“South Africa gives me a perspective of what’s real and what’s not real. So I go back to South Africa to both lose myself and gain awareness of myself. Every time I go back, it doesn’t take long for me to get caught into a very different thing. A very different sense of myself.” ~ Dave Matthews
When you walk into a bookstore and all you see is local literature (that you so wish you could read in a language you’re comfortable reading in) and scatterings of regional translated work, you accept that this is now your reality. Make no mistake, not only do I enjoy Nordic literature, I have my favourites too.
But when you walk into a bookstore day in, day out and find yourself confronted with same setting, differing slightly sometimes (depending on the bookstore) with the inclusion of classics and bestsellers mainly from Europe and US, and a handful of African bestsellers written by writers in the diaspora, you start to wonder.
Despite what I see on the bookshelves, I know Africans read because I am one of the readers. I follow African literary magazines and blogs such as Brittle Paper, The Johannesburg Review of Books, etc., with keen interests, and in order to read reviews on latest books by African writers. Alas, not all are available in digital format.
Despite what I see on the bookshelves, I know Africans write. And I’m desperate to hear preoccupations of writers back home; fresh stories and new voices.
I like my reading varied (global), and ebooks mostly address that part. But it wouldn’t hurt to hear more South African voices, whether at home or in the diaspora.
So, imagine my joy in a bookstore immersed in real and imaginary worlds created by writers I’ve never heard of before.
Ah, an array of skyscrapers; poetry shelves as if to prove its relevance, today! The dizzying effect; poetry books, written in languages I’m comfortable reading in, competing for my attention.
Mind you, I’ve heard the chorus “poetry does not sell that’s why publishers are reluctant to publish it”, and there’s no denying it. But I ponder this as my hand reaches for a book I’ve been longing to read since it’s publication. And the bookseller’s enthusiasm as she keeps piling trending African books before me… Oh, joy!
Write Africa, write!
note: A recent visit to South Africa brought about this reflection and renewed perspective.