Tuesday, 10 September 2013

NoViolet Bulawayo Makes Man Booker Shortlist

NoViolet Bulawayo

Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo has been shortlisted for the Man booker Prize for her novel, We Need New Names. Congrats to her. In 2011, She won the Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story Hitting Budapest. Will she add the coveted Booker award to her Caine prize win? The winner will be announced in mid October.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Africanness and Authenticity in 'African' Fiction

Tope Folarin - Caine Prize Winner 2013 (Congratulations)

Following Tope Folarin's Caine Prize win yesterday evening, two camps emerged. One camp accepted and celebrated his win. The other derided and poured scorn on it. For what it is worth, I do feel Tope Folarin's 'Miracle' was the best of the five on the shortlist. (I did favour Chinelo Okparanta's 'America' too. But Tope Folarin's 'Miracle' had the edge in terms of (wider) significance of theme and handling of form.)

There is the issue of identity and Africanness that some 'critics' love to make a meal of. Tope Folarin is a Nigerian American. He was born of Nigerian parents. He was raised in diaspora and continues to reside in America. Does his living in America negate his Nigerianness and first generational diasporan experiences?

Is it time to embrace wider definitions of what it means to be African? Do we also need more awareness and open mindedness on what makes a good piece of 'African' fiction? The problematic term here being 'African'

Recently I have noticed a worrying trend in African Writerly circles, the tendency to seize on well regarded works (not Tope Folarin's) and describe them as 'poverty porn' sold to the west. I am not party to that school of thought. A piece of work is either good or bad on its own literary merits, horrific content or not. To say a piece of African fiction is lacking in quality or authenticity simply because it tells the story of starvation and want is illogical to me. It defies reason. Are we at the point where we have to pretend that certain realities do not exist on the African continent? Must we only tell happy stories?

Given the accessibility of social media these days, one can hardly avoid the unsubtle in-your-face pressure on writers in the African literary community to write stories depicting 'real' Africa. Any writer who writes of the many ills that plague the continent is immediately dubbed a writer of 'poverty porn' selling out to the west. Such a development is unhealthy, to put it mildly. We cannot gag writers. Writers need psychological and social space in which to write their own reality. That reality should not be lost in the paranoia and pretence of some writer camps. So I ask you: What is good African Fiction?

Pic Source: Brittle Paper

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

SAGBA: The Struggle Of LGBT Nigerians - A Video - Two Stories

Documentary producer Teju Oluokun contacted me recently about a documentary she made highlighting the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Nigeria. We are in the process of putting an interview together to be posted here soon. In the meantime, please watch the video.

In 2011, the Nigerian Senate passed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill. If the bill is passed by the House Of Representatives, it will be illegal for Nigerian LGBT people to congregate in clubs, and form organisations or societies. Entering into a same sex relationship or marriage will be punishable by up to a maximum of 14 years in prison, and up to 10 years in prison for those that support LGBT people and LGBT activities.

Human rights activist - Bisi Alimi, and Founder of OutTales - Ade Adeniji share their stories of being gay and Nigerian and how they learnt to navigate issues of family, religion and politics while being part of country that is hostile to them.

According to activist Bisi Alimi, the Nigerian LGBT community chose 'Sagba' (a Yoruba word)  in preference to the word 'gay', to identify themselves and their struggle. 'Sagba' means struggle. It is a daily struggle to be who they are, to remain true to who they are.

Interview with Teju Oluokun to follow. Soon.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Literary Icon: Chinua Achebe, RIP

Chinua Achebe: 1930 -2013
 Additional Source: Wikipedia

Nigerian literary icon Chinua Achebe is dead. Nigeria is in mourning for the great man who wrote Things Fall Apart and many other literary delights. In Things Fall Apart, he told the story of Igbo people and their traditions, painting a beautiful and unforgettable cultural landscape of what Nigeria was like Pre-Christianity and western influences.

Chinua Achebe was born on 16 November 1930 and raised by parents of Igbo ancestry in Ogidi, South Eastern Nigeria. He died on March 21, 2013 at a Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts USA. He was aged 82.

He was best known for his first novel Things Fall Apart (1958) which sold 8 million copies across the world and was translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time. I am one of millions of students in Nigeria and all over the world blessed by the beauty of his work. The imagination and skill involved in merging deeper meanings of Igbo language and dialect with a mastery of the English language is truly a joy to behold. 

Chinua Achebe also wrote No longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). In 1975, his lecture An image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" featured a famous criticism of Joseph Conrad as a 'racist'. It was later published amid some controversy.

Achebe's novels focus on the traditions of Igbo society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of Western and traditional African values during and after the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory. 

