Africa39: New Writing from Africa south of the Sahara, edited by by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey. $17.00, 384 pp. Bloomsbury USA.
I. Why read yet another new “African” anthology of short fiction?
New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, was: why should I read this?
One might consider merit and credentials. For African writers and readers there are a clutch of big-ticket prizes, scholarships, and fellowships that are relevant (in order of increasing size of cash payout): The African Poetry Prize, The Commonwealth Short Story Prize, The Caine Prize (which The Guardian calls “the African Booker”), The Etisalat Prize, The Morland Scholarship. These endowments are, to coin a phrase, optimally relevant because they guarantee the authors (roughly in order of priority): international exposure (The New York Times recently hailed, as a trend, the “new wave of African writers with an internationalist bent,” some of whom are part of the Africa39, others who are friends or mentors to a number of the less well-known Africa39), Africa-wide recognition, reliable publishing opportunities, renowned mentors/editors, future awards, a sustainable life as a professional writer, and lots of travel. These award recipients are the authors who, in the decades of their ascendancy, will be read widely, will speak prodigiously, will be quoted and cited extensively, and whose names will come to characterize (if not define, and even represent) who African writers are and what African literature is on the world stage.
Selected and promoted under the auspices of The Hay Festival, the Africa39 authors are considered to be those authors from south of the Sahara and its diaspora who show the most promise. Their very designation, however, presents us with a tautology: which authors were selected? Those who were most promising. How do we know they were the most promising? Because they were selected. This also provides the taut logic, endemic to almost all the rather opaque prize-giving on the continent, that governs the future: those African authors who will be considered important are precisely these authors, the ones who were thrust into the mainstream by these prizes. There will, of course, be a few exceptions which will prove the rule: those who will simply fade into silence or choose other life paths, and those who emerge via other routes. The economy of African Literature—within the economy of that matryoshka doll of World Literature—seems to remain a somewhat self-contained and even limited one, a circulatory system of letters and lives that renews itself in a particular way. That is, for those African writers who, while reading the Africa39 anthology, puzzle over how to one day win a prize, a fellowship, a scholarship, or get short-listed for something major, there are material conditions to consider which can only be glimpsed through a curtain, darkly.
When Tope Folarin (U.S.A./Nigeria; Rhodes Scholar), who had not been published previously, casually mentions that it was Helon Habila who told him to submit a short story to the 2013 Caine Prize, we note that Habila, who edited the celebrated (and lamented) Granta Book Of The African Short Story, himself won the prize in 2001 and was appointed as a judge in 2014. Folarin subsequently won the prize on his first foray.
When Okwiri Oduor (Kenya) won the 2014 Caine Prize and, later in the year, her very close friend, long-time collaborator, and fellow Africa39 author, won the Morland Scholarship, our eyes were drawn to the gossamer threads by which literary lives and cohorts are tugged into possibility. We also recall that Oduor’s winning short story, “My Father’s Head,” had won the Short Story Day Africa competition in 2013. One of the judges in that competition was Novuyo Rose Tshuma (Zimbabwe)—it was once mentioned to me in passing, though never confirmed, that when the histories are written it will be Aminatta Forna (also a Caine Prize judge) who will be credited, or claim credit, for “discovering” Tshuma.
We note also that Taiye Selasi (U.K./Ghana/Nigeria; Granta’s 20 Best Young British Writers) is good friends with Toni Morrison’s niece, was mentored by Morrison herself, championed by Salman Rushdie, blurbed by Teju Cole, and that Selasi is a very big deal in spite of the fact that there is no clear consensus on how good or lacking her debut novel, Ghana Must Go—excerpted in this anthology—actually is (in The New Inquiry, Aaron Bady elaborated on how it is “ambitious”; in the Make literary journal, John Murillo III said her “metaphysical meditation is varied and intricate, all emergent in the thick, gorgeous writing itself”; the caustic London Review of Books misfire is perhaps best forgotten).
It’s also useful to take note of the important work done by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, former Granta editor, who some would claim is the new doyenne of African literature, and who sits at the tables where many of these funded decisions are made. (It is perhaps no coincidence, for instance, that she was the editor of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s debut novel Kintu and that the Ugandan author then went ahead to win the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2014, of which Allfrey was the chair of the judging panel—Makumbi, born in 1967, wasn’t eligible to be longlisted for the Africa39 but, had she or her Kenyan coeval, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, been eligible, they would have certainly been worthy of places on the shortlist.)
