The top 25 African writers
Posted Monday, September 27 2010 at 13:09
The pace of modern African literature is faster, tone and style sexier and more defiant than the great generation of Independence writers.
Hitherto taboo subjects are explored. The African basket that was the only source of idiom and metaphor still provides, but the new writers are not afraid of going farther afield for literary fodder.
These are exciting literary times for Africa. Ironically, most of the new African stories are by writers “discovered” by Western literary prizes for African writing — the Caine Prize, the Penguin Prize and the Commonwealth Prize, among others.
Non-African publishers are increasingly picking up African stories. This has spawned a generation of free spirited new writers telling a story of an Africa unglimpsed by the white writers of yesteryear.
We have several factors to thank for this renaissance. Over the past decade, Africa’s growth rates have attracted global attention, as has the growing competition between China and the West for its markets and resources.
It is only natural; if your mobile phone is going to be made from coltan from the Democratic Republic of Congo, if your bling is coming from Zimbabwe’s mines, and if your car is soon going to be running on African fossil fuel, then you need to comprehend Africa — its ways and peoples.
With little visual documentation to watch and poor archives, books seem to provide the information.
From the writers’ end, there have been credible attempts to push their works beyond the Africana sections of the bookshelves.
To speak the language of a global audience, the imagery in several of the new African writers’s books is heavily laced with McDonald’s and Starbucks imagery. There is almost a template in some cases.
Some fall in the growing genre that attempts to sanitise Africa and present the so-called other side of the continent’s story.
Instead of bruised fighters and malnourished children, you are presented with a continent of fast highways; a place that derives pleasure in making love, not war (like everyone else in the world); a continent teaching the world lessons even in new technology.
In other words, the narrative has been stretched a bit. We end up with the popular stuff as opposed to the stiffer, didactic line that earlier writers took, in the name of committed literature.
Writers like Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie, winner of the Orange Prize, will occasionally borrow from history, spice it up with traditional wisdom and still present a very contemporary story.
All time greats
The beginning of the African novel was marked by icons such as Peter Abrahams, Camara Laye, Amos Tutuola of the memorable Palm Wine Drinkard, and Chinua Achebe.