Achebe was a well known supporter of Biafra, the nation that broke away from Nigeria during the civil war in 1967 (but later seceded to Nigeria in January 1970) due to persecution of the Igbo people in Nigeria at the time. His last published book was the controversial There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Published in 2012, it drew some criticism from many including myself due to perceived content as unfair criticism of others. Given the current situation in Nigeria with the horrific spate of killings of southerners in the northern part of the country, many of whom are Igbo, one cannot help but feel that There Was A Country is perhaps gloomily prophetic. Achebe also published a number of short stories, children's books, and essay collections. From 2009 until his death, he served as a professor at Brown University in the United States. A literary icon is gone. May his soul rest in peace. 

A Tribute to Chinua  Achebe, Literary Icon:

Chinua Achebe taught me and many Africans to be proud of who we are and to never ever forget it. The pride he gave us to love ourselves and the beauty of our identity is his legacy to many generations of Africans to come.   

- Adura Ojo

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Django Unchained: A Review

Film: Django Unchained
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cinema Viewing: January 2013
Reviewer: Adura Ojo
Star Rating: ****

So...I've decided to review films that are relevant to the theme of this blog. I'll do this every once in a while or as my time and schedule permits. I can't think of a better way to start off the series than Django Unchained.

I'd  heard so much about Django in the media as well as online. So I go to see it. Let's just say I am not disappointed and this is why. It tackles a difficult subject: Slavery. We know Hollywood is always nervous about slavery and its portrayal. Tarantino pulls Django off as director and screen writer. He acts in the film too. Jamie Foxx plays the lead character Django (As Django says, the D is silent). I cannot think of any other actor who could play it better. The swagger, the array of skills required for this particular role. Django is a slave transported along with other slaves by their owners in 1858 when they come across a bounty hunter and former dentist: Dr Schultz -  brilliantly played by Christopher Waltz. Schultz's wit; now that is inbred, not bought with an education. Django is chosen by Schultz who needs him to help find some criminals - a particularly notorious set of brothers with a price on their heads. Django in the meantime learns all the necessary skills for a bounty hunter. It is interesting to see how Whites and other Blacks respond to  him - A Black man on a horse; a pretty rare sight in those days. Django has a quest of his own - to find his beloved wife and fellow slave Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The search takes both Django and Schultz to Candie's estate. Leonardo Di Caprio is also brilliantly cast as Calvin Candie.

Samuel L Jackson is hard to ignore in the role of Stephen (Candie's head servant). He is virtually unrecognisable which is the mark of an actor who is ace at this craft. Stephen is possibly the Black person's worst nightmare of an Uncle Tom character times 10. In the end he gets what he deserves. Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) does not have much to say but she has an undeniable presence in all the scenes she is in, again evidence of some good acting skills.

The power of the film lies in Tarantino's ability to manage the anger, the sadness, the laughter. I find myself angry, crying and laughing at different times throughout the film. The tears flow freely as soon as I see the slaves in chains in the opening scene. It would not be a Tarantino movie without the violence. Blood and guts spill freely as it would in a Tarantino movie. I am in two minds as to whether the violence is over the top. Two scenes stick in my mind. It seems to me that one of the scenes is definitely necessary to show how inhuman slavery is and how savage the slavers actually are. This is the 'hammer and fists' fight scene that takes place in Calvin Candie's house. It stands out in my mind as pretty brutal. The 'hammer and fists' scene tells a lot about Calvin Candie and the mind of men like him. The beauty is in the irony - that Candie believes he is a more refined human being than the so called unintelligent brains he has for slaves. Yet he has an insatiable need to force his slaves into the most mindless savagery for his own entertainment.

The second scene I find uncomfortable is an incident involving a dog...lets just say the dog is let loose. Django is a sort of catalyst in the dog scenario - This seems at odds with Django's 'real' character. Though admittedly he was playing the part of a Black slave trader in order to fool Candie; I do wonder if the dog scene should have been left on the cutting room floor. That Django would go that far is unconvincing. The length of the film itself is perhaps a bit long, at least fifteen minutes too long. Some momentum is lost in the aftermath following the shootout on Candie's farm as the plot runs out of steam.

As for the 'N' word, it is uttered so many times one loses count. I am not sure what people expect to hear of that time and age but it seems pretty realistic to me. Slavery was a grim reality in 1858. The 'N' word is a part of that era that haunts us still. I can understand that it feels uncomfortable to hear it but a story has to be told the way it is...the way it was. I am pleased that Tarantino does not spare our discomfort - We need to see and hear for ourselves to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Django Unchained is a great film with an important story well told with an excellent cast of actors.

I give Django Unchained Four stars **** (Out of a possible 5).

Reviewer: Adura Ojo - All Rights Reserved

I've decided to rate films. Would you like me to rate books as well? Let me know. And if you've watched Django, kindly share your thoughts. I'm looking for guest writers for this blog - if you're interested in posting a review or a writer's feature, email me. Address on top of blog. Thanks:)

images: wikipedia commons