A girl always wants things—things that aren’t necessarily limited to shoes and pretty dresses. In 2014, these are the things I want for African literature.
1. I want an African Fifty Shades of Grey: I’m thinking less about subject matter than about astronomical sales figures. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of an African BDSM erotica is great. But all I’m asking for is an African novel that grips the imagination of Africans and the world so thoroughly that it sold 10 million copies in seven months. When will an African novel make that kind of staggering sales? I don’t care what the work is about. I don’t care if it’s pulp-trash or highbrow. I just need a work that would tear up amazon’s sales ranks—an African literary money-maker. I want a work that we would all love so much that we couldn’t get enough of it.
2. I want a writer’s conference in the scale of the legendary 1962 African Writers Conference held in Uganda’s Makarere University. 2013 was the year of book festivals. From Ake to Johannesburg, writers and readers congregated to celebrate African fiction. But a writers conference is something different. It would be a gathering of novelists, poets, bloggers, critics, academics, and artists. There would also be in attendance industry people, not limited to publishers and booksellers—I’m thinking technology, finance, real estate, media, Hollywood, and so on. Let’s not forget cultural and political organizations, literary associations and collectives. The idea would be to get all these people talking, thinking, and fighting about African writing. The point of the conference would be to ask big, tough questions like: what is the place of African literature in an age of global capital? How can we re-energize literary research in African universities? What would it take to grow the African publishing industry? The question of archiving is also important. How can we stop the papers of our celebrated authors from being spirited away to universities in Europe and America? Book festivals are for cooing over celebrity novelists. At the conference, everyone would roll up their sleeves and ponder hard questions about the future of African writing.
3. I want more literary spats, beefs, fights, quarrel—I want all. One of the highlights of 2013 was the Adichie-Elnathan spat. I have mad respect for Adichie. Whether she admits it or not, she inhabits the role of the African public intellectual. These days when everyone is going Zen and claiming to be identity-less, she’s made it part of her brand to always have something smart to say about Africa and writing. Elnathan John is an indispensable part of the online community. His writing as a blogger is brilliant, but he is also a thinker who, like Adichie, has thought-provoking things to say about everything, from literature to politics. When people like that quarrel, it gets the community going. The assembly of comments, insults, claims and counter claims, blogposts and tweets that trailed their little quarrel was epic. Well, it wasn’t, strictly speaking, a quarrel. Adichie never did reply Elnathan, but her fans did.
Disagreements like that give life to a community. Communities aren’t real until people disagree. It shows that there are stakes worth fighting for. It allows for a lively and generative exchange of ideas and forces people to make claims about where they stand on issues regarding the community.
4. I want Amos Tutuola’s genius to be known. Perhaps this has everything to do with the fact that I’ve just spent the last four months of my life writing a dissertation chapter on Tutuola’s work. We’ve come a long way from the days when people thought of Tutuola as a crazy, plagiarizing hack. But there are many today who claim to like Tutuola’s work but can’t help thinking of him as a literary charity case. Living in Tutuola-ville for so long has taught me that all roads in African fiction passes through Tutuola. Achebe may have invented the African novel, but Tutuola invented Achebe. If Achebe is the father of modern African fiction, Tutuola is the god. In other words, you’ll never know the real Achebe until you encounter him via a detour through Tutuola. Tutuola is both my gospel and my prayer point for 2014. I plan to invoke his spirit with ever more fervor to bless my blog, my work, and my thinking on African fiction. I will be writing a whole lot about his life and his work this year. Hope you join me in the worship/conversation sessions.
The image is from Yasmin Tous’s Africa 80s project. See more of her work HERE.