(CP-Africa) – Many Africans around the world were hoping that this year’s Nobel prize for literature would go to Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe or Kenya’s Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Much to their dissapointment, Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa won the prize last Friday in Oslo.
Nigerian writer/author of the book, “I do not come to you by chance” argues in the New York Times in her piece, “The Laureate’s Curse” that an African not winning the Nobel Prize for Literature is in fact a good thing.
African literature is better off without another Nobel … at least for now.
A Nigerian publisher once told me that of the manuscripts she reads from aspiring writers, half echo Chinua Achebe and half try to adopt Wole Soyinka’s style. Mr. Achebe and Mr. Soyinka, who won the continent’s first Nobel in literature in 1986, are arguably the most celebrated black African writers, especially in terms of Western accolades. But their dominance causes problems in a region where the common attitude is, “If it already works, why bother to improve on it?”
Here, each successful seller of plantain chips spawns a thousand imitators selling identical chips; conformity is esteemed while individuality raises eyebrows; success is measured by how similar you are to those who have gone before you. These are probably not uniquely African flaws, but their effects are magnified on a continent whose floundering publishing industry has little money for experimentation and whose writers still have to move abroad to gain international recognition.
An Ngugi Nobel would have resulted in the new generation of aspiring writers dreaming of nothing higher than being hailed as “the next Ngugi.”
Image via Publishing Perspectives