The Beginning: Writing Workshops and MFAs

By Amatesiro Dore 26 July 2013



In 2009 I had no talents. I couldn’t rap, dance, or play football. Then I began to explore my natural advantages: modelling didn’t agree with law, debating wasn’t commercial (at the time), and pornography wasn’t considered because “Y has a long leg and two branches”.

I loved books, I had read more literature than anyone in my literary circle; I was the son who had book titles on his “shopping list”. I grew up with a writer but I preferred eating words to cooking them. I never considered writing, I was a happy consumer. All my first dates ended up in a library or bookshop. If I didn’t sell an author to you, be very afraid, I probably didn’t like you.

Seun Kuti @ the Farafina Dinner

Seun Kuti @ the Farafina Dinner

I patronised the art scene on the island. Book readings at Silverbird Galleria, drinks at Jazzhole, plays at Terra Kulture, intellectual chats on Facebook, and all other activities artless artists undertook to feed their muse. It was during my waka-about that I met Respected Writer who told me about the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. Then I wrote my first meal (for eyes other than mine). RW and I discussed point of views, tenses, punctuation, and if my story was “working”. After many editorial tinkering, and force-feeding of family with sentences, I sent my entry a few days to the closing date.

I was in Abuja, Drumstix, enjoying free Wi-Fi on a friend’s laptop. That was when I saw it: I was one of twenty applicants who received that email. The mail was a few days old; I had forgotten about my talent quest. But there it was, an email saying I had talent…a promising propensity to be read.

I became very suspicious of my new talent, but if “they” said I could write, what did I have to lose? My friends didn’t care much about my selection, they were into Law. I envied my friends, they were normal, I was abnormal.

Adichie, Binj, Funmi Iyanda, Chika Unigwe,

Adichie, Binj, Funmi Iyanda, Chika Unigwe et al

I returned to Lagos for the workshop and I met other abnormal people at the workshop. I had never been in the same room with creative writers; ONLY creative writers – the Farafina Class of 2009. I moved through the haze and after ten days, it was over. I can’t remember what happened (I refuse to write about it), it was nine months in a womb and I was born again. I had so much to think about and consider, I didn’t write another sentence for over a year.

There was a memory tattooed in my head: I standing at the parking lot with Chimamanda and Mr Fine Boy, we were chatting about post workshop options, and I said something about going on to get an MFA in Creative Writing. And Chimamanda said: “Tesiro, go and live life”. I regurgitated those words after a year; they became my launch pad into creating sentences.



In 2012 I became sure. I had lived life and I was ready to write. I invaded the Farafina Class of 2012 with a pillowcase full of my favourite books, and I gave all away. That was how I began.

Last week, emails were sent to the 2013 participants. Where were they when they read their emails? What lives were they leaving behind? When time and talent battle for their soul, what will they do?

Congratulations to the Farafina Class of 2013, wishing you a good beginning, you’ll never know how it ends, until you start writing.

Next week, the list of participants for the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop 2013 will be published on this blog. The selected applicants have been contacted via email.



Not For Free: the Movement against Intellectual Communism

By Amatesiro Dore 19 July 2013

Eyitemi biri eyitene e tse okan

Not For Free!

Eyitemi biri eyitene e tse okan”

Aaron Swartz was twenty-six when he killed himself. He lived for the free distribution of knowledge (science and culture). He pioneered the Rich Site Summary (RSS) and co-owned Reddit; two popular platforms for creative communism. He was an internet activist: he hacked into JSTOR and “liberated” 4.8 million scientific and literary papers from hard earned intelligence. He opposed the “Stop Online Piracy Act” in the US Congress and campaigned against the private ownership of technology, media, and communication intelligence. The Laws of the United States opposed his beliefs and cramped him with thirteen felony charges worth thirty-five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty and didn’t want to pay any jail time. Federal Agents pressed him with a few months in jail, so he hung himself with a belt in his Brooklyn apartment. He was very intelligent but medically depressed; he didn’t even leave a note. He probably believed in free love, the food is for “all of us”, and the right to harvest your neighbour’s farm.

