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Every month, we compile a list of reads from around the Internet that we find illuminating. For January, we chose eight pieces. For February, we picked fourteen pieces. For March, we selected nine. For April, we have eight. They include short stories, essays that contribute to some of our ongoing conversations on literature and pop culture, a magazine issue, and an anthology.

While numbered, the items on this list are unranked.


1. Mujila Fiston Mwanza’s Tram 83: Requiem for the African Writer, and again, the Balance of Today’s Stories | By Ikhide Ikheloa | Xokigbo | Essay

With this essay on Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s debut novel Tram 83, the US-based Nigerian critic, Ikhide Ikheloa, lighted what became the biggest literary conversation of the year so far. He makes a host of damning assertions about the novel’s style, structure and perceived politics: that the novel is poverty porn; that it is “a frontal, violent attack on African women”; that it reads like “a failed movie script.” The reaction was swift and strong: Zukiswa Wanner and Richard Oduor Oduku disagreed, Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire refused to allow the misogyny claims be dismissed. Soon, it grew into a truly continental conversation: it drew in the Caine Prize Director Lizzy Attree, Tram 83‘s translator Roland Glasser, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Dilman Dila, Jeanne Marie-Jackson, and Petina Gappah and Ainehi Edoro who deepened it with new perspectives. Ikhide wrote a reaction to the reaction while Richard Oduku published a new essay.

2. “Poverty Porn—A New Prison for African Writers” | By Richard Oduor Oduku | | Essay

This essay by Richard Oduku, partly a direct response to Ikhide’s and partly an outgrowth of the rest of the conversation around Tram 83, is solid and brainy and very well stands on its own. “We seem to have this long list of instructions that a novel by an African should abide by,” he writes, before pointing out the deficiencies of anthropological reading in an era of genre-bending literature, cautioning against analysing works based on a “particular contemporary political view.” Poverty porn is “our new prison, a lexicon borrowed from development critics” and “has become a simple way of shooting a novel down, of refusing to engage with its unpleasant contents.”

3. “All Your Faves Are Problematic: A Brief History of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stanning, and the Trap of #BlackGirlMagic” | By Sisonke Msimang | Africa Is a Country | Essay

Following Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on the place of trans women in feminism, Sisonke Msimang pared down the loud controversy that ensued to produce this illuminating piece that weighs Adichie’s celebrity against a culture that does not hesitate to attack its favourites. But her analysis is not about just Adichie; it is also a dissection of how black female celebrities get praised and criticized in the era of #BlackGirlMagic. “In many ways then Adichie occupied a unique place in contemporary black women’s thought and literature for at least a decade before the phrase black girl magic was coined as a hashtag, and as the motto for a new generation’s struggle for recognition and self-love,” she observes. “And it was when we began to project our dreams onto her that loving Adichie the symbol – rather than her books – became murky. This is not unique to Adichie, but it provides a stark example of the limits of black girl magic.”

4. “This Is Our Descent” | By Dinaw Mengestu  | Granta | Fiction

This brief short story comes with Mengestu’s inclusion in Granta‘s prestigious once-in-a-decade list of The Best of Young American Novelists. In his typically simple prose, we are guided, in the first-person, into the lives of a husband, his wife, his mother, his child, and an uncle who kills himself. There are scenes drenched in parental love: “Up close our son looked like any other excessively beautiful child. Over the course of the past year my wife and I had developed a habit of staring at him. Our son would discreetly turn his head to meet our gaze; or if sitting up, he would eventually grow tired and begin to slowly tilt until his body was flat against the ground.” And a scene, where he and his wife lie about their son, that makes for slightly uncomfortable reading: “Whatever I might have suggested, the story of a two-year-old child with a broken arm was her invention entirely. She decided on a slightly tense, borderline hostile tone to sell the story, because, according to her, ‘They need to be scared, not sad.’ She described to the operator how the trauma kept him howling through the night. She avoided the disingenuous sigh most liars would have called upon, and described instead how difficult the cast made him.” The story’s closing sentence compresses real tragedy and will linger in your mind.