In 2013 Allfrey chaired the well-appointed Kwani/Granta writing workshop in Nairobi. Four writers who attended that workshop later became a part of the Africa39. Allfrey is the deputy chair of the Caine Prize, which Oduor, who had attended the aforementioned workshop, later won. Oduor’s close friend, Ndinda Kioko (Kenya; lauded film-maker, Teju Cole’s friend and collaborator) won the 2014 Miles Morland Scholarship; Allfrey is the chair of the judging panel of the Morland Writing Scholarships as well. Allfrey is also the editor of the Africa39 anthology and, as such, the proximity of these thirty-nine authors to her can (and has) only lead to many good things happening. In literature as in life, it matters not merely to be known by the right people, but also to be known in the right way and at the right times. There are power relations and there are personal relationships. Even though they are much of the story they are not the whole story. There is chance and talent, luck and skill. There is timing and place. There is work and waiting. There is even conjecture and coincidence. There is, finally, the text and there is the reader.
Of course, the big names in African literature: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria/U.S.A.; MacArthur Fellow 2008), Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia/U.S.A.; MacArthur Fellow 2012), Nadifa Mohamed (Somalia/U.K.; Granta’s 20 Best Young British Writers), Chika Unigwe (Nigeria/Belgium), Lola Shoneyin (Nigeria), Ondjaki (Angola), Taiye Selasi, Zukiswa Wanner (Zambia), and so forth—these earn their natural place in any international anthology. In addition, the Africa39 anthology is packed—as was The Granta Book—with authors who have either won or been shortlisted for the Caine Prize (as such, the anthology is likely comprised of future winners).
Africa39 judge, Margaret Busby, said that, “perhaps the best thing about Africa39 is that there is no single winner: it is a unique opportunity to showcase, celebrate and encourage a new generation of fiction writers, encompassing names that have already drawn international acclaim and others who are beneath the radar. The group is neither exclusive nor discrete, rather it is exemplary of exciting literature with African regional connections.” Exactly so: the cachet and credentials required to make the Africa39 necessary reading are manifestly present.
What are we then to make of the conditions by which such an anthology as this one is produced? What are the implications of the politics, mechanics, and logistics of prize-giving in determining the variety and range of African voices that are supported and heard? How do we reconcile those factors with how we approach and read this anthology and its authors? What does the production of the Africa39 anthology mean as an emergence in African and World Literature now? I hesitate to hazard a straightforward conclusion because I simply don’t have the necessary access or insight into how things work at the upper echelons of African literary institutions and communities. It is clear that every one of the writers whose names we see in bright marquee lights has earned their way there. But it is also clear that doing the brute work of writing, while necessary in order to go places, is never sufficient. The question, however, is not really who has earned what and if they are deserving. A coin might as well be tossed and a talented writer in Africa will always be chosen. The question, always, is how to democratize these processes by which writers get vital support, how to expand, several orders of magnitude beyond a mere thirty-nine (half of whom are already successful authors anyway) the number of writers who are provided with the means by which to live, work, and be read as professional authors.
A paltry handful of writers winning big prizes every year, in a continent with a population of over one billion human beings, could never be the path by which we build a vibrant and representative professional and intercontinentally visible pan-African literary community. Awarding prizes in golden drips and dribbles gives the impression that all that is excellent in African literature fits in a narrow, shallow pinnacle, a group that can easily be invited to a single literary festival without too much difficulty, when in reality that peak is both broad and deep, and far larger than all this cumulative prize-giving accounts for.
For those of us readers and writers concerned with certifiable merit, a celebration of the same is more than enough reason to leaf through this anthology. But if we are dubious about any hierarchical assertions of merit attached to market dynamics and institution-making—in this case, the towering figure of The Hay Festival—then we consider other reasons.
II The “African Writer” is dead?
