A Single Story? (African Literature)

I once saw a quote (or article) about an absence of stories about certain people; about how much representation matters.it was mainly articulating the fact that not every culture was being represented in literature. It was mainly referring to Africa/Africans anyway; about the absence of stories existing about people similar to you, about how you begin to wonder if people like you exist. This matter of lack of existing African literature is fast being resolved with the many prolific writers arising from Africa (though most I’ve read is from the diaspora). They have stories about many kinds of Africans, a lot depicting social ills and also about those who perhaps walk miles to fetch water in the morning and also walk barefooted to school etc.

There are many beautiful stories from Africa and the diaspora, a lot of stories that haunt you months after (one of my favorites being Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street) and ones that simply stun you (Ben Okri’s The Famished Road).

The stories in circulation are amazing but it makes me wonder if we are not also guilty of selling single stories. From my observation many stories revolve around similar patterns albeit in different brilliant ways, we have the batch of stories about the poverty, and violence thriving in Africa where massive wealth from corruption and devastating poverty are placed side by side, the children here have access to little or no social amenities, they watch struggling parents who have subscribed to morbid alcoholism or extremist twisted religious beliefs.  These are stories in which these children later find themselves in different continents, they leave in hope of greener pastures and later discover life doesn’t happen in black and white. They spend the rest of their lives longing for home and trying to return back to it.

I’m not criticizing existing African literature. Literature on its own is didactic in nature and should seek to expose existing ills (even ills we are not aware of). What I’m merely advocating for is a little more representation for rich, middle class, or average African children who live in Africa (or Nigeria) and deal with emotional and social issues in their environment. You will be surprised (or not) that African teenagers, young adults (children) face many problems apart from poverty and hunger, some never want for food but are still burdened by depression and social disorders. These are Africans whom I feel are also story worthy. More attention should be given to Africans who still actually reside in Africa, literature can help teach and save (I was listening to some spoken word about how stories and poetry helped teenagers stay alive). I believe this could be a worthy cause in African literature/poetry too.

Many have noticed a form of void in African literature. Many are asking for a story where their dreams do not end up abroad. I agree there is a lack of Nigerian literature set in Nigeria; however they do exist if you search well enough. Some of my favorites include:

Ben Okri – Famished road, Starbook, Dangerous Love (All books Ben Okri amaze me, insightful and intelligent)

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani – I Do Not Come To You By Chance (This book taught me so much about Nigerian cybercrime. Adaobi tells this story like an insider, with so much humor. Definitely one of my top non diaspora books)

Sefi Atta – Everything Good Will Come (Enitan left the continent for University, this is however the norm in Nigeria for families that can afford it. I found the novel extremely realistic and relevant)  

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Purple Hibiscus (My best Chimamanda book by far, took us into Kambili’s world, portraying an African child as a complex individual capable of understanding and facing the difficulties in her life.)

Lola Shoneyin – The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (Introduces us into the dysfunctional life of a Nigerian polygamous family. An Intriguing tale.)

Thank you for reading my rant/opinion about African (mainly Nigerian literature). I’m however not an expert or anything, feel free to comment with your opinions or corrections. Feel free to correct any grammatical errors; I’m still aspiring to write better.

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4 thoughts on “A Single Story? (African Literature)

  1. Great article and great points. I would add to your list of African novels that explore African lives from different economic perspectives – “Americannah” and “Half of a Yellow Sun
    ” by Chimamanda … And also her short stories. Oh and “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi

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