and reviews, we explore the reach of public relations and petrodollars.

To purchase in print or as a PDF head to our online shop. Copies coming to your nearest dealer now-now. Access to the whole issue and Chronic online archives is available for $28 for one year or $7 for a month.

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