AFRICAN WRITERS: DIAMONDS OF CONTEMPORARY LITREATURE
“I say and say again; the right to exist in books should not be restricted to a particular color, gender, sexuality or race”- The writer.
Let me start by talking about diamonds, sure you must have heard of them. The Oxfords Advanced Learners’ Dictionary of Current English defines a diamond as: “a colorless precious stone of pure carbon… used in jewelry….” Going through the length of defining a diamond does not necessitate the cumbersome nature of the word nor the writer’s great love for the much coveted gem. Rather, it is a veritable medium to exhume three remarkable properties of diamonds that are relevant to this discussion. They include: being hard and pure, colorless (frequently bypassed if a closer look is not taken) and sparkles when polished. Can African writers be said to possess these sterling qualities of diamonds in contemporary literature? Let us decide!
The beauty of the arts; music, literature, dance, is in its perpetual state of flux or being a rolling stone that gathers and losses moss. It advances, recedes, declines, evolves, revolves and devolves with the wavering pass of time. When names like Shakespeare, T.S Eliot, Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway ruled the literary William world, little or no attention was given to the literary possibilities and potentials of the African continent. Then, an obvious invisible set of rules existed in writing- characters had to be white and blue eyed, with ponytails, they must wake up to snowy mornings and have toast and honey for breakfast. If characters, in very rare cases, were Africans, they must either be portrayed as human-eating savages opposing the light of civilization or slaves or something else that stifled their existence as human equals or being worthy of literary existence.
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Another possibility of Africans to exist in books was offered by fields such as Biology and History where they are credited as an important phase in human evolution. Sadly, no matter how glamorous literature advanced for others, it became an almost alien spectacle for the African continent. African writers were yoked with a type of literature which they could not connect with and the possibility of telling their own stories was pruned down to a mirage.
Like the breaking of a new dawn, the year 1958 came with it; a hope-rising for African literature. It was the year Chinua Achebe published his novel: Things Fall Apart. This book of critical positive acclaim proved to be a turning point for African writing. It accentuated the abundance of untold stories, untapped and unharnessed creativity of the Dark continent to the entire world. For the first time, characters with proper human attributes had dark skin and kinky hair! After this quantum leap, African literature grew in leaps and bounds with the emergence of other writers like Camara Laye, Ngugi Wa Th’iongo, Christopher Okigbo and J.P Clark.
Today, the African continent can boast of five literary Nobel laureates: Wole Soyinka (1986), Naguib Mahtouz (1988), Nadine Gordimer (1988), J.M Cotzee (2003) , two Booker Prize winners: J.M Cotzee, the first man to win the prize twice (1983 for Life and Times of Michael K and 1999 for Disgrace)3 and Ben Okri (1991 for The Famished Road) and countless winners of other prestigious literary prizes. Contemporary African writers like Chimamanda Adichie has been tagged by The Times Supplement’s James Copnall as the most prominent in the procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors that is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature.
As the diamonds they are, African writers have infused a fresh boost of energy in the annals of Contemporary Global literature. These new literatures, as they are regarded by Reed Way Dasenbrock, have fashioned out a unique style of writing for all to admire and appreciate. A style of writing where characters can wake up to dusty harmattan mornings that filled the air with hazel-colored spirals in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, where the scents of the Frangipanis linger with us even long after reading Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, where we share in the embittered life of a spirit-child; Abiku in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and dwell in the suffocative vast richness of the Yoruba folk-culture in Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman.
Yes, African writers might not be said to be at par with their much revered American and European counterparts, but they surely deserve a doff of cap. Just a handful of decades old, Modern African literature is competing favorably, more than mere rubbing of shoulders, with Modern English literature that has spanned for a period of plus five hundred years. I dare say, at most times, beating the owners of the language in their own ga
Africa is filled with emerging, young and creative minds who seek the English language as a medium for their voices and stories to resound throughout the world. This is where the big problem creeps into the picture. African writers become the most endangered species when integrated into the vast expanse of the literary world. They are always faced with the dilemma of being sidelined while retaining their Africanity or melt away into popular and conventional writing styles to be acknowledged.
As noted earlier, diamonds must be polished for them to sparkle. The literary world must do the same to its diamonds of contemporary literature. Polishing and not compelling African writers to twist into recognizable shapes or still evaluate African literary works with a great pinch of salt. Polishing should be in terms of objectively appreciating African writing for what it is: an innovative approach to exploring unlimited literary possibilities of litreature. In that way, African writers would glimmer than never before and their position as the diamonds of contemporary literature would be fully reinstated.
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