The African writer is a boxed and burdened one. He does not have the luxury to write about the mundane. But the mundane is beautiful. It’s the ability to weave stories and string words like a gitarist around the mundane that ultimately result in a good art. But the African writer’s presence on the space of the continent is purposed . He must like an ordained priest speak to her realities, which more often than not are undesirable. There are too many things he must speak about. One too many dotted across the length and breadth of the continent. He sees beauty and wildlife but also sees child mortality and insurgency. He cannot write about a larvae’s evolution into a full blown butterfly even if he has been blessed to be an unvited witness to it; Or of rainbows forming colourful bubbles on brown iron roofs. Or about some far away land of plenty and prosperity without touching on the lack in his backyard.
He cannot trust the distribution channels to do their job whenever he does publish. He must fight the sharks of piracy with his one hand tied to his back. There is usually no good return on investments. The masses wants AY live and not some book tour and signing. He does not enjoy a readership that is homegrown unlike his western counterparts. And yet, he wishes to survive on his art without becoming a lackey. Through years of neglect, the education system in his continent has undervalued reading so much so that a functional library is a luxury found only in the elite schools.
To keep afloat solely on his art, he needs to look to the west. He needs an award and quite a number of them are not available on the continent. He is trapped like a deer caught between a dangling rope.
The west would accept him as long as he writes about the serious issues bedeviling Africa. It keeps them satiated and happy. It validates their messianic sentiments. The effect being that he drives his art and by extension, the continent’s into a corner. The victim complex syndrome continues to take root. Africa is a continent of beautiful landscape and fine geography and wide spread poverty. He reenforces the single narrative to keep the west interested in his work.
And what suffers ultimately is the language and beauty of his art. It takes the back seat. He reads the review of his work in Washington Post or the New York Times and sees to his dismay, that he is not viewed with the same lenses as his western counterparts. The bases for measuring the merit of his work is in how much of their biases against Africa he is able to reinforce. He is painfully aware of these realities. But what can he do? He is an African writer