O JEWA KE ENG: WHAT IS TROUBLING THE AFRICAN WRITER?

O JEWA KE ENG: WHAT IS TROUBLING THE AFRICAN WRITER?

African writers are talented, but plagued with a myriad of problems the continent cannot solve. These problems are a lack of access to funding and resultant poverty, war and danger, limited publishing options, the lack of definition for African literature, lack of access to global opportunities alongside many others. African writers face more challenges than their counterparts in other continents. Despite all of these challenges, some African writers have risen above the odds to become resilient and successful. Although Africa is home to many successful writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Professor Wole Soyinka, Sefi Atta, John Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Aminatta Forna amongst others, many African writers are suffering from troubles unique to their continent.

The trouble of the African writer begins with a lack of access to funding. This problem is precipitated by the high rate of poverty in Africa. Statistics have shown that more than 300 million people in Sub Saharan Africa survive on less than one dollar per day. Many writers in Africa struggle with poverty and they cannot afford to feed themselves well, let alone raise funds for publishing. Although there are platforms for helping writers in Africa such as the Caine Prize for African Writing, African Writers Trust Publishing Fellowship Program, the Moreland Scholarship for African writers, many talented writers in Africa do not have access to funding for publishing. There are limited jobs with little pay available for writers, especially those without a background in journalism or literature. Writers in Africa struggle with a low income and cannot afford to pay for courses and trainings that could potentially improve their writing.  This is a setback that limits the growth of African writers and makes them perceived as less informed than their colleagues in the diaspora.

War is a mind destabiliser, it brings about trauma, fear and reduced productivity. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project which monitors incidents of conflict across the world reported that there had been a whooping 21, 600 incidents of armed conflict in Africa in 2019 up to the 30th of November. Countries such as  Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan, Niger and some others struggle with internal conflict as well as external conflicts likewise. The instability and danger reduces productivity for writers: some African writers go into hiding or become immigrants because of the violence in their home countries. Journalists are even more in danger because they can be jailed because of their reports on sensitive matters. African writers struggle to write and stay alive, despite the violence in their countries.

Getting published is every writers dream but it is a dream not achievable for all African writers. There are fewer options for magazine and journal submissions, especially as African literature is difficult to categorise. More magazines and journals are beginning to be more inclusive but getting acceptances is a difficult task for many African writers. Traditional book publishers rarely accept African writers, especially if they are not based abroad. Self publishing is expensive and although platforms such as Okadabooks, Bambooks, Amazon, Smashwords are available for African writers, they may not be accessible for writers in remote communities that lack constant power supply and mobile devices. This makes African writers less visible: the lack of visibility results in stunted growth for the writer’s career.

African literature is broad, with different categories. In a fifteen pages document presented by Taiye Selasi at a literature festival, she highlights Chinua Achebe’s writing in 1965. It read, “Any attempt to define African literature in terms which overlook the complexities of the African scene at the material time is doomed to failure.” Africa as a continent is made up of a diverse people who speak different languages and share different cultures. Categorising African literature is difficult and it provides a source of confusion for African writers.

Global opportunities such as residencies and fellowships help encourage learning and networking amongst writers. These programs provide mentorship, writing prompts and relaxation for writers of different age groups but they are fewer global opportunities available for African writers. African writers who lack these opportunities are not encouraged to complete their writing projects and meet other writers from different countries all over the globe. There are a few organisations that provide fellowships and residencies for African writers but the slots are few and the programs are difficult to get into. This makes writing less interesting and motivating for African writers.

African writers face many troubles apart from the problems listed above. They write in the midst of war, writers block, poverty, suffering and discrimination. Despite all of these, African writers are strong and resilient. They write with passion and with so much strength, telling stories that shake the world. African writers stay through the troubles that they face and produce the best quality work that they can, whilst fighting to end the troubles that they are dealt with, in the most beautiful way.

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