Portrait - Obioma

Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel, The Fishermen, made news a few weeks back when it was longlisted for the 2015 Manbooker prize.

Percy Zvomuya reviewed the novel for The Sunday Times. Let’s just say that Zvomuya didn’t have a lot of praise to spare.  The title of the review, “Wading in Words,” says as much. Obioma’s inclusion in the Booker dozen, he claims, is more about geography—meeting their African quota— than about literary merit.

Obinna Udenwe, a Nigerian crime fiction writer wrote a counter-review that was posted on bookslive.co.za. He refuted Zvomuya’s claims and attested to the general opinion that Obioma had indeed written a work worthy of being on the prestigious longlist.

Instead of showing Obinna some love for coming to his defense, here is what Obioma tweeted:

I don’t know how y’all read this, but it sounds like, “Quit the noise, I like to revel in my work. Silently.”

Tactfully, Udenwe replied:

This brings up questions about the rules of author-reader-reviewer engagement.

Should a writer with a social media account be tagged/mentioned in reviews? Or do they deserve some post-publication privacy?

A review is one of the best compliments a reader can give a writer. After all, the reader invested the money to purchase your book, the time to write a review, and the energy to publicize it.

On the other hand, does accessibility to the writer via social media make them more vulnerable to the public’s rants?

In the former days, a reader would have to send a hard copy response to the writer’s private mail bag if there was something to be said. All of which may span weeks or months. Today, all it takes is a second at the click of a button to connect with an author

Whose side are you on Brittle Paper readers? Team Obioma or Udenwe?


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Nma rarely forgets the books she has read and attributes the reading bug to the moment she read Kofi Bentum Quantson’s two part novel, Mama Don’t Die. Ever a literary enthusiast, Nma is also a storyteller. She reveals extraordinary details in the lives of ordinary people and creates narratives for imagined stories.

26 Responses to “Author of The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma, Calls Out Book Reviewers On Twitter” Subscribe

  1. susan 2015/09/14 at 7:04 am #


  2. Ikenna 2015/09/14 at 7:16 am #

    There’s no “team”, stop trying to create drama where there is none.

  3. Nwamaka 2015/09/14 at 7:38 am #

    I am on Udenwe’s side. What if the reviews weren’t written in the first place? How would the author know what people think about his book?

  4. Eddie Hewitt 2015/09/14 at 8:48 am #

    I wrote a review of The Fishermen a few months ago and published it on my website, ConnectedCultures. I tweeted a link to the piece to Chigozie Obioma, and was pleased when he both favourite and re-tweeted the link. Obioma also briefly engaged via Twitter with a third party who made reference to the book, making my phone buzz again.
    I enjoyed reading The Fishermen immensely. I found the story quite captivating and it is one of my favourite books in a long time. So, the review was highly favourable. I like to think that Obioma enjoyed my review and saw some merit in my comments. I also felt at the time, and still do, that he genuinely appreciated the Twitter notification.
    Maybe the amount of social media activity aimed his way has snowballed in recent times. Perhaps some readers have tried to engage in more extensive and prolonged correspondence. I can see that would be annoying. It would be quite reasonable for an author to want to withdraw from such interaction.
    On balance, I don’t think this is really a big deal. People are free to post tweets and comments. Recipients are free to respond or ignore, perhaps to switch off altogether if desired. But it’s an interesting discussion and I look forward to seeing more on this.

  5. Ainehi Edoro 2015/09/14 at 10:27 am #

    Hi Eddie,

    Thanks for sharing your own experience with Mr. Obioma. It certainly does put things in perspective. I suppose it’s easier to welcome interactions with readers when the feedback is positive. But the true test of an author’s engagement with an audience lies in handling responses that aren’t so complimentary. Do they just ignore them, which is what many authors do. Or do they lash out?

