Kola Tubosun’s review of “Genesis“—Tope Folarin’s shortlisted story—is currently the subject of a heated debate on social media.

Tubosun’s review is part of our #CainePrize2016 Blog-a-thon. For the last two weeks, we have been posting reviews of the stories shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. You can read all the reviews here. The reviewers are all well-known critics in the African literary community. Tubosun is a linguist and has written extensively about the contemporary African literary scene.

His review focused on the story’s supposed autobiographical nature. Comparing “Genesis” with “Miracle,” the story that won Folarin the 2013 Caine Prize, Tubosun points out that Folarin tends to draw heavily from his life when he writes stories. He then asks whether or not stories that are not fully fictionally should qualify for the Caine Prize.

To return to how the writer defines his style, it is fair to say that both “Genesis” and “Miracle” were non-fiction autobiographical stories from the start. And there’s nothing wrong with that (although the author should have been less evasive when asked).

Here, again, is where I return to the problem of approaching the story as fiction where everything points to a true portrayal of a challenging, yet triumphant, personal story. Where do we place deserving credit? With the author’s power of recall or at the foot of his successful utilization of literary gifts in conflating true reality with fictive verisimilitude? [read more]

We first got a hint of the tension created by the review when Tubosun posted this on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 11.07.22 AM

But things had been heating up since the day the review was published when Folarin’s wife, Stephanie Folarin, suggested that Tubosun’s criticism is a repetition of what happened in 2013.

Mrs. Folarin is here referring to the controversy around Folarin’s nationality. Fast-forward three years, Folarin is shortlisted for the Caine Prize a second time and finds himself, yet again, in the middle of a literary fray. This time the question has to do with the biographical nature of his story.

The controversy this time is centered around two factions—readers who insist that Kola Tubosun is justified in focusing on the autobiographical elements of the story. For this group, Folarin’s essay is too non-fictional to qualify for a fiction prize. The other group of readers think that Tubosun is way out of line for questioning the fictionality of the story. For these readers, Tubosun is a literary critic not an “investigative journalist.” He has no business poking around to see whether a story matches the author’s life or not.

Here is a snippet of debate as it took place on Facebook and Twitter.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-14-at-12.05.10-PMScreen-Shot-2016-06-14-at-12.08.42-PMScreen-Shot-2016-06-14-at-11.53.10-AM-e1465919666613Screen-Shot-2016-06-14-at-11.50.39-AM-e1465919489422Screen-Shot-2016-06-14-at-12.11.26-PMWe would like to point out that this is an important debate. It has allowed those involved to talk about the contemporary practice of African storytelling, about the role of the literary critic, and about how we define what counts as fiction.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Tell us what you think of the debate!

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About Tiwaladeoluwa Adekunle

View all posts by Tiwaladeoluwa Adekunle
Tiwaladeoluwa Adekunle is a creative writer and a student of International Studies and English. Some of her work has been published by Shale, Limestone, Indiana Review and Brittle Paper. She is passionate about language, stories and Chipotle, and would almost always rather be writing.

7 Responses to “#CainePrize2016 | Heated Debate Sparked by Kola Tubosun’s Review of Tope Folarin’s Story” Subscribe

  1. Duncan Mongwaketse 2016/06/14 at 3:39 pm #

    Not read the story yet. However in my opinion most fictitious writers do use their creative abilities as ritual mask to tell stories about their indirect and direct experiences and or environment and situations around them (political, social, economic). If you read Chunua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Nelson Demille’s Night Fall what tops all is the mastery of their creative signatures, but bottom line is they borrowed from reality in their fictitious deliveries. I don’t think fiction is all about nonsense crap writing that has no lineage to reality. Ride on Mr. Folarin

  2. Innocent Chizaram Ilo 2016/06/15 at 12:43 am #

    When did drawing influences from our lives become such a grievous crime? When I write about the Market women of Ogbete and their motheaten wrappers in my stories; is it not fiction? But they are real characters. Is there anything like a fictionometer that dictates the proportion of nonfiction that disqualifies it as fiction. Say, fiction must make up 50%. Lol. Even in autobiographies, why do authors make themselves quintessential and heroic; a bit of fiction. If writers want to get nominated for Caine Prize, tearing down Tope’s story is not a sure way. When I read Genesis, I took ownership of that story. I melted into the world Tope has weaved for me and me alone. If that is not fiction, then tell me what is fiction?

  3. Yemisi A 2016/06/15 at 3:25 am #

    I love Frank McCourt’s Angela’s ashes but can’t ignore the fact that the book has often been critiqued with the words “…mean-spirited fiction and cruel exaggeration.” These words only matter when talking about Angela’s ashes because the writer said the book was non-fiction. If he said it was fiction, we would allow him to be mean spirited, cruel and fictitious. And we would all congratulate him for making us feel so much. (Please note Duncan Mongwaketswe, before another wahala starts over the use of the words “fictitious writer” – they don’t mean the same thing as “writer of fiction”). This is an important discussion. I don’t think anyone has the right to say we shouldn’t talk about it. As for Kola Tubosun, I honestly don’t think you are ready to be a real writer until someone unfriends you, or perhaps I should speak as a non-fiction writer.

  4. Xavier 2016/06/16 at 3:45 am #

    This speaks to the ethical conceit of a writer as compared to the conceit of the reader and it is a welcome discourse. I had read the story without any doubt about its authenticity as a work of fiction and had sought to read the review as a literary critique of the work. Sadly, I was denied this due to the above stated conceit. Frankly, l think Tope could have situated the story, historically and physically, away from his and might have gotten away with it. But this story is just too close to non-fiction that it truly does rub the wrong way. It is akin to the feeling one gets from reading a story that lacks verisimilitude; it lacks the fidelity one has come to expect. Writing fiction is truly a delicate balancing act and that is why writers live in constant anguish and despair. It’s a pity that these subtleties can lead to unhealthy disagreements but it’s a joy it can lead to such rich discourses.

  5. Nnamdi 2016/06/16 at 8:29 am #

    I can’t wrap my head around this argument.

    Mr Tope Folarin has written a work presented as fiction and some people think it doesn’t qualify as such? Like someone wrote, do we have a fictionometre?

    Writers often draw richly from personal experience to write fictional stories, does that strip such stories of their fictional qualities? Reading Chigozie Obioma’s ‘The Fishermen’, I often wondered whether parts of the story were drawn from his personal life (which is possible).

    I think writers should identify the source of their creative strength and utilize it as thoroughly as possible. If Mr Folarin is at home with spinning good stories from his life’s experience, I don’t see why people should look beyond what has been written. Since when did the source of a story become this significant?

  6. John 2016/07/25 at 1:18 pm #


    To what extent are your novels autobiographical?


    In some way I think every novel is. When you imagine a character, you lend him or her some of your personal memories. You give part of yourself to character number one and another part to character number two. In this sense, I am not writing any sort of autobiography, but the novels are my autobiography. There’s a difference.


  1. How Not to Write a Review: On Tope Folarin’s Genesis and the Caine Prize – - 2016/06/16

    […] Brittle Paper has publicised the social media argument, failing to screen capture the quality arguments on Facebook and sticking more to the 140-character […]

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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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