I am always so happy when I see an African writer come into the international limelight—when Warsan Shire was featured in Beyonce’s song, I was over the moon. But lately I’ve begun to notice a worrying trend. It seems as if none of the successful writers that inspire me actually live here in Africa. In fact, none of my writer heroes do. These days I find myself wondering whether anyone would care about my writing if I’ve only lived in Africa? I have lived in Lagos all my life. Like Adichie, I started writing when I was only nine years old, and since then, I’ve known that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I have only one year left in university before I begin pursuing writing full time. Should I start hustling for a visa to the US or some other western country? I’ve heard it costs lots of money, but my friends are saying that if it means I’ll be a successful writer, then I should see it as an investment. Ms. Paper, what do you think?
Dear Aspiring Literary Immigrant:
Let’s get one thing straight. Your question is not about becoming a writer. It’s about attaining a global literary celebrity status. I’m making this distinction because becoming a writer in Lagos is not difficult. Walk to an internet café in your neighborhood and start a blog or better still ask Ojo the Printer down the road to print your debut manuscript.
What you want is literary stardom, and for that the rules are different.
Rule # 1: Leave Lagos!
Lagos, like most African cities, is a literary dead end. You can always return when you’ve attained fame and fortune, and split your time between a winter home in Lekki and a summer home in Massachusetts. Until that happens, you have to seal your fate in that nebulous thing we all call The West. Put down that Hemingway you’ve been reading all day and begin studying the US Visa form because that’s where your hope of becoming a mega literary star lies.
Rule # 2: Get your book to leave Lagos.
If you choose not to flee Lagos because you love the sweltering Lagos heat or because you can’t imagine a life without Lagos traffic jams, then get yourself on the roaster of a prestigious London-based literary agent or get your book published by a fancy New York City publishing house. It’s magical, really. You’ll begin to see your name mysteriously appear on longlists and shortlists of all kinds. The New York Times will review your book and bloggers will fight over every word you utter and Brittle Paper will write blogposts about those killer heels you wore to that fancy book reading at that major book festival. One day, Kim Kadarshian will ask to sample bits of your novel at about the same time that George Clooney’s film production company acquires the rights to your novel. Before long, we will read your polished and guarded conversations on Lunch with FT. Meanwhile everyone—including that Lagos publisher who rejected your work—is talking about how the international limelight really suits you.
When you’re African and a writer, all roads, my dear, lead West.
#DearMsPaper is a fictional agony-aunt series that parodies readers, critics, and writers in the African literary scene. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address, send to firstname.lastname@example.org
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