1. Soyinka and His Darling Dame
Soyinka is clearly loving the swirls of controversies forming around things he says online, mostly things that are not literature related. In the quote below, he restates his dislike for Nigeria’s First Lady, Patience Jonathan, calling her a “shepopotamus.” There was the time when I wanted our writers to dabble into political and other non-lit things. I think I’ve had enough. I now want a Soyinka that sits home all day, writes lovely poems, and stays away from the Internet. Not a Soyinka that goes on an online shouting fest with Dame Patience. #PoemsNotPolitics
Soyinka: People said I call her a domestic appendage, what’s the problem with that? What’s the problem with Madam Shepopotamus?…We ask unelected people to look around and see how the Mrs. Michelle Obamas of the world are conducting themselves…We must educate them.
2. Oates Vs. Teju
Speaking of writers turning political, American novelist, Joyce Carol Oates, tweeted stuff that many thought was an undue attack on Islam. Things took on an African twist when Nigeria’s Teju Cole called her out.
Here are the offending tweets:
Something dispiriting about “Brotherhood” political parties–wonder what it is.
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic–Egypt–natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
And here is how our Teju fired back:
@JoyceCarolOates This makes me sad. Religion is a non sequitur here. You’re being unfair, and presenting that unfairness as forthrightness.
— Teju Cole (@tejucole) July 5, 2013
3. African Word Wars
Two weeks ago, Chimamanda and Aaron Bady teamed up to give us the African literary soap opera of our time. It all began when The Salon picked up a Boston Review interview of Chimamanda. The interview was conducted by American graduate student and blogger, Aaron Bady, and has Chimamanda reflecting rather unguardedly about a whole range of issues. Whatever comment sent the African twitterville afire has also gotten the interview over 1,700 Facebook shares.
Here is what has since become the famous “My boy” or “Adichie’s Mailbox” quote:
Chimamanda: “Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop. But what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway?…It’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been…I don’t go to the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction…I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people send me their stories. — Full Interview
In the spirit of Fela Kuti who once said: “According to complain, complain must get answer,” a Caine prize shortlistee answered Adichie:
So the best African fiction is in Chimamanda Adichie’s inbox? I hail thee, queen-god mother. Go fuck yourself, Chimamanda. Nonsense! — Abubakar A. Ibrahim (@Abubakr_khalifa) July 15, 2013
On the matter of calling Elnathan “my boy”: There have been numerous analyses of what Chimamanda might have meant by the phrase, but only two of these many attempts to account for her statement caught my eyes.
The first comes from none other than Bady himself, the interviewer. I’d never heard of an interviewer being interviewed about an interview until Bady. But then the whole matter has become so absurd at this point that the idea of Bady making a public defense of Chimamanda’s intentions and motives doesn’t seem all that surprising.
Kola: Your interview with her ruffled feathers. Do you think she meant disrespect with regards to Elnathan and her use of ”my boy”?
Bady: I certainly didn’t take it that way. She seemed genuinely fond and happy for them, a “proud mama” she said. I can see how someone would take that as arrogant or patronizing, or whatever. It was a little odd, I guess. But the reaction seems way out of proportion to me. What do you think?
Kola: …When you gave her a chance to talk about her best products, she never brought Elnathan up. She only mentioned him only to denigrate Caine. Sounded fishy.
Bady: Well it’s true she doesn’t exactly brag on him. But I certainly understood that moment in the conversation as being a kind of “even though Elnathan is shortlisted, I still don’t like the Caine,” the opposite of a general disrespect for prize and writers alike but yeah, way too much energy being expended for this to be just about a single word.
As for Elnathan John (A.K.A. “Adichie’s Boy”), he thinks it’s more than just a little odd that Chimamanda would refer to him as her boy. So what does he do? He satirizes her to smithereens in a piece titled “The Consequences of Loving Ngozi.” Suddenly, I’m thinking how “The Dangers of Loving Ngozi” might have been a better title.
Anyway, we still love our Chimamanda. Like her novels, she has become, in recent months, more and more entertaining to read and watch. Besides, what’s not to love about a woman who can effortlessly get an entire community of smug literary men all ruffled, huffing and puffing?
4. Blue Passport. Green Passport.
A young Nigerian-American man living a pretty laid-back life in washington, DC found himself in the swirl of African literary chaos about three weeks ago. I’m speaking of the Utah-born Tope Folarin, the guy who won the Caine Prize for his short story, “Miracle.” (My review of the story) After winning the Caine Prize, he’s being called upon to make a case for his Africanness.
LA Times: “[Folarin’s] is an impressive résumé. But it doesn’t have a strong connection to Africa, the continent meant to be highlighted by the award. “I haven’t been back to Nigeria since I was born, really for my naming ceremony,” he said in a 2007 interview. “That’s something I feel is missing in my life. I feel this significant hole in my life. All of my family is there. A lot of people I’ve never met, people who are just to me voices on a telephone…”
Here is Folarin’s sense of things:
Folarin: “I’m a writer situated in the Nigerian disapora, and the Caine Prize means a lot – it feels like I’m connected to a long tradition of African writers. The Caine Prize is broadening its definition and scope. I consider myself Nigerian and American, both identities are integral to who I am. To win … feels like a seal of approval.” — The Guardian
Is Folarin African enough to win an African fiction prize? Very uninteresting question. I’m drawn to Folarin’s work, which I really like more than I am to questions about his origins. But that’s matter for another blogpost.
5. My Dad’s Novels Are Super Cool But er…
Ngugi wa Thiongo and his son Mukoma (Nairobi Heat) certainly make an adorable pair. They’ve had public outings in the last three weeks during which they’ve talked about their work and their lives as literary father and son.
Here is Mukoma telling Kate Haines why his father’s obsession with realism is not his thing:
…I taught Helon Habila’sWaiting for an Angel, which is told in fragmented voices. I kept thinking ‘how can you capture that Nigeria in straight up realist fiction?’ For a generation that grows up with all kinds of ridiculous but iconic things – how do you capture that? When you look at Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir, I think that is the reason why it is sort of fragmented. There are high levels of absurdity, but at the same time there are tragedies that are happening, people are dying and there is absolute poverty. You can’t deal with that in a straight memoir. Whereas my Dad’s memoir is a narrative that has a beginning, and follows that through. — Full Interview
Taiye Selasi got the idea for her novel Ghana Must Go while she was taking a shower (lots of images rushing through my head). But that doesn’t interest me as much as the bit about a Swedish yoga retreat. It’s certainly not cheap being an Afropolitan. Chica lives in three cities—Rome, Dehli, and New York—and still has to go all the way to Sweden to do yoga?
The inspiration for the book is a little bit difficult to pin-point. But I do remember the moment in which I received it. I was doing a yoga retreat in Sweden, and I’d been there for five days when I went to take a shower. And all of a sudden all of the ideas, all of the characters, their past, present future, back stories, hurts, motivations, everything was just right there. So I ran out of the shower into the room I was sharing with my friend and I said: “Oh my ghosh, I just found my first novel. And she said where? and I said: in the shower. And then I started writing it and six months later I had the first part and two years the whole book.