Search This Blog

Monday, March 25, 2013

New Nigerian Writing and the Next Achebe

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)
Guest blogged by Okiri Christopher Raphael 

If there is any one writer that has taken Nigerian literature to the world, it is Chinua Achebe. His novel, Things Fall Apart, indisputably qualifies as a classic. Chinua Achebe had written several other books, many which are no less worthy of the attention Things Fall Apart has garnered in the course of time. Arrow Of God and No Longer At Ease are two full length novels that immediately succeeds Things Fall Apart. There is no denying the fact that these three books make up a trilogy of note as there is a traceable generational link in the plot and characters of those three great books. There is also The Anthills Of The Savanah, another noteworthy offering by the master writer. In all, the Man is reported to have written over 20 books. He was the editor of the African Writers Series; a collection of myriads of writing across Africa.

There are other books written by the world acclaimed author from Nigeria; Chinua Achebe had dabbled in the realms of other genres of writing like short stories (Girls At War), poetry (Beware Soul Brother), children's story (Chike And The River), and essays. While novel-writing may be Chinua Achebe's forte, he has made several hits with his essays. His recent and lastly published disturbing quasi-autobiography, There Was A Country, could be said to be very successful. As it is the trend with significantly successful books in Nigeria, the book pirates are having a field day at running off cheap re-prints of There Was A Country, and putting them on the streets. No sooner does a copy of There Was A Country lands on the street than it is quickly purchased by a waiting reader. The surplus reviews already on the book may have whetted the appetite of the reading public for what Uncle Achebe has to say. And I heard the man say, in the book, things about the plight of Biafra in the unfortunate last century's civil war in Nigeria. Even before the first print got to the shores of Nigeria, many reviewer and casual readers alike had already, metaphorically, rolled up their sleeves to engage Uncle Chinua Achebe in controversies over the content and intent of the book, however most of the views were based on online excerpts.

Nothing succeeds like success. If there is a successful Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe is it. He is indisputably an icon of African Literature. As characteristically enigmatic as Achebe may be regarded in certain quarters of the Nigerian polity, the man is held in high esteem by the younger generation of Nigerian writers. Now Uncle Achebe is gone, a lacuna is definitely created, one that must be filled soon. Chinua Achebe will always remain an icon of Nigerian, if not African, writing. While there are other living successful Nigerian writers to look up to, like Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, to name but two, this generation of writer must have one of their own be their standard-bearer. There are brilliant writers out of Nigeria, and they are plenty, but this generation must find one of its own to hold high the standard of contemporary Nigerian Writing; a one who will take the burning torch to the world in the footsteps of Late Uncle Achebe.

This generation is fortunate to still have the contemporaries of Uncle Achebe like Uncle Wole "Kongi" Soyinka, et al, to guide and point it in the right direction. This generation of younger Nigerian Writers is privilege too to have publishers like Farafina, Cassava, Republic, Magic Wand Publishing, Kraft Books, Evans Publishers, Macmillan Books, and Paressia – to name but a handful – to help make of its works, world standard books (in all formats). There are booksellers like Monsuro, Rovingheights, Glendora, Patabah, Bookville, and Debonair Bookstores to make books available to direct consumers. We should be thankful too to have The Rainbow Book Club and Garden City Literary Festival, The Nigerian International Book Fair, Celebrity Read Africa, Book Jam, Book 'N' Gauge to ginger Nigeria's interest and love for books. There is the Association Of Nigerian Authors (ANA) which organises and moderate many literary awards for Nigerian Literature. There is also Promise Ogochukwu's Lumina: organisers of The Wole Soyinka Prize For Literature with her continental reach. Myriads of literary groups, societies, clubs and cabals abound to help mould the next icons for Nigerian writing. In sum, all efforts must be coordinated to keep Nigerian Writing on the global stage, and a Standard-Bearer in the order of Chinua Achebe must emerge from this blooming crop of Nigerian writers: this generation of writers that has its own stories to tell.


To contact or read more from Okiri Christopher Raphael, do so here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saraba #13 – Africa Issue

Saraba Issue 13 Africa does not downplay the Africa theme by over-romanticizing Africa’s rusticity over her glossed rots. Africa is what she is. Simple. People live in Africa and she is a continent. And just like any other, her people are suffering, celebrating, dying, living, falling in love and shagging.  Admittedly however, Africans are still different; our collective negative stereotype makes us dissimilar from the rest. This issue does so much to stamp out such fixed picture of Africa. You really should read to know how this Saraba issue pulls that off. 

For me, this isn’t the best of what Saraba has offered, it really isn’t. I am only enamored to it for its totality of genre classification. This issue touches all genres and that is some worthy effort for a tasteful reading. In this issue, there is a drama entry, a genre that has been absent in past publications. Moreover, one will readily understand its past absence and ascribe it to the fact that the genre is the less appreciated and written of the literary genres. Having a drama feature in this issue beautifies it and – I should also add – tells this Africa issue apart from previous issues. This is called Africa. And nothing could be like it, with or without the drama genre. Even Africa is a drama in many offerings: in photographs, poetry, fictions, essays and You.

My fear is fast becoming real and I do hope the long break between Saraba’s last publication and this one is not a vesper ring gradually calling Saraba in. Before this issue came out, numerous publication schedules have been broken and remade. I initially wondered if Saraba was also going the way of numerous others that are presently dying and unworthily subsisting. In recent moments, online mags as this have swiftly been losing it, going under in quality and means. With Sentinel Nigeria’s introduction of paltry inducement to accepted entries came its sharp fall. Go through that mag now, compare it with his past self and you would mourn it. Klorofyl was also so promising in her debut, second and third issue. That mag may also have suffered mishap. For months now, Klorofyl is yet to produce another issue. These literary magazines need help. It’s time they started calling out for voluntary funds. They need it. Their efforts are beyond what vast readership can only compensate. I stand to be corrected, vast readership that does not attract worthwhile advert placements.