This is the principle of consent and ownership: consent can only be obtained by the will of the owner, for a fee or for free. The right of choice resides with owners. Trespassers, rapists, and thieves enjoy a mutual blind spot called ownership. They ignore it, it’s irrelevant to their view, the hit-and-run driver and the old woman never see eye to eye.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook. (Portrait by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair)

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook.
Portrait by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

It’s easier to relate with tangibles: the invasion of Iraq by George Bush troops, the bus rape of that Indian lady, Governor James Ibori and the Delta State treasury. But how do you manage the invasion of your mind? What about the vicious rape of your brain? And the robbery of your head by a passionate burglar, how?

Intangibles like air, ideas, faith, and words are free. These are not for free, they’re owned: air on Mars, the Facebook idea, the Preacher’s sermon on a tape, and the art of an artist. Intellectual property is the copyright of the mind and creative thoughts, from the rape of copycats, pirates, and thieving activists (hackers).

Prior to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs et al, computer programmers and creative artists were eating the same chicken. The quintessential programmer and artist were bohemians, joint heirs of poverty, and boring fellows of the geek club. Programmers made the world go round from the basements and garages of their homes. Most shared their inventions for free and continued in poverty; a few licensed their creations and earned capital for better ideas. When programmers adopted capitalism, it created a new world for science geeks. Parents supported their kids to drop out of school for their nascent software dreams. Talent became enough, venture capitalists invaded Silicon Valley, and ideas were given the chance to fail or break the bank. Facebook was funded to change the world; Mark Zuckerberg and friends became billionaires.

God is good!

The Lord is good!

The church and her ministers were once an impoverished crew. Salvation was free but the good news was expensive. The love of God was not sufficient to feed, clothe, and live under a roof. Tithes and offerings were not enough; the church needed love offerings, donations, and special gifts of appreciation. The church abandoned communism and fell in love with capitalism: sermons in digital formats, the anointing for cash, special prayers for bank cheques. These days, Pastors own aircrafts and other comforts needed to spread the good news.

All our mates in the free world have left us behind, only the artist still grovels for bread. And we’re proud of it, to suffer for art sake, to fill our pockets with stones and walk into the river. “Look at me, I’m an artist, and therefore I suffer,” we seem to sing to the world. And people like Aaron Swartz want us to remain prize seeking and grant hungry desperadoes. Artists do not live on art alone, we eat bread, and bread has a price. Nothing is free, why should art be free? Is art nothing?

Education has never been free, teachers don’t feed on chalk. What do you mean by cultural freedom? You don’t want to pay for songs or films, everything should be online, open to free download, because Harvard and MIT are free of charge, and artists were born to suffer? It’s like all these advocates of Open Source are smoking the wrong end of the w**d.

Lawrence Lessig wrote “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lockdown Culture and Control Creativity”. He argued against the duration of copyrights (thirty-two to ninety-five years), the scope (from publishers to virtually everyone), the reach (almost every view on computers), the control (including derivative works), and the concentration (it integrates the media industry). He wrote 345 pages of communist propaganda and gave it out for free. This is his major premise: the control of knowledge distribution is stifling “the progress of science and useful arts”. He gave many examples, many which made me believe something has sucked the air out of his a**. There was one about the impossibility of creating another Mickey Mouse, why do you want to create another Mickey Mouse? Create your own mouse and leave Disney alone, where were you when they were creating Mickey? Now you want to make money off another man’s head and say he shouldn’t have the right to control derivative works? I’m sure he also wants the right to write the sequel to “Americanah”, anything against that is stifling the progress of “useful” art. Someone should tell Lessig to get out of here!

