Ben Okri
Ben Okri

So this is my first blog of the new year after a self imposed break to chill out and recharge my batteries. While I was drinking and eating excessively in different parts of Nairobi, it seems like the biggest story out there came from the fallout from Ben Okri’s A mental tyranny is keeping black writers from greatness that was penned in The Guardian on 27th December. In the essay, he urges writers of colour to try their hand at writing not just on the big issues but also do smaller issues well. Free your mind African dude and dudette. Or even better said in the piece;

The first freedom is mental freedom. We have to seize the freedom to be what we can be, to write whatever we want, with all the mystery and fire of art. It is our responsibility to illuminate the strange corners of what it is to be human.”

The reactions were thick and fast. One of the most well thought out was one by Sofia Samatar in the same publication titled Black and African writers don’t need instructions from Ben Okri. Samatar charges that “Black and African writing does need freedom. It needs freedom from the repetition of tired complaints and the issuing of dusty and ineffective prescriptions. After all, as Okri begins his essay, “Living as we do in troubling times, we look to writers to reflect the temper of the age” – and that is precisely what black and African writers are doing. Our literature doesn’t need better writers; it needs better readers.

I agree with Samatar. The reality is that someone who has been following the African literature scene in the last few years with even a passing interest will tell you that we are writing like crazy. This is why this blog is able to even exist. A quick look at this blog alone will tell you that we are writing about love, school, growing up and every other conceivable subject one could imagine.

The growth of this blog is testimony to the “African literature rising” narrative. When I registered this blog domain in July 2013, I only had 3,900 page views from just above 2,400 visitors. This year the numbers have gone up with 28,800 page views from just under 19,000 visitors. While Ben Okri has not been reading up, many of us have been and I am greatful that so many people have allowed me to be the person and my contributors to give them the news of our literature.

So if you have access to Bwana Okri I recommend that you lead him to this blog. He and those who don’t know what’s up with the African literature scene will know that its a bigger animal than they think.

Happy new year folks. Let the blogging begin in earnest.