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Adaobi-Nwaubani

Adaobi Nwaubani

Adaobi Nwaubani, the Nigerian author of I Do Not Come To You By Chance, recently expressed strong misgivings about the place of African literature within the global literary market. She worries that Western market forces are having undue influence on the African literary scene.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, she claims that the African literary enterprise, as it stands, is largely driven by the need to produce “what…white people want…to read.” In other words, African writers are writing for everyone else but Africans.

This pressure to write for others, she suggests, has essentially placed foreigners in charge of contemporary African fiction.

Do you agree with Nwaubani that Western publishers are essentially remote-controlling Africa’s contemporary literary scene?

Read excerpts from the article.

On Foreigners Telling Africans What Stories to Tell: 

We are telling only the stories that foreigners allow us to tell. Publishers in New York and London decide which of us to offer contracts, which of our stories to present to the world. American and British judges decide which of us to award accolades, and subsequent sales and fame. Apart from South Africa, where some of the Big Five publishers have local branches, the few traditional publishers in Africa tend to prefer buying rights to books that have already sold in the West, instead of risking their meager funds by investing in unknown local talents.

On Why The Western Seal of Approval

Literary audiences in many African countries also simply sit and wait until the Western critics crown a new writer, and then begin applauding that person. After all, these are the same connoisseurs who brought Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o to our adoring attention. Local writers without some Western seal of approval are automatically perceived as inferior. In international conversations about African literature, their books receive no mention.

On Western Patronage Breeding Poverty Porn

Why else have brutality and depravity been the core of many celebrated African stories? It appears that publishers have allotted Africa the slot for supplying the West with savage entertainment (stories about ethnic cleansing, child soldiers, human trafficking, dictatorships, rights abuses and so on). The same stereotypes Africans often claim to abhor tend to form the foundations for our literary successes.

Solution? 

Until African writers can start their careers by publishing in their home countries, none of this will change. Some of the greatest African writers of my generation may never be discovered, either because they will not reach across the Atlantic Ocean to attract the attention of an agent or publisher, or because they have not yet mastered the art of deciphering Western tastes.

Read the full article HERE.

 

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Ashmark Olakunle’s Blog

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

2 Responses to “African Literature in Chains | Are Western Publishers Telling African Novelists What Stories To Write” Subscribe

  1. chika nwakanma December 3, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    I find it distasteful that this is coming from someone whose articles in the New York Times ooze poverty porn. Is she not speaking from both sides of her mouth?

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  1. All About Books and Reading | Catherine Onyemelukwe - December 7, 2014

    […] blog Brittle Paper sent me to The New York Times for a thought-provoking op-ed by Adaobi Nwaubani, a Nigerian Igbo […]

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