Today is 12 August and I last posted on my poor neglected blog on the 26th of June! I can't believe it. I have an excuse if one is needed, I've been recovering from this very stubborn sciatica. I will not write about how living with chronic pain is damn debilitating. I'm tired of talking and thinking about that. I am better but not yet completely sorted. I feel confident I will eventually be back to my dog walks and my aerobics DVDs, though a mean little person occasionally raises his voice in my mind and says-"This is your life now", but I ignore him. I think he is a ghost. I'm hoping in the end to have an exorcism to banish him. But that's all in the pipeline. In the meanwhile, I am going to physiotherapy and getting poked with acupuncture needles and doing my exercises and keeping a good attitude. AND most importantly I am back in my office WORKING!! Work the saviour.
So what have I been thinking about during this time you ask??? Mostly controversies among African writers it seems.
I have wondered about speaking publicly (meaning outside of my Facebook friends) about the craziness that has been filling the African writing internet world. The first bit of craziness comes from an interview with Chimamanda Adichie published in The Boston Review in which she said a few things folks found controversial. It is this bit that has caused the controversy:
AB: I would love to ask you about the Caine Prize. I
find it interesting that so many Nigerians are on the short list this
year—that it’s four Nigerians out of five . . .
CA: Umm, why is that a problem? Watch it.
AB: Well, none of them are you!
CA: Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop. But
what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway? I don’t
want to talk about the Caine Prize, really. I suppose it’s a good thing,
but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s
never been. I know that Chinelo is on the short list, too. But I haven’t
even read the stories—I’m just not very interested. I don’t go the
Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction.
AB: Where do you go?
CA: I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people
send me their stories. I could give you a list of ten—mostly in
Nigeria—writers who I think are very good. They’re not on the Caine
Prize short list.
The people upset by this feel that her calling Elnathan John "her boy" was derogatory. And people also didn't like that she said her mailbox is where she looks for good African writing not the Caine shortlist. I've felt bad about this furor which in many ways I think is unjustified.
I was at the Farafina Workshop taught by Chimamanda and attended by Elnathan John. It was the same year that I was shortlisted for the Caine Prize. In fact, I went from Lagos directly to London for the Caine activities. Elnathan John was in our group though he says in his blog- "(he) had been told by some well meaning but not so literary friends that you didn’t need any workshop".
I think to anyone not spoiling for a fight, it is obvious that "boy" in the context Chimamanda uses is meant in a way that implies that John is one of her workshop attendees. As for her thoughts on the Caine, I can say she was lovely to me about my shortlisting and wished me luck as I was off to London. She even spoke about my shortlisting at our public awards ceremony. From my seat, she did not seem to look down upon the Caine Prize, if anything the opposite.
But anyone who knows the breadth of writing on the continent would be foolish to say that the Caine Prize is the decider of what is and isn't considered quality writing on the continent. In the most obvious case, the Caine Prize is only for short story, what about novels and creative nonfiction and poetry? There are many people who have appeared on Caine shortlists who have hardly been heard of again. Every prize has its positives and negatives, the Caine is no different. Subjective humans run it and subjective humans decide it. It is the nature of prizes. In any case, she is entitled to her opinion, and it is just that- her opinion. She never at any point said she was the voice of Africa, and yet those most critical of her stance seem to position her as such. It's very unfair.
Another controversy and big talking point among the African writing community as of late is the winning of the Caine Prize this year by Tope Folarin. Folarin was born in the USA and has never lived in Nigeria, though his parents were born in Nigeria. According to the Caine Prize guidelines he qualifies as an African writer. Still, some have queried this. I consider myself an African writer, but some might not agree. I'm the opposite of Folarin, I'm born in USA but have now spent the bulk of my life in Botswana and am a citizen of Botswana, only. According to the Caine Prize I am an African writer but according to the recently announced Morland Scholarship I am not, nor was I an African writer for the Kwani? Manuscript Project.
For contests and other such creatures, it is up to the organisers to decide the parameters. I find it quite unfair that people want to question Folarin's win after the fact. The guidelines have always been there. This African writing community is a querulous lot in general. I suppose trying to lump 55 countries, each full of diverse people, in one basket was always going to be difficult. The question of who is and who isn't an African writer and what is and isn't considered African literature is a perennial one. Some even want to abolish the entire subject and do not want to be considered as an African writer at all. I doubt the question will ever be answered decisively. But it is always discussed. Always asked. Always.
And on a completely different note- in the middle of all of my pain and genreal yuckness, I managed to finish a short story and it has been long listed for The Short Story Day Africa contest. It's titled Black Coffee Without Sugar, about a motivational speaker and his wife. The stories on the longlist will appear in the first anthology for Short Story Day Africa, something I'm quite pleased about.