Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has invoked the wrath of her countrymen, made evident by the volume of vitriol directed her way via Twitter. Her offence? Certain statements (perceived as rankling and condescending) the Americanah
author made about The Caine Prize for African Writing in a recent Boston Review
interview. In the same interview, Adichie referred to 2013 Caine Prize shortlistee Elnathan John as “one of my boys” — John once participated in a writing workshop organised by Adichie — and claimed that she goes to her mailbox to find the best in African fiction.
Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop. But what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway? I don’t want to talk about the Caine Prize, really. I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been. I know that Chinelo is on the short list, too. But I haven’t even read the stories—I’m just not very interested. I don’t go the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction.
As is always the case in these situations, 140-character reactions to Adichie's words continue to flood Twitter
timelines. Below is a selection of opinions (the first of which is enraged Caine Prize shortlistee's Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's fiery comment).
— Abubakar A. Ibrahim (@Abubakr_khalifa) July 15, 2013
— Tade Ipadeola (@tadepen) July 15, 2013
— Ikhide (@ikhide) July 15, 2013
— tolu ogunlesi (@toluogunlesi) July 15, 2013
— Elnathan John (@elnathan) July 15, 2013
— Chioma Ogwuegbu (@AfricanCeleb) July 15, 2013
— Jokingly Serious (@olanshile) July 15, 2013
— Her Royal Hipness? (@PUREHAIRE) July 15, 2013
— Molara Wood (@molarawood) July 15, 2013
Elnathan John has since responded to Adichie's statement about him with a revealing and brilliantly crafted blog post, 'The Consequences of Loving Ngozi'
. Read an excerpt below.
She sends you a two line mail many weeks after you are nominated for a literary prize. It makes you sad instead of happy: it dries out the cocoyam in your mouth instead of adding palm oil to it. You cannot swallow. The second line is a phrase: ‘Very well deserved’. This is not how she speaks to you, not in brief impersonal phrases that could have been sent by a secretary. Not phrases that you later found out were sent to another person who was shortlisted, without editing. It brought back that manhood-shrinking feeling when you learnt. Some words of congratulations feel like warm spit in the face instead of a gentle pat on the back. Still, this is what the love of Ngozi meant: that you found your own palm oil to lubricate the drying cocoyam in your mouth and only complained to a few friends you thought could understand.
Your name ends up in the Boston Review where she gives an interview about race and her new book- the first page of which you have read and like very much. She sounds irritated when they ask her about the prize you were shortlisted for, which she too was once shortlisted for. She calls the prize over-privileged. She mentions your name and says that although you are her boy, and she has not quite bothered to read your work, you have not made the shortlist of ten best African fiction writers domiciled in her mailbox. You would have sent her an email to ask why. Or even joked about it. But she no longer reads or replies your emails. There is no palm oil left for this cocoyam. The cocoyam dries in your mouth. This is the first time you think of it- how silly this cocoyam analogy is. You spit it out, the cocoyam. This is the consequence of loving Ngozi: you get free publicity in the Boston Review.
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