5. “Leaving Gotham City” | By Yaa Gyasi | Granta | Fiction

Gyasi’s inclusion in Granta‘s list of The Best of Young American Novelists produced this story of immigrant life and disillusionment that The Guardian calls “biting.” It begins simply and beautifully: “It’s true.” You find here and there observations that characterize fiction of lyrical realism: “He’s got feet like mine. The toes all spread out like they can’t stand to be next to each other. We’re seven years apart, we’ve got different fathers, and we don’t look anything alike, but every time I see those duck feet, I know he’s got to claim me.” It is set in the US but the characters’ home, Ghana, is mapped all over it: “Our whole childhood was Little Ghana. Parties at the lodge, out-dooring ceremonies and wakes. The African Christian Church was half-Nigerian, but the other half was us, the men shouting prayers and the women in dukus. You could go into any convenience store and start speaking Twi to somebody behind the counter or in the aisles.” And there is an example of the strong after-effects of unexpected racism: “Two weeks after Edwin turned fourteen, he got jumped by some black kids on the east side. Some fucking akatas with nothing better to do than wail on a kid. He told the police they made fun of his accent and told him to go back to Africa, but the police just laughed at him. You’re black too, they said. Who are you describing? They were joking, but Edwin wasn’t the same after that. He refused to speak Twi, even with Auntie Rose. He started dating white girl after white girl.”

6. Issue 01 | Enkare Review

The Nairobi-based literary magazine Enkare Review released its widely awaited Issue No 1, and it includes the much-discussed ambitious interview with David Remnick, editor ofThe New Yorker. Also in the Issue is fiction by Stephen Embleton, Wanjala Njalale, Wairimũ Mũrĩithi, Eboka Chukwudi Peter, Amatesiro Dore, and Frances Ogamba; poetry by Michelle Angwenyi, K.A.ALI, and the 2017 Brunel International Poetry Prize winner Romeo Oriogun; nonfiction by Otiato Guguyu; and a Bonus section featuring writing by M.V. Sematlane, Sylvie Taussig, Mapule Mohulatsi, and Liam Kruger.

7. “Wild” | By Lesley Nneka Arimah | The Daily Beast | Fiction

This short story by Lesley Nneka is taken from her collection, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, which was released in April. It begins with a rather funny turn of events: “Two months before my first semester at Emory—two months I’d imagined I’d spend getting high in Leila’s basement while we crooned stale power ballads at each other—my mother sabotaged my summer plans with a one-way ticket to Lagos and a promise to purchase the return only after I’d earned it.” And there are a few lessons about social functions: “I am Grace Ogige,” the woman said as though I should have known the name. “Who are you?” and “Grace Ogige did some society math in her head—1 social climber + x = whose mouthy child is this—then smiled.” Lesley’s collection is riding high praise: NPR, The AtlanticStar Tribune and, most recently, The New York Times have all reviewed it favourably. It had been named one of 2017’s most anticipated books by everybody from Time Magazine to Buzzfeed, Elle, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the MillionsNylon, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Electric Literature.

8. Daughters Who Become Lovers | Writivism and Afridiaspora | Anthology

Writivism and Afridiaspora collaborated to produce this mini-anthology of creative nonfiction. Ten of the pieces came from Writivism’s 2016 Creative Nonfiction Workshop. The contributors include Eboka Chukwudi, Vivian Ogbonna, Eboka Chukwudi Peter, Charles King, Karen Mukwasi, Winnie Ivy Cherop Kirui, and YKO Tetteh. The title piece, a memoir by Jennifer Emelife, is co-published by ten outlets: Munyori Literary Journal, Deyu African, Bakwa Magazine, HOLAA, Praxis Magazine, Chimurenga, Kalahari Review, AfrikultKwani? and Afridiaspora.

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Otosirieze Nnaemekaram is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by Giles Foden. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies and Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a 600-page novel. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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