Africa Writes: Writing Our Own Stories

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I am desperately looking forward to attending the Africa Writes event taking place this coming weekend 11-13 July at the British Library in London. The line-up of activities, speakers, and sessions seem really impressive and I hope to be truly impressed. I have even made some Twitter contacts with some of the writers who will be presenting their books at the event.

I have had a very long standing admiration for writers, especially the African writers, among all the other professions. The reason is probably because they find the right expressions and contexts to put into words  my childhood memories, thoughts, and things currently going on in my mind.

They also bring to my attention those aspects those aspects of Africanism that are less known to me, and they do so by digging dip into the minds and thoughts of ordinary people, the obstacles they face, their bravery, their aspirations, and their tragedies. It does not matter to me that those stories are positive with happy endings or negative and leave me in tears. What matters is that they are genuine.

One great thing about African writing is that it is one of those areas where, in my opinion, there does not seem to be any issues with gender balance or gender dominance. I even get the impression that female writers are getting the best of it.

I got excited recently when I came across this 50 Books By African Women That Everyone Should Read, and was proud to have read a few of them. I was so sentimentalised to see So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba in the list. It was a novel I had to read both in English and in the original French to prepare for me Senior Secondary School Certificate exam in those days. Despite the 25 years that have elapsed since I read it, I since remember so many phrases “Yesterday you were divorced, today I am a widow”.

Despite my very young age then, I think I was adequately sensitised to the plight of those two women: one had been windowed, and the other was leaving her husband because he had taken a second wife. It is definitely a book I plan to pick up again.

Of course, I can’t have imagined this list without Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. Prior to this, it had been mostly men, especially former military men telling stories of African wars and about their bravery and political manoeuvres. Adichie simply showed us there were other aspects of this Biafran war: There were real people who had stories to tell. Luckily, this week the Nigerian government has changed its mind about the film itself, though I understand it had to be edited.  The list will have to be part of me to-read list which is growing exponentially.

Wole Soyinka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the ease of publishing and also the ubiquity of social media mean that books by African writers can easily find their ways to any part of the world and for these writers to have direct interactions with various audience . Just in the last few months,  I have had the honour to attend a few events in London that included book reading by African writers based in Africa.

I was impressed that the organisers of these events managed to squeeze in the book reading into those events, and have invited little known writers in order to put them in the lime light. Apart from the heightened sense of fulfilment for being in the same hall and listening to a literal giant like Wole Soyinka, I was equally uplifted to hear from Ayo Sogunro with his book The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and Other Sorry Tales, and also Chude Jideonwo with his book Are We The Turning Point Generation.

Both books offer a very deep insight and are worth reading.  Promoting African writing is an agenda worth pursuing with all might. We have to bring the Africa to the world through its stories. These stories and writers need to become mainstream, and it is in our power to make this happen.

So how do we make it happen? I am doing my little bit by being part of this Africa On The Blog platform. It is a fantastic venue to tell the African story and have genuine dialogue with other contributors living in different parts of the world.

I like reviewing books here, but also most importantly I enjoy reading the short piece that colleagues manage to put together in between their busy schedule and other engagements. It can be tasking sometimes coming up with cohesive stories every now and then, but it is a great prompt and reminder that there are still so many stories to be told. However, we do not all have to write.

Some of us can be agents through which African writing can be spread. Social media makes this very easy to do. Also next time your colleague or close friend has a birthday or any other significant event, consider an African novel as a present. If you need help, look at the list I provided earlier of 50 books by African Women that everyone must read. I assure you that they will be impressed after reading them.

Stories will always be told whether we like it or not. The question is whose perspective and to what depth. If we want to be heard, you need to speak up. As Chinua Achede put it “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

See you at Africa Writes!

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