Why ‘African’ fiction needs to come of age sooner than later

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A few days ago, while reading Joe Benitez’s ‘Lady Mechanika’ I was hit by an acute sense of displacement. In a scene set in the Sahara Desert, Mr Benitez had women dressed in the clothing of the desert nomads speaking Yoruba. Nothing in Mr Benitez’s story suggests that the Yoruba speakers are not native to their desert setting, yet they are speaking a language that originates nearly four thousand miles to the south. To understand the displacement I felt, imagine if you were reading a story set in Alaska, but instead of the natives speaking a form of Inuit, they are speaking a bastardised version of Maya, or some other South American indigenous language. Given the setting, a more northern language like Hausa or Berber would have been a safer bet, and had anyone involved in the creation of that story bothered to do any form of rudimentary research, they would have known this.

Joe Benitez’s gaffe is lightweight compared to the treatment Africa has received in speculative fiction as a whole. Recall what always happened in the TV series “Heroes” when a character needed to visit Africa? The vision of the whole continent, 56 countries, over a thousand languages and cultures as diverse and colourful as can be, was usually reduced to a shrubland somewhere in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. And the token African character appeared to have no home and passes his time creating “prophetic” art on rock faces. In all, the world of speculative fiction has largely failed to accurately portray the continent of Africa and, just like Hollywood, it seems to see no need to try.

This is why Africans need to tell their own stories, as this is the best way to own the narrative about Africa and to capture the changing face of the continent. And in this edition we are happy to showcase African stories that remind us of the tales our mothers told us. These stories revive aspects of our culture and belief systems that we thought lost, showing us how they still feature prominently in our urban lore.

Mayowa Koleosho mines the rich vein of Yoruba mythology for his beautifully told tale of two brothers whose relationship is transformed forever in  “Ara and Monamona”. Adanze Asante’s “The Journey” is also a classic tale of transformation; a throwback to those days when people possessed the ability to change from man to animal and back. Pemi Aguda takes this ability to the cityscape of modern Lagos and masterfully retells it. Suyi Davies pushes the theme in a Lagos of the future even more immersed in the digital landscape than we are now in “Breaking The Habit”, and  in “Maki” by Edwin Okolo, transformation travels in its own lane and goes beyond possibilities of the human. And if we ask the question of what is left behind after the change? “Horror in the Bush” by Mandisi Nkomo has the answer, and what an answer it is!

We are grateful for the opportunity to provide a home for these stories because until recently it was hard getting any form of genre fiction published in the few litmags available. Though elements of the speculative were heavy in many books being published here, no one wanted to class their “serious fiction” as “genre”. Nigeria, for example, is a country where literary fiction wields a tight-fisted supremacy over all other forms of literature. But the opportunities offered by Omenana, and other Afrocentric genre magazines using the digital landscape, are gradually transforming a literary society that once sneered at genre fiction.

In all, this promises to be a hallmark edition. It is our fourth edition and final regular edition for the year. We will produce a special flash fiction edition that will berth by November 2015. The project is in partnership with the Goethe Institut for a display at the African Future_Lagos exhibit which will take place from 28th October – 1st November 2015, in Lagos. This edition will also mark the first time we will be able pay our contributors – something we hope to continue in the future.

Hey, almost forgot that we will be at the Ake Arts and Books Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, from the 17th to the 21st of November 2015. Check out more info about the festival here. I will be talking about speculative fiction and all things writing. I will also be moderating a panel discussion called, “Africa Magic: The Rise of Speculative Fiction”, at the festival. Since we will be talking about elements of the genre in African literature and what differences are emerging in speculative fiction between Africa and the rest of the world, among other things, I expect it willbe an opportunity to further the cause of speculative fiction in the continent.

It’s been a wild ride and we thank you all for discovering us and spreading the word.

Mazi Nwonwu

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