I yesterday had the priviledge of attending a discussion forum organised by Kwani? during the Caine Prize for African Writing Workshop that is ongoing. The discussion basically revolved around African Writing.
From the onset, and all through, I have a serious opposition with the label African writer being attached as an identity upon my writing or that of any other writer, in addition. Why can’t the African writer just be a writer and so identified, bought and read?
These in a nutshell are my reasons:
First, from a socio-economic perspective, the perception that African literature has had in the minds of readers (both African and International) is that African literature is mediocre. We therefore buy African literature to “support” our writers. Also, the “Africanna” section (as dileanated by the bookshops) is inundated with two kinds of books: factual books and fantastic books about Wildlife, Culture and some writer’s romantic view of an aspect of the traditional Africans.
Therefore, when an writer comes up with a comedy, or a thriller, or a whodunnit sort of book, the genre it invarably gets into is “African” and it is slotted among Kuki Gallman’s I dream of Africa and the Autobiographies of some African statesman.
Thats all very well, but when you know that people go into the shop looking for comedy or thriller or whatever other category, and that when they do go specifically looking for a particular kind of book, they will miss yours because it is misplaced in the Africanna section.
When you ask why the bookshops do this, you realise that its a matter of perception. The same perception that the readership has is the self-same perception that the seller has.
Secondly, when you apply yourself to the label “African” writer, you discover that the designs of the books are decidedly “African” in the sense that they are largely wildlife photographic covers or illustrations and such.
By Contemporary standards mostly the layout is not unique, the quality of paper largely chosen is of bad quality and all round presentation is not competitive. The writer’s defence is that its the publisher’s fault and they have no control. My position is that some marketing prowess should be tied to the publishing process – and I’m not talking about sales only but also building a relationship with the buyer.
The presentation has everything to do with managing the perceptive receptions of the book or work.
I warn you: don’t call me an African writer. For African I am and writer I am. But my writing is just that. How come you don’t hear African Doctors vs international doctors? Because a doctor is a doctor and so is a writer just a writer regardless of location or affiliation.