Binyavanga Wainaina, British Crumpets and Literary Insularity

My good friend, Chielozona Eze has uncharacteristically harsh words for the writer Binyavanga Wainaina who recently threw some of his world-renowned signature bombs into the dainty rooms of English literature. According to the UK Guardian, the prize-winning author Wainaina” has attacked the insularity of British authors, describing their work as “indigestible” for Kenyan readers, and suggesting that “you’d struggle to find any significant books that come out of Britain” about the African experience.” Read all about it here. In his blog, Eze responds with muscular fierceness:  “As one who owes his life to good luck and the empathic gestures from Europeans during the Biafran war, I find it somewhat disturbing that Wainaina, who was born circa a decade after the Biafran war, and far removed from the scenes of Biafran horrors, would make a sweeping condemnation of rescue/aid agencies such as Oxfam. In my case, in 1968/69, it was the Irish aid agency “Concern” that saved me and many other famishing, kwashiorkor Biafran kids. Without Concern, and perhaps, Oxfam, I would have perhaps succumbed to the famine that was orchestrated by fellow Nigerians/Africans. Why would any person in his right mind ever condemn Bob Geldorf for having responded to the human tragedy that took place in Ethiopia and Somalia? I am sincerely baffled.” I am still digesting Wainaina’s thoughts and trying to reflect on what it all means. Eze has certainly got the ball rolling. Never a dull moment. Enjoy the literary rumble in the e-jungle here.

3 thoughts on “Binyavanga Wainaina, British Crumpets and Literary Insularity”

  1. Interesting debate. I think Binyavanga is speaking his biases and pretending to be the voice of modern Africans. I do not give a damn about British literature and I am sure they don’t care about me too. I read what suits me. Binyavanga should learn that too…

  2. I don’t mind these debates. If at the end of the day it’d lead to a awareness of what ‘African’ isn’t. Like the guardian person said: Africans love, they fuck, they kiss, and they speak. Just like everybody. If more and more stories focus on that, what defines ‘African writing’ changes.

  3. Don’t know what the ruckus is all about. Binyanvanga spoke his mind, something he is renown for, Chielozona should have realised this and accepted same.

    I read his piece (C.Eze’s) and was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. All i saw in his arguement is the same self-depreciating bullshit that unfortunately is commonplace in today’s Africa — that unconscious, colonial mentality that pushes people to defend everything western. Yeah Oxfam and co are working in Africa, extending that pity mentality that Binyanvanga talked about, but how much impact have they had on the lives of Africans?

    While I do not readily agree with all that Binyanvanga has to say, at least in other instances, I think the guy is on the right track and pointed out many truths that should be further researched. The Bristish seem to think because we write in English and speak their language more than ours, we are some kind of Peudo-them that would be beholden to their writers. well, we are not.

    Really, how important is Shakespeare to African literature that is should be taught in schools to children who struggle over the words and meaning, no, that is very old; how important are modern British authors, who cannot point out the capital of majority of African states on the map, to the scheme of things?

    I surely can point out much of the world’s capital cities on a world map and bet much of the Nigerian literati can too. As such, I think this is what Binyanvanga was stressing, we are more informed about Africa and the world so should be reckoned with when we are being discussed.

    Chielozana also missed it when he said Binyanvanga cannot speak for Kenya (and Africa). the man is Kenyan, lives in Kenya and is a very powerful presence in Kenyan literature, who else can speak if not him and his ilk?

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