Thursday, September 14, 2006

Finding African authors

I know there are African authors out there. Wikipedia lists hundreds, organised by country (very useful). I've never heard of most of them, and despite spending a good hour searching my local library area catalogue, I can't find many of them. So far I've only searched authors from countries in West Africa, so perhaps looking for authors from other regions will prove more fruitful. I won't hold my breath. Or maybe it's just that people don't tend to read a lot of contemporary African authors.

Am I being unfair, assuming that African literature, be it poetry, plays, fiction, autobiography or whatever is not widely read? It strikes me that for a continent comprised of over 50 countries, Africa's literature largely fails to make an impression on the rest of the world. There are of course a few writers who have widely gained critical acclaim and entered the public consciousness; Chinua Achebe, Coetzee, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer. Heinemann publishing created the African Writers Series which is dedicated to translating (where necessary) and publishing African authors, so there must be an audience somewhere for it. But where? I've been googling African writing and authors a lot recently in a bid to find out whatever I can, and I'm not finding much at all. It's very frustrating! Where are all the author interviews and book reviews and generally informative sites? Where is Africa on the literary map?

This post is a bit pointless and rant-like, for which I apologise. My brain isn't working too well tonight, and I'm all pooky because it's so hard to find books by African authors without ordering them from Amazon (not an option due to extreme lack of money). I should probably just chill out and carry on blithely reading the books I do have and concentrate on enjoying them. Sounds like a plan!


Barry said...

There is a contemporary African book you might be able to get from your library (I'm assuming this is your alternative to Amazon) - it is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, set in a fairly contemporary Nigeria.

One I haven't read but which has been popular is The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi.

One of my fellow students is looking at Chinua Achebe, but at his seminar presentation was talking about how difficult it was, until recently, to get a non-white African voice published to an international audience - your experience seems to confirm that view.

litlove said...

I do feel for you - I get very frustrated when I really want to get hold of a specific book and find that I can't.

Marg said...

I would recommend Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala. Really, really powerful

The Traveller said...

Thanks for the reccommendations Barry and Marg - I read Purple Hibiscus about a year ago now, and found it very thought provoking. I'm looking forward to her new book! I'll try and look out Beasts of No Nation, thanks for the tip!

BookGirl said...

Thanks for the link on the African Writing Series. Have you read any books by Zakes Mda? I've heard good things about his novels. I'm also looking forward to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's new book.

The Traveller said...

I haven't, but I'll look out for some of his works. Thanks for the tip!

Yasmin said...

Hey traveler,

I am not sure about the UK libraries however we can find his work in the US libaries, I will recommend Nuraddin Farah, he is from Somalia, East Africa these are reveiws frm NYtimes and LA times on his latest novel, Secrets.

On Secrets :

"What we hear from beginning to end is the daring, lush, urbane voice of the author. Farah writes in English, which would be his second or third language, and his collisions of folkloric, academic and realistic prose produce a startling effect, at times wildly improbable in a way few native speakers would permit themselves.... Yet this means his work is also capable of a freedom and exuberance that might be unavailable if the words were embedded in a clearer context."
-- The New York Times Book Review

"The plot is rich and the language is superb, exotic and consciousness-expanding.... It's enough to make you homesick for a country that is not your own."
-- Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review

Good luck