5 genres by loved African writers of the future, from different countries.
As the African Union celebrates its 50th anniversary, and Kenya the Madaraka day that falls in its 50th year, I have listened to quite a number of programs that have tried to condense the truly African experience. There have been walks down memory lane , 50 African songs condensed into 5 minutes and now, my books version of my African experience.
1. MODERN POETRY .
Kenya: Shailja Patel.
A critic once said of a controversial long poem by a renowned American writer, ‘if this is not poetry, it is something greater than poetry.’
These are the same sentiments I shared as I read my copy of Shailja’s poetry book ‘Migritude’.
A Kenyan woman of Asian origin who resides in the west, Shailja, makes up her mind up to tell the stories about her vast experiences. In the book, we see Shailja the Kenyan, the woman, the Asian and finally the immigrant, a citizen of the world.
Spivak rightfully calls her ‘an activist poet in prose and verse’, and she is.
Most of today’s’ emerging youthful poets around the country loudly cry for a chance to be allowed to express themselves through the free verse model of poetry dubbed ‘spoken word’, and they use this as an excuse to produce substandard work that is a disgrace to poetry lovers and literary thinkers. Unfortunately, the youthful poets then go ahead and claim that these works , bad as they are, are just but their personal expressions.
They definitely need to learn from Shailja, who just like them, uses the spoken word to express herself, and she does this magnificently because her self -expression is based on intense research, is edited and re-written before being performed.
Shailja also employs the use of universal vocabulary ‘ which makes her poems accepted globally. Had she resolved to using fad dialect, or kenyanese’ so to say, then her work would not have seen the moving light of the Broadway theatre.
In this regard therefore, Shailja has taken into account Mary Olivers advice regarding a poets’ notion of an audience, ‘write for a stranger, born in a distant country hundred years from now’. And she did.
Choosing to tell her stories through different times in history, Shailja starts us off in neighboring Uganda where Idi Amin the military dictator, expelled the whole Asian population. We then move with her to Nairobi’s Hospital Hill Primary School, where as a student, history lessons were dented, leaving out horrifying stories of how the white officers raped women and children in central Kenya and how they abused them.
On the vulnerability of being a woman in a war country, she tells of how Iraqi women started vanishing after the US invaded Iraq, and her decision not to wear clothes she cannot run in, namely sari’s , because they made one weak, vulnerable and a walking target.
Shailja then, tells us of shilling love. Like most Kenyan parents, hers struggled too to give them the best education. They never said that they loved them verbally but showed it through saving, taking them to good schools and locking them up to study so as to get scholarships. Love is a luxury priced in hard currency, she says. That our tongues are inferior as compared to English she speaks of in ‘Dreaming in Gujarati.’
This is definitely a book of the future because it deals with many issues that affect africa’s worldview.
2. Literary journals.
Countries : Kenya and Uganda.
Books: Kwani ? ‘Majuu’ 7th Edition and ‘Fresh Paint’ by Goethe and Amka space for Women Writers
Literary Journal : Kwani
Launched at a pomp affair at the Kenyatta International Conference Centers’ helipad earlier in the year, this book is a blessing to those of us who grew up reading and digesting the reader’s digest and hence appreciate diversified readings in a single anthology.
Through a compendium of literary essays, poems, interviews and short stories, Billy Kahora, whom I consider one of the best editorial brains in the Kenyan publishing world, put together carefully selected stories from all over the continent that neatly sum up the African immigrant experience.
In it you find the skills of master short story tellers from Uganda, Kalundi Serumanga and Doreen Baingana, alongside kenyas’ Andia Kisia, Billy Kahora and poets Phyllis Muthoni and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo.
The book is quite timely, coming at a time when the United States of America is reviewing its immigration laws and also when the African union is celebrating its 50th anniversary. On reading the journal, one ponders over why, half a century later, Africans still believes that ‘greener pastures are only found in the lands of the green and blue cards.’
Book ‘Fresh Paint’ By The Goethe Institute and Amka space for Women Writers.
This is a collection of essays, poems and short stories by budding women writers edited by Dr. Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi and Eliphas Nyamongo of the Goethe institute .
The experiences of different Kenyan women are skillfully documented and one gets to experience what it truly means to be a Kenyan woman living in the country.
The stories come with a freshness and new perspective that is unexplored in the existing literature because most of these women are finding their voice for the very first time after the Goethe institute sponsored the compilation of their works into a book.
