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Sunday, 14 February 2016

#LoveinLiteraryAfrica: An African Valentine's Day Reading List


'There ain't no #LoveinLiteraryAfrica apparently ... ' is the tweet from Grace A. Musila - Senior Lecturer at Stellenbosch University - that started it all. That was Wednesday February 10th. The New York Times had published a quiz five days earlier - 'A Valentine's Day's Reading List', where readers were meant to match the ' ... character with his or her beloved, and name the literary work in which they appear.' On that same day (Wednesday), I was at work trying to finish yet another report. The day came to an end and completely dreading the cold journey home, I check my phone and noticed a tweet from Janet Remmington (@JanetNotJohn) about #LoveinLiteraryAfrica. I check it out, and going through my TL, reading the different tweets, I was instantly warmed. 

The next day I contacted Grace A Musila to find out more about #LoveinLiteraryAfrica - what prompted the initial tweet, what #LoveinLiteraryAfrica is all about and her reaction to the overwhelming positive response it has had on Twitter in the lead up to Valentine's Day. In the process I learned about the AflLit Vuvuzelites - 'a playful nickname' Musila coined for the quartet, which also includes Thando Njovane (Doctoral Candidate at University of Leeds and Chair of Finding Africa), Ranka Primorac (Lecturer at University of Southampton) and Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire (writer, academic, lawyer and co-founder of CACE). The AfLit Vuvuzelites as Musila explains in our conversation: 
' ... is obviously a play on the vuvuzela, which is traditionally associated with football fans; and 'Lit' in the sense of literature, but also in the second sense of the woke'ster generation's term for something exciting or interesting. The four of us promote and celebrate African writing in our different contexts and work; so in a sense we variously blow our metaphoric vuvuzelas in celebration and affirmation of African Literature, which we know to be exciting and, as the woke generation would describe it, 'Lit' :).'
Well, African Twitterati was definitely 'Lit' thanks to the AfLit Vuvuzelites. 



What about #LoveinLiteraryAfrica? Grace A Musila explains the tweet was originally in response to the NYT article mentioned earlier:
'I was intrigued by the article's title, as a lover of books, but I was disappointed to find that African masterpieces never made the list. I realise it didn't set out to be representative, and in fact the author - a writer and literary scholar - indicates that the list consists of her favourites, among masterpieces of world literature [the] list is nonetheless emblematic of a long tradition of selective embracing and snubbing of African writing not only by the media, but all manner of institutions and readerships across the world.
Simply put, Musila's initial tweet was 'a protest against this oh-so-familiar tradition'. 

While the AfLit Vuvuzelites thought it would be fun to add African Literature to the NYT article list, this spiralled into something more beautiful, 'as fellow lovers of African literature joined the conversation that article irrelevant':
'We thought it would fun to fill in the gaps in that list, so to speak, and remind ourselves that there is an exciting range of literary portrayals of love in Africa; writing that was as interesting and insightful as the list featured in that article. 
#LoveinLiteraryAfrica quickly transformed into a delightful celebration of literary imaginings of lover by and about Africans. It became a way of sharing our personal favourites from the vast library of African literature, and giving each other pointers on what is available, by and about Africans. And that was the pleasure of it: sharing recommended tittles and seeing a virtual community of lovers of African writing speaking to each other'.
We were definitely speaking to each other and sharing the love as I've captured in this Storify - recommending many books, Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor's Dust and Zukiswa Wanner's LCTJ to name a few; and sharing great romances (tragic or otherwise) found in these many stories - Aunty Uju and The General in Americanah, as well as Ifemelu and Ceiling, Hajiya Binta and Reza in Season of Crimson Blossoms. There was so much love, and it reminded me of Ama Ata Aidoo's introduction in African Love Stories (also recommended in #LoveinLiteraryAfrica): 
'Africa, like all other regions of the earth, has been and is full of love stories.
In deed we are (full of love stories). Going through #LoveinLiteraryAfrica, I counted over 90 works of fiction - excluding poetry and academic texts and links to online stories. Yes, you read correctly, #LoveinLiteraryAfrica is an amazing literary resource with over 90 works of African literature which draw on the theme of love in its many guises - the bittersweet love affair between Tayo and Vanessa in In Dependence, Rapu (the maid) hooking up with the Oga (a Madam's worse nightmare) in The Night Dancer, the dynamics between Furo and his new love, Syreeta, in Blackass.