JSTOR: A History Roger C. SchonfeldJSTOR is a digital curator of intelligent papers, a global library of scientific and cultural writings from academic journals. When I needed material for my final year thesis, “Achieving Vision 2020: Nuclear and Atomic Laws for Nigeria’s Power Sector”, I found some of articles on JSTOR, but I couldn’t access them. They were locked up for a fee. I didn’t have a JSTOR subscription, neither did my private university. My father bought most of my project material from US bookshops.

Was it the fault of JSTOR that Nigerian universities didn’t invest in books and research materials? Is JSTOR the Nigerian government? Or are they my parents? Why didn’t my university pay for a JSTOR subscription like Harvard and MIT? The truth is: nothing is free. The collation of accurate data doesn’t come cheap. Good education costs money, because teachers aren’t bankers. JSTOR pays for rights to absorb content from academic journals. Cash from these rights funds the publication of these journals. Printers do not print for free, and children of scientists and artists do not live on the words of their parents. I would appreciate a campaign for free education, not open source and free culture. What does that even mean? It sounds like monkey dey chop and baboon dey work. Aaron Swartz took advantage of American capitalism and flew the banners of intellectual communism. He used MIT’s JSTOR subscription to hack into the database of a private company and “stole” millions of research material. There is global competition for knowledge and writing is not a cheap adventure. My parents are praying to God that I abandon this “nonsense” that I’m writing and join them to make “proper” money. And someone out there is saying what I created is for “all of us” because “we” wrote it. Holy Ghost Fire!

Somebody has to pay for content. The programmers at Facebook and Google do not work for free, artists should also maximise the gains from their sweat. Aaron Swartz and his partners sold Reddit to Condé Nast for undisclosed millions of US dollars. I don’t know how much Aaron made from the deal; I’m surprised he didn’t bequeath his shares in Reddit to the general public.

At the moment, JSTOR’s “Register & Read” allows free online-reading access to over 1,300 journals. Users can read three items from the archive, every two weeks; about 4.5 million articles for free. They can save three articles at a time, for a minimum of two weeks, before accessing other articles. If JSTOR had this feature during my university days, my final year project would have been a mind bomb. Though I scored an “A”, probably for title and efforts, God knows my thesis was a piece of s**t. Yet JSTOR has the right to dictate if and when it wants to undertake charitable adventures, no one should be forced to give up property.

flatironhotnewsAnother truth is: awoof dey purge bel-le. Internet freebies are mostly intellectual garbage. If it’s free, it’s probably worthless. Wikipedia and Google have spread more ignorance than facts. Remember all those stupid answers on Answers.com? And how Google Map made you drive round Lagos for a restaurant? Ever wondered why Encyclopaedia Britannica went out of print? What about the numerous How-To sites that make people think they don’t need professionals and have aided the dangerous art of medical self-prescriptions. Think about the free anti-virus software that crashed your system and those torrent sites that are striping Hollywood of deserved profits. Freebies have killed many creative industries and have driven great minds into mere commercialism. Remember the Bangladesh garment factory disaster, that’s what “cheapatico” have done to the world.

The conspiratorial fact is: open source and free culture is a scam by internet gurus to control creation. Free culture is an illusion perpetuated by robbers of intellects. They use codes to rob minds and brand it “liberation”!

I believe robbers should be frustrated by the state, until they get it in Itsekiri: “my own” and “our own” isn’t the same thing!




The Death of the Last Publishing House in Nigeria

By Amatesiro Dore 12 July 2013

Nelson Mandela in the Hospital. AFP\Getty

Nelson Mandela in the Hospital.

God does not forbid bad things, this is the world of men, and no amount of prayer will change the inevitable. You can leave a fired candle with your baby and pray for the safety of the two year old, the will of your baby will prevail.

It is with gratitude to God and the will of the Nigerian people that I announce the death of the last publishing house in Nigeria. She is survived by four children (the enterprising Chinese pirate, the uneducated Nigerian intellectual thief, an intelligent Indian printing press, the government under-funded NCC) and two grandchildren (books from UK sales bonanzas, and books donated by Americans to Ojuelegba-under-bridge).

