Category Archives: Writing

HOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL AFRICAN WRITER

I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because fakes are decidedly unsexy.

I always dream of becoming a published, award-winning author. My head is full of writing ideas, but as somebody once said, ideas are cheap, everyone (probably) has one. After careful study of successful African writers, I have realized there are a few things that they have in common. In summary, here is what you need to be a successful writer, bagging awards and giving speeches and speaking at conferences and getting publishing contracts and what not:

Image from http://rohan7things.wordpress.com

Image from http://rohan7things.wordpress.com

  1. Drop your English name. It’s colonial; a sign of colonial vestiges that still linger in our minds. Chinua Achebe was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o was once James Ngugi, and Wangari Maathai was commonly known as Mary Josephine and so on.. okay, so Wangari wasn’t a writer but you get the point. She was an African intellectual. Chimamanda Adichie is another example of an author who is not using an English name, if she ever had one. So drop those Graces, and Johns, and Marys and use your authentic African names.
  2. Renounce Christianity and indeed all religion, and become an atheist. You need to be able to say, “there is no god” without blinking in the blinding lights of world cameras. If there was a god, you would have to agree that throughout history, he seems to have turned a blind eye on the ‘dark continent’. Wole Soyinka is a confessed atheist (although he makes a reference to a lot of -Yoruba- gods in his memoir that I am currently reading.)
  3. Wear colourful African print clothes. Wear your ‘Africanness’ like an armour. Grow your hair into an Afro, dreadlocks if possible. Defend your culture. Remember the good old times when you hunted in the forests and danced around the fire in the evening, even if you grew up in the city with no tree in sight. Write in your local language, if you can (Wizard of the Crow was originally published in Kikuyu).Binyavanga Wainaina, former winner of the Caine Prize, wearing African print and dreadlocks.
  • Move to another country outside of Africa. Move to the US, UK or Scandinavian countries. After the independence era, many African authors left the continent fleeing from dictators who didn’t like what they wrote. Most, if not all, never came back. Not really. Sure, they come and do lectures, then go back to their permanent homes in the West and their teaching jobs as English professors, heading this or that Institute of Culture. New generation authors have spent some time abroad, if not living there permanently. So you want to be just as successful? Get yourself a one-way ticket to the West.
  • So you’ve done all that, and still publishers are not chasing after you with contracts? Well, because the thing about successful writers it that they write. Good writing is actually the one important thing that successful authors have in common. Maybe in writing, they discover their African identity (hence the name change and African “look”), and maybe in writing they also ask questions without answers that lead them to conclude there is no god. They are the gods because they can create characters and kill them off in their books, and manipulate their created worlds, and determine the fate of the characters. Then they realize they are more appreciated elsewhere in countries that appreciate art and humanities; and not live in a nation where the Vice President once said that funding for arts and humanities in universities should be stopped. Ultimately, sitting down and penning that manuscript is what will make you a successful African writer.