Where technology meets anthropology, conservation and development
Random header image... Refresh for more!

The two faces of African literature

The positive. The negative. The upbeat. The downbeat. The optimistic. The pessimistic. The African view. The Western view. The good. The bad. The “half full”. The “half empty”.

The two faces of African literature?

62 comments

1 Ken Banks { 02.22.10 at 3:13 pm }

The two faces of African literature. http://is.gd/8W1C2 #africa #perception

2 changefeed { 02.22.10 at 3:15 pm }

->@kiwanja: The two faces of African literature http://tinyurl.com/yjjrks3

3 Andrea Bohnstedt { 02.22.10 at 3:28 pm }

Is that African literature? Looks like books about Africa to me.

4 Ruth Le Breton { 02.22.10 at 3:28 pm }

RT @kiwanja: The two faces of African literature. http://is.gd/8W1C2 #africa #perception

5 Literature » The two faces of African literature | Build it Kenny, and they … { 02.22.10 at 4:00 pm }

[...] See a rest here:  The dual faces of African novel | Build it Kenny, as well as they … [...]

6 kiwanja { 02.22.10 at 4:15 pm }

@Andrea – Could be seen either way, I guess. Chinua Achebe would probably agree with you…

7 Andrea Bohnstedt { 02.22.10 at 4:48 pm }

Chinua Achebe certainly knows way more about African literature than I do. But even I suspect that you can’t boil an entire continent’s literary voice down into ‘two faces’ – none of which is actually written by an African.

8 kiwanja { 02.22.10 at 5:14 pm }

@Andrea – Do you have to be African to write about Africa (however you define African)? Maybe more to the point, if you are African would you likely write about it any differently than, say, an Indian? Quite a few of the books I’ve read tend to fall on one side or the other – Africa as a disaster or Africa as a place of beauty and opportunity. The two books I found in that photo seemed to highlight this contrast quite sharply

9 Andrea Bohnstedt { 02.22.10 at 5:29 pm }

No, I don’t think you have to – I love Michela Wrong’s books, for example, and she captured Kenya very well, in great nuance.

But I find such a sweeping statement as ‘two faces of African literature’ problematic for starters since African literature is vast, and there are a great many voices on the continent. And no, I don’t think that most books fall on either side – Aminatta Forna, Sefi Atta, Petina Gappah, Jane Bussmann, Michela Wrong, Anthony Sampson, Chinua Achebe and a great many others tell a distinctly nuanced story. I find it important to move on from the grand ‘Africa this’ and ‘Africa that’ simplictiy. It’s a continent. It’s 50+ countries.

But if you’re looking for symbolic value (‘two faces’), then again, it’d be good to include an African writer (however you define that. Dambisa Moyo perhaps?).

10 Ken Banks { 02.22.10 at 5:41 pm }

Do you have to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

11 karimu hamilton { 02.22.10 at 5:51 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Do you have to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

12 karimu hamilton { 02.22.10 at 5:51 pm }

RT @kiwanja: The two faces of African literature. http://is.gd/8W1C2 #africa #perception

13 uberVU - social comments { 02.22.10 at 5:54 pm }

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by kiwanja: The two faces of African literature. http://is.gd/8W1C2 #africa #perception…

14 kiwanja { 02.22.10 at 6:18 pm }

@Andrea – The post/statement was meant to be provocative, more than anything. I totally agree with everything you say – thanks for taking the time to respond. Many of my Nigerian friends, or Zambian friends, tend to speak about “Africa” in the same sweeping terms, so my use of it is in the same context. 100% problematic, yes – but that’s all part of the problem, as you say. “The Trouble with Africa”, as a book title, makes no distinction either.

15 Marc Maxson { 02.22.10 at 6:27 pm }

I think Chinua Achebe’s -THINGS FALL APART- is a better read than either of those two. And at the same time, captures both viewpoints. and yes- it’s got a full Nigerian perspective. I’m going to re-read it this month.

16 Klaas de Boer { 02.22.10 at 7:30 pm }

2 recente boeken over de ontwikkelingskansen v. Afrika; de een positief, de ander negatief http://ow.ly/1a1jh Maar welke heeft er nu gelijk?

17 Wayan { 02.22.10 at 10:03 pm }

I found Africa Rising to be a very poorly written book. While V. S. Naipaul captured Africa better that both of these books. They key is to be a good writer – not your parents linage or birth location.

18 Robert Swope { 02.23.10 at 7:16 am }

The two faces of African literature http://bit.ly/cgFvOm #Africa, @kiwanja #aid #books

19 michela wrong { 02.23.10 at 11:52 am }

i get really, really bored of this obsession with africa’s “image”. do we ever talk about “euro-pessimism”? or “euro-optimism”? (ditto latin america, the US, Soviet Union, Asia) no one in europe makes those sweeping generalisation or cares to examine whether generally images of europe are “positive” or “negative”. isn’t a continent more than the eye of the beholder? doesn’t reality matter more than image? it baffles me.