70 of #LoveinLiteraryAfrica Reads
That number really should not come as a surprise if as Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire explains, he 'read[s] books as love stories first':
'I was the student whose answer to exam questions about themes in any book started with love. My reading hasn't changed. Where the New York Times sees war, my eyes see the love before the war. Where the various commentators and reviewers of African literature see what they call poverty porn first and foremost, I see love. So @G_AMusila's #LoveinLiteraryAfrica  spoke to this predispostion. Just like many other things we share in common in our twitter quarter.'
Ranka Primorac raised a similar point around also having spaces for themes of desire and intimacy in African Literature:
'The notion that African literature is not, or should not be, about private lives or private emotions is not new. As far back as 1991, Ama Ata Aidoo said wryly (in the preface to her brilliant novel about lover in Ghana, "Changes") that she was about to go back on her earlier vow never to write about lovers in Accra. Supposedly, African literature had other, larger issues - to do with the political struggles of a continent - to worry about. But Aidoo is a thoughtful and subtle writer who knew that there is no firm dividing the line between the private and the political.  
Women and men who long for freedom also long for intimacy, happiness and self-expression. African literature, like any other literature represents the complexities of many kinds of struggles and desires.' 
So what does #LoveinLiteraryAfrica mean for Primorac?
'#LoveinLiteraryAfrica joins Aidoo in resisting reductionist views of African lives and African writings. Many readers must also feel tired of such views and this may be why the Twitter response was so enthusiastic. '
Enthusiastic it was! Although the Aflit Vuvuzelites didn't expect the response #LoveinLiteraryAfrica got, as Grace A Musila goes on to say: 

'The four of us ... often have wonderful conversations about African writing on Twitter; sometimes light talk; sometimes pretty intense discussions; and so we imagined it would just be the four of us self-appointed vuvuzela blowers for African writing ... having fun with our shared delight - African literature - as usual. The love an excitement from other Twitterati came as a wonderful surprise and a happy affirmation of African writing [which] remains a marginal category in the world; so it is such a pleasure to see a hashtag about African writing trending, and bringing together readers, writers, booksellers, publishers, researchers and many other stakeholders, in celebration of African writing. It is even more inspiring to see just how many readers, writers and publishers, share our passion and commitment to African experiences about African writing. So the love the hashtag enjoyed is a lovely gift in itself, not so much to us, but to African writing, and to all fellow AfLit Vuvuzelites, who never pass up the chance to be self-appointed ambassadors of African writing.
#LoveinLiteraryAfrica shows the dynamism of African literature and I want to say thank you to Grace A Musila for being intrigued by that NYT article title and for her response to it; to her and the AfLit Vuvuzelites for starting a conversation with #LoveinLiteraryAfrica; and to the literary community on Twitter for spreading the love. #LoveinLiteraryAfrica's African Valentine's Day Reading List is truly divine and I have already added a number of books to my ever-growing reading list. And here is another one courtesy of Ranka Primorac, who shared one of her favourite works related to #LoveinLiteraryAfrica: 

' ... the novelistic diptych "Pio na Vera" (Pio and Vera) by the great Mpashi. He wrote these two short novels in Bemba. in his native Zambia, in 1960s. I read them in translation. Pio is a sharp and ambitious young man living in a fast-changing town on Zambia's Copperbelt. He wants to get ahead in life; he also wants to marry his gorgeous, sexy girlfriend Vera. But there is a problem. Vera's brother has been falseley accused of murder and Pio must help the police to solve it before he and Vera can ever think of exchanging vows.' 
This leads me to ask, what is your #LoveinLiteraryAfrica read? Join the conversation, share your #LoveinLiteraryAfrica reads - it can be fiction, poetry, academic works, works online, anything - and read these #LoveinLiteraryAfrica reads.

PS. I've put together a Storify (my first ever!!!) of #LoveinLiteraryAfrica capturing the main themes so check out. 

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