I was infected by Abubakar’s simplicity as we exchanged emails and spoke on phone. I recall my uncle speaking about simplicity being the hallmark of vast knowledge, and the depth of intellection. If that’s true, then Abubakar’s responses are measured anecdotes that display an understanding of his role as a Nigerian writer. What I perceived was that his convictions were deep-seated, irrevocable, even irrefutable. I have followed his work since 2007 when he won the BBC Play Writing Competition. An open secret is that we are being published by the same publisher this year – Parresia.
Dave Chua’s award-winning Gone Case takes a familiar literary genre, the bildungsroman, and sets it in late 20th-century Singapore, with poignant results. Twelve-year-old Yong struggles with schoolwork, develops a crush on a friend’s older sister, weathers threats of violence from a bully, and takes care of his younger brother, all while watching his parents’ marriage fall apart.
If melancholy can be sweet, then The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am (Dalkey, 2011) is just that. Kjersti