When we announced the I ❤️ African Literature writing contest two weeks ago, we honestly did not know what to expect. The idea was to celebrate our 6th year anniversary by having readers profess their love for African literature. The question on our minds was whether readers would find the topic inspiring enough to participate in the contest.
We are delighted to announce that we received a whooping 172 submissions. We are so grateful to everyone who participated. Thanks for taking the time out to send in a response. It’s because of you guys that the Brittle Paper community is thriving.
After collating the entries, Tiwalade and I hunkered down this weekend and read each and every one of the submissions. Let’s just say we had a great time reading, but a very difficult time deciding which, among all the lovely responses, should make it to the top five.
Here are the five responses that made the top five list.
To help us make the final decision, we’d like you to tell us which of them is your favorite.
To refresh your memory: here is what we asked people to write about:
Imagine African literature as a romantic partner—boyfriend, girlfriend, sidechick, main squeeze, wife, husband, whatever. It is your 6th year anniversary, but you’ve been going through a rough patch for while now. Things haven’t been as rosy as it once was. You’re determined to put things right by re-affirming your love—with just 300 words! Feel free to explore all genres and scenarios.
Which response do you think nailed it?
Let us know in the comment section!
You have until July 30th.
The winner will be announced on our anniversary date, August 1.
“One More Time” by Olaoluwa Oni
Remember when we first met? I told you that I could see myself, my life, in you. You smiled. We continued the story of Wilson Tagbo with his One Week One Trouble. You told me about Chike and the River, Kofoworola Odu and Tayo Browne’s journey to love in Time Changes Yesterday and Okonkwo’s journey to death in Things Fall Apart.
I could not get enough of you.
But my seat partner in Jss3B got in the way of us. He introduced me to Harry Potter, and I went off to Hogwarts with Harry— learnt as he learnt, cursed as he cursed, and lost as he lost. I moved from Harry to the triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob and from the triangle, I started the quest to destroy the “one ring to rule them all.” Mills and Boon and Harlequin followed soon after.
And, somehow, Al, we drifted apart.
Then you told the story of Kambili and her crazy catholic father, and I saw myself again. I was Kambili — the awkward recluse with unrequited love. With my permed hair and phony accent, I came back to you, asking to discover more. You reminded me to read Achebe, Soyinka, Emecheta, Mariama and Ngugi. I read them all allowing the stories transform me, reminding myself that my experiences were as valid as the coils of my natural African hair.
It seemed like I would never be able to get enough of you. When I made the pledge to love you forever, I meant it.
That was six years ago.
But I did not keep my promise because I still craved the thrill of stories in the way that JK, Stephanie and Tolkien told it. And so, I cheated. I slept with them at night, and we laughed about your short-comings; about how your children would never be as diverse as theirs.
I was stupid, obviously. I had shut my eyes to Muhammad Bello Kagara, Samuel R Delany, Nnedi Okorafor and Oladimeji Ojo.
I am sorry.
I love you.
Let’s get back again. Exclusively.
“To My First Love” by Thando Nojaja
I remember the first time we met, you, all figures of speech, punctuation in the right places, me, lost and all alone, wanting to disappear. You allowed me to bury myself within your pages. You eulogized all my fears away. You taught me that sometimes goodbye is all that’s left to say between me and all the parts of myself that couldn’t stay. Thank you for staying, but most of all, thank you for opening yourself up to me when I needed a place to store my loneliness. You allowed me to read even the parts of you I couldn’t comprehend. It’s been amazing getting to know you. I know time has swiftly moved me away from your embrace, but you have always known what it means to hold on. Love, this is to say, I will forever find my reflection within your pages. You will always be my mirror. You birthed a love within me that went beyond your pages, my metaphor come to life. You are everything that remained behind when it felt like the world was moving on without me.
Thank you for staying up at nights with me, putting my nightmares at bay. Thank you for teaching me what it means to belong. You taught me happily ever after long before I knew of fairy tales. My heart lights up like half of a yellow sun at the sight of you. Thank you for walking with me on this famished road. I am no longer at ease now that things are falling apart between us. My doctor calls it a nervous condition because it feels like there’s a river between us, and I’ve always been a bad swimmer.
Thank you for allowing me to grow within your pages, and when they ran out, thank you for being a library. Thank you for allowing me to feel within your figures of speech, and when my ink ran out, thank you for reading my silence. I’ll write poetry to all the misunderstood parts of yourself. You mean everything to me.
“A Love Letter to African Literature” by Eddie Hewitt
We’ve been together for 6 years but I sense we are no longer at ease.
Our relationship has always been kaleidoscopic and you’ve often made me dream in colors. First, a big splash of purple. Then hot yellow, then a burst of orange, and more recently red, white and blue. But somewhere in between, you told me you needed space. You made me feel like that thing around your neck. You were just being realistic, but maybe a little too truthful, emotionally. I’ve read many similar descriptions of you, but I know there’s more to you than just a single story.
Then there was a stage when you seemed to get bored, disillusioned and angry. You wanted to establish a new identity. To define a generation. That was cool, but I’m not sure that new names are enough. I’m sending you flowers. African violets.