Contrary to what the numbers of pages might have you believe, there is a dearth of submissions in this issue. This is the only sense I can make of the republished guest posts and the book excerpts that uninspiringly took up space. I cannot but wonder why essays by Adesanmi and Harrow, the two longest essays in the mag, are only reposts from some blog. While these essays work well with the Africa theme and an engaging read, it would have been better if they were genuinely written for the mag. I wouldn’t take it honestly if I am told essays by seemingly unknown writers were not rejected for placement of those ‘favoured’ ones. That’s bad. Saraba hawks around the motto ‘Creating Unending Voices’. With that single action, it would now seem they are for ‘Creating Established Voices’. We have read Adesanmi’s Face Me, I Book You” and Harrow’s Do We Still Have Postcolonialism?” elsewhere and we appreciated them there. Having them here again only clutters pages. They serve no purpose here, at least to me and many other committed readers who have read them at some other place before now.

If the idea around the few book excerpts in this Africa issue were a creative means of advertisement, then, the creativity in such would be adored. After reading the “Guilt Trip”, an excerpt from Nze Sylva’s recent book, “The Funeral Did Not End” and “A Safe Indiscretion”, an excerpt from Seffi Atta’s novel, A Bit of Difference, I came off with the strong thirst to get those books. But publishing their excerpts in the mag is just so insufficient in itself. Moreover, Richard’s book, “City of Memories” is also excerpted, making three excerpts in all. Again, these writers should have been asked to produce original stories for the mag and alternatively have the Amazon links to their new books in their profiles. If the stories interest readers, they would in turn hanker after their books and buy them anyway. Publishing such excerpts gives off the rationale behind them as fake and misleading. Leaving a reader hanging after brief sweetened excerpts, only informing him afterwards to go for the fuller books arouses mixed feelings. And mixed feelings are riotous emotions. Riotous emotions spoil growing readership.

In this Saraba 13, the foregoing leaves me with little pieces to comment on. I will only talk on some and hope the reader finds the issue enjoyable.

Africa in these Shades

“All in the Night Together” by Brendan Bannon and Mike Pflanz

The various photographs in this issue are my main attraction. They visibly tell African in her honest light. Photo collection such as “All in the Night Together” by Brendan Bannon and Mike Pflanz comes to mind. Those photos show the transience of human daily struggle through our individual resoluteness to survive odds. These are not fiction, they are real and that makes them sound so well home. You will see yourself in the faces of the determined people shown in the picture collection by Bannon and Pflanz. If you don’t, at least, you will see those minor scavengers trolling your street in Johnny Be Good and Ocha Ocha, the father driver trying to make ends meet in Walter Ngau and your car washer boy in John Mbogo. These are men telling what some part of Africa really is, without the lazy stereotype.

“Nyamiri” by Okwuje Israel Chukwuemeka

This story is so much tribally steeped. However, the theme is truthful. The tribal hate is left unbidden and that only makes you doubt the writer’s writing objectivity. This writer does not pretend to be objective and that is the main strength of the piece. In the unbridled emotion of the piece, the truth is not coloured: frankly, there is always a Northern monster-Danladi amongst us, venting out decades long tribal hate on an innocent “Nyamiri” of the East.

“Thirteen” by Tosin Akingbulu

This story languidly picks up but with time, it grows on the reader and everything soon comes into an instant flourish. I admire writers who can transform the stereotypical into an engaging read. Tosin does so with this story. “Thirteen” is the everyday story of child abuse and female-child neglect, but the very telling is not usual. I like this story.

“A Beautiful Mind” by Lara Daniels

Lara Daniel’s piece is brief. There is wisdom in the shortness of the piece; it is straight forward and effective to its message. A girl character goes through a funny but painful psychological battle. But while in it, she believes she is sane or she really is sane. Her parents take her to be otherwise; that she is mad. Consequently, when she meets the Yellow Man, she is assured her mind is only different and beautiful.

“The Real Tragedy in Being African” by Miriam Jerotich

Perhaps, this excerpt from Miriam’s essay wholly captures what this Saraba issue drives at:

“…the tragedy isn‘t in the burdened identity that makes many think of us only as African or Kenyan or Nigerian or (insert ethnic group). Neither does it lie in the failed attempts we make when we challenge the status quo, nor when we question why we are monolithic figurines of the Western world. The real tragedy lies in failing to find a way to live with the label, in failing to reconcile our passions and our anger. More importantly, it lies in failing to know that we can be more than our assigned labels…” (pg. 93)

First of all, Miriam bemoans her preconfigured African identity, whimsically clutch to her pre-immigrant memories, then goes on to accept the power her differentness wields; for she is African.

In Conversation: Dami Ajayi & Seffi Atta

Arguably, this is the best interview I have seen Seffi Atta granted. Dami Ajayi does a good job as the interviewer. In the interview, discourses smoothly move around Seffi’s new book, her writing, her views and the media controversy that has been plaguing her for long. Amongst other things, Seffi extensively talks on the Lagos middle class of the pre- and post-colonial era. This interview stands out. Dami really engages Seffi.

It is the 13th issue and Saraba has indeed come a long way from their first outing. Saraba might have slightly failed me in this present one, but their sense of literary quality and determination to keep at promoting the arts marvel me. Go download the mag now. It may be the best free mag you have ever come across. Tell me when you’ve downloaded and read it.
< >