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The African future of the book.

When I got the brief for this issue and thought of this piece, I was going to write positively about the future of the African arts in the next 50 years. I was going to talk about how Shakespeare is a major part of the English identity; how Michelangelo Da Vinci are a major part of Italy as a nation; how Americans managed to become successful neocolonialists the world over because of Hollywood, Motown, Broadway, and even Andy Warhol. I was going to talk of how artists are any nation's best ambassadors worldwide, more so than those men and women paid by foreign office departments. I was going to say all this. And request that for Africa to become a worthy player on the global stage in the next 50 years, its billionaire philanthropists should consider massive investment in the arts industry. Then I decided I would not.

Oliver Mtukudzi, Sauti Sol, Angelique Kidjo, P-Square and that guy who got this continent dancing the Azonto almost as much as Psy got the rest of the world dancing Gangnam Style are doing pretty well for music.

Our billionaire philanthropists will do anything to get a photo opportunity with Mandela but would rather invest in buying buffalos AND THEN complain when Hollywood decides to get a British actor to play Mandela in the Long Walk to Freedom biopic. So, films with talented directors and actors may have to go begging to the East or West in the next 50 years since home is not the best place for investment.

I do not know as much as I should about theatre or visual arts so instead, this became a story about the African future of the book. Because that is what I know.

True story: Cape Town. OpenForwn 2012. Sure. Not quite the best representative of an African city but it certainly has a good collection of the African brains and some of its movers and shakers. It is here where I sit with two publishers from South Africa and Nigeria. They are discussing and making a tentative plan to do things differently in marketing their writers--look at the other 563 countries as possible markets. "What we would do is that you would send me your list annually and I would do the same and we could decide which books resonate with each of our audiences," says B. There is an enthusiastic nod from J. They exchange phone numbers, email addresses and Skype identities. Later at the same forum, a Kenyan writer says to me, "We are stuck with the same stories. No-one is writing about *@!* on this continent" I look at him with raised eyebrows and respond, "perhaps you are not reading enough books FROM this continent." My Kenyan brother's affliction is the same as that of many other Africans. An African writer is no gond unless and until they have been acknowledged by the West. The belief being, of course, that the West has better resources so the writer can be better edited and marketed. While the latter is absolutely true, there are well-written, and well-edited scripts coming from Africa with varied storylines that many can relate to. I know this because I have read Jude Dibia, Lola Shoneyin, Ivor Hartmann, Angela Makholwa, David Kaiza, Famia Nkansa, Thando Mgqolozana and many others who write and live on the continent.

Fast-forward to March 2013, Durban. It is the Time of the Writer Literary Festival--perhaps one of the better organised literary events I have ever attended worldwide. There are writers from all over the world and they get chatting. In conversation with some African writers it becomes clear that although the West may be keen on the African story of poverty, disease, and a benevolent Western master, that is certainly not what these writers are writing. These writers--living on the African continent--are writing unapologetically African stories that resonate with a reader in Accra, Kampala, Lusaka or Ouagadougou. Hilarious stories of the nouveau rich businessmen known to their congregants as pastors or prophets; stories of good Christian African families trying to deal with a son or daughter's alternative sexuality; stories of wily wives of polygamists, and killers haunted by the spirit of their victims; stories of women in emotionally or physically abusive relationships who become like the black widow spiders with interesting consequences; stories of circumcision in contemporary Africa.

In other words, there is no danger of a single story in the present OR future of African writing in Africa. The danger has been the dissemination of the books written in one African country to the other. If the two publishers I encountered at OpenForum 2012 are anything to go by, the future of the African book is that a book written in Botswana will be able to be purchased at a bookstore in Sierra Leone. Assuming of course that 50 years from now in Africa, there will still be some dinosaurs wanting the proper feel of a book instead of just downloading them to their cellphones/tablets or whatever equivalent we will have then.
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Title Annotation:LITERATURE
Author:Wanner, Zukiswa
Publication:New African
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2013
Previous Article:Where art thou? Africa needs investment in art.
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