20 Adam Cullingham { 02.23.10 at 12:45 pm }

You need to read ‘when things fall apart’ not sure who by. Have also read Dark Heart by Joseph Conran, I think… But anyway the first is very good.

21 Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood { 02.23.10 at 12:46 pm }

For me Joseph Conrad is amazing. A Polish native, that lived in France and published first in French, considered a master of the English novel with a theme of Africa :)

22 Andrea Bohnstedt { 02.23.10 at 12:48 pm }

What Michela said.

Actually, I think there’s no such thing as ‘Africa’.

23 kiwanja { 02.23.10 at 12:50 pm }

@Michela – For some, perhaps it’s in their interests to paint “Africa” in these terms. You’re right that you rarely see books called “The Trouble with Europe”. I’m not sure what the obsession is, either. Just thought it was worth highlighting

@Adam – Read that book! Chinua Achebe. Also have it on Video Disc (bought in Nigeria), but it’s on about 8 discs and I haven’t found something to play it on yet. :)

@Silvia – Have read some of his stuff. Very good, as you say…

@Andrea – Well, the first paragraph of a book on the ‘history’ of Africa I read recently asked that very question. The first chapter was titled “The Idea of Africa”, and centred on it being a construct. Interesting discussion.

24 Ken Banks { 02.23.10 at 12:57 pm }

Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

25 David Isaak { 02.23.10 at 12:59 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

26 Paul C { 02.23.10 at 1:10 pm }

“do we ever talk about “euro-pessimism”? or “euro-optimism”?… no one in europe makes those sweeping generalisation or cares to examine whether generally images of europe are “positive” or “negative”.”

Actually, yes they do. There’s a huge amount of discourse – both academic and in the media – about what europe means as a concept, and I regularly have discussions with people in the Balkans about what it means. There are frequent generalisations about “Europe” everywhere else, and people in Europe (although mainly those with a vested interest in the EU) are definitely concerned with how Europe is seen.

Bottom line is: a lot of Africans do self-identify “Africa” as a concept, and so it’s entirely valid to discuss Africa, whether you’re African or not. The real problem is that – unlike in Europe – popular discourse rarely gets beyond this wider concept to discuss the particulars.

27 TMS Ruge { 02.23.10 at 1:11 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

28 wayan_vota { 02.23.10 at 1:15 pm }

Good writing matters most RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? http://is.gd/8W1C2

29 Su Mih Nao { 02.23.10 at 1:15 pm }

30 Yvonne { 02.23.10 at 1:25 pm }

I think Africans bring a different perspective. It is helpful when we tell our own story. Especially since our story has been tainted by others.

31 tms ruge { 02.23.10 at 1:27 pm }

As Binyavanga Wainaina put it succinctly when interviewed by @sanstis: “What the fuck is African literature?” http://bit.ly/bYBKgP

32 Egghead Odewale { 02.23.10 at 1:43 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

33 Lindsay Merriman { 02.23.10 at 3:18 pm }

Good discussion in the comments. On writing about Africa: "The two faces of African literature" http://is.gd/8W1C2 (via @kiwanja)

34 Josef Scarantino { 02.23.10 at 3:35 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

35 Krista Zimmerman { 02.23.10 at 4:05 pm }

The two faces of African literature – interesting discussion http://bit.ly/brQ0FS

36 Step By Step Africa { 02.23.10 at 5:47 pm }

Is writing on Africa different if the author is from Africa? http://bit.ly/aRXuHu Be sure to read the comments discussion too

37 the politics of presentation and representation of Africa « Opalo’s weblog { 02.23.10 at 6:26 pm }

[...] Filed under: africa | Tags: media politics, Politics I am not particularly keen on these debates but here you go… Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this [...]

38 lu { 02.23.10 at 6:38 pm }

i think anyone deliberating on an author’s writing of ‘africa’ should listen to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk The Danger of a Single Story. not only is the author amazingly articulate and great to listen to, she has a really great point about what happens when we have a single story of a place, a people, or an entire continent.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

39 Ethnicsupplies { 02.23.10 at 7:05 pm }

I think part of the issue here is one of presentation. If you were born and raised in Africa your personal experiences of the continent will be presented differetly to those of someone that has merely studied African affairs. The question then becomes which Africa the writer would like to present. Personally I am fed up of literature that only tells of disease, war and famine, yes all these exist but they do not necessarily define Africa

40 fimbo { 02.23.10 at 7:29 pm }

There is a common thread to the black (african) existence. You see bits and pieces of it in hip hop, rap (east coast west coast) or dancehall reggea (gully vs Gaza).
I am talking about the miltant dissaffection and protest about the state of affairs that the youth have to contend with day in day out.

Only an african (or more succinctly a person living that existance) can capture it and yes it is a very different animal from the AID/Donor/Development/anti-corruption agenda.