It is the case that each new anthology of African fiction that emerges from a major publisher is treated, a priori, as a necessary intervention even when, as sometimes occurs, its composition is flawed. In the past few years, however, there has been an explosion of African literary writing and anthologizing online. New collectives, little magazines and journals, and small presses are publishing at a terrific rate. Bloggers too, are accumulating and making available a tremendous amount of necessary and original work. There is vastly more writing—and of vastly more uneven quality and variety—being published on “the African Internet” than any single anthology can represent. In fact, in 2015, the idea of a print anthology of “African writing” seems quaint, more useful for that reader who is eager to reduce a continent’s literary output to a manageable size, a reduction which is somewhat lazy when there’s free WiFi. As has often been said, it remains the case that no snapshot of African writing can be representative of the continent’s actual literary diversity. If one wants to really know what’s up, as Helon Habila hinted at in his introduction to The Granta Book, one has to dive into the Internet as though falling out of an aeroplane into the middle of an ocean—the swim for land, even if land is never found, is the discovery of the sprawling publishing underway, a doomed but rewarding attempt at the near infinite volume of reading to be done, and as such will be instructive.
After all, the simplest reason for reading a new anthology of African short fiction such as this one is not—as Elif Batuman infamously and dismissively asserted as the only reason to read “third world literature”—because “it has anthropological interest.” (London Review of Books, 23 September 2010) Batuman’s quip seemed to narrowly channel Fredric Jameson’s lingering insistence on “the radical structural difference between the dynamics of third-world culture and those of the first-world cultural tradition.” (Social Text, No. 15 (Autumn, 1986)) Jameson contended that “[a]ll third-world texts are necessarily allegorical, and in a very specific way: they are to be read as what I will call national allegories. . . . The story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society.” Vertiginous statements such as Jameson’s and Batuman’s, when the “African writer” is considered, saturate the word “African” with meaning at the expense of the word “writer.” As early as 1965, thinkers such as Chinua Achebe (in The African Writer and the English Language), and later, in 1985, V.Y. Mudimbe (in African Literature: Myth or Reality), were challenging the category preeminence of “African” in considering cultural production from the continent of Africa and its diaspora.
Most recently, in 2013, the inimitable Taiye Selasi declared that “African literature does not exist,” a pronouncement which showed that the state of “the African Writer” is as unresolved now as it was a decade ago. In her contentious and divisive lecture—the response on Twitter that day was enthusiastic, to put it mildly—she said that by uttering “African,” “[w]e insist that there is some knowable space implied by the adjective “African,” a monochromatic entity that exists in our minds alone,” and that, “[t]he challenge of the African writer—or the writer with relatives from sub-Saharan Africa—is to be treated as ‘artist’ first, ‘citizen’ second,” and I would cautiously add, a historical entity third (because that is, surely, what it means to be African now: to have a share, transmitted as legacy, as heritage, as governmental and foreign policies, in an ongoing history broadly characterized by colonization, slavery, mass emigration, recent national independence, a neocolonial ravaging of the continent by the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a certain perceptible polymorphous marginality no matter where one goes on the planet).
From a certain perspective, the category of “the African writer” seems to have been inaugurated by the creation of The African Writers’ Series by Chinua Achebe in the 1960s, a series which remains canonical. Writing on the legacy of Achebe’s A.W.S., critic David Kaiza observed that for a long time, to be thought of as an African writer meant to have been published in this series. (Transition 106, 2010) What followed was that the A.W.S.’s ethos became, de facto, prescriptive: It represented the “limited expectations of what an African writer could achieve in writing.” It prescribed that “a particular way of looking at the world was so pervasive that an ‘African writer’ was not really considered ‘African’ if his literary creation strayed away from the discussion of blackness.” It “set the template by which the African writer was to be read.” Wole Soyinka, author of the heady introduction to the Africa39 anthology, described the A.W.S. as “the orange ghetto.” Finally, according to Kaiza, it constructed an identity and a poetics that younger generations of writers tended to resent and avoid as a matter of sanity and survival. If the identity of “the African Writer” persists, then it does so as a collective identity that, to again invoke Jameson, “needs to be evaluated from a historical perspective.” To read these 39 authors now is to read them at a perpetually shifting distance and direction from that mirage of collective identity and those concrete historical conditions. It is to witness a new generation of authors grappling with this, though not always overtly or even primarily, as “an aesthetic dilemma, a crisis of representation.”