  6. Chigozie Obioma 2015/09/14 at 2:08 pm #

    So, the subject of this mean-spirited lazy journalism is a twitter post asking that I not be tagged about conversations regarding my book, in which I stress that those things are not meant for the author, but readers. Send your thoughts to other readers. This is “calling out?” Why? Because this writer expected that I should have jumped up or thrown a party because someone praised my book, or “came to my defense?” So, when I defy that expectation, when I decide not to engage at all, nor READ whatever these folks are saying about my book, it becomes “calling out,” or, as one of the respondents here put it, “lashing out.” It’s sad; truly sad. Since my book was published, I have been appalled by interactions with Africans. I have received so many nasty mails, some so ridiculous that I had to disable the direct author contact link on my website. Various other “African writers” have engaged me in ways that approximate to hatred, some form of angst about what they believe is an unfair auspicious reception of my book. This has come from Africans—the very people I call my own. These smear campaigns, these vicious commentaries, these mean messages. I am not surprised, though. Where other people succeed in propping others up and basking in the success of the other, the African rejoices—or feels elevated—in tearing others down. It is why, from North to South, East to West, what you have is a continent failed states. Every one thinks for themselves, hence, that sense of community, of bettering yourself by raising others, is non-existent.

    Now, this is why Mr. Hewitt got a different response than the other folks. True, I stopped reading reviews after the New York Times review in April, my close friends sift through the important ones and sometimes pass on something to me. But when an African writes something, none of us will read it. This writer can assume whatever they want, but it is my choice: what to read or not. No one can deny me that privilege of choice. None. My conclusion is this: Those folks will not be writing anything based on the normal sense of offering unbiased thought or “review”, but they will be offering thoughts based on their different agendas or ego. What I offered to one of those folks was the gift of thanks for choosing to read my book when there are millions out there. And that’s all I can offer. I cannot engage with them on it. Which is why Ms. Uche, it’s a big shame that this is your interpretation of that move: “Quit the noise, I like to revel in my work. Silently.” How unfair, how biased, how mean, how unjust that conclusion is. And it sums it all up—the reason why I chose not to engage with these guys, and justifiably so.

    Now, this will be my last word on this and any stuff at all that this ungoing vicious—but totally unwarranted (What have I done wrong? Is it evil to burst out with a well-received book?)—campaign will bring down the road: That people make the mistake of approximating writing about Africa with writing for Africa. Go read my interviews. I’m a writer who reads—and is inspired by—fiction across the board, rather than just works from one continent. My favorite work is a novel by an Indian writer. I have no literary allegiance. And, hence, I’m not writing for Africans, but for everyone interested in reading.
    (Now, no interviewer should quote the content of my response to this mean blog post in any talk with me. I will not respond.)

  7. Jaja 2015/09/14 at 6:04 pm #

    The bitter review that made me want to write a correspondingly bitter and very personal response is Helon Habila’s. He did to The Fishermen what he did to We Need New Names: exaggerated what he imagined were faults and completely bypassed both books’ strong points. Same thing Mukoma wa Ngugi did in his review of Adichie’s Africa39 contribution. It was dishonest. Thankfully, Taiye Selasi has taken both of them to the cleaners.
    I have what I think about all this, particularly your pattern of presenting literary controversies, but rather than put them out here I’ll email you, Ainehi. I understand why Chigozie chose to make his outburst public. People go on Facebook, for instance, and drop hate comments about a book most of them haven’t even read, same way they do it to other authors. But it’s the way you respond that matters. You’re on the Booker longlist and that is what matters. I really hope this is your last response.
    And since when did the Booker become the arbiter of the best fiction in English as they claim? They should explain why Americanah did not make their 2013 longlist. And the Orange prize should explain why We Need New Names was not longlisted in 2014. No prize captures all. We rejoiced when Soyinka won the Nobel; we should not bother at all that Achebe didn’t, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t take anything away from him.