Remember when you kept speaking to me in a new form of language? A rather halting kind of English. Every time we engaged we quickly disintegrated into a pile of dust. You told me about how you suffered, what I did to you. But you wouldn’t let me forget the past. I want a love affair, not a wake.
More recently, you began trying to predict the future. I didn’t want to believe you, but I got hooked. It was just such a shame that your brothers insisted on going fishing. A modern day tragedy. Still, it was exciting. Rapturous. Maybe one day you’ll let me say your name on Twitter.
There’s a lot more I want to find out about you. I’d like to bring more to the relationship, too. We can get so much more entangled! But I can’t promise not to explore other literatures. You know how my attention gets diverted. Still, you are my favorite, and I gladly accept your invitation to ascend that wonderful literary staircase to the stars.
Your wayward reader and lover.
With thanks to Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Noviolet Bulawayo, Yvonne Owuor, Chigozi Obioma, Bessie Head and Brittle Paper.
“For Better or Worse” by Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam
There’s nothing new about our quarrels and threats of divorce. But something happened the last time we fought.
I thought about all our love had survived. Before I was born, you’d survived the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and civil wars that saw you beaten mercilessly by rain and used to wipe the dirtiest of buttocks. You survived military coups, some of which prophets like Chinua Achebe predicted. By the time I came along, your prophet Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel for his semi-autobiographical novel of his civil war imprisonment. I, too, rocked along in cradled arms.
Don’t forget the paralysis of the birther of Chike and The River and the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. These events plunged us into the dark ages, and I began to spend time with others, like Mills and Boon. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but your prophets had morphed into nagging hags and dates became drearier. It didn’t take long before I began missing your exoticism, your voice and your unpredictability, so I dumped the others and reinstated you at number one. With new prophets like Adichie, Bauling, Wanaina, et al, there was plenty to laugh and cry about.
I even jumped on the bandwagon of prophets and learned that writing is a series of personal failures. When I said, “I quit!” You grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and laughed, “I’ll teach you that it’s easier to stop breathing than it is to stop writing.” So I continued writing stories and blogging about your literati. I gained friends and satisfaction but became broke. Yet, I’m addicted to you and all the drama.
So when next we quarrel about the Caine shortlist, the Etisalat prize for literature or the Commonwealth prize, remember this thing between us is for better or worse.
How does it feel now? Have you forgotten “us”?
Let me help you remember.
Remember when we started writing our dreams,
Creating archetypes of our own making,
Stories of pre-independence, memories of love, dystopian fantasies, and the joys of our lives screaming out for affirmation.
As I told you then, I’ve loved you through countless forms throughout time
Through civil wars, dictators, famines, disease outbreaks, and corruption
The years pass, but it seems like we’re stuck in his-tory, repeating old mistakes
Creating new horizons for ourselves,
New narratives of Africa Rising, rather Africa re-imagined
Over a thousand and one tales
Not of Arabian nights, but of beautiful tidings to come.
….What other beauty does such things?…
Achebe, Soyinka, and new storytellers,
Artists of unique tapestries,
Like sculptors carving angels out of stone
We can never give up on our dreams.
And in the liminal state of half-wakefulness, in medias res,
Time collapses, we re-recreate the past as the present,
Wearing masks, blending images, and performing experience
Hearts and souls mingled in words
Returning us to ourselves
And we shall rise together again, like a Phoenix never seen before.
Like dandelion seeds carried by a mystic wind, to a new golden dawn.
About the Authors:
OLAOLUWA ONI is a Creative Genius daylighting as a legal practitioner.
THANDO NOJAJA is an aspiring writer from South Africa. She writes mostly poetry but has recently ventured into short stories and is loving it. She is a recovering optimist, a superhero stuck in routine, and she writes on days when she can forklift the metaphors out of her chest. She writes because it is the only way she knows how to breathe without choking on her sadness.
EDDIE HEWITT is a reviewer, columnist, and author. He is also the guardian of Connected Cultures, a portal for Culture and the Arts. He is committed to social equality in all its forms. And, not least, he is an avid reader of African literature especially.
CHIOMA IWUNZE-IBIAM is rounding off a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education. Her first novel Finding Love Again was published by Ankara Press. Her second novel, The Heiress’ Bodyguard, was longlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Project Awards. An alumni of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop(2010), she offers editorial consultation on her award-winning website, creativewritingnews.net. Her short stories have appeared in several newspapers and literary journals. Some of them include: MTLS, Long Story Short, Fiction 365, Saraba, Tribes Write, Flash Fiction Press and others.Awards and prizes include the 2014 ACT award semi-finalist, Cecilia Unaegbu flash fiction contest and farafinablog’s Voice of America flash fiction
HAROUN HABIB is a leader with a passion for global health, social justice issues and fostering coalitions that empower others to improve their lives. As a lover of African literature, Haroun has written on the portrayal and role of the African woman as a heroine in African literature. Professionally, as an experienced global health and international development professional, Haroun has worked for many development organizations and traveled extensively throughout sub-Saharan Africa. He earned a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in international health from the Boston University School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Science degree in health policy/administration and English literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004. Born in California, raised mostly on the east coast of the U.S., and with a family background from Sierra Leone, West Africa, Haroun considers himself a global citizen.