For it is this sense of “the African writer” as a fantastic object with an even more fantastic history that Mukoma wa Ngugi (writer, professor at Cornell; alternately tasked and blessed with being the son of Ngugi wa Thiongo) might have been trying to invoke when he characterized the overall demeanor of the Africa39 anthology as one of “mourning and melancholia.” (Los Angeles Review of Books, Nov. 9th 2014.) Rather than locate these authors around a site of loss, as Mukoma wa Ngugi does, I am rather more tempted to array them in a field of competing, dispersing desires. Mama’s Future, the ostensibly continental allegory by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond (Ghana/U.S.A.), begins with the sentence, “Mama was on her deathbed.” Mama is dying because of the various ills that have held Africa back: corruption, foreign aid, slavery, and so forth. She has summoned her children, who have returned from all over the world to claim their inheritance. But it is buried and hidden somewhere in the Future:
“Mama, you can’t expect us to go on some kind of scavenger hunt for you. We’ve made lives elsewhere,” Xiomara reminded her.
“Elsewhere is for strangers, and that’s what you’ll always be anywhere but Here. The hunt is for you and me.”
If Mama’s children are the writers in this anthology, then their interrogation of Mama for clarity about their future might be the very act of writing these stories, their continued writing the hunt itself, the “dig[ing] until you find it” which Mama urges and demands—and Mama herself the imperious construct of “the African Writer.” Wole Soyinka’s introductory prediction that “the word shall fly free!” is echoed by Binyavanga Wainaina’s resounding, YouTube’d call that “we [Africans] must free our imaginations.” As these new literary lights join established stars in the jet-set, on stages from Nairobi to the TEDs to Jhaipur to Edinburgh to Berlin, the Africa39 will, literally and figuratively, fly free from Mama, their legacies and futures securely in their notepads and hand-luggage.
If Mukoma wa Ngugi missed the mark somewhat, it might be, as Aaron Bady suggested in The New Inquiry, that he shed a useful yet partial light on the Africa39 anthology because “[t]he past isn’t what unifies them [the Africa39], because almost nothing does.”
A motley group of writers then; from diffuse Africas, mobile and spectral archipelagos which are in constant reformation and reformulation from within and without the continent, linked only tenuously to the peoples and nation-states that give meaning to the economic and developmental business of “Africa Rising.” Or something. In which case, we have another good reason to read this anthology: each author is assigned a country on the map, some countries with more authors than others (the distinctly and unfairly Anglophone flavor of the anthology has been much commented on: it is heavily weighted toward former British colonies such as Kenya and Nigeria); we might read this anthology to both mystify and complicate our understanding of what we think Africa is, or is becoming. An anthology such as this one should rapidly disabuse readers of the notion that anyone has any kind of grip on an idea of “Africa.” Perhaps that kind of correction, a not quite wholesale dissolution of the “African” as a category of cultural production, is valuable work for a collection of this size and scope. After all, that was the thrust of Selasi’s argument: to read authors for their artistry and not to presume or impose political, allegorical, sociological, or anthropological motivations for cultural production now. Selasi said, “[w]hat offends me most is the implicit suggestion that African writers’ thoughts about their writing are less interesting, less valuable, than their thoughts about Africa. The problem isn’t that we’re so often asked to speak about politics, identity, immigration, but that we’re so much less often asked to speak about our art.”
III Style (the sentence level)
Following Selasi, we turn to the art and craft of the writing therein. We make room for the reader and the text. We arrive at the question of pleasure, of seduction at the sentence level. With Francine Prose–like fervor, we attend to close reading: is this anthology worth perusing because the writing is, largely, excellent? Chinua Achebe famously said that our aim, as once British- (or French- or Belgian- or Portuguese-) protected children, is to do things with the English (or French or Portuguese) language that have hitherto been unimaginable. That might still be a worthwhile goal. And so we read for the well drawn moments, the decisive detail, the James Woodsian concretizing metaphor. A few examples might suffice. Flipping through the pages, we arrive, almost at random, where:
There is a way he fucks: in chunks, like he is about to give up, and then going back to the beginning and starting again, like a generator that is running out of fuel.
“You have beautiful eyes.” She kisses him angrily and shuts him up. . . .
She is tempted to tell him about the man who gave her that name, but by the time she decides, he is already asleep. She rests on the bed for a bit. As she watches the ceiling, a strange feeling of incompleteness engulfs her. She feels like she is part of a circle that is broken and she doesn’t know what to do with herself outside this circle. She dresses and leaves.
