Weekend Reading

I saved these readings for when you really need them.

The system of free writing has created a caste system, with those who can afford to work for free doing so while those who can’t struggling to pay the bills and often giving up.  As with unpaid interns, those who can afford to write for nothing inevitably make it into networks of influence which allow them to continue on to actual paying gigs.  This crucial element, of the link between economic privilege and access (and I don’t just mean rich people), is frequently erased by those who insist that it’s their free writing that eventually landed them well-paying assignments.  But it’s not their free writing and “exposure” that got them their jobs; it’s their ability to survive without having to depend on writing for a livelihood that guaranteed they could continue to write for nothing.

All of this has long-term effects on the overall tenor of writing from the left.  If its writers are mostly those who benefit from the exploitation of free labour, but fail to see how their free writing makes it impossible for the rest of us to actually earn our living from writing, what are the chances that they might actually be able to interrogate the full and insidious force of neoliberalism?

[W]hen Chinua Achebe was alive, and when Chimamanda Adichie was a kind of heir apparent, all was still well for the literary patriarchy: the Great African Writer was a Great African Man, and Adichie’s books were filed just after his on the shelf, metaphorically as well as alphabetically. When she burst on the scene in 2003, she was young, a phenomenal talent with tremendous potential, but because was still just at the beginning of her career, she wasn’t threatening. He was the big man; she was the next generation.

Today, she is the most famous living African writer, and she has had a body of work that would make any writer proud (or envious). Each of her novels is a different kind of big deal…

Adichie’s “bigness” becomes a problem in this context. She has always been an ambitious writer, and it has paid big dividends; she has become a big deal. But as she becomes a big deal, she becomes a problem—to be blunt—for male writers who prefer that big deal writers be male. Folks who have no problems with Wole Soyinka—for whom the word “abrasive” would be a very diplomatic way to put it—are suddenly appalled at her lack of propriety, her unseemly disregard for the egos of other writers, her astonishing lack of civility to writers who lack her solid personal achievements.

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