African business, politics and lifestyle
Does Africa respect its writers enough?
The reception would have done justice to royalty or a movie star when Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe paid a rare visit to his homeland recently, some 50 years after penning his book “Things Fall Apart”.
That book has a firm place on school syllabuses in much of Africa and is studied around the world. Achebe, now 79, has been acclaimed as the father of modern African literature and as the continent’s greatest living writer – his books being very accessible as well as giving a penetrating insight into the struggles of his people.
Achebe’s Igbo community in southeastern Nigeria wanted to mark his homecoming in style and Reuters Television’s Africa Journal programme was there to follow it.
Achebe delighted people with readings from his classic novel, which has sold more than 10 million copies and tells the story of Okonkwo, who finds himself and his traditions pitted against newly arrived British colonialists in the 19th century.
“Knowing that Chinua Achebe with his talent unsurpassed, in the literary world as far as I am concerned, certainly in Nigeria, unsurpassed certainly in Africa, knowing that he comes from my neck of the woods is actually an inspiration to me,” said musician Onyeka Owenu.
The region has a reputation for producing internationally acclaimed writers, including Ben Okri and more recently Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the prize winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun.
Whether or not their success is also part of Achebe’s legacy, he hopes that he will continue to inspire more African writers to bring their stories from the continent.
But it can sometimes seem as though African writers find it easier to win recognition outside their countries than they do at home. Perhaps that should be no surprise given the state of the publishing industry in a continent where books are a luxury that can be afforded only by a minority – and where literacy rates are in some countries below 50 percent.
Those with the ambition and talent to become authors are in a tiny minority in any part of the world, but should we be doing more in Africa to encourage such aspirations and to pay more respect to our great writers?