What if African writers are read independent of their origin? What if they are read as though with a different identity? What if Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is read not as the story of an Igbo man in a society succumbing to colonialism but as that of a Frenchman adjusting to German occupation in World War II? What if Kojo Laing’s Search Sweet Country is read not as a Ghanaian recording a 1980s postcolonial culture but as a white American dealing with an imaginary post-racial culture?
What if they are read with no national identity at all? What if Wizard of the Crow affords Ngugi to be read not as a satirist of power-drunk African politicians but simply as a novelist working in the psycho-cultural—and often greed-ridden—space that is humanity? And Nuruddin Farah’s Maps is read not as a heart-wrenching chronicle of Somalia but as humanity’s troubling need for peace from anarchy?
In a 24 May event in Oslo where she will be the keynote speaker, the editor of Brittle Paper, Ainehi Edoro, will be answering, stretching, rephrasing, deconstructing and weighing these and similar questions. The event, titled “Un-Located Readings,” is organised by the Norwegian organisation Transnational Art Production (TrAP).
Ainehi will assess “the tendency in the field of literature to exotify African fiction, by first searching out the geographical references and it’s complementary expectations before valuating a text’s literary intrinsic values.” Her “multi-disciplinary discussion” will “emphasize the alternative” to “a culture relative reading of a work of art” which “may get in the way for an understanding of the work’s content,” making the work “not to get its proper assessment in the domain of art history.”
After her lecture, Ainehi will be in conversation with the South African-Norwegian musician Nosizwe, who will first lead a blind-reading session, as a warm-up to her keynote. And then she will lead a workshop in “reading technique, on basis of the topic she raises.”
A professor of global Anglophone literatures at Marquette University, Ainehi has, in the past year, laid major groundwork for an overhauled reading of literature from Africa.
In a piece for The Guardian titled “How Not To Talk about African Fiction,” she highlights, using Amazon’s blurbs for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, how the discussion of fiction from Africa is centered “not on the basis of its aesthetic value but of its thematic preoccupation.” Americanah, she points out, is marketed as “a powerful, tender story of love and racism” while Cloud Atlas is promoted as “postmodern…Nabokovian…mind-bending, philosophical and scientific speculation.” This article, TrAP states, ensured their interest in her work.
In another piece, “Beyonce Is Not Shining a Light on African Literature—It’s the Other Way Round,” Ainehi further lays to waste suggestions in the Western media that “being linked to Beyoncé had somehow upgraded Adichie into a truly global celebrity” and that Beyonce’s adaptation of Warsan Shire’s poetry reinforces her promotion of literature from Africa. Through clever analysis that proves how “Shire provides the vital connections that hold the work together,” she explains how Beyonce’s album “Lemonade is a very African project.”
This event, which is free of charge, will see participants afforded “an opportunity to encounter extracts of texts and to suggest its sources, ahead of the reference being made available.”
Here are key details.
Date; 24 May.
Venue: Kunstnernes hus, Oslo, Norway.
Time: from 10 a.m.
Find out how to attend at Un-Located Readings.