African Writers Speak

Friend of the blog and post-doc at UT-Austin Aaron Bady has interviewed African writers quite a few times. I’ve enjoyed much of it, and I thought I’d take a moment to link you all to something new that Aaron is doing: it’s called “African Writers in a New World” and it’s a series of interviews with African writers published at Post45. The series will be leading up to a Symposium for African Writers this December at UT-Austin.

From the series’ introduction:

If you ask them, a great many contemporary African writers will tell you that they are not particularly invested in being called “African writers.” I know this, because as part of the “African Writers in a New World” interview series that will be running here on Post45 for the next four months, I’ve been putting this question to as many “African Writers” as I can. I might even be tempted to call it a trend, except for the paradox of defining “African writers” in terms of disavowal. After all, if they’re not “African writers,” then who are these people who, collectively, aren’t calling themselves “African writers”?

Perhaps it’s a better question than an answer. It’s many different answers, in fact. Some actively dislike the category, some are indifferent to it, and some accept it without particular enthusiasm. Yet nearly everyone I’ve spoken to expressesin different waystheir sense that the “African writer” category is a necessary evil at best, accurate without being particularly descriptive. If it is unavoidable, it is also not particularly illuminating; “I’m a writer and I’m African, so yes, I’m an African writer,” as Laila Lalami put it. But the sum might be less than the total of those two parts. At worst, the term is a ghetto: by expressing their literary in terms of identity, African writers are not quite allowed to be writers. Instead, they are called on to “perform their Africanness,” as J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello put it, to be Africans who write about being African until the novel becomes sociology, politics, ethnography, anything but literature (Coetzee 51).

As a person who is interested in African literature, but has barely dipped a toe into it, I’ve found these interviews really enlightening – both about the authors and about their works. At the very least, it has built me a reading list – and it’s always interesting to see what authors have to say about their writing, their field, “Africa,” and other relevant topics.

It looks like the series at Post45 will be posting interviews into the new year, so for those interested, I would suggest keeping an eye in that direction. There are already two interviews, one with Maaza Mengiste and one with Laila Lalami, posted on the site. And, duh, if you find yourself near Austin this December, you should go to the Symposium and tell me all about it.

In the meantime, I’m going to find me a new book to read.


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