Amidst the viral, renewed commentaries on social media, and out of it, concerning the ever-supposed “death of literature,” — or cultural influences on them — we find cause each time to wonder. The discussions are valid and inevitable. E.C. Osondu refers to them, with little uncertainty, as a “perennial form of anxiety.” Art is run on the fuel and engine of nativist propaganda. It is this engine that runs all of art’s revolutionary aesthetics, including its many propaganda, right or wrong. We must hold on to our voices, however hoarse, whatever the evolutionary caveat.
Still, despite our non-negotiation on the temper of the core of it all, the caveat is our acceptance of change. Languages die, languages evolve. They take up new shapes and find function in different, more elaborate ways. We understand that this is the consequence of a thing that lives; its death and evolution. As societies change, so do the literature that comes from them. American, Caribbean and European canons of art have developed over centuries. Homer, Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Achebe and Keats may likely groan over the outright demolition and re-definition of the styles of their age, or the rise of vagrant voices. Such has remained the constant. And so we will always expect the conversation of literature death to go on, and hopefully for it to bring up new ideas to confound the old. A seed must die for a tree to become.
African literature, also, is musing on the elements of other cultures to produce new art forms that may refute the old. The cycle will continue. What is key is its movement; that the writers in it are creating new forms of writing, with fresh angles and scopes that show what it means to be African, in and out of it. Such is what the creative and publishing industry on the continent is burgeoned to deal with. Journals such as ours are accommodating these new templates. The most of us have our rooms open for the many obstinate, strange and boisterous seeds. Like dutiful students of the times, we are transcribing their words head-on, full throttle. This is vital because the future of African literature will ask questions as to what happened today, as to what stories were told and who told them. It is an important responsibility art curators, publishers, private businesses, readers, writers, and the African government must take with the seriousness it deserves. This flux shall be documented.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary uses the symbol of a stream to describe flux as “a continuous moving on or passing by.” The works in this issue tilt towards the direction of this flux, this move to a next or preceding phase, which could be unknown. In graphic details, the poems and fiction in this catalogue draw influences from the metaphysical and substantial to defy colonial constructs, to speak on race, to point out trauma, and to deconstruct death. They speak about nostalgia, of longing for what may never be, of a life that may never be lived, and of hope for continuity. They speak of African literature in many regards. It is simply that perennial anxiety — fear if you may — and the love for what has been that propels African writers and readers to demand for its resuscitation and renewal. It is the familial memory and nostalgia that aches us all and drives us to fight for it, to protest, our words raised up to the skies, against its ending.
It is also this familial memory that pushes many of us to reinvent our art through writing. Osondu speaks in his interview that, “Writing is usually a form of recollection and is rarely if ever, created in situ or in the moment. So we rely on memory to create art. We manipulate memory. We sift memory. We adorn memory. We may even distort memory.” It is this memory that drives the racial undertones of Osondu’s Black Disappearances when the people of a town in America are perplexed when its inhabitants begin to “disappear.” When Chan Dum in Uzor Maxim Uzoatu’s White Men Can’t Write compares himself to Shakespeare to the cheer of his people, they are not moved merely by Dum’s glibness as they are by the perception of a reclamation of their worth and value as a colonised people. In Chan Dum, they reclaim their totem of stolen pride. In Olusoji Obebe’s “Whitebird,” the poet mourns the departure of a bird whom his persona has found attachment in. The exit of the bird brings, then, a psychological distortion.
In Mariam Hassan’s “Small Mecca,” there is a dialectical tension, a battle between seeking newness and sticking with the old. There is then a straddling in the middle of two worlds. Nike Onwu’s “Jakande Roundabout” presents a bus as a metaphor of transition and parallel realities. In “At Luthuli, One Boy Hums the Tune of John Brown’s Song,” Frank Njugi paints the picture of the boy who sings a tune that pulls him into a nostalgic past, against the better wishes of those around him who hear him singing. The boy fights an internal battle with the things constantly changing around him. In Remembrance, Patrick Ochieng’s narrator relieves childhood trauma and anticipates consolation with the birth of a child. Goodnews Karibo’s “Ninety-Third Sermon on Strength” addresses the persona’s need to join the queue in the ever-growing line of transition. When the poet says “…every breathing thing gets bruised by its own existence,” there is a poignancy attached to it that can barely be ignored.
There is agency in the militancy of this flux.
When in my third year in the university, and in a suppressed fit, I stood before my whole class, right in the middle of a lecture on English phonetics to ask our world-renowned professor why we all had to speak in those funny-sounding, exaggerated British accents, I was risking a direct confrontation. I knew what the course entailed and what the professor was teaching, and at the same time I disagreed with the methods and motive behind them. I hadn’t cared then whether my rebuttal would cost me the course or degree (I would later realise it may have). What I knew for sure in that moment was that I had not been born to speak that way, and no one in that class spoke that way outside it. I was merely angry at being spoon-fed, against my will, a linguistic “antidote.”
I had so much to lose, my grades the least. The professor’s lecture was an inadvertent burning of a heritage and language resource I wanted to keep. If we had to speak the English language (and we indeed needed to) we had to speak it with the accents of our first tongues. The matter was, for me, of life and death. I saw the startling need to keep what was left of the identity we owned as Africans. I burned with joy and rage that I passed the course. It was all shades of nativist propaganda at work.
Dear reader, it is with all joy, therefore, that I present this June issue to you. As you read, consider the pieces also as a plea, somewhat, for us all to keep documenting through writing and reading, the age we are in in African writing. I admonish us to be stern in our promotion and documentation of African books and content. It is the least we can do. Buy African books, write African characters if you must, tell African stories. Dear reader, this is the age of flux, and we should embrace it and own it as ours still, however different it may seem, in whatever clothes it may wear, in whatever voice it speaks. There are things you are going to lose by doing this, but we know also that there is so much value, so great a reward in doing it still. Thank you. Daalu.