When was she born? Was it when Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard” was first published in London? The truth is: every Nigerian date of birth, before 1960, is a suspicious invention. Birthdays were usually approximations: if your hand can touch your ears, you’re above six years.

When I was born, the Nigerian educational system was on life support, like Mandela at ninety four. That I can type English is due to the prayers of my parents. Writing about the history of Nigerian publishers is quite a feat, I should have read about it, but the person (Christopher Okigbo) who should have written the book was killed during the Nigerian Civil War. There was nothing civil about that.

Sentinel Poetry (online) Christopher Okigbo Edition (Sept. 2012) sentinelpoetry.org.uk

Sentinel Poetry (online) Christopher Okigbo Edition (Sept. 2012)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is my adopted beginning of publishing in Nigeria. Sales from Things Fall Apart encouraged Heinemann to establish the African Writers Series [i]. Achebe was the founding editor of the imprint, and after “self publishing”[ii] his book, he went on to publish about one hundred titles by other African Writers including Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, and Naguib Mahfouz. Achebe and the African Writers Series published plays, collections of poetry, novels, essays, collections of short stories, and they feed the literary hunger of the African continent. And “na who first die, get seniority for heaven[iii]. I hereby declare Albert Chinualumogu Achebe the Patron Saint of African Literature.

Oh Father Achebe [iv]
Publishing is dying
The Chinese are here
Seeking our best titles
Our Authors are hungry, no royalties
We use Prizes and Grants to survive
Nigerian printers do not read English
Page 42 is after 56, followed by page 82
Our Bookshops are closing
Pirates are hawking on the road
There was a country, hundreds of thousands
Not a kobo to your family or publishers
Oh Achebe, how is Okigbo?
Are you walking in the dead?
There was a publishing house in Nigeria
Coming to join you, please edit her titles.

I have prayed to the ancestors of African publishing, but only the living can answer prayers.

Death of a Starving Child Wikipedia

Death of a Starving Child

The civil war and a Nigerian road curbed Achebe’s creativity. The military regimes pursued Wole Soyinka out of the country, and they used the Nigerian “handbook of governance” to decimate intellectuals. They took schools from private owners and starved government institutions of funds. Everyone knows what excess education can do to the mind, it created an over sabi Wole Soyinka and a wahalaful Gani Fawehinmi, and many other “elements” that thought they knew better than the government. The Nigerian military destroyed printing presses who were printing subversive ideas like democracy and civilian administration. They broke the fingers of our best printers and blinded the eyes of others with money. The lucky ones were left to rot in jail for “wandering at night”.[v] The silent years began, and our best minds emigrated to western universities, and they never came back. The country died and poetry flourished because Nigerians didn’t understand verse, and truths could be hidden in poems.

We got rid of the military in 1999. Military rule is the worst form of administration, I pity Egypt. The military prospers on the obedience of commands. Creativity comes from questions, from the chaos of understanding. “Why” is the order of creation, to create is to rebel against dogma. Men must have the freedom to question the answers, scientists and artists are just expert interrogators.

After the military left, good books crept out of imaginations. The Literary Prizes soon followed, and publishing houses revived their literary practises. Then Farafina Books came with a dream. It went to the market with Chimamanda Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” and it began to sell. In Nigeria, it remains the number one literary bestseller of this millennium[vi]. But it is not solely published by Farafina Books in Nigeria. Our biggest competitors are unknown Nigerian businessmen and a chain of Chinese collaborators. To say that “all Chinese businessmen in Nigeria are pirates” is to assume that “all Nigerians are internet fraudsters”. This is how it works: they go to bookshops in search of bestsellers (usually Farafina Books) and they pirate hundreds of thousands in India or China, and they import pirated books into the country. Flooding the market with counterfeits and killing the dream.