  8. Jaja 2015/09/14 at 6:07 pm #

    “We should rejoice that Soyinka won the Nobel”

  9. Fred Khumalo 2015/09/15 at 6:08 am #

    Well said, Jaja! No single literary prize captures all. But I am saddened at the negativity levelled at Chigozie and his book.

  10. L. Han 2015/09/15 at 9:14 am #

    Most just focus on whatever they imagine to be flaws and fail to recognise the creativity embedded in the work. But as they say, a prophet is not adored in is homestead…

    Now that he has been shortlisted, hopefully it would suppress the negativity.

  11. Nnamdi Anyadu 2015/09/15 at 10:01 am #

    I don’t even know what to say. The situation we have before us is fifty shades of awkward. Mr. Obioma claims he’s been getting bad reviews from African writers & readers but ‘lashes’ out a when a good one comes by? No one can tell one how to behave but it would have been nicer if Obioma said this in actual response to a bad review and not to Udenwe.

  12. Ainehi Edoro 2015/09/16 at 7:24 am #


    How you dey? I’m waiting for that email o. Love getting feedback from members of the community.

  13. Pearl Osibu 2015/09/16 at 9:24 am #

    Nnamdi, exactly. He probably did not even read udenwe’s post at all and perhaps when th backlash started, did and responded by asking if he was supposed to throw a party because someone praised his book. bad grace through and through abeg. But hey, isn’t this the stuff that sells books? let me take my cynical self off now.

  14. Femi 2015/09/16 at 10:43 am #

    I have just got got Ozioma’s book. I am going to read it, enjoy it and leave my comments to my circle of friends. However, if I am impressed or unimpressed I do have a right to follow Obioma, tag him in my comments about the book and other things. He also has a right to ignore, retweet or make comments.

    I belive Ms Edoro is just being a journalist/blogger-no harm intended. Peradventure, she may have misjudged you or you may have misjudged her based on the fact that you said some Africans have put you down via mails and that Africans have a ‘pull-our-brother-down syndrome’ , which I disagree.

    Everyone has a right to look at your work differently, egoistically, politically or whatever, it’s their opinion of your work and peradventure it is that opinion that will spur the urgency of your literary prowess. Leave the reviewers to praise or criticise you. If you indeed want to mange comments on your work, get an agency to do that.

  15. Trust F. Òbe 2015/09/16 at 12:56 pm #

    I have read the book, I have tweeted at Chigozie twice after that, for the longlist and the shortlist, this is what I said in a july email to a friend after she read it

    “The telling is superb.

    The editor is very careless though.

    At least notably lazy.

    Everything lies in the telling,

    The mood,
    The carefulness,
    The precision,

    That’s what births panache,

    The writer would have been blessed with a better/more experienced editor.

    All these in my opinion.”

    But those little imperfections d=DO NOT in any way get in the way of the ‘artistry’ Chigozie put into the book, in fact, after reading a third of Marlon James’ “A history of Seven Killings’ I knew it was a stronger contender, but I said this to another friend yesterday evening

    [15.09.15 19:55]
    ABHoSK is better than the Fishermen, but I want Chigozie to win it, Badly

    [15.09.15 20:38]

    [15.09.15 20:38]
    why lol?

    [15.09.15 20:39]
    If there’s a better book. Let the better book win it

    [15.09.15 20:39]
    That’s my opinion

    [15.09.15 20:39]
    it;s mine too

    [15.09.15 20:39]
    the fshrman carries further value for me

    [15.09.15 20:40]
    Not read it yet

    [15.09.15 20:40]
    it was set in my hometown wher chigozie grew up

    [15.09.15 20:40]
    Would get to it eventually

    [15.09.15 20:40]
    i know everywhere mentioned in the book

    [15.09.15 20:40]

    [15.09.15 20:40]
    i cn totally relate to the bildungsroman

    , [15.09.15 20:40]
    but as for marlon James

    [15.09.15 20:41]
    He aesticizes viloence just like Quentin Tarantino or Mel Gibson does it onscreen

    , [15.09.15 20:42]
    He is not fun to read but every page bleeds of his advanced craftsmanship

    As much as we are ‘entitled’ to our opinions and biases, and this extend as far as the Man Booker Judging Panel.

