||In a message dated 3/17/05 8:29:43 PM,
AFRICAN WRITING: WHY WE NEITHER READ NOR WRITE
I went to a book launch last week. It was held at a bookshop I patronize.
The author is a lady who lived in Kenyan during her early years. She is
as a Kenyan, but she is Caucasian and she speaks with an American accent,
having spent her adult life in the US.
The crowd was mainly white expatriates. Few African expatriates were
do not know if it is because they were not informed or not interested. But
think that even if they were informed, not many would have pitched up.
This is the story of Africa. It is possible that because we are basically
oral tradition, we are still making the transition between acquiring
and obtaining entertainment from oral and visual rather than written
But it is taking a long time.
Books are not a priority. I wonder why. I belong to an online forum where
there was a recent argument about the fact that Africans neither read nor
There are as many reasons for this as there are Africans, perhaps. But
the most common is this: they do not read because they are too busy
surviving. They do not write because there is no time or motivation to
The Political & Spiritual Purpose of the
|Sometimes it is just an unpublished writer tired of waiting. This person
have sufficient mastery of the language for non-publishing purposes, but
will do the copy-editing and proofreading himself/herself because he/she
cannot afford an editor or a proof-reader. The result is what we see in
African writers cannot live on their writing. They do not have enough
readers, when they do manage to get published at all. They do not have
grants that many Western authors. They do not have the huge and fairly
population of India, say, to write for. There is also the problem of
outfits reprinting copies of books and selling them for a profit that the
and publisher will never see. This is very common in Nigeria, whence I
seen badly printed, badly bound copies of Robert Ludlum's novels that
away in your hands as you turn the pages.
Western publishing houses hesitate to take on writers of African fiction
because they do not have a huge market for Africans who write about
many Europeans want to read about life in an African village or urban
from an African perspective? The success of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective
(and its sequel novels) is a notable exception, but it must be pointed out
that this is a book by a British professor of law, who lived in Africa for
time. It is an excellent book, and I shall review it for this web log in
course, but it suffers from the strange affliction of much of writing
Africa: it is written by a non-African.
After independence, the African Writers Series (AWS), a Heinemann imprint,
published the works of many Africans, famously including Chinua Achebe and
others. Though one lauds the initiative, one must say that some of the
were published at that time left a lot to be desired. It seems difficult
imagine why Joseph Ngongwikuo of Cameroon and Flora Nwapa of Nigeria to
only two were published. Their books certainly leave a lot to be desired
terms of literary merit. I suppose it was important to encourage new
then. But AWS has fallen on hard times, and their website is a journey
past, a twilight zone reminiscent of the heady days of early
So what can we do about this? We can write, but who will publish us? We
publish, but who will buy our books? Our books might be bought, but who
read them? We have many rich business people, but the publishing concerns
have sprung up are often a labour of love by people, who have something to
who have a place for other people to say what they wish to say. They are
generally not business people. What the African publishing industry needs
combination of love of the written word and business acumen to bring these
to the reader, and make him want to read them.
In the meantime, my magnum opus shall moulder quietly in my desk drawer.
This is a well-written article. I have no doubt everybody understands
you are talking about and what you have written is an universal
though you omitted one important aspect of why Africans hardly support
writers - the crab mentality of our people. We are jealous of the
of our own people. Then again, there is the problem of ethnicity.
To solve some of these problems, some of us as writers, have come to
understand that to be successful you have to write a book with universal
The success of my book, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success," is due
its universal appeal, attaining the No.1 bestseller list in South Africa
four months. Moreover, it is an extremely well-produced book (even if
don't want to buy it, just look at it and see its beauty comparable to any
main-stream published book). You remember the computer language, gigo,
garbage out, what you put in is what you get back.
Hopefully, with this kind of chastising, maybe our people can spend $100 a
year to patronize African writers. That is not too much to ask.
ps: Timbuktu Publishers is our publishing house. I am proud of our work.