Any excuse at all to go to Libreria, one of my favourite places in London (I profiled it here) so it was great spending Thursday evening there for an event – Black Literary History: An African Perspective with Inua Ellams, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Sylvia Arthur
Who are they?
Inua Ellams– Playwright (The Barbershop Chronicles); Writer (The Half God Of Rainfall, Fourth Estate 2019; Candy Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars , Flipped Eye 2011)
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: Writer ( Kintu, Oneworld 2018; Manchester Happened Oneworld 2019)
Sylvia Arthur: Founder of Libreria Ghana … Be sure to drop by the page and find out about some of the great work being done! From outreach projects to archiving early edition books by African authors, it all just sounds amazing.
The night was organised by Literandra (check out her blog!)
Some great points were discussed on the night, a few stuck with me:
The West currently plays a bigger role in defining the African literary canon than Africa does
Obviously knew this was the case but the talk made me realise our roles in this as individuals- my role as an individual. Makumbi mentioned that if asked, most people in the UK would say Things Fall Apart is Chinua Achebe’s best work whereas an African is more likely to give that praise to Arrow Of God. I’ve only ever read Things Fall Apart and No Longer At Ease so maybe she’s right??
Defining our own canon is crucial as part of wider self definition on the continent, another thing to hold the reins on. It’s a small step but my next Achebe should probably be Arrow of God
Some Nigerian boarding schools don’t actually teach history??
Ellams recounted that history wasnt even a subject which was taught at his school, which I found wild. Apparently, part of the reason for this is that the government cant agree on which version of Nigerian history to teach. One audience member mentioned she was taught history so it might be regional. Another, older member said he was taught history in his time- western history- not sure which is worse! Even stranger was Makumbi telling us that Nigerian history was actually taught in Uganda when she was at school! Not sure what happens in Ghana, will have to ask my cousins.
Written word isn’t the only way
Spoken word and the passing down of history from one generation to the next in the tradition of griots is just as important and should be given more credit as a facet of civilisation. Thinking about it, it can give a personal element to what it is usually taught from an object distance. Objective perspectives are important but so are personal accounts.
Also got a free copy of The Half God Of Rainfall and was excited to meet some of my favourites on Instagram, check them out: @ddeabreu @reads.and.reveries @atypicalreader