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Ikhide Ikheloa is the intellectual conscience of the African literary community. He writes insightful commentaries on literature and culture, but he’s also the one who calls out everyone on their BS and makes sure that we all look critically at our work as writers, intellectuals, and influencers.

In recent years, he’s been an avid proponent of innovation in African literature. He has repeatedly asked writers to abandon traditional modes of fiction writing and publishing for something more organic to social media and other digital technology.

Here is a recent post he made on Facebook outlining why writers, publishers, and critics urgently need to abandon old ideas about writing and publishing.

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This summer has been interesting for me; in the dying days of the summer, I can boldly say I did not read a single book. I did read nonstop. I was on social media and the Internet, reading like a scavenger.

On balance, African literature is witnessing a renaissance; I would say again however that African literature suffers the crushing burden of alienation – from what gets lost in the translation.

We are steeped in the oral tradition of storytelling where I am from. Writing in standard English is one thing, but having to squeeze our way of life into the words and the idioms, etc. that the other understands has come at a steep price.

Some of the fiction I’ve read have filled me with despair, what is the point of this writing? Much of it is Eurocentric mimicry, ideas squeezed into alien genres. But then, until the advent of the Internet, the African writer could not afford to be insular like his/her Western counterpart. Sure there was Onitsha Market literature but it ended up being treated as second or third class to the works of the Achebes and the Ngugis. Because the works of the Achebes and the Ngugis were more acceptable abroad.

The Internet is changing that. I have been reading the works of many young writers who simply write. They simply write and entertain and educate us. They are so many, from Hymar Idibie David to Temidayo Ahanmisi to Akintunde Aiki, and in between, a generation entertains with awesome stuff – for free.

They probably will never get that contract from Random House or Faber and Faber because the white man will never understand these sentences. But they are our sentences, that is the tragedy of it all. We need our own publishing houses, robust ones. Or better yet, we need a new business model, let’s call it the Linda Ikeji model. Yes.

Hear me out. I imagine an eclectic site like Ainehi Edoro‘s Brittle Paper; there is “literary discourse”, whatever, there is “literary gossip” you know, drunken writers tweeting insults at each other in the cafes of Europe, all of it funded by their white patrons, there is a space for serious essays like the ones Oris Aigbokhaevbolo trots out, there is the truly indigenous writing I speak of that I feature on my wall, like the one below by Eketi Edima Ette. THAT is a lot of traffic for really good stuff that people will buy ads for. Why are we still pining for book contracts when we can easily put together a business like this?

The book model is pretty much not sustainable today. People are reading other things. I hate to be crass, but there are so many opportunities for writers and artists to be fed even as they feed us the readers. Right now, I am reading really cool stuff for free. Like this one below. That is not right. But who is complaining? Y’all be hating on Linda for “plagiarizing” your nonsense when you could be plagiarizing her business model and wailing all the way to the bank. I have said my own. May the day break. *grabs chewing stick*

 

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Post image by Writivism.

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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.

4 Responses to “The white man will never understand these sentences, but they are our sentences” Subscribe

  1. Abubakar-Sadiq Obatomi 2016/08/19 at 04:21 #

    Well written until the needless segue towards the ending.
    The larger problem here is that of consumption….or more accurately, demand.
    I dont know of any white writer who writes for an African audience – the y tend typically to write for their catchment and marketing, ad campaigns e.t.c is based on this.If people of other cultures or race happen along…an added bonus! This is sustainable because ‘White people DEMAND books!’
    If we do not teach our people to learn and very importantly, ENJOY to read, we dont have a case. Issues of content are only secondary.

  2. Hannah 2016/08/19 at 06:54 #

    Tell me I’m not the only one who followed the links to read the awesome writers Papa mentions.

  3. Uzoka Chikosolu 2016/08/25 at 06:07 #

    Amen. May the day break. The seemingly challenging task of creating our own digital genres is not inaccessible, short steps that add up to a unique whole…

  4. Mike 2016/09/20 at 07:41 #

    Writing the way we talk or think can be hip, even seductive. The challenge is in sustaining logic with it over a 2000-word piece. Forget the Young Turks of the Internet. Let them come out with book-length stuff even if it is e-book – that’ll be the day! James Baldwin could capture the American Negro (now African-American) lingo in his works but they were flashes, vignettes, at best. Above all, he had something to say not all style, no substance.
    Again throbbing anger machine-gunned in a short Fb post is still far away from making sense consistently over 2000 words.

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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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