Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Some of you may know of this young lady. She has written two delightful novels – Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. Only at 26, some are calling her the Tolstoy of West Africa and others are saying Chinua Achebe has found his heir apparent. She has already won big prizes in the literary world for these two books are her short stories. In short, she is a hot new star in the international literary circles. I tremendously enjoyed her two books.

Anyway, those who following the world of books and authors will notice that young African writers are entering the scene, when giants (Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ben Okri, and others) are retiring. But look at the list of the old, and look at the list of the new. No Tanzanian. Why?

Some may see this is an unimportant concern. But, for me, the life of the nation is defined by a body of the works of art that its people produce. Many countries have a “national novel” (if you wish), a major book or books that embodies the lives of the people or at least define a particular era in the life of that nation.

I read what, for us, are classics: Shaaban Robert, Mzee Kezirahabi (“Roza Mistika”), and a few others. Good stuff, but did not really define our society. Shaaban Robert was a great fantasist, and therefore could not have accomplished a literary masterpiece to define the soul of our nation. What Musiba and others wrote in latter days are like Robert Ludlum – riveting but that is all.

I don’t believe we lack imagination or a "soul" to translate into a literary work. I just don’t know why in the good old African Writers Series we did not feature, and in this new wave we are not present. I have heard of the argument that things are tough in Bongo therefore we are too preoccupied with making a living as to focus on producing great books. I think this is ridiculous. Most great works came out of (comprehending and making sense) hardship.

Anyway, perhaps our generation will rise to the challenge. But not if all we want to write and read is not literary enriching, and not if we are fearful of narrating our existence.

9 comments:

Mchangiaji said...

January,

I have thought hard on this, and I am comming back on to the same conlusion, the basic reason why we are not having such great minds to put their thoughts and imagination on writing is because, they have not been tickled to do so, since the tender age, and this come back to our education system. Oh bhoy I dont know!!

“If you want to work on the core problem, it's early school literacy.”
- James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape

We spent a lot of time in schools, 7 years in primary school, and we dont have even a library or a curricular that would allow us to read a lot of variety of books and of choices, it is almost zero, I cannot remember of any, particularly of literaly content, and thats a sham. WE HAVE BEEN DENIED THAT FOR SO LOOONG, but we cannot denied OUR FUTURE, and the later is very important, but again this is not a time to revist the past, and I dont want to go back to it, IT IS A HUGE TOPIC, I am sorry to have brought that up.

As far as I can remember, I have read Shaban Robert and that was it, 7years for me counted for a little compared to other education system in the world, or of our neighbouring countries for that matter. I live abroad, and I see kids comming home with different story books and others in almost every month, thats at the very tender age, You ask them, they will give you a handfull of list, and you can see the imaginative minds when they speak and write. The resources are plentifull, it is just for the parents to give them guidance. We have zero!

You can only see a talent of a child, this in fact in other countries all over the world, by providing him/her with resources to define his/her progression from one point to another, and this in Tanzania has never been present, but only now, we are seeing oh well the wave of private schools and institutes but thats is not enough. The thirsty is there I believe, but we are failing to tap onto it.

I have gone through the list of African writers on Wikipedia, and I was astonoshed to see that our neighbouring country have 40plus of writers on their list, but we only have mearly 14, Rwanda have 10.

“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.”

- President Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8th 1994
I wish we cold listen to this words.

I totally believe, why we are suffering now, in governance, is because we have been denied that right, and I AM VERY OPTIMISTIC about the future! WE NEED IMAGINATIVE MINDS, to get us through.

By Mchangiaji

Anonymous said...

We do not write because we do not read.

Anonymous said...

January,

There are two important Tanzanian novelists in the limelight of the English-speaking world.

1. Abdulrazak Gurnah, a prolific master novelist from Zanzibar currently head of department of English and professor at University of Kent-Canterburry in UK. His novels which I enjoyed most and recommend include, Admiring Silence (1997) and Paradise (1994). By the Sea (2002) is also a powerful masterpiece depicting the lives of Tanzanians of Unguja origin in post-independence TZ and its diaspora. Paradise was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 1994. Gurnah is also a leading critic with many of his articles quoted in literary departments and published in his famous twin edited literary criticism volumes:
a) Contemporary African Writing Vol 1 and Contemporary African Writing Vol 2.

The other prime Tanzanian-raised novelist is Moyez Gulamhussein Vassanji who writes under the pen name MG Vassanji. He is a from the Khoja Ishamili community in Dar and grew up on Kichwele Street curently called Uhuru Street. His novels depict the situation and experience of the Asians of Tanzania and Kenya. He speaks eloquently through a gem of classic narratives about what it means to be a Tanzanian and an Asian at the same time. I am sure those who want to understand the always little-known domestic worlds of the Rocha Adhias, Issa Shivjis and Jeetu Patels of Tanzania will find much fulfillment in the literary works of MG Vassanji. Personally, I recommend The Book of Secrets, The Gunny Sack and his anthology of short stories called Uhuru Street.
Vassanji was the first novelist to win the prestigious Giller Prize which is worth 25,000 Canadian dollars. He won it in 1994 through his powerful novel set in colonial and post-colonial Tanzania, The Books of Secrets. He also became the first novelist to win the prize twice. He won it again in 2003 for his powerful novel set in Kenya and depicting the Indians of Kenya during and after the Mau Mau war. This magnum opus is called The In-Between World of Vikram Lall.

All these novels and the two novelists are categorised in the league of Adichie and the new fin-de-siecle generation of African writers.

