BLOSSOM OF AFRICAN LITERATURE
You cannot talk about African Literature without defining what it is first. But there is so much confusion over what African Literature refers to. Some will say that it is a work of literature done in Africa. Others will say it is any work of literature done by an African, whether living in Africa or abroad. Others will say that you can only refer African Literature to a work only done in African languages. Others widen their definition to any work of art done with a reference to the African continent. Questions that arise every time there is a discussion about African literature are difficult to answer. Some whites have written about Africa and their works have done extremely well. Can their works really be termed African Literature? Some Africans have gone abroad and written about their homes, yet with a touch of western style. Can we call that African Literature? Some of these African who live away from home have had kids who also write and are doing so well in the literary world. Can we call their works African Literature?
One thing that stands out is that no matter how hard it could be to define African Literature, and no matter how difficult it could be to accept it, African Literature can only involve all those definitions. One cannot clearly define African Literature without including everything that touches about Africa. We can therefore assume that African Literature could mean any work done about Africa, by anyone and in any language.
What Are The Challenges of African Literature?
You may ask, is African Literature on its rise? Well you may want to know what we are talking about first. African Literature is faced by so many challenges and for it to blossom; there is a need to tackle these challenges head on. Although some African countries, as well as writers themselves have taken big steps to make African Literature stand strong, problems are still there. What are some of these challenges?
The African continent is known to have a diversified people, who have different cultures and speak different languages. Writers have been writing in the language of their colonizers because it is common, it is international. If one chooses to write in his language, then chances are he will get his work to be read only by the people from his community. That might not be enough for an author who is enthusiastic about writing. Some communities are too small to satisfy a writer. How will he know that his work has been received in the right manner by the audience?
The African Oral Culture.
Since ages ago, African communities have used the oral methods as a form of education. This has a negative impact on authors who write about Africa. Their immediate audiences are not readers, they are listeners, viewers. That gets us to next challenge.
Writing To Please The West.
As mentioned earlier, the African is not a reader and although there are so many Africans who are educated in the western style, there is so much emphasis on maintaining indigenous cultures. Therefore what would writers do? They would only write in the western style with a hope that their work might be read by readers. But what do their audiences back at home say? They are only writing to please the west. What we forget is that an author’s work must be read to make it great or loved.
Lack of Resources.
When we talk about resources, in Africa it could mean anything. A writer could have a pen and a paper to write down what is in his mind. But how will those words be translated into a book? Where will a young, emerging author from a remote African country get a typewriter? If he is able to translate his thoughts into a book, will there be a publishing or printing company that will be willing to support him? Perhaps the problem is not with the publishing company. Did this writer’s work reach the standards? Remember he wrote as he continued to struggle to put something in his mouth. Was he able to focus his entire mind into his writing? What about the marketing of his book?
Literacy levels in Africa are still low although Africans have embraced formal education. However, an educated African would rather use his education to have food on the table than spend time reading a work of art just to send a critique to the writer. Yet this is the only hope for an author to refine his work and get to international standards. Moreover, not so many Africans are interested in written literature.
The Publishing Problem.
As mentioned earlier, there is a lack of publishing or printing houses that are willing to promote young and emerging African writers. Many authors from Africa go for international publishing services. With the growth of self-publishing, there has been a little relief on the side of young writers. But these self-published authors have a problem of circulating their books even in their own country. Many local publishing companies opt to publish academic books which they are sure to get sales from.
Politics in Writing.
Some renowned authors like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o have been sent away from their own countries for trying to open the eyes of their readers on political exploitation in Africa. Yet, it is a belief of many writers that they should be allowed space to express themselves. They should not be afraid to write about what they choose to write.
There are so many challenges facing an African writer, or any writer who writes about Africa. But the good news is: African Literature is blossoming. Or is it?
Many local publishing companies have taken into publishing African content. Fiction books, non-fiction books, biographies and autobiographies from African Authors are piling up in street bookshops. Authors like Chimamanda Ngozi are getting international recognitions. Books that are written in African style, with an African setting are becoming bestsellers. Seminars and workshops are being organized to strategize on how to improve the African written works.
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o has taken to writing in his local language, Gikuyu. On the launching ceremony of his book, Kenda Muiyuru, Ngugi urges writers to write in their first language as it gives one a sense of identity. He says that using one’s first language and being proud of it increases one’s self esteem and makes others admire to speak in that language too.
But are African writers ready to start writing in their languages? Will their books be read if they write in local languages which are only spoken at home? Will others really recognize a book written in a language they do not understand? In Nigeria and other western African countries, we have writers who write in Hausa, hundreds of them, yet they struggle to get their books to the wide audience of people who speak in Hausa. In Tanzania and other East Africa countries, books have been written in Swahili. Still few people are willing to read a book in Swahili.
The literate-who by the way are the major audiences for the authors- in countries like Kenya would rather read a novel that is written in English than read a Gikuyu book by a Gikuyu writer.
Still with these challenges, the wonderful dreamer, the enthusiastic writer would find African Literature an opportunity to explore new things. A chance to expose his imagination to a land that has been so popular since the days of our forefathers; and still is. An ordinary writer would say that Africa is still backwards and thinking of writing about it or for it is a waste of time. A wonderful writer is he who loves a good challenge. Could writing about Africa be your next challenge? Do you want to blossom together with a blossoming literature?
Being aware of the challenges outlines above, it is easy to write knowing what is in store for you.