African Writing

Every summer when I travel back home I make sure to peruse the latest issue of Kwani? – the literary magazine co-founded by Binyavanga Wainaina.

That is why I was a little disappointed and challenged by the caustic review the Economist gave his latest book One Day I Will Write About This Place. I have ordered the book and I hope it gets here before I leave for Nairobi next month.

The Economist review, in part, says:

Mr Wainaina should not have been encouraged to write in the form of a memoir. He is not the only one to suffer from this. Too many African writers are co-opted by the American creative-writing scene only to be reduced by prevailing navel-gazing. Separately, much of the African writing culture that remains on the continent, including Kwani?, is propped up with cash from the Western donors that African writers purport to excoriate.

Beyond Wainaina’s latest book, the review raises important questions about African writing and intellectual production in general. Half a century of mediocre leadership and almost universal failure across the continent has left many an African writer with little else to write about but poverty, disease, civil war or the blissful survival of these maladies.

But as the Economist review dares to ask: Is it about time African writers and intellectuals began to look ahead? Is it time everyone stopped looking at the past and current problems and focused on the future and how to get there? Is the culture and mentality of merely “staying afloat” a disease that only affects the African political class or is it widespread among the general populace?

Check out the comments on the Economist’s review for further takes on Binyavanga’s book.

You can also read a more favorable review here.