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