Americanah (Farafina Books)

Americanah (Farafina Books)

At the beginning, Farafina Books published numerous titles from multiple writers, both profitable and unmarketable authors found a home in Kachifo Limited. The success of one could offset the cost of many others. And the quantity of quality writing was as diverse as the stars under the Onikan sky. The success of Farafina Books inspired other publishers like Yam and others. The Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop encourages and develops the skills of unknown and unpublished African writers. It remains the number one “boarding house” for budding writers in Africa.

At the moment, Farafina Books cannot publish as many titles as she would love to. This is a business: we pay for office space, security, electricity, insurance, internet services, financial services, copyright protection, legal services, petrol and diesel generators, library books, furniture and appliances, telephone bills, water supply, waste disposal, maintenance and servicing of equipments, renovations and aesthetics, office stationeries, staff training, and salaries of : editors, crazy editorial assistants, graphic artists, accountants, marketers, technicians, auditors, drivers, engineers, software programmers, and janitors. We pay corporate and income tax to the State and Federal governments. And our staffs have families, intend to raise families, enjoy office parties, and go for paid vacations (in their dreams). At the end of our working lives, we also deserve pension. We’ll like to pay our authors millions of royalties, and help produce a Nigerian Billionaire author. We’ll like to revive the Farafina Magazine, at least to publish my writings. And it will be nice for our Board to declare profit.

Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop (Class of 2010)

Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop (Class of 2010)

It’s a miracle to run an independent publishing house in Nigeria, prayers do not pay our bills. So when you ask if we have “China Must Go” or that other book not published by Farafina, I wonder if you want Farafina to use my “naira and kobo” to publish your reading pleasures.

What about the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC)Shey you gave them money to be pursuing pirates up and down? Or are you expecting them to use their “two naira” salaries to be pursuing millionaire pirates? It takes cash to enforce the law, and it takes some Dora Akunyuli who doesn’t care if she makes her husband a widower and her children to be motherless. It takes an Olusegun Obasanjo to appoint a Dora Akunyuli and ensure she receives all the support she requires, both in funds and security. It takes the Nigerian media to sell a Dora Akunyuli to Nigerians.

So you’re still wondering why we didn’t publish your manuscript? So what if we did: we spend millions to produce your book, somehow we get to advertise and market your book without cost (very impossible), and your book makes it to the booksellers, and all the bookshops remit sales of your book after it has left their shelves, and your book makes a profit and Farafina sends you royalties. Then: the pirates smell blood and swoop in on the harvest. Farafina will not earn naira, neither will you, and I will not get paid. And everyone will be happy, shebiYeye!

Thou shall not die!

Thou shall not die!

If you like, say it does not concern you, after all Farafina did not publish your book and your entry was not accepted for the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. Don’t worry. Nigerian publishing will die and life will continue. Creative minds will go abroad to get their books published like flocks of Nigerians flying abroad for good education. The last printing press will eventually close, except on election years when they print campaign materials.

After the death of the last publishing house in Nigeria, other dreams will be inspired to venture into publishing, right?


Waiting: African Writers and Prize Writing

Wole Soyinka & Chinua Achebe

Wole Soyinka & Chinua Achebe

by Amatesiro Dore Friday 7 July 2013

E.C Osondu’s Waiting, a short story published in Guernica, was awarded the 2009 Caine Prize for African Writing. The story is about young African refugees waiting to be adopted by white westerners. A Caine Prize judge complimented the story for being without “an ounce of fat”. The writing was clinical, not an extra word needed to tell the tale, exactly 3000 words, the minimum word requirement for a Caine Prize entry.

Waiting relies on the emotional and intellectual maturity of the reader. Like a jazz record, it is not for everyone. This is literary fiction riddled with skill and technique. Osondu was also shortlisted for the 2007 Caine Prize. It is wrong to believe that Osondu mastered the style favoured by Caine Prize judges and wrote Waiting for a win. Osondu dug deeper, Waiting is a satire about Literary Prizes and African Writers.

Djimon Hounsou & Brad Pitt

Saving Africa!

