As the Zimbabwe International Book Fair approaches, let me just share a bit of my history with African Literature. Ever since a tender age I have been an avid reader, not just the text books in school but indulging myself in the library shelves. Every free period I got I would grab a book and get on with it. As I grew up, I associated myself with friends who are also friends with books. We would read and exchange collections of The Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, among others. It was when I bumped into the Macmillan Pacesetters collection that my reading experience changed for the better. This was more than a collection, it was communication, experience and a deep connection. My circle of book worms increased from just a couple of friends to family and a couple strangers. I remember mom looking forward to my library Tuesdays as I always brought back a pacesetter or two. We would discuss the contents in relation to our everyday lives and sometimes throw in different scenarios of how the situation would have been like had it been in Zim. The content was real, love, politics, adventure, comedy, satire, lessons, etc.
I have since nurtured this connection with African literature till present day. However, I’m not as fired up as before sadly. I have been asking myself why and I think I have a clue as to why. See, the pacesetters where written by Africans across the continent, making each story relatable and enjoyable. Now I noticed that when I pick a book by an African author, I first check their background and that of the book. Many a times these African writers who got their education overseas have a tendency of westernizing their approach to writing (knowingly or unknowingly). Of course times have changed and so should other things, literature included but I feel like I’m losing the connection I had with earlier literature. What changed? Siyanda Mohutsiwa put it in a very interesting way in ‘I’m Done With African Immigrant Literature‘: [Extract]
“The Pacesetters series was really special. And only now, standing in their former section in the Botswana Book Centre, did I realize why. They were written for me. For three decades these books had been doing a very simple job: entertaining numerous ordinary Africans by telling exciting stories in environments we could imagine. They were not competing for the Man Booker Prize, and probably wouldn’t make the cut for any contemporary short-story competition. But that’s because they weren’t written for the White gaze. They were not made to explain Africa to half-curious American housewives, or home-sick African students in UK. These books were written not for the purpose of lifting a mirror to the European psyche, nor did they need to tell yet another tale of the New York immigrant experience. The Pacesetters series sought to entertain, but in doing so ended up connecting.”
I’m still a sucker for hard copy African literature although I found a new love. So I’m still following African literature of course but now it’s more of African bloggers than the books. At some point we have to embrace change, write and read on what is happening now using current set ups. This is exactly what African bloggers are doing. And it’s so convenient to follow thanks to social media. I’m also privileged to be part of the Enthuse Afrika Book Club, the first virtual book club in the country. Here we discuss African literature with other Africans every week, always a joy to hang out in the literature sphere with fellow Africans. I’m still collecting hardcopies of African literature though, that I will never stop doing. In the spirit of conserving the spirit of reading and writing in the city of Kings & Queens, Umthombo iConnect will be hosting a Book and Literature Festival probably early next year, more details to follow. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2016 themed “Igniting interest in reading for sustainable development” is pegged for the 25th of July to the 30th of July 2016 while The Indaba Conference is slated for 25 and 26 July.