Nigerian Lit Today

The Vanguard has a longish but very interesting transcript of a talk by Niyi Osundare in which he discusses Nigerian literature after Wole Soyinka.

What did Wole Soyinka’s generation do which we are celebrating today? One, they led Nigeria into her independence of letters. They had to fight colonialism. And they were there, when Nigeria’s independence became a reality. I hope we do not have to put the independence in inverted commas.

Osundare talks about what Soyinka, Achebe, and others have done for Nigerian literature, though he seems to be given to flights of exaggeration when he states that, before these people, “there was nothing called Nigerian literature.” The idea that the only literature there is is the kind that is written, published and circulated in the way in which we are now accustomed to seems to me to be rather narrow-minded. At any rate, Osundare goes on to talk about the reception given to various books, and how one book can become a classic and another ignored. He also talks about the responsibility of the colonized to their own stories.

How does an African feel after reading Heart of Darkness? There is no human African character in Heart of Darkness. Only two Africans speak. And what do they speak? [O]ne says, ‘Take him, Take him! Kill him! Kill him!!’ And the other says, ‘oh, Mr. Cool, he dead!’ in mocking, broken English. The people who have the articulate command in that novel are all whites. Often, critics have said time and time again that Heart of Darkness is a critique of the colonial agenda of Belgium. Well, this may be true to a certain extent. But how do you defend a people? Is that book in defence of the African? Achebe read all these books and he said, this is a proverbial kick in the stomach. No, this is not the Africa which I know. This was what led to Things Fall Apart.

But Osundare seems rather pessimistic about the chances of a book like Things Fall Apart to be published today. He feels that there isn’t as much interest in hearing African stories. To a certain extent, I think that’s true, though Nigerian literature today seems to be in fine form, with the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose first novel is now on the Booker longlist.