Wassel Mathews

There’s really no end to last-name adjectives in Western literary culture. Shakespearean, Dickensian, Kafkaesque, Sebaldian are just a few. As you can imagine, it’s an honor for an author to have his or her last name become an adjective.

The last-name adjective is the sign that an author has become bigger than him or herself, has been promoted to a higher level of abstraction. Kafka ceases to be Kafka (the man) and becomes a technique, an aesthetic form, a style, a political idea, an artistic movement, a literary problem, a historical force, etc. His name is used to define a vast and diverse body of work that comes after he is long gone and even many that precede him.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

The last-name adjective is the proof of an authors influence on a literary tradition. I like to think of it as an apotheosis from author to ancestor.

In African fiction, we’ve had some. Not many. It is common among African literary scholars to speak of an Achebean style, a Soyinkan aesthetics, or a Senghorian imagery.

Blame it on my Tutuola obsession, but I think he deserves to become adjectivized. Tutuolaesque—sounds so beautiful!

Fastforward 50 years from now, which of our contemporary African writers will receive this literary honor? Not all of them. You have to have reinvented the literary tradition for you to gain access into this very exclusive ancestral cult.

Who, among our contemporary writers, will change the course of African fiction? Who will leave a legacy that we would celebrate by transforming their last names into adjectives. Will we ever get to describe literary ideas and forms as Adichian, Beukesian, Colean, Binyavangan, Selasian, Bulawayan, Okrian?

We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Image by Wassel Mathews via