In 2007, Bono edited Vanity Fair’s Africa Issue, and funds were donated to charities that benefited Africa. After which, Uzodinma Iweala wrote a piece in the Washington Post, criticising the image of Africans in western media: impoverished, war torn, ridden with Aids, and forever in need of foreign aid. Uzodinma Iweala owes his literary fame to Beasts of No Nation, a novel about a child soldier in a nameless West African country.

In 2012, Teju Cole wrote about the white industrial complex in the Atlantic magazine. He blasted foreign aid agencies, Oprah, Kony 2012, and other western busybodies for trying to “save” Africa. In his brilliant essay, he argued against the mentality that only westerners can save Africa from hell. Teju Cole’s first book, Every Day is for the Thief, is a broadcast of woes in Lagos.

When I read Iweala, Cole & Unmentioned Others, I remember something, in Ayi Kwe Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, an African proverb about a bird that despises shit but feeds on maggots that comes out of shit.

The Caine Prize is awarded to the best published short story, in the years in review, by a writer of African descent. First awarded in 2000, in honour of Sir Michael Caine, the winner takes it all: 10,000 UK pounds. The late Sir was British and a former Chairman of the Man Booker Plc, the organisation that funds the Booker Prize. The Caine Prize is fondly called the African Booker. It is awarded in London, in July, amidst the bust of Sir Caine, London literati and press. It first heralded the careers of many African writers: Helon Habila, Binyavanga Wainaina, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chika Unigwe received international accolade due to a Caine Prize win or shortlist.

African Writers or Writers of African Descent?

African Writers or Writers of African Descent?

Most African writers wish for the Caine Prize, like the orphans in Waiting. This fact may be disputed like the term African Writer. The opposition view it as a western label to stifle writers of African descent and limit their access to front row shelves. They prefer to be literary fiction writers, like Hemmingway and Faulkner, not a word more, or less.

Outside of Africa literary prizes are the most prestigious wins on the continent. The 10,000 pounds Caine Prize dwarfs the 100,000 US dollar Nigerian Prize for Literature, just ask around. Even Teju Cole did not enter his acclaimed first novel, Open City, for the Nigerian Prize, he stuck to the white industrial complex. Everyone knows Madonna and Angelina Jolie make better adoptive parents of African children than the best parents of African descent. In fact, western style adoption is against our culture. It gives the adopted child the same rights as the natural children of the adoptive parents, Africans forbids such abuses of sympathy. Who wants to get adopted by an African? That’s like winning an African prize, in Africa, in front of an African audience. God forbid bad thing!

The Caine Prize and all other prestigious prizes adorned by African writers are won in London. That’s the place wordsmiths are honoured. In fact, ambitious African writers dream of a Swedish congratulation and invitation to a Stockholm dinner in December.

The Nobel Prize Lecture

The Nobel Prize Lecture

In May 2013, four Nigerian writers and a lone Sierra Leonean were shortlisted for the Caine Prize. I was expecting the usual suspect stories: an immigrant tale, a narration of homosexual prosecution, a feminist finding her voice, an abuse victim story, and a tale of a war by any other name. A writer-friend calls them NGO stories, the types that get adopted by fiction editors in the west. This is how to win a Caine Prize or you will wait like E.C Osondu, before he found the formula.

It was with my unbiased mind that I read the stories shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.

America by Chinelo Okparanta was published in Granta, Issue 118. I was awed that she found a way to write about homosexuality, immigration, and environmental pollution, in a fresh and intriguing manner, without a layer of cliché. Her Nigerian gays are somewhat happy and family supported, the US also has environmental pollution like the Niger Delta, and an emigrant might likely prefer to remain in the God departed country of her birth. I loved her re-telling of Jack and the beanstalk, Nollywood style, spiced with a wicked uncle, juju, and rural stupidity. The voice of Okparanta’s narrator was a hunter inside my mind.

“What sympathy can we have for someone who, after wanting something so badly for three long years, realizes, almost as soon as she’s gotten it, that perhaps she’s been wrong in wanting it all that time?”

