READERS' CORNER: Queer literature aside, other themes abound for creatives
Prof Evan Mwangi’s article, “I’m coming back to Kenya but no; I will not teach queer literature” (Saturday Nation, April 18) raises interesting and critical issues about African literature. The article also brings into sharp focus the intellectual honesty of the writer.
It is good to know the good professor — who claims to have seen the light — is coming back to teach in a Kenyan university and on behalf of all the literary enthusiasts, I cordially welcome him.
The prolific literary critic claims that the teaching and criticism of African literature in the US focuses on what the scholars know as “silly issues”.
The professor’s assertions raise questions such as: Why didn’t he come up with such a discourse while he was teaching in the US?
In my opinion, the professor should not assume a moral high ground given that he is also guilty of producing Eurocentric images of Africa in US lecture halls.
Just like the African writer in need of some grants and scholarship and thereby panders to the whims of the white liberal establishment, the professor sacrificed his “literary Africanness” at the altar of greener pastures in “the land of opportunities”.
I detected the professor’s leaning towards this queer literature when he religiously defended Witi Ihamaera’s The Whale Rider, amid the debate that it would promote gayism in schools.
Therefore, Prof Mwangi’s lamentation smacks of hypocrisy.
But it is important to interrogate the literary issues he raised. African literary forefathers like Chinua Achebe and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o did endeavour to address the issues of colonialism and other Eurocentric issues at length in their works. These were the issues in Africa at the time.
However, it is imperative that contemporary African writers not be held hostage to these issues at the expense of emerging issues in Africa.
Prof Mwangi argues that writers such Ngugi and Achebe are shunned in the west not because of writing in the past — since past writers like Shakespeare are also taught — but because of writing about outdated issues.
But a writer like Shakespeare tackled a ray of thematic concerns that still resonate with the contemporary world and that the literary aesthetics inherent in their works are at the core of modern literature. A big number of African writers like Ngugi dwell on reminiscing the past without due regard of aesthetic value of their works.
It is clear from his works that armed with the enormous urge to address colonialism and its effects in Africa, Ngugi veered off the road of literary creativity.
But contemporary issues in Africa abound and it is incumbent on the contemporary African writer to address these issues.
Apart from queer stuff, other pertinent issues include environment, climate change, poor leadership, education, retrogressive cultures, gender, tribalism and xenophobia.
Such a story is not always so rosy but this should not reason enough to shun it. African scholars like Prof Mwangi should stop mere lamentations and encourage these contemporary writers. He talks of mentoring Africanist scholarship; he now has the opportunity to do this in our universities.
-BY VIVERE NANDIEMO
The writer teaches at Sakuri Girls in Kuria East. ([email protected])
Self-publishing is fine, but quality comes first
Cosmas Mogere was right in “New writers overlook traditional publishers for genuine reasons” (Saturday Nation, April 18). However, self-publishing may morph into “vanity publishing”, that is, writing and publishing own work for pride, or fame, or the thrill of seeing the work published either electronically or in print (magazine or book).
Most market for this writing is personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter, online self-publishing platforms like Kindle and others where everybody can put their work because there are no committees that sit down to determine whether the work is publishable or not.
Traditional vanity publishing is where a publisher asks the writer to foot part of the publishing bill, but the modern vanity writing and publishing is the easiest because the writer publishes his or her work and it follows no stringent rules, guidelines and there are no deadlines to be met. Vanity writers rush to self-publishing when they face it rough with mainstream publishers, especially if their work lacks creativity or the publisher’s desk is already full.
While I disagree that “self-publishing is an excuse for complacency”, if left unchecked to disgruntled writers and those out just to see their work in print no matter what without caring to do justice to the work, self-publishing will not produce quality work.
But as Cosmas points out, this can be circumvented by engaging professional content editing services, working with professional book cover designers and following standard publishing guidelines. This way, no traditional publisher will boast of producing better products than the self-published writer.
On the other hand, if professional services are above poverty line, one has to do it him or herself. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, right? So, the “vanity writer-cum-publisher” (if I may use the term just for effect), has to go the extra mile and learn basic editing skills.
If self-publishing will stand the test of time, virulent censure by unforgiving critics and lambasting from the advocates of mainstream publishing, then quality works need to be put out there.
The writer is freelance writer, blogger and poet
by Vincent de Paul
Not all of us are cut for the writing craft
There are writers who believe that writing is merely a matter of getting published. But scientific areas, for example, are routinely force-published. Consequently, there is bad or less research out there that does get published.
