Sunday, December 6, 2009

Writing about Africa and not for Africa

How many occasions do we have for celebrating famously inflation-racked Zimbabwe, a country run by somebody defined by many as a tyrant? Well, now we have at least one. Petina Gappah’s collection of short stories about her home country, Zimbabwe, has won the Guardian First Book Award. An Elegy for Easterly has been praised by many critics and I’ve read a great deal about it. Even though the country is living in a permanent economical depression, life still goes on there: people are falling in love, getting married and having children. We should think more often about that.

The author is a Zimbabwean lawyer who now lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and was partly educated in the UK. She said that she doesn’t want to be labelled as “the voice of Zimbabwe” and that she doesn’t write for Zimbabwe but about Zimbabwe. I really want to read this book. Maybe for Christmas I could have it posted from the UK…

By the way…

Some weeks ago an article appeared on The Guardian website telling us that Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer, had rejected the definition of “father of modern African literature”* on the grounds that “there were many of us”. Now a new article, written by Ghanian author Nii Ayikwei Parkes, has some interesting thoughts on the matter. Apart from the fact that it is obvious that there cannot be only one father of African literature as African literature is diverse and written in many different languages, he reflected on the meaning of the expression “father of modern African literature”. Immediately after reading the piece, he googled “father of European literature” and “father of primitive African literature”, thus underlining the eurocentric undertone of the aforementioned expression!

This made me wonder at the way we still "patronize" Africa, we consider it as a whole, even when we are sponsoring what we call "postcolonial literature" (without thinking that this label also implies an eurocentric point of view).

* This expression was coined by Nadine Gordimer in a completely different context. The original sentence was "Chinua Achebe's early work made him the father of modern African literature as an integral part of world literature".


  1. thanks for the 'By the Way'. I have been away for far too long and don't even know what is happening in this part of the world.

  2. You're welcome, Nana. I hope it was an inspiring piece of news.