Could it be that because of their choice to use English in a land whose major literary language is Kiswahili occludes Gurnah and Vassanji from the public eye of the Tanzanian readership?

Or could it be the case of prophets not being accepted in their own homes, especially when we consider that their works are highly critical of the post-independence politics of Tanzania?

Enjoy the novels

Paulo Kamau
Nakuru-Kenya

Anonymous said...

PS: I forgot to mention that Tanzania did feature in the African Writers Series. It was represented by two novelists who interestingly have intertwined lives. Peter K. Palangyo's riveting novel Dying in the Sun appeared as the 53 novel in the AWS series headed then by the able editor Chinua Achebe. The novel was published in 1968. It is probably out of circulation because, inter alia, the use of Kiswahili as the literary language of the public in TZ robbed Palangyo a steady readership leading him tobe relagated to the dusty shelves of the public and university libraries rather than on the glossy shelves of our many bookshops in downtown Dar. This supposition is not a wild shot in the dark. Take the instance of the other post-independence Tanzanian novelist who started out writing in English and then switched to Kiswahili. I am talking about Gabriel Ruhumbika who currently teaches as a professor of African languages (Kiswahili) at Uni Florida. His novel A Village in Uhuru published in 1969 by Heinemann also is probably out of print.

The next Tanzanian writer to appear powerfully under the AWS was MG. Vassanji. His debut novel, The Gunny Sack was published by Heinemann under the African Writers Series. His next work, an anthology of short stories set in Dar called Uhuru Street was also published under the AWS.

You may find interesting that Vassanji is related to Palangyo. Not by blood but by brain. Palangyo was the headmaster of Vassanji's primary school in the 1960s. This was the Aga Khan School in Dar. He encouraged the young Vassanji and his peers to become novelists by organising for a visit by Achebe to the school in 1969. Vassanji has pointed to the crucial influence of Palangyo to his own desire to write fiction on Tanzania many times in different interviews. No wonder his first novel The Gunny Sack later won the Commonwealth Prize for the Best new African novel in 1990 for its poignant depiction of the Tanzanian nation-state and its colonial history from the perspective of a minority ethnic community, The Tanzasians.

Other Tanzanians who wrote in English in the heydays of African literature (1960s-70s) include: William Mkufya, Hamza Ssoko, Ben Mkapa, the brothers S.O. Kassam and Amin Kassam and not to forget the current DVC Academics of a Moshi University called Samwel Mbise who penned the powerful novel Blood on Our Land in 1978.

You may want to familiarise yourselves with other newer voices in Tanzanian literature in English such as Juled Damji (Oysterbay and other Stories), Yasmin Ladha (The Lion's Granddaughter and other Stories). The two, like Vassanji are of Asian descent.

East Africans have a new promise for English language women writers in Tanzania in the name of Elieshi Lema. Her new novel, published to wide critical acclaim outside Tanzania is called Parched Love. It received Honorary Mention in 2006 from the Noma Prize for African Publishing and is taught in many Kenyan university departments of literature, including my alma mater, Kenyatta University.

So, January and Salma and other shemejis let us celebrate these wordsmiths as we celebrate our East Africanness!

Anonymous said...

I want to concurr with the contributor who put it simply that "We do not write because we do not read" further than that, I want to add, we do not read partly because we do not have the discretionary income to devote to books and newspapers.Literacy is a function of economic success, unless we work on the economy to give people the purchasing power and means to fill this void, we cannot write competitively.

Now some may argue that Nigeria is also a third world country, but they have to understand among the third world countries you also have layers, and it seems that we are dilapidating to the third world of the third world, a dismal predicament indeed

Anonymous said...

guys i do recommend also the following interesting book on the role and history the African Writers Series played in developing the early generation of African writers

James Currey's "Africa Writes Back: The African Writers Series & the Launch of African Literature". It was published by Ohio University Press and James Currey publishers in September this year. In it you will get snippets on how various major african writers interacted as young writers with the publisher and editor of the book. Currey played a major role in the publishing and marketing of African writers such as Achebe, Armah, ngugi, Soyinka etc. Indeed its true that the Chimamanda generation may not be publishing with him or under his AWS series but old is gold.

There is an interesting article/review of the 320page book by an erudite local critic, Mr J Mwazemba in a recent article published in the regional weekly the East African.

See the following link:

http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/magazine/-/434746/493648/-/view/printVersion/-/138lj8d/-/index.html


PK

Anonymous said...

Loved "Half a Yellow Sun" Brilliant Book

Anonymous said...

Dear January,
Its my First time to visit this blog, must admit....i like it very much, its a convenient/beautiful escape from other Tanzanian blogs/bloggers who are just stuck- up in trying to be fashionistas, it seems to me they do not understand the whole point of blogging.....
Anyhooo......I have read the The Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun....I Looooved Half of a Yellow sun, and by the way, for all yall who read it, Did Kainene die??....
I am also familiar with Abdulrazak Gurnah, its such a shame that most Wabongo dont read, and when they do....its not constructive stuff like KIU etc...not that theres anything wrong with reading KIU,bt reading only that only dwindles one mind.

We dont have bookshops in Tanzania jamani, i am OBSESSED with African Literature.....i have read a lot of authors from Somalia and West Africa, Watanzania tumelala.....Our Constantine Magavilla wrote a book.....can we term that a literary work?.....Can we??....
If therez anyone who knows where to get books, plz share....apart from Novel Idea......
much appreciate.

Anonymous said...

I have just finished reading half a Yellow Sun. It's a pity that it took me so many years to read such a book.