I just published this book http://books.google.com/books?id=FQfY3IYcr08C&printsec=frontcover&dq=kilolo&cd=4#v=onepage&q=&f=false

I think it is “african”

41 Afrinnovator { 02.23.10 at 8:08 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

42 sokari { 02.23.10 at 10:17 pm }

@Andrea – I have to agree with Andrea’s comment on this grand narrative called “Africa”. I think when Nigerians or Kenyans speak of Africa what they are speaking of is “their’ Africa rather than a continent of such massive diversity. This kind of narrative perpetuates ignorance and why we are seen as a country speaking a language called “African”. I met someone on the train in DC last January who worked in the World Bank on languages. He claimed Africa only had three languages – guess which ones – and the rest were dialects – again no prize for guessing.

Let me write about my “country” that little part of what has come to be known as the Niger Delta, made up of three towns and a few scattered villages along the creeks!

Well you said it Ken :)

43 Dustyn Winder { 02.23.10 at 11:49 pm }

Very telling juxtaposition: The two faces of African literature | http://bit.ly/bgWlO3

44 Marian Tobias Wirth { 02.24.10 at 12:01 am }

@adanylkiw: Classic. RT @kiwanja: The two faces of African literature. http://is.gd/8W1C2 #africa #perception

45 Joel { 02.24.10 at 6:54 am }

Leaving the discussion of “Africa” and (self-) representation aside, just want to add the observation that the book on the left is about the economic potential with African consumers, while the negative one is about foreign aid. They are not contradictory, but could even be telling the same story from different angles. I’m saying this just from looking at the picture, have no idea about the content.

46 Nic Bidwell { 02.24.10 at 8:23 am }

Africa is the only part of the world whose history(ries) is “dominated” and even “defined” by non-“Africans.” – post by Kwabena Akurang-Parry on the H-Net Africa List. How can we let this practice continue since there are many well-qualified African commentators?

47 kiwanja { 02.24.10 at 3:00 pm }

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Looks like this one could run and run. Would be another great conference/workshop topic, maybe before or after this one: ;)

http://www.kiwanja.net/blog/2010/02/nasa-on-mars-vs-development-in-africa/

48 Addis Tunes { 02.24.10 at 5:13 pm }

RT @Afrinnovator: RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

49 Leandra Gebrakedan { 02.24.10 at 6:58 pm }

RT @Afrinnovator: RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about it differently than non-Africans? http://is.gd/8W1C2

50 Kweku { 02.24.10 at 9:52 pm }

An interesting point. Do you have to American to write about the US? If an African wrote about the US, would it be considered as credible as an American? That’s what comes to mind…

51 So Many Links « The Everyday Idealist { 02.25.10 at 10:38 pm }

[...] Different views on writing about Africa.  My take on the Western view. [...]

52 Butterfly Works { 02.25.10 at 10:55 pm }

The two faces of African literature http://bit.ly/brQ0FS (via @Kiwanja)

53 sriram khe { 02.26.10 at 7:58 pm }

The two faces of Africa
http://bit.ly/brQ0FS

54 john otim { 11.15.10 at 8:16 am }

RT @addistunes: RT @Afrinnovator: RT @kiwanja: Does it help to be African to write about Africa? Do Africans write about http://is.gd/8W1C2

55 Ken Banks { 12.14.10 at 9:39 am }

Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa. Blogged about this a while ago. http://is.gd/iIJLY #ICTD2010

56 Helge Reikeras { 12.14.10 at 9:40 am }

RT @kiwanja: Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa. http://is.gd/iIJLY /cc @sinaisix

57 GuideStar Intl { 12.14.10 at 9:44 am }

RT @kiwanja: Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa. Blogged about this a while ago. http://is.gd/iIJLY #ICTD2010

58 KT { 12.14.10 at 9:49 am }

@lu i agree, It is worth watching this video which features a talk by Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html.

@Adam Also with respect to the Novel @Things Fall Apart” the author is Chinua Achebe. I agree

59 RMAjayi { 12.14.10 at 12:02 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa. http://is.gd/iIJLY #ICTD2010 :: Thank you. #Nigeria #Naija

60 candice ogbunugafor { 12.14.10 at 12:31 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa. Blogged about this a while ago. http://is.gd/iIJLY #ICTD2010

61 Carla Murphy { 12.14.10 at 1:02 pm }

“Building a case as to why more Africans should write about Africa.” For whom are you building a case? Since we’re talking in generalizations, perhaps “the West” needs to look where Africans are “writing” (non-mainstream lit, radio, online, non-English media) and engage them there? Rather than assume they’re just not writing at all. And just one more thing, this discussion about Africans in African literature could benefit from the opinions of those who were around when Chinua Achebe became a big deal. It’s the same discussion–except it’s about to be 2011. That’s problematic not to mention disheartening in many ways.

62 kiwanja { 12.14.10 at 2:41 pm }

@Carla – Sorry. The tweet was a little misleading based on a shortage of characters. Someone at the ICTD2010 conference was building the case, not me in this blog post. I just linked it back to here because I thought it might be interesting to people. (I agree with much of what you say, by the way).

Leave a Comment