(“Sometime before Maulidi”)
At the Nairobi International Book Fair in 2014, Ndinda Kioko told a rapt audience that “Sometime before Maulidi”emerges from a singular point in her lengthy history and interminable memory of loss. Reading the story, we find the narrator passive and adrift while grieving, letting life take her where it will. Such drifting is charged with erotic energy, as it also is in so many films about women freeing themselves to rediscover self while grieving, drifting in a sort of wilful passivity—Wild (Jean-Marc Vallé, 2014), Lucía y el sexo (Julio Médem, 2001), Y tu mamá también (Alfosono Cuarón, 2001), Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2000), Je, tu, il, elle (Chantal Akerman, 1974). The narrator—“the traveler”, the flâneuse—decamps the city and drops herself through time and space, held aloft on an accumulation of phallic symbols: First she hops onto a bus, phallic and mobile, which drives through the hinterland towards the uterine ocean in which she hopes to “in the reflection, recognize herself”; the bus charged, one feels, by her will to escape, deposits her at the coast. Her languorous gaze lingers over the man in an embroidered hat and later on his speedboat, plunging through the sea, surrounded by that endless, and “arrogant” pelagic presence. They end up at the top of a hotel building, thrust skyward, and “from the rooftop, they watch the old town orbit around the building.” The man senses then feeds the traveler’s oral fixation (she wants to watch cigarettes burn to ash and is offered and/or craves cigarettes, though she doesn’t usually smoke tobacco) when he rolls up marijuana “into a stick,” then “she smokes it, without a question.” The erotic accumulation, in counterpoint to the pervasive lassitude, seems at its peak physically (the choreography of their bodies), architecturally (atop a tall building), geographically (an island—she is at sea, freed of the mainland, the site of trauma), metaphorically, which makes it inevitable yet surprising that the sex that follows, and which takes place in a room a few disappointing floors lower, is, for her, the traveler, apparently anorgasmic. The man becomes an object, and a somewhat dysfunctional one at that—his “running out of fuel” (unlike the bus, unlike the boat) a mirror of her own existential fatigue—in the constellation of her melancholy desire.
The story, which has been described as elegiac, brought to mind David Slavitt in The Book of Lamentations, who said that “my own tribulations have made me, very probably, a better poet and a better reader. I understand some things more deeply. In order to tell the truth, it is sometimes necessary to say the almost unspeakable, but the fact remains that grief has its benefits as well as its costs.” In “Sometime Before Maulidi,” a story of haunting and mourning, eroticism and ennui, darkness and desire—easily one of the better stories in this or indeed any anthology—one gets a sense of an author whose abilities—even when they waver—and whose prose—when it soars, when it stumbles—grow stronger the more heavily she weighs the benefits of grief, and the powers she derives thereof, against its costs.
They lifted the bream out of the bucket together, the boy’s hands holding the tail, J.’s hands gripping the head. The fish swung in and out of the curve of its own body, its gills pumping with mechanical panic. They flipped it on to the wooden board. Its side was a jerking plane of silver, drops of water magnifying its precise scaling. The chicken outside made a serrated sound.
Namwali Serpell (Zambia/U.S.A.) is an academic (UC Berkely), critic, and writer of astonishing ability and range. Two recent texts serve to highlight her versatile gifts: “The Book of Faces” (n+1, Online only, 25/07/2014)—an ekphrasis of a Facebook news feed—and “Skin Her” (n+1, Issue 21, Winter 2014)—a consideration of Scarlett Johansson’s recent alien forms.
“The Sack”is a grim gothic. Three generations of men are in a house together where they are haunted by a woman—presumably dead—and her history, a part of which they have each been. Comrade J. runs the household, while “the man” awaits his death, and “the isabi boy” hangs around in disconcerting quietude. “The boy’s mind was empty but for a handful of notions—love, hunger, fear—darting like birds within, crashing into curved walls in a soundless, pitiless fury.” A big fish is slaughtered early in the day, and the big man (“bwana”) is slaughtered in the evening. They all dream of the woman, Naila. J. “dreams of her used cunt” but “had long ago decided to hate that woman: a feeling which had clarity and could accommodate the appetite he had once felt for her body.” The sick man “still loved her . . . scratched invisible messages to her in the sheets.” The thoughts of the three swirl and mix in a dismal dreamscape. Reality is slippery and unwieldy, like the bream they capture and eat, like the body in the sack of which the man dreams, like the pregnant baby slipping out of Naila—“She is gone. / She has been gone for a long time.”—of which J. dreams, and like their dreams themselves. The terrible sack about which the man dreams, which moves about as though the corpse or limbs within it are alive, recalls that other terrible sack (a makeshift body-bag) containing a brutalized and maimed undead body in the film adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s horror, The Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999). The men’s shared nightmare, Serpell’s surrealism, are chilling and enjoyable.
