Category Archives: African Lit

National Poetry Month featuring Nayyirah Waheed

“what i never
learned
from my mother
was that
just because someone desires you
does
not mean they value you.
desire is the kind of thing that
eats you
and

leaves you starving.”

The Color of Low Self Esteem


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What He’s Reading: Wole Soyinka’s ‘Prisonettes’

In 1967 Wole Soyinka was imprisoned for twenty-two months, a large part of the time in isolation.  He has said that the prison is meant to “break down the human mind”, and yet, without much opportunity to write, and often having to memorize in large part, he constructed, A Shuttle in the Crypt, a book of poems which he terms ‘prisonettes’.  A ‘prisonette’ is not a poem of or about prisons, but what can come out of the prisons given that they are not the constructions in which anyone can occupy such a space.  The prison is the specific expression of the prisoner; the prison was made for the prisoner—it is the natural expression of poetics of place.

‘Prisonettes’, though, are not ontological, though, in the sense of producing a certain kind of being—”a new kind of man, a Negro”.  They are the expressions of those beings for whom prison is their ‘natural end’.  In other words, a ‘prisonette’ is the expression of what Abdul R. Jan Mohamed terms, in his description of Richard Wright, as a death-bound subject.  A ‘prisonette’ addresses the question posed by Etheridge Knight, “can there anything/good come out of/prison”

                “We sought to cleanse the faulted lodes

                To raise new dwellings pillard on crags…

                …Forge new realities, free our earth 

                Of distorting shadows cast by old

                And modern necromancers.” (Excerpt from “Conversation at Night with a Cockroach”)

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World Poetry Day: You Are Oceanic

 

You Are Oceanic

By Tapiwa Mugabe

All she wanted

Was find a place to

Stretch her bones

A place to lengthen

Her smiles

And spread her hair

A place where her

Legs could walk

Without cutting and

Bruising

A place unchained

She was born out of

Ocean breath.

I reminded her;

‘Stop pouring so

Much of yourself

Into hearts that have

No room for

Themselves

Do not thin yourself

Be vast

You do not bring the

Ocean to a river’

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What She’s Reading: Love Is Power Or Something Like That

Its been a long time since we’ve written – sorry.  One major life update is that we got hitched!

We are back from our honeymoon and have not forgotten about our loyal readers. In fact, we read Incidence In The Life of a Slave Girl during our vacation and can’t wait to blog about it!  Yes, we read a book during our honeymoon.  We love reading almost as much as we love each other so it’s fitting that it was one of our activities 😉

Back to the matter at hand…

A. Igoni Barrett’s fascinating collection of short stories surrounding the lives of several unconnected characters living in both rural and urban Nigeria. This collection has completely captivated my attention since the new year began. The title is what initially grabbed my attention but Barrett’s prose is equally engaging.  He is outstanding in his use of witty and, at times, his devastating exploration of humanity in stories ranging from a trouble youth involved in money scams, a police officer balancing his unethical work life with his familial commitment, and an old woman struggling with isolation. These stories take you by surprise, unfolding the lives and relationships of each character masterfully.  It is clear that Barrett’s illustration that love is a dynamic force, transforming the actions of each character.

I’m in love with this collection. I highly recommend giving it a read but, as always, am interested in hearing your thoughts on Barrett’s work as well.  Share your impressions…
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A Short, Cringe-Worthy Post: Achebe and Emecheta

I HATE when critics compare African novelists – whether they be Anglophone, Francophone or Lusophone – to Chinua Achebe.  It’s as though Achebe is the only writer to have ever written anything noteworthy on the Continent and that all writers thereafter must somehow be compared to his work.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a brilliant man; but there are countless other outstanding African authors (both past and present) who will blow you away in a variety of unique ways.

With that said, I have to make a statement that I swore I would never make about any author, particularly one coming from Nigeria.  Buchi  Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood reminds me of Achebe’s writing, specifically, Things Fall Apart.  There I said it.

Both authors are from Nigeria, Igbo/Ibo roots to be specific, and both write in a descriptive and introspective manner.  Both novels tackle social and cultural norms from a gender specific lens – Emecheta from a woman’s perspective and Achebe from a man’s – rooted in their village’s practices.  Both protagonists also fall victim to their loyalty for tradition, obligation, and ancestral legacy.  I use the word victim because historic events play a strong background role in both novels, a role which neither protagonist foresaw.

For me, the similarities don’t end there but the purpose of this post is to ask our readers for their thoughts on the two novels …

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What She’s Reading

Of Africa by Wole Soyinka

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To be honest, this text is a bit all over the place and Soyinka’s conclusions are not as tightly drawn as I expected.  However, in Of Africa Soyinka is attempting to tackle “Africa’s culture, religion, history, imagination, and identity” and “understand how the continent’s history is entwined with the histories of others”.  This, quite simply, is no easy task!  Soyinka ambitiously takes this on and writes as though he is having an intimate but eloquent conversation with an eager yet indivisible (and well-read… as Soyinka assumes the reader’s familiarity with World history and politics) reader sitting at his feet.  Soyinka cements himself as a treasure. This is made evident in Of Africa by Soyinka’s vast historical and cultural knowledge as well as the plethora of notable gems sprinkled throughout the text.

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta

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“Her love and duty for her children were like her chain of slavery.”

The above is a powerful quote from Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood that encapsulates the dichotomy between modernity and motherhood.  In less than 250 pages, Emecheta succeeds in scripting a tale that is both social commentary and compelling story.  Set in a small village in post colonial Nigeria and moving to the bustling capital of Lagos, this is the story of Nnu Ego and the tragedy and triumphs of childbirth.  Thus far, this is a beautiful novel and one that I will more than likely recommend for our Afro-readers.