Definitely a book of the future as it injects fresh blood into Kenyan literary scene.
3. The Modern Novel.
Country Nigeria: Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi.
Book: Half of a Yellow Sun.
If there is one writer who can tell the story of Africa with her eyes closed, then it is definitely Chimamanda. In what was arguably her best novel, and her first, at age 25, Chimamanda, through her captivating story telling , proves that the novel , just like the short story, can be gripping enough to be read in one sitting.
If Walt Whitman was the first poet to look at America with the naked eye, then Chimamanda is the first modern day novelist to look at the Modern African Story with the naked eye as well. She, just like Whitman, gets her arms around the African continent so as to get the houseboy, the village peasant and the university professor into one loving literary cosmic embrace.
Reading it, you feel as if Chimamanda bled over her book, that it hurt to write it, that she took the human feelings and turned them into art . Through a thorough research into the Biafran war that claimed thousands of life in Nigeria in the 1960’s even before she was born, Chimamanda takes the reader right into Biafra, and the reader hurts and starves alongside the characters, who are so credible, one feels like they have met them before.
Definitely a book of the future because we readers hope that other African writers will follow suite and write amazing histories about their countries past(I have been waiting for a fiction on the mwakenya saga in Kenya or even the 1984 coup but it isn’t forthcoming.)
4. AFRICAN CHIC LIT.
South Africa: Zukiswa Wanner.
Book: The Madams
Every modern woman enjoys sharing her life experiences, joys, fears and perils with the world. It’s even better when these experiences are shared in a fast paced, witty and humorous manner.
The modern day storyteller Zukiswa’s style is so deft, so understated and so compelling that you have to slow down and savor each episode by itself.
Her first book, The Madams’ will make you see why Zukiswa was crowned the queen of Black Chic Lit is and why she is a favorite of many readers of ‘O’ the Oprah magazine. The story is about a young successful black woman in Modern day South Africa who wants to hire a white maid. This doesn’t go well with one of her best friends who is white and considers the act ‘racist’.
In this fast paced and hilarious book, Zukiswa uses a very friendly and conversational tone to narrate the escapades of Thandi, a working class modern African woman, her two best friends, the men in their lives and the maids who care for their children. It is an easy read and any woman who is trying to juggle work, marriage and motherhood would totally relate to.
Zukiswa’s other books, ‘Men of the South’ and ‘Behind Every Successful Man’ are also equally great reads . every modern day reader will love the familiar experiences narrated easily in these fast paced books.
Definitely a book of the future as it speaks to many Africans who strive to climb the corporate ladder and still keep their families intact.
5. Modern Day Childrens book
Country : Kenya.
Even as readers and teachers rightfully argue the at the Kenyan institute of education is ignoring the most basic and most important wing of readers, the young children, there is one Kenyan publisher who is out to stimulate growth of childrens’ literature . Sometimes in April this year, Moran Publishers launched a series of children’s’ books.
Bible story readers
The first batch consisted of famous bible stories specially re-written with the Kenyan child in mind. Compiled by local authors who were commissioned to come up with abridged versions of many bible stories, the stories are simply narrated, well illustrated and categorized for different children in lower and upper classes and according to age groups. They were edited and compiled by Pauline Megeke , Moran’s humanity editor.
The other set of Moran’s children books is dubbed ‘integrity readers’. This came about because of the obvious lack of integrity in most of Africa’s leadership. The publisher then saw it fit to compile a series of books with stories meant to encourage youngsters to make right choices and stand up for the right thing, even when its not easy to do so.
The most popular books in this series are ‘The flying Pigman’ and ‘Holes of shame’ by Maina Mureithi William who seems to be taking after Barbara Kimenye in weaving fast paced school life tales and adventures.. In the former, he easily narrates the tale of a new boy in a school whose misery of being bullied ends as soon as the other students realize he is so talented. They develop a new admiration for him both in class and on the pitch until an event threatens their win at a football game that means so much to the young team. Will the flying pigman give into the demands of the twisted officials? In the latter book ‘Holes of Shame’ the writer cleverly weaves a tale of deception, rape and family reunion, sometimes, holes of shame have to be uncovered and dealt with before being filled up. The integrity reader series was edited by Naima Kassim, Morans’ English editor who also edited the famous ‘Running on Empty’ the story of Samuel Wanjiru the runner.