A Nigerian born Author and Us based Professor, E.C Osondu, who earned a global literacy reckoning when he won the Caine prize of African writing in 2009 for his short story, waiting, has said that introducing African Literature to the Americans is introducing them to a whole new world.
The multiple award winner shared his thoughts with Vanguard during this year’s Ake Arts and Book Festival.
Read Excerpts below:
What has been your experience teaching African literature outside the shores of Africa?
When you mention Africa, the first thing that comes to the mind of the average American is not literature, to that extent you are bringing something new. But African literature is very interesting, very broad and so even when you introduce it to them, you are introducing a whole new world. You are introducing them to African women writers from Egypt, Senegal, like ‘So Long a Letter’, Buchi Emecheta.
You are also introducing them to writers like Achebe, Ngugi, or you are introducing them to writers who are talking about language or writers who are concerned with the struggles for racial justice, Apartheid in South Africa or to white writers like Nadine Godima from South Africa. So, its a whole new world, its not small. There is a sense of wonder and discovery on the part of some people that oh my God, so something like this actually exists. So they are usually excited about it.
Why do you think that most writers are dealing with post-colonial literature rather than precolonial literature?
I think that every generation fashions out a literature based on their experience or literature based on the experience of those who preceded them. So if you talk about precolonial that’s what Achebe did actually. His writing is precolonial, that there was a society that existed before the white men came and there was a clash between this pre- existing culture and the one they found. I also think that the present generation of writers are a little less political.
You don’t feel compelled to be political in anyway. They don’t feel like literature is something you can use to talk about politics, they are actually concerned with the self, which is not surprising. We also have a culture like that in US and the west. The younger generation of writers are also writers who are fashioned by the social network. Facebook, Instagram are all about me, me, me, no larger questions about the society.
Could poor knowledge of history also be a factor?
I think that there is a tendency to avoid history in Nigeria because its very freighted, its very heavy and very burdened. It carries so much and so there is this tendency to avoid it, simply because it will unearth certain painful truths. Whether there is truth about culture or tribalism or whether about the fact that there is corruption on our political space for a long time or that in Nigeria women have been marginalised forever, these are all painful truths. As a nation we are not ready to confront it… people say we are not going to study history… government also discourages the study of history. But no nation becomes great by ignoring its history but by confronting its past and forging a new society.
Read full interview here