On African Immigrant Literature

The brilliant writer starts with a damning sentence, "I’m over it: Immigrant Literature."

Here, I'm quick to tweak it, "I'm over it: Insular Literature"

She argues, "African Literature cannot move forward if we celebrate themes that are centuries old." The "themes" in this case are those that focus on immigrant experience, on displacement, on the in-betweens of home and away. In short, a diasporic African literature. Fair enough.

But I feel that this is rather dismissive, as though books in this category aren't part or shouldn't be a part of the African literary canon. And then she adds, "African Literature cannot move forward with the most celebrated authors writing about Europe." This writer, I hope, might need to acknowledge that the machinery of publishing, mostly capitalist and Western, helps to propagate the type of literature that she challenges. IMO, the problem (if we should call it so) of African themes is simply and squarely the publication machinery that institutes insularity (of themes) and an economic dynamics that tend to favour writers of a middle-class leanings. (I know I may be accused of classism but, hey, it is what it is). Little wonder new age writers of supposed Immigrant Literature have personal experiences that inform their writing.

At this rate, I suspect Immigrant Literature will displace Poverty Porn as the new stereotype of African literature. What African literature needs is simply an expansion of themes, not a disregard or condemnation of existing ones. Even American literature is accused of a certain type of insularity, a Eurocentric argument used in justifying why Tony Morrison is the last American to bag a Nobel in Literature, since 1993. And we know the hoopla around allowing Americans authors to enter for the Booker Prize. Insularity became political.

I've never found a problem with Poverty Porn. The problem for me is how we haven't found a way to tame this "perception of poverty" with a multiplicity of the African experience. What will need is an expansion and, hopefully, a publishing industry that promotes this multiplicity of experiences. (However, the writer's generalization ignores works like Chigozie Obioma's The Fisherman, which I believe isn't in the same Immigrant or Poverty Porn modes). Maybe this critic just wants to launch a new book and is whetting a new readership. Sharp babe, if so.

One of the greatest poverty porn writer is the Victorian Charles Dickens. But that era also served the world with non-poverty literatures. Same way I think highly of perhaps the most beautiful and "European" poverty porn book of all time - "Angela's Ashes". (Poverty porn has never been more elegant; but I tend to gosh over my favourite books).

Let Immigrant Literature stay, let Poverty Porn stay too; a cocktail of varying African experiences is what we need.

African Extinction Literature, anyone? lol