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African Literature In The Digital Age: New Book Traces The Role Of The Internet, Queers And Class

The Oasis Reporters

October 7, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images




Shola Adenekan, Ghent University

The first book-length study of digital literature in Africa has attracted a lot of academic attention. African Literature in the Digital Age: Class and Sexual Politics in New Writing from Kenya and Nigeria considers the role of the internet and new media in finding and shaping new audiences for literature. We asked its author, former journalist, literature scholar, publishing editor of The New Black Magazine and associate professor of African studies, Shola Adenekan, about the book.

 

What prompted you to write this?

 

The book came out of my own experience of the internet, especially my interactions with writers and thinkers who became acquaintances and friends through email listservs (electronic mailing lists) and social media platforms. This began around the turn of this century, when I was working as a journalist in London. I noticed a growing trend of literature being published online by African writers, on blogs, African-owned websites, MySpace, and later Facebook and Tumblr. I decided to set up a website – The New Black Magazine – to publish, and in some instances republish, some of the new ideas being espoused by these new voices.

 

Their work seemed more organic than much of what was being published in print at the time. Organic in the sense that their primary audience was the emerging African digital public, and not the traditional publishers like Macmillan and Random House. Some of the pioneering thinkers and writers were women and queer Africans whose works were not deemed worthy by traditional publishers.

 

I remember Nigerian novelist Jude Dibia had a blog, as did Nigerian activist, photographer and author Sokari Ekine, blacklooks.org, which is unfortunately now defunct. Ekine’s blog was a cultural and literary network, where queer writers like Kenya’s Shailja Patel and Keguro Macharia, British Somali writer Diriye Osman and South African photographer and activist Zanele Muholi were congregating. Ekine is the ultimate networker, whose activism sheds light on queer Africa and its diaspora beyond the narratives of violence.

 

Another excellent digital networker was Professor Wambui Mwangi, one of the founders of Concerned Kenyan Writers, a listserv group on Gmail. She was the person who introduced me to many Kenyan writers and encouraged me to do a PhD and write a book about these exciting developments. This is why my book opens with a chapter on literary networks.

 

How has the internet shaped Kenyan and Nigerian literature?

 

The online space should be a starting point for any discussion of contemporary African writing. For example, some of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s earlier works were first published online. Kenyan writer Billy Kahora’s non-fiction ibook The True Story of David Munyakei grew out of a piece published online on Mwangi’s now defunct blog, the Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman.

 

Apart from blogs, there were pioneering digital African magazines like African Writers, African Writing, Kwani and Chimurenga. They provided a platform to grow for many of today’s established voices. They also used listservs to hone their skills. Some African book publishers were active participants in these listservs. Today, there are dozens of online magazines, like Afreada, that publish exciting short stories.

 

What does this have to do with queer life?

 

If it seems that literary networks are somewhat centred on queer activists, it’s because many were at the forefront of digital African networks. Some left the continent for Europe and America due to homophobia, where they have also had to contend with racism and transphobia. Many other queer writers stayed behind to fight homophobia.

 

The online provides a space to articulate this experience and also to showcase that queer African life is more than violence. Queer Africans love, care and enjoy everyday routine things that heterosexual people enjoy. From blogs to online magazines, digital publications to social media platforms, queer activism in Africa has found a home in the digital space. Some of the most powerful writing on queer bodies and politics can be found here.

 




 

The queer is arguably at the very core of twenty-first century African literature. The works of Macharia, Ekine, Patel, Unoma Azuah and Romeo Oriogun constitute a starting point for theorising digital Africa. Their writing provides robust insight into the way in which queerness, politics and civil rights intersect. Additionally, privilege, visibility, marginalisation, omission and silence can all be articulated through an analysis of their work.

 

And where does class fit in?

 

The digital here is also arguably classed. There are millions of Africans who use the internet despite not being part of the educated professional middle class. But most – if not all – of the pioneers of the digital literary communities have a solid middle-class background. One of the main privileges of being middle class and a writer is that one is often asked to be a sort of cultural ambassador for the continent. This privilege also allows writers to speak to themes – such as sexuality – that have become taboo subjects in postcolonial Africa.

 

What do you hope you have achieved with the book?

 

I hope that the book will inspire others to not only write about African digital life but also to write about queer African life in all its totality.

 

Finally, let me revisit what I mentioned on in the final chapter in the book: there is a need to study Africa’s quotidian life. In addition to literary studies’ fixation with African spectacular, we should also be interested in the everyday rituals that are not rooted primarily in poverty, hunger, and war.

 

What does the digital space provide Africans beyond the accounts of everyday stigmatisation and suppression? The ordinary and the commonplace need to be privileged, because the quotidian is at the very foundation of African art. On social media, often times, things like dressing up, kissing, wearing make-up, taking children to school, laughing and dancing – things that we may not consider as important – are statements of African humanity, of its defiance and resilience, through which many Africans affirm their Africanness, their ethnic and national identities.The Conversation

 

Shola Adenekan, Associate Professor of African Literature, Ghent University

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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