In the past decade, stories such as ‘Americanah’ and ‘We Need New Names’, based on Africans who migrate (particularly to the West) have become extremely popular. Some have welcomed this development because many, if not all Africans have experienced some form of migration. On the other hand, there are those who have rolled their eyes vehemently and accused these writers of writing for the west.
While there is a lot to be said about the Western desire for these stories, there is also something to be said about the expectations placed on women writers of the continent to set their work within specific (and somewhat artificial) borders- in a way that other writers of other races and genders are not expected to. This is also despite the fact that in one way or another; women, in particular, have always been treated and seen as outsiders or second class citizens.
When one thinks of the stories which have been deemed “the Great African Novels” – stories of wartime and anti-colonial struggle; one notices that they are told through the eyes and consciousness of men who fulfil society’s expectations of how a man presents himself. Even when Chimamamnda Ngozi Adichie wrote about the Biafran war in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the story was told through the lens of a male character; perhaps as a commentary on the way in which women’s perspectives are not considered to be an important part of a nation’s history. Indeed this is similar to the way perspectives of houseboys like Ugwu are ignored or distorted.
In light of this, how do people expect that authors writing about women’s experiences can, want to, or should write a novel confined to a specific group of people who belong to – or rather, are limited to specific nations?
It seems that people do not, in fact, desire art set on the continent or written from the perspective of someone from the continent. What people are really looking for, is content by and about people who are seen as belonging; people who love the way we are expected to love, who are men the way we think men are supposed to be, who are of a particular language group, age or worldview. Nowhere is this more evident than in the response to the growing literature, and widening audience of literature by and for LGBTQ artists of and on the continent.
And again, there is a sense that women and all those who might be considered outsiders might be thinking too far outside of the box, and (oh no!) promoting equality and humanity for all. As such they must be told what to do and how to think in the ‘correct’ way.
Truly, it is “the best and worst of times”.
It is the age of wanting things to change but wanting them to stay the same.
It is the age of using old solutions and repeating old problems.
It is the age of not wanting to be told what to do and think but telling women what to do and think.
But surely the time for something new was yesterday?
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