How many writers and poets are today known and tomorrow become unknown? They simply believe that getting published is all that is necessary but do not care for the posterity of the content.
It’s about whether one wishes to be famous in his or her lifetime or be like Shakespeare or Voltaire whom we still acknowledge today.
While becoming a writer may be a grand design, we are not all cut for it. I have read books where I kept telling myself “it is going to get better,” only to finish and wonder why I read the whole thing!
The basic point of writing a story is to convey something of interest to a reader. It is not about the publisher or writer.
Where is our Shakespeare? They made stories for their times. Who is making stories for us?
We applaud in seminars celebrating our works, yet we have not achieved much. People there are still taking drugs and being corrupt while we watch. Needs we should be answering are going unanswered, or are being answered in a shallow way. Perhaps we lack audiences because we do not address what they want.
By Innocent Tsalwa
The writer is a student at Kisii University
African authors should not heap blame on foreigners for their failure
Last Saturday, Prof Evan Mwangi poured scorn on Western academic institutions for giving prominence to only literary works that paint Africa in bad light.
Prof Mwangi, who has been teaching in the US but is now taking up a teaching job at Chuka University, Meru, avered that books by renowned African authors like Chinua Achebe and our own Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, have not attracted much attention from American universities because the duo captured the atrocities of the colonial governments on Africa.
The professor reckoned that what an African writer needs to win a scholarship or grant is to project the image of an Africa that is hopeless and hapless.
We should not be in the business of crying wolf and blaming the Americans and Europeans every time our piece of art, be it music or literature, fails to live up to expectations.
It is numbing that despite the high number of African writers, some having won Nobel Prize in literature; few institutions have been set up to fete the authors.
Even where literary prizes have been established, there exists an outcry over lack of funding blamed on African governments not keen to promote arts and culture. Meanwhile, the African literary scholar lamenting about ill-treatment of Africa in the global stage earns a decent living in America.
When shall we witness Americans scolding “Ngugi Wa Thiong’o Literature Prize Committee”, for example, for being unfair for their authors? We should desist from fulminating over things we can fix without needing anyone’s nod.
Lastly, literature is the mirror of society. We cannot deny that Africa is plagued by all manner of social ills — ethnic wars and jingoism, corruption, political treachery, terrorism and now xenophobia. These are issues that African authors cannot hide in the name of sprucing up the image of their continent. There is no doubt that American, European and even Russian authors have captured atrocities in their countries, but some African scholars turn a blind eye to these and argue that it is only Africa that is cast in bad light by its own people.
By Joab Apollo
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Writers’ clinic most welcome
When Enerst Hemingway, an astute novelist, was asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered he said: “A blank sheet of paper.” When I dipped my pen into the ink pot to scribble this article, the sight of an empty sheet of paper in some way dampened my writing spirit too. This is a common occurrence especially with us budding writers. Nonetheless, the urge to give a pat on the back of Egara Kabaji overwhelmed me.
His maiden article in the brand new segment, the “Writers’ Clinic”: “It’s a long, lonely road to the kingdom of creative writers’ (Saturday Nation, April 18) is indeed a masterpiece.
Prof Kabaji is unquestionably true to his title. Every time he sits down to write in this column, it’s always a fine craft.
It’s true that the secret to writing is getting started. Writers write, the good professor tells us. In any work of art, the first draft is always a child’s play. Let every character say what their heart desires and permit them to behave in a way that pleases them as nobody will be privy to this draft — my first draft of this work was one mass of pigsty. In the second and the third draft, the characters should have matured.
Especially new writers, in order for us to sharpen our literary pens, we need to read other peoples works. My appetite for books has in the recent past grown in leaps and bounds.
The best moment finally comes when the writing bug to pen something better catches up with us. Kabaji calls it obsessive interest.
John Grishon says that before one can be a writer, he must possess under his bosoms some knowledge to write about.
As a new writer, you must be out to love; sometimes you need to experience heartbreaks; these experiences will accord you something stimulating to write about. You also need to magically weave characters along the subject matter that you genuinely care about.
Most times when a writer decides to write about a remote subject because he or she feels to be a word smith, the characters may appear detached or mechanical. As a consequence, we should strive to write about something that soothes our souls.
Writing is indeed a solitary affair and those who prefer to hold a bottle of liquor on one hand and a pen on the other should bid bye to this trade.
-BY OUMAH OTIENOH
The writer teaches at Ng’iya Girls in Siaya County ([email protected]