I’m not even sure why I’m typing this because there have been a flurry of blog posts and articles about the issue already, which is quite the feat considering the whole brouhaha (that’s such a cool word, by the way) only took place yesterday. But, a quick run-through;
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (rumour has it the omission of any one of those names results in her great displeasure) granted a new interview – with the Boston Review on the current promo trail for her new novel Americanah – which was released yesterday. The author, not known for biting her tongue, gave some particularly brow-raising comments when asked about the Caine Prize for 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 to the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction…I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people send me their stories. I could give you a list of ten—mostly in Nigeria—writers who I think are very good. They’re not on the Caine Prize short list….Who’s the other Nigerian on the short list? There’s Chinelo and Elnathan but I don’t know who the others are.”
The use of the term “my boy” didn’t go down too well with Elnathan John, to say the least. His responses on Twitter included jabs at her new novel, status as “Queen” of African Writing and comments on natural hair. He also elected bizarrely, and ultimately, hilariously, to repeatedly refer to her as “Amanda” in addition to making even more bizarre parallels between her and a cocoyam.
Of course, the Nigerian Twitter Literature Scene was up in arms. From the corner of folk who felt Ms. Adichie was wrong to those who felt her statements might have been ingracious but weren’t meant in a bad way to those who couldn’t have given less of a damn either way and were only too happy to throw rocks at Amanda and of course the Amanda faithfuls who couldn’t believe any dared to speak a bad word of Nigeria’s Literature Queen or goddess or whatever term their worship leads them to use. Yeah, you’re allowed to roll your eyes a little at this point.
On the one hand we’ve got the typical response about her being entitled to her own opinion and people responding need to let her live and blah blah blah. That’s all well and good, of course, but it shouldn’t be that hard for anyone to grasp the notion of opinions being subject to public scrutiny when released or expressed to said public. In other words, as long as no one is holding a gun to “Amanda’s” head (we certainly hope it won’t get to that, anyway) they’re free to express their displeasure at her opinions – which, let’s admit it, wreak of arrogance and condescension in it’s most visible form. As much of a surprise as it may come to some, if there exists anyone who has ascended to a position such that anything they utter is indisputable by the simple virtue of the fact of who it was uttered by, it is not Chimamanda. Neither are fans of her/her work in any position to dictate to anyone what they may or may not be offended by.
Elnathan went on to publish a blog post called “The Dangers Of Loving Ngozi,” (apparently bored of the “Amanda” moniker) in which he revealed that his grouses were not simply due to her trivialization of the Caine Prize or her use of the term “my boy” but had been quite a long time coming. But even Elnathan who had received “manhood-shrinking emails” (really? Emails that can shrink manhoods? Here’s hoping I never get one of those) was clearly nowhere near as offended as fellow nominee, Abubakar Ibrahim, who didn’t mince words at all.
Abubakar A. Ibrahim @Abubakr_khalifa: So the best African fiction is in Chimamanda Adichie’s inbox? I hail thee, queen-god mother. Go f___ yourself, Chimamanda. Nonsense! July 15, 2013
Abubakar A. Ibrahim @Abubakr_khalifa: I suppose now every Nigerian writer to be taken seriously has to have a presence in Godmother Adichie’s inbox. Put that on ur profile. July 15, 2013
Abubakar A. Ibrahim @Abubakr_khalifa: “@tadepen: @Abdulfagge @Abubakr_khalifa If she infantilizes grown guys this way then she should shove it.” I agree. This isn’t military rule. July 15, 2013
Abubakar A. Ibrahim @Abubakr_khalifa: @ChookzN @dupekilla A whole generation of writers owe their fame to Achebe and yet he was never conceit in this obnoxious fashion. July 15, 2013
Now while I don’t think Amanda (or is it Ngozi we’re using now) should go “f___” herself as Ibrahim would rather have her do, I find the anger perfectly understandable. Nigerian writers are generally a whiny and sensitive bunch. I mean, barely a day can go by without arguments about what is “authentic” and what qualifies as “African fiction” and other things of such arbitrary nature. That said, I’m hard pressed to find anything wrong in a man being offended by the blasé dismissal of a literature prize for which he and many others were nominated and have publicly expressed their pride for. Particularly when such contemptuous comments come from a writer one would imagine is well aware of the power of words; a writer who was once shortlisted for said prize herself.
In other words, Chimamanda might want to take a bit of a chill pill.