From The New York Times to CNN: African Literature in the News

by - 09:27

Maybe it's because I am completely engrossed in it, but I can't help but notice how much more I'm reading about African literature in mainstream media sources. 

Back in June, for instance,  The New York Times published an article, 'New Wave of African Writers With an Internationalist Bent'. The article explains how:
'Black literary writers with African roots (though some grew up elsewhere), mostly young cosmopolitans who write in English, are making a splash in the book world, especially in the United States. They are on best-seller lists, garner high profile reviews and win major awards, in America and in Britain. Ms. Adichie, 36, the author of "Americanah," which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction this year, is a prominent member of an expanding group that includes Dinaw Mengestu, Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Teju Cole, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Taiye Selasi, among others.' 
Other African authors mentioned in the article include Ishmael Beah, Aminatta Forna and Okey Ndibe, with the reasons behind this 'critical mass' being that:
'After years of political and social turmoil, positive changes in several African nations are helping to greatly expand the number of writers and readers. Newer awards like the Caine Prize for African Writing have helped, too, as have social media, the Internet and top M.F.A programs.'

What is unique about these 'new African writers' though - according to Manthia Diawara, a professor of comparative literature and film at NYU, 'It is a literature more about being a citizen of the world - going to Europe, going back to Lagos'. He goes on to explain that '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.'

The article did, however, get some flak, as highlighted in an article on BooksLive, 'Should Science Fiction and Fantasy be Included in the "New Wave of African Writers"?', as Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors, such as Nnedi Okorafor, were kept off the list. While I do agree that the list should have acknowledged the other voices and genres in African literature, it does not change the fact that it is a great time for African literature. 

Take Flavorwire, last month they also put together their own list of '8 More African-Born Writers You Should be Reading'. They acknowledge the 'abundance of fantastic literature coming out of Africa right now' and see it as 'something to celebrate'. Their list of 'African-born writers include A. Igoni Barrett, Chigozie Obioma, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ivan Vladislavic, Binyavanga Wainaina, Zoe Wicomb, Camara Laye and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. I love Flavorwire's list for its mix of new and old and it contains some authors whose works I absolutely love. 

And then this month, actually just a few days ago, CNNs African Voices released its own list of 'African writers you should be reading now'. The rise of the new African writer was also a theme in this article: 
' ... Iately new names from across the continent are becoming part of popular literary consciousness. "Purple Hibiscus," "Half of a Yellow Sun" and more recently "Americanah" have brought international acclaim for Nigerian author du jour, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
She joins a growing list of popular African authors -- including NoViolet Bulawayo, Binyavanga Wainaina, Taiye Selasi, Lauren Beukes, Alain Mabanckou -- who have been steadily picking up steam --and fans -- across the globe over the last several years.'
This article, in a way, goes one step further from The New York Times article as it mentions 'indigenous content producers and independent publishers' across the content, such as  Chimurenga and Kwani?, as well as writers' collectives like Jalada. And while it does recognise translated Francophone literature with Alain Mabanckou and makes mention of Sci-fi and fantasy (it also mentions erotica) and lists Lauren Beukes among its must-read writers, it would be awesome to also include authors like Nnedi Okorafor and Sarah Lotz who are also getting some amazing recognition internationally, as well as Ivor Hartmann and his work with AfroSF. 

Moving away from NYT and CNN African Voices, just yesterday, Zimbabwean author, Tendai Huchu, wrote an article for Vitabu books, 'A Few Thoughts on the Literature Which May/May Not Be Called African Literature'. In it he writes that 'We live in interesting times for lovers of African literature' and I can't help but agree. I love that in this article Tendai Huchi draws attention to 'Some of the more interesting developments [that] are happening outside the stables of large international publishers and don't get as much notice/airplay/recognition'. By this he is referring to:
'The indie authors in romance like Myne Whitman (A Heart to Mend), Nkem Ivara (Closer than a Brother), Rudo Muchoko (When Love Strikes) and Kiru Taye (author of the highly popular Men of Valour series, which has done extremely well on Amazon), who are pushing the boundaries and mining spaces traditional publishers have neglected. 
In speculative fiction you have self-pubbed authors like Masimba Musodza who publishes in both Shona and English, and whose novel, Hebert Wants to Come Home, was first serialised on JukePop Serials. Running parallel to the work of indie authors, it is also interesting to see new developments by Ivor Hartmann, publisher of AfroSF, and Marius du Plessis of Fox and Raven Publishing who are creating alternative platforms for writers working in Genre Fiction.
It will also be interesting to see whether authors like Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Deon Meyer exert a large enough gravitational pull for new writers to enter the crime genre. Already in Nigeria there is a new start-up, Cordite Books, headed by Helon Habila which hopefully will ignite a spark in crime fiction written on the continent.'

As a book lover, I can't help but be happy to see that African literature, on and off the continent, is on the rise - although for many it's always been there. So maybe it's less about African literature being on the rise and more about it being noticed and appreciated by a lot more people. And as a book blogger it's also kinda nice to know that bloggers are being recognised in this landscape. As raised in the CNN article by Ms. Afropolitan:
"And when something is good, it obviously catches people's attention. Before it would not have reached any mainstream; now it is, thanks to bloggers and local content production."
And also by Tendai Huchu in his article:
'Another interesting/new factor to add to the literary scene has been the emergence of online bloggers and critics. Publishers have often complained that newspapers on the continent have little real interest in literature, which is why bloggers like Zahrah Nesbitt (Bookshy), Sarah Norman (White Whale), James Murua (James Murua’s Literature Blog), Ainehi Edoro (Brittle Paper), Nana-Ama Kyerematen (Afri*Diaspora), Vitabu and many others now occupy a crucial space in terms of reviewing and publicising books from around Africa to their potential readership across the world. This can only be enriching because book blogs (even for large western publishers) have become the essential, go-to place for readers today and can create a buzz for works that might otherwise be ignored in mainstream media.'
There really is a lot going on in the world of African literature. We have some awesome literary magazines like Bakwa (Cameroon) and Saraba (Nigeria) and innovative ideas like  Okadabooks in Nigeria using mobile devices to bring books to people. We also have literary festivals - Ake Arts and Book Festival (Nigeria), Open Book Festival (South Africa), Storymoja Hay Festival (Kenya), Writivism Festival (Uganda) as well as Africa Writes (UK)

And if I may, I would like to add to these already wonderful lists by mentioning a few more names - travel writer, Noo Saro-Wiwa; Angolan authors, Ondjaki and José Eduardo Agualusa; Ghanaian author, Nii Ayikwei Parkes; Nigerian author, Obinna Udenwe;  South African authors, Zukiswa Wanner and Niq Mhlongo; and Zimbabwean, Nouvoyo Rosa Tshuma. 

As for blogs, if you are interested in finding out more, James Murua has a list of 10 African literature rich blogs, which includes blogs such as Kinna Reads and BooksLive. 


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