    Chigozie reserves the right to do what he did, It was not rude, in the context of what he has gone through, the fact that you admire a writer does not mean they should reciprocate with ‘some sort of gratitude’ if that happens, it is courtesy, and when that courtesy is not afforded you, do not act as if it is a right.

    I’ll be reading both reviews now.

  16. Tee 2015/09/17 at 2:09 am #

    Abegi, why are you on Twitter, or social media, if you do not want to be engaged? It is like being at “your” party and not talking ehn…*rolls eyes*

    And then this…


  17. Fatima 2015/09/17 at 5:38 am #

    Personally, I am taken aback by Mr Obioma’s strong (unnecessary) words.

    Call it what you like but a clap back is what it was, for him to come here and call this piece “mean- spirited, lazy journalism” is rather disingenuous and “mean-spirited” of him.

    I believe critics can either make or mar successful book sales; after all, without publicity, how does one know what to look out for?

    A writer may write because he has a lot on his chest and is subconsciously driven to do so, but are you saying there is zero satisfaction when at the end of the day someone reads what he has written and “gets it”?

    At the end of the day it is what a book means to the individual reader that matters and EVERYONE will have an opinion.

    Now that the Prize is in your headlights, expect more people to speak about it – good or bad.

    Lighten up Chigozie, there will be more comments and thou shall be grateful smile all the way to re-prints and to the bank.

  18. Tade 2015/09/17 at 2:14 pm #

    Na wah o. The preference of this author to not be tagged is his right sha. But his general tone is tactless. Talent tempts him to overreach. That ‘Africans’ bit makes me chuckle. Then laugh. The fellow doth feel himself too much. Too early for that crap. I was reading Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton recently and chuckled this same way when I got to his treatment of Arhundati Roy. Roy too tended to feel herself too much too early. The great thing is that time cures some of these maladies.

  19. David 2015/09/19 at 2:51 pm #

    Hey guys, stop judging Chigozie Obioma. He is human; he isn’t perfect. He can use twitter, bbm, snapchat, whatsapp, facebook, and say whatever he likes, however he wishes to say it. I mean, who doesn’t? I only wish he doesn’t read reviews, just like Chimamanda Adichie. In fact, let’s face the truth: what he said about the African is true. We express hate in this continent a lot. We had rather prefer licking a Westerner’s butt to helping an old African man cross the road. The so-called Helon Habila, Ben Okri, and other i-don’t care writers, they all seat their black butts in America. Do they care about what happen to unknown voices in Nigeria? Only Adichie holds a creative writers workshop in Nigeria. She can choose not to, but she does it because she believes in uplifting others. So, stop crucifying Chigozie! Africans are what they are: bloody haters. I wish Chigozie all the best, I wish to see him being as honest as he has always been. For me, I see only hate journalism here. I see people creating mountains out a grain of sand. I see anonymous African writers trying to pull a successful African writer down. Brittle Paper really disappoints me!

  20. ndi charles 2015/10/03 at 1:49 pm #

    Na wa oo. Readers, writers. I hope its just a war of words. The Fishermen was good, I will write a review about it. If Chigozie like, make e read am. I am not writing it to famz with him, as a Nigerian I had my moments of nostalgia reading it.

  21. Lola Oluwole 2015/11/20 at 5:58 am #

    Came across this when I googled reviews of The Fishermen/Chigozie Obioma.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. However, as I persevere on the ladder to maturity the realization is that not all thoughts need to be spoken out loud or written for public consumption. Especially if they are in no way constructive or simply not nice.

    I still want to read The Fishermen and congratulate Mr. Obioma on the recognition of his novel and will tag him on twitter when I’m reading it. 🙂


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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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