Rotimi Babatunde, 2012 Caine Prize Winner; Bust of Sir Michael Caine; Baroness Emma Nicholson.

Rotimi Babatunde, 2012 Caine Prize Winner; Bust of Sir Michael Caine; Baroness Emma Nicholson.

Elnathan John’s shortlisted story, Bayan Layi, was published in Per Contra, Issue 25. Bayan Layi is the name of a place in Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria has long been marginalised by western adoptive parents. Since Helon Habila in 2001, only southern Nigerians and their sob stories have enjoyed the benefits of western adoption. Elnathan John remedied this anomaly with the untold story of an almajiri’s life of hunger, carnage, and religious hypocrisy, during a violent election campaign. John’s tale of blood and fire is easy on the eyes and a torture to the soul, a classic Caine recipe with a memorable opening sentence.

The boys who sleep under the Kuka tree in Bayan Layi like to boast about the people they have killed.”

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s The Whispering Trees was from his collection of short stories, and was published by Parresia Publishers. Here is another northern Nigerian voice, a kinder kin of Elnathan John, telling a tale of physical loss and religious redemption. A blind man discovers another pair of eyes, and realises that “happiness lies, not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have.” Ibrahim’s Nigeria fails his characters, but the survivor discovers God and the divine plan. This prose is what western parents call magical realism: proud literary fiction with elements of fantasy.

Miracle by Tope Folarin was published in Transition, Issue 109. It is not just one of those immigrant tales favoured by Caine Prize judges. This is a witty, comic, and subtle tale of suburbia immigrants in America, and the healing power of a blind preacher from Nigeria. I loved Folarin’s immigrant prayer, one of the best in print.

“…We need our parents to understand that we are Americans. We need our children to understand they are Nigerians…We need miracles.”

Foreign Aid by Pede Hollist, the lone story of Sierra Leonean descent, was from the Journal of Progressive Human Services, Vol. 23.3. This fast paced narrative is true to the Caine Prize secret criteria of a corrupt African government, randy African men, and the endurance of African women. Hollist’s immigrant unwisely returns to Africa for a visit and his experience goes “coast: come over and see trouble”!



I congratulate the shortlisted writers – Okparanta, John, Ibrahim, Folarin, & Hollist. They may form a charitable Non Governmental Organisation and donate proceeds of their Caine winnings to Africa’s aid agencies. I do not begrudge their choice of themes. These short stories are honest accounts of Africans at home and abroad. These writers have documented the dirt of Africa, and have rightly left the propaganda of Africa Rising to journalists and politicians. Since the beautyful ones are not yet born, we will manage the maggots from the shit. We will read ‘poverty porn’ and wait for the Caine Prize to adopt other efforts.

On the 8th of July 2013, one of these short stories of African descent will be paraded by Caine Prize judges as the winner of the poverty pageant and 10,000 pound sterling. An African writer will be officially adopted by the literary Angelina Jolie and Madonna in London. And the others will wait, write and wait for another year, or another London invitation.

6 thoughts on “#FarafinaFridays

  1. Lovely piece. You grabbed my attention and said what I’ve being saying, albeit not as gentle and intellectually as you’ve done. This is so true. After Osondu’s win, follow the trail: Stickfighting Days (Olufemi Terry), Hitting Budapest (NoViolet Bulawayo) et al. If one gets the formula right, one will win. Homosexual stories have also started appearing in the short stories, sometimes not for the quality of the story. I remember Love on Trial by Stanley Kenani. It was a poor pastiche of a gay incident in Malawi but was shortlisted for the Caine solely because of the theme and not the story. We can go on and on. For Hitting Budapest, I was shocked by the level of macabre (this has been made into a full length novel). A girl was impregnated by her grandfather; a group of pre-teen saw a woman who has committed suicide and instead of running, removed her shoes to be sold for bread. Children hunting for guava for food and the guava hardening their faeces. Well, I can go on and on.

  2. Pingback: Nice reflection on African literature | Michael Kevane

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