(Or Why you need to buy a Subscription of African Writing Magazine).
The most recent edition of The New Yorker contains an Uwem Akpan short story, Baptizing the Gun. It is a vintage Akpan page-turner (or mouse-clicker, for I read it online). In the first line of the story, a woman traveling in a Lagos bus has her ear ripped by an earring thief. As the Reverend narrator of Akpan’s story continues down Lagos’ streets, it does not get much safer for the city’s intrepid commuters. Hair raising stuff.
The Denzel Washington film, Man on Fire, is set in a Mexico City where the children of the rich stay home from school for want of a good bodyguard, where uniformed policemen are members of the kidnap gangs that make the streets the kidnap capital of the world. Denzel Washington plays the American hero who saves the daughter of the American wife of a Mexican tycoon, Samuel (played by American actor, Marc Antony) by shooting and blowing up half the city. It is a 2004 film but I saw it yesterday. Hair raising stuff.
Stories like Baptizing the Gun and films like Man on Fire cannot take responsibility for shaping a people’s view of a city or a country. Few stories, or films, however great, can take that responsibility.
Stereotypes are shaped from relentless representations – often with the passive and active connivance of both the victims and perpetrators of the typecasting.
In any case, stories like Baptizing the Gun are strictly kindergarten stuff, compared with pieces like Grace Kim’s review of the horrendous Murami Book of Bones in AW8 (www.african-writing.com/eight/gracekim.htm). It would also be rich to pan The New Yorker for portraying Lagos negatively, when AW7 featured Crispin Oduobuk-MfonAbasi’s This is Lagos, a short story thriller of a criminal romp through Lagos that has since been translated into French and republished in a special African edition of The Courrier.
So this is not a campaign for the saccharine representation of Africana. It is about expanding our literary real estate into a robust space for reinterpreting ourselves and the world. That is the vision.
The same edition of AW that featured This is Lagos also featured a piece by composer Funsho Ogundipe on the process by which his mentor, the seminal Fela Kuti, created his musical masterpieces. The same edition that featured the horrific Murambi, Book of Bones, also featured the spell-binding nostalgia of Sudanese poet Abd AlHai and Isabella Morris’ Cario travelogue (it was a struggle though, finding light relief in that dark edition reminiscent of the War and Peace issue… ).
AJ Quinnel, author of the original novel, Man on Fire, set his book in Italy. Hollywood’s version of the story is set in Mexico and the young girl who is kidnapped, raped and murdered in the novel is not so violated in the film. She survives for a tear-jerking finale, while Denzel Washington’s Creasy pays the supreme price in another book/film reversal. You see, the ‘truth’ of literary texts has to negotiate with the editorial and filmic realities of Hollywood’s USA. None of this is necessarily tragedy. American media should revolve around the American Universe. After all, Condé Nast’s magazine is called The New Yorker, not The Nairobian.
Which is why African Writing needs your partnership to present a counter-balancing narrative that proceeds, not just from Africa’s writers, thinkers and artists but from an alternative mindset that does not centre the world in New York, Los Angeles or London. Life continues after the reportorial frenzies of the earthquakes and the famines have subsided and pushed Africa and her Diaspora back off the radar. It continues in between the summer editions of the special African issues in metropolitan magazines, and you can live that life on the pages of African Writing. You can do worse than get a piece of that real estate. Click here to get a print subscription