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Magical Realism in Afro-Literature

The death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez marks the passing of yet another literary giant.  His presence will be missed but his words are guaranteed to live on through his work.  In addition to his most well-known novels Love In The Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez left a legacy that is synonymous with the literary genre “magical realism” by effortlessly infusing reality with fantasy.

Magical realism incorporates enchanting or other-world elements into otherwise commonplace stories.  Marquez mastered this art and solidified his presence as one of the greats within the genre.  However, he was not the first to utilize this technique.  Magical elements have historically played a role in African and African-Diaspora literature and story telling.  A quick web-search will reveal countless books, articles and academic papers on the subject.  It’s late, so I’ll spare you the history and instead provide a list of my five favorite novels that feature magical realism.

Add your favorites in the comments below.

Image5) Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

A story, depicting the mysterious Miranda “Mama” Day and her niece Ophelia, that takes place in a fictional island off the coast of Georgia.  It’s reminiscent of a Shakespearean novel and depicts the tragedy and sacrifice between lovers.

Image4) Kindred by Octavia Butler

This bewitching tale follows Dana Franklin as she involuntarily travels through time in an attempt to preserve her lineage and ensure her own survival.  It’s a fast-paced historical novel that secures Butler’s role as the mother of modern science fiction and magical realism.

Image3) The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

The Wizard of the Crow is as entertaining as it is politically astute.  The story surrounds citizens within a fictional African country ruled by an aging dictator.  In this novel I’m not sure which concepts are more absurd – the magical occurrences or the real  current events from which the story is based . . .

Image2) Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of an escaped slave who is haunted by her past.  Not only is it an epic historical fiction novel, Morrison expertly guides the reader in and out of each character’s psychosis until the line between magic and reality is practically invisible.  Don’t let the (horrible) film adaptation deter you from exploring this novel; this isn’t just about slavery just as it isn’t simply a ghost story.

Image1) The Famished Road by Ben Okri

What is it about the country of Nigeria that produces game-changing authors and pioneers in literature?  Not only is The Famished Road laced with realistic-feeling magical elements, Okri’s writing style is purely enchanting.  The first few chapters of the book are so beautifully written that the novel is spell-binding.  Ben Okri writes like no author I have ever encountered. He’s brilliant, no question, but I’m now convinced there’s wizardry involved!

 

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What She’s Reading: “Dzino – Memories of a Freedom Fighter” and “The Long Song”

Dzino

Wilfred Mhanda, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Harare last year, pens a detailed and intriguing account of the the guerrilla war in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe’s subsequent independence, the rise of the ZANU party, and the rise President Mugabe.  This is a must-read narrative containing first hand accounts of political rivalries and perhaps the most in-depth account of President Mugabe’s rise within the ZANU-PF party.

levy

I tagged this one as “Afro-European Lit” because Andrea Levy is perhaps one of the most well-known Afro-authors and pioneers in the United Kingdom.  However, this is an Afro-Caribbean epic about slavery and the struggle for abolition in Jamaica.  Following a young slave woman named July, The Long Song weaves in and out of history telling a story that is at times engaging and suspenseful but at other times painfully slow moving. Honestly, I’m still trying to decide whether I will read her entire body of work this year as planned as I am not completely blown away this far.  Stay tuned . . .

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What She’s Reading: The Granta Book of the African Short Story

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It’s a cold and rainy Saturday evening – the perfect time to stay indoors, curl up with a book and a warm blanket and sip giant glass wine 🙂

This week I’m cracking open my newest buy: “The Granta Book of the African Short Story”. Edited by Helon Habila, a formidable writer in his own right, this collection includes anglophone, lusophone, and francophone authors. (One of my new year’s resolutions is to read more lusophone literature so I’m feeling a bit smug ;-p about getting off to a great start). Habila describes this project as a compilation of Africa’s “post national generation” writers and includes 29 authors from 19 countries. From Leila Aboulela to Zoe Wicomb, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Alex Guma, and from Moroco to Zimbabwe; this is quite a diverse anthology of literature from the continent.

I’ll return to this post at a later date to list my favorites. In the meantime, pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online at the Hueman Bookstore by following the link below

Hueman Bookstore

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The Afropolitan Anthropologist

This month the Afro-library is spotlighting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of the best-selling contemporary writers of Afro-literary fiction.

I find Chimamanda to be one of today’s most introspective and insightful writers on race and culture. In addition to having a keen ability to create an engaging story, she unabashedly incorporates social commentary into each of her novels and short stories – sometimes, arguably, at the risk of artistic excellence. But the fact remains that her ability to conceptualize society’s idiosyncrasies is perhaps her greatest strength. She is the perfect example of an afropolitan author with the heart of an anthropologist.

After digging through the Afro-library bookshelves, we came up with a few samples that best illustrate Chimamanda’s unique voice. Check out these quotes, add your own, or simply tell us what you think of her work.

Fiction
“…humility had always seemed to him a specious thing, invented for the comfort of others; you were praised for humility by people because you did not make them feel any more lacking than they already did.” (Purple Hibiscus)

“He tried to visualize a heaven, a God seated on a throne, but could not. Yet the alternative vision, that death was nothing but an endless silence, seemed unlikely. There was a part of him that dreamed, and he was not sure if that part could ever retreat into an interminable silence. Death would be a complete knowingness, but what frightened him was this: not knowing beforehand what it was he would know.” (Half of a Yellow Sun)

“You did not want him to go to Nigeria, to add it to the list of countries where he went to gawk at the lives of poor people who could never gawk back at his life.” (The Thing Around Your Neck)

“Poverty was a gleaming thing; she could not conceive of poor people being vicious or nasty because their poverty had canonized them them, and the greatest saints were the foreign poor.” (Americanah)

TED Talks and Other Quotables
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

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