A final example:
In time, Mom’s absence became the most prominent aspect of our lives. Dad stopped talking about her, and he encouraged us to do the same, but we could tell that he missed her. Sometimes he’d slip up and tell us to ask Mom what she was preparing for dinner. Other times, when we passed by his bedroom on the way to the bathroom, we saw him fingering some of the items she’d left behind. Her purse. Her records. Her colourful head wraps. Her purple flip-flops.
Tayo and I continued to speak about Mom, but we always whispered when we did so, like she was a secret that only he and I shared. Like her life was a story we had made up.
The loss of a mother is always an impossible event to deal with. And yet, like all of life’s impossible events, it has to be countenanced nonetheless. Online, blogs, journals, anthologies all regularly feature stories about the loss of a mother. On Mothers’ Day every year, Twitter is awash in the same. Simone de Beauvoir learning of her mother’s death, in A Very Easy Death: “It was Bost calling me from Paris: ‘Your mother has had an accident,’ he said.” Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary: “You have never known a Woman’s body! \ I have known the body of my mother, sick and then dying.” We might think of Lydia Davis’ “The Seals“or Cheryl Strayed’s “The Love of My Life,” Rebecca Solnit’s Faraway, Nearby, or Cord Jefferson’s “On Kindness”. It is in Solnit that we find an echo to the articulate anguish in Tope Folarin’s story. Solnit writes, “Two summers before the apricots, my mother had begun to get confused, to get lost, to lock herself out of her own house, to have serial emergencies that often prompted her to call me for a rescue or a solution,” and Folarin begins: “The most confusing period of my childhood began when my schizophrenic mother left us and returned to Nigeria.” This is the territory out of and into which Folarin writes, and if Virginia Woolf were alive to read him, she might strongly reconsider her assertion that men offer no help—but only a certain pleasure—in thinking back through our mothers.
The Africa 39 anthology may well be the single most important thing to read this year out of that nebulous place recently known as Africa. And here’s the rub: in this anthology we receive not a single thing but a coruscating flurry of bright things; a multifarious swell of distinctive, disparate voices, emerging. We receive a map of a place, both here and not yet here, of places that exist as part of a region that is yet to exist. For this coterie of writers who will be at global literary festivals and bookshelves, this restive anthology has the rebellious energy of the protagonist in Day and Night by Mehul Gohil (Kenya; National chess champion) who “want[s] to mold the litfest finale into the shape of a black hole.”
I imagine the scene: thirty-nine African writers walk into a bar, and we can only imagine, because we can hardly believe, what will happen next. At the very least, we find the kind of thing that astute commentators as varied as Ainehi Edoro, Ikhide Ikheloa, M. Lynx Qualey (who writes about Arab literature), Daisy Rockwell (who writes about South Asian literature), Wole Soyinka, Binyavanga Wainaina (who was in charge of putting together the Africa39 longlist), and many others have often asked for: the Africa39 anthology is a vital part of the ongoing conversation amongst Africans for Africans with the world. The project then, for the sedulous reader, is to seek out these authors’ writing as they continue to publish, and to read, in wonderful detail, both their work and the works of the other African authors to whom they lead us.
Orem Ochiel is a reader living in Africa. He writes about literature by writers of color for Open Letters Monthly, has published fiction with the Jalada Africa writers’ collective, and essays with The New Inquiry. He maintains an inbox at nochiel ⋄ gmail. His Desire Triptych triplet of novels comes out in 2016.
Full disclosure: Orem attended the Kwani/Granta workshop mentioned in this essay, was one of Binyavanga Wainaina’s research assistants during the preparation of the Africa39 longlist, and is the current editor of the official Hay Festival Africa39 blog.
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