Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Manyika Reading&Debate

We were at the Sarah Ladipo Manyika's reading of her new book In Dependence published by Cassava Republic. Shame we will not be able to do you a proper review but something within me says that you don't want to be subjected to reading a two-paged piece about a reading. Instead, we decided to bring you words from the event and continue a debate that started there.

Here's little on the writer. She is half-Nigerian, half-British, now that's not by choice obviously. She is married to a Zimbabwean, so Nana Fred-Agyeman is right afterall. In Dependence is her first novel and it spans four decades. The book took her about seven years to write. She's a brilliant writer, beautiful woman and she reads very well; you can literally imagine the words coming from the characters right there on your seat.

And there was a young man that caught my attention. "Half British, half-Nigerian" he replied when asked for his age (apparently he didn't understand the question), and when he finally does, he answers 8,3/4 years old. "Was I attending readings at that age?" I asked myself. The crowd couldn't help but burst out in laughter. Then his question: why did you write this novel? And her response: "I wrote it for my son. To show him what Nigeria used to be." (paraphrased)

So here are some quotes from the reading, enjoy:
  • "There are stories in Nigeria; there are stories everywhere and we love to tell stories."
  • "People see and perceive you in different ways, there are always questions of belonging to answer."
  • "A writer needs to write a story they are passionate about. The writer's best works come from deep within"
  • "In the past, our leaders were readers and writers--Senghor, Nkrumah, Awolowo, you name them. (And Obama, she's a fan of course!)
  • "I am surprised when my son says he wants to be published in a year."
  • 'I love the continent of Africa."
Here's the debate: what's the role of a writer in the society? To portray the society or try to correct it? What's wrong with a writer writing a story about the 'Rebrand Nigeria' exercise for one? (Now, this is from us!) To what extent is the writer responsible to his/her society? Should literature be a manual to guide the society? When do you draw the line between literature and propaganda? These are some of the questions.

We have no answers, so let's talk about these issues.


  1. I love this debate and there is no easy way to answering it. I believe a writer should write what he/she feels strongly about. If it happens that it is a propaganda so be it, if it shows what the society is, and if it is one that cannot be tolerated (the elements she/he writes about) then society would ponder over it and perhaps change. I don't think there is a written rule of what should be written about and what should not be written about.

    Listening to Chimamanda several times tells me that rebranding is not an issue a writer cannot tackle. For instance, she keeps telling the story of a reader who said she is sorry to hear that African husbands are bully, after reading Purple Hibiscus, and she replied that she didn't know that all American teenagers are serial killers, referring to American Psycho. So I think a writer can take on different objectives for her writing.

  2. Thank you guys for this update.
    The role of a writer is to write. To write seriously, as the Zimbabwean writer, Chris Mlalazi has argued: seriously. As long as writing is happening, a writer is doing his or her role. To depict society, yes. As for correcting it, there are other roles responsible for that: activism, justice systems (local or global). But remember, a writer, like most people, can also play many roles in society, and should one of those roles be of correcting society, then we have a writer who writes and corrects society. There is no limit as to the subject matter the writer tackles. So it could be anything that matters to the writer, because if it matters to the writer, it will matter to readers. Words are powerful; they are part of language, which has been a survival tool for humans. So, of course, there is a need to use it responsibly: a writer is accountable for his or her works, as long as they will affect others. Not many writers write for themselves only; they work to reach the lives of others, to influence even. Write responsibly, and this is not censorship at all.
    Literature is never a manual or guide to society; not many people accord it that role. But it carries that which may make our societies better. It is art, so of course its value has positive effects on society; it should satisfy those who pursue it, should entertain them where it can, while revealing something about the human condition. We can become better by reading literature, but it is not often the place we turn to if we need a manual for life. Literature can easily be used in propaganda, especially the sponsored kind, but this is where the writer's sense of responsibility should come. If you allow literature to convey the complexity of life, no propaganda attempt will shake its pillars.

  3. I will not echo the words of the previous comments, only because they have said it all: the duty of the writer is TO WRITE. They end up portraying the society inevitably because life imitates art, and art imitates life. Everything else that follows as a result of their work could only be an added boon. In most cases, even though this stands a risk of sounding like a cliché, it's not really the writer who chooses what to write. Societal experiences model his/her thoughts and words, and writers don't always have absolute control - even if they like to think that they do. Let them pick the pen and write, and they immediately become the medium. Their words will inevitably always portray the society in the best way that it should, either "positively" or "negatively".
    I've put those words in quote marks only because they're not used in the judgmental tone of their most common usages.

  4. I was at that reading and I do not think that you did the young boy justice. It was not that he did not understand the question, how could he not? He did not hear it at first. He thought that he heard some other question (which happens to everyone). He promptly answered the question when it was clearly repeated. So it was clearly not a lack of understanding.

    And I do not think that we were laughing at him (I was definitely not), we were laughing WITH him. Even he smiled when he realised that he had made a mistake. He was a cute, sharp little boy who spent at least an hour and a half with people that were far older than him. Tough Crowd.