Last week, at the Institute Francais’ La Nuit des Idees (The Night of Ideas), Ms. Caroline Broue , a French journalist asked Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie if there were bookshops in Nigeria to which the novelist replied that her felt that the question reflected poorly on the people of France. As expected, a conversation began with Nigerians attacking the seemingly racist question and others applauding Adichie for her brilliant retort. However, while looking at the whole issue, several questions popped up in my head;
Are there enough bookshops in Nigeria? Are we reading books in Nigeria? Are the youths reading enough? And more importantly (to me, at least), what are we reading? Are we reading fiction?
As we’re are breaking new ground in the arts, technology, photography, music, film, fashion and various other fields; the evolution occurs before our very eyes, New Media companies like More Branches, Lucid Lemons, Native Mag, Harmattan Rain, Content.NG, are documenting the rise of the African youth, bringing us new sounds, images, movies, ideas, start-ups, opening our eyes to the insane pool of talent, opportunity and possibility that is the mother continent. But, are we really telling our stories? Are we telling them enough?
Fiction is one of the most powerful means of expression known to man.
This is probably due to the fact that deep down in our hearts, despite the pseudonyms and false locations and scenarios, we know that the stories are about us. About our struggles and triumphs about our tears and our smiles. And when we read these stories and relate to them, we find a sense of belonging because we are not alone. As a young kid reading Things Fall Apart, that evergreen classic by Chinua Achebe, I felt powerful in a way I could not explain. I was reading about my people. And as that sense of history and tradition sank in, I became curious, disturbing my parents with questions about my “ancestors”. I believe that this experience is felt by a lot of people when reading great stories. But that’s from the old guard. If there are any people left from Achebe’s generation, they are few and passing away quickly.
They are passing away with their stories leaving us with the need to write ours. In as much as we can learn from them, it is glaring that the problems they faced and the issues they dealt with in society are different from ours. In our society today, Okonkwo would not be entitled to the beautiful damsel just because he won a wrestling match. Women’s rights, terrible governance, sexual orientation, depression, suicide and other mental health issues were not as important in their societies as it is now.
Ever since I could read them, I always wanted to write stories. And my passion for the art that is fiction is even stronger now. Our generation needs its storytellers. To write about the things that are important to us. The beautiful things that make us smile, laugh and be happy, the dark things that keep us awake at night with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts. The things of passion that light fires in our bellies, embolden us and give us a voice.
The New Age is here, but what of its writers?