Category Archives: African Lit

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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Happy Birthday Chinua Achebe

In honor of the late, great Chinua Achebe’s birthday today, we are paying homage to his legacy. You may be familiar with his most famous work, Things Fall Apart, as it may have been your first introduction to literature from the continent. Achebe, a Naija born and raised, also wrote a number of essays, poems, and critiques that are as relevant today as they were when originally published.

So without further ado, Here are a few of our favorite Achebe quotes:

“I tell my students, it’s not difficult to identify with somebody like yourself, somebody next door who looks like you. What’s more difficult is to identify with someone you don’t see, who’s very far away, who’s a different color, who eats a different kind of food. When you begin to do that then literature is really performing its wonders.”

“If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”

“We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” (The Education of the British-Protected Child)

“There is no story that is not true.” (Things Fall Apart)

“My weapon is literature.”

“People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.” (There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra)

“I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them” (Morning Yet on Creation Day)

Tell us your favorite Achebe quote . . .

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Ghanaian Literature Week: “African Heaven”

  

“African Heaven” – Frank Kobina Parkes

Give me black souls,
Let them be black
Or chocolate brown
Or make them the
Color of dust —
Dustlike,
Browner than sand.
But if you can
Please keep them black,
Black.

Give me some drums;
Let them be three
Or maybe four
And make them black —
Dirty and black:
Of wood,
And dried sheepskin,
But if you will
Just make them peal,
Peal.
Peal loud,
Mutter.
Loud,
Louder yet;
Then soft,
Softer still
Let the drums peal.
Let the calabash
Entwined with beads
With blue Aggrey beads
Resound, wildly
Discordant,
Calmly
Melodious.
Let the calabash resound
In tune with the drums.

Mingle with these sounds
The clang
Of wood on tin:
Kententsekenken
Ken-tse ken ken ken
:
Do give me voices
Ordinary
Ghost voices
Voices of women
And the bass
Of men.
(And screaming babes?)

Let there be dancers,
Broad-shouldered Negroes
Stamping the ground
With naked feet
And half-covered
Women
Swaying, to and fro,
In perfect
Rhythm
To “Tom shikishiki”
And “ken,”
And voices of ghosts
Singing,
Singing!
Let there be
A setting sun above,
Green palms
Around,
A slaughtered fowl
And plenty of
Yams.

And dear Lord,
If the place be
Not too full,
Please
Admit spectators.
They may be
White or
Black.

Admit spectators
That they may
See:
The bleeding fowl,
And yams,
And palms
And dancing ghosts.

Odomankoma,
Do admit spectators
That they may
Hear:
Our native songs,
The clang of wood on tin
The tune of beads
And the pealing drums.

Twerampon, please, please
Admit
Spectators!
That they may
Bask
In the balmy rays
Of the
Evening Sun,
In our lovely
African heaven!

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Ghanaian Literature Week: “Ghana Must Go”

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Tolstoy)

I just finished Taiye Selasi’s highly praised Ghana Must Go and, in writing this post, the above quote immediately came to mind.

To be clear, this is a brilliant text.  Beautifully written and absolutely enthralling, Selasi’s debut novel is simply extraordinary. However, reader be warned, this is a dark and at times disturbing story.

This won’t be a traditional book review because, well, I hate writing those.  But really I fear that I may give away an important plot point.  So, instead here is a quick synopsis: The story opens with Kweku Sai – esteemed doctor, husband, and father of four adult children – dying from a heart attack early in the morning.  Using stream of consciousness, the remaining chapters reveal the story(ies) of Kweku’s life, death, and loves (his children and his wives).  Each member of Kweku’s family comes to terms with his death by revisiting dark and deeply hidden family histories and psycho-pathologies.

Upon finishing the novel, I realized the brilliance of the title being named after an ephemeral variety of “luggage” popularized in West Africa during the 1980s; this is a story about baggage.

I was so enthralled with this text that I found myself throwing caution to the wind and highlighting passages (and with a pen, no less!). Rarely does my love for a passage outweigh my librarian instinct of book preservation but I was captivated by words such as quoted here: https://afrolibrarians.com/2013/11/06/what-shes-reading-2/

And here: “It amuses her, always has, this disregard of Africans for flowers, the indifference of the abundantly blessed (or psychologically battered – the chronic self loather who can’t accept, even with evidence, that anything native to him, occurring in abundance, in excess, without effort, has value)”

And here: “The only reason for dating as opposed to mating for life – was to acquaint oneself, viscerally and immediately and non lyrically, with the fact of ones “personal mortality”, nothing else.”

I could certainly go on!

These insightful (albeit often cynical) assertions are just a few examples of this novel’s exceptional narrative, particularly from a contemporary “Afropolitan” perspective.  The text is full of such gems as well as other philosophical concepts (Go wild, existentialists).  For this reason, I also highly recommend Ghana Must Go for a philosophy and/or Afro-lit course.

My hat goes off to Selasi for constructing a truly provocative and unforgettable debut novel.  I can’t wait to dig into her short stories and am now impatiently awaiting her next project.

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What She’s Reading

In honor of Ghanaian literature Week (November 11-17), I’m currently reading Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. The text is insightful, engaging and simply beautiful. A review is forthcoming but until then, enjoy this snippet:

“To him, who could name grief by each one of her faces, the logic was familiar from a warmer third world, where the boy who tails his mother freshly bloodied from labor (fruitless labor) to the edge of an ocean at dawn – who sees her place the little corpse like a less lucky Moses all wrapped up in palm frond, in froth, then walk away, but who never hears her mention it, ever, not once – learns that ‘loss’ is a notion. No more than a thought. Which one forms or one doesn’t. With words. Such that one cannot lose, nor ever say he has lost, what he does not permit to exist in his mind.” (Page 10)

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Poem of the Month: “An African Elegy”

“We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.”

— Ben Okri

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What She’s Reading

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Kaffir Boy – My never-ending search for auto-ethnographic texts (stay tuned for a post on this in the future), led me to this classic.  Inspired by Richard Wright’s  Black Boy, Kaffir Boy is an autobiographical narrative that explores Mark Mathabane’s childhood during South Africa’s apartheid.  Introspective and analytical, this novel is simply captivating.

Philosophical Meditations on Richard Wright – Written by one of the authors of this blog *winks and looks over at him*, this text explores Richard Wright from a philosophical, psychological, and sociological perspective.  Although this book is written for academics, I found it to be very engaging and even paradigm shifting in terms of perspective on Wright’s work.

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10 Great Opening Lines in Afro-Literature

Every great writer knows the importance of the opening text. Not only is it the author’s first shot at engaging the reader, it also sets the tone for the entire novel.  A truly great incipit, as evidenced by the examples below, will also foreshadow theme, structure, plot and even conflict.

Let’s face it, a strong opening is perhaps the best indication of a strong text.  So let’s take a look at a few of the most profound within the Afro-literary genre:

“On the morning of her ninth birthday, the day after Madame Francoise Derbane slapped her, Suzette peed on the rosebushes.” – Lalita Tademy, Cane River

“You better not never tell nobody but God.” – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me.” – NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

“A dwelling.” – Nuruddin Farah, From a Crooked Rib

“I was not sorry when my brother died.” – Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

“124 was spiteful.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” – Zadie Smith, White Teeth

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish aboard.” – Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.” – Ben Okri, The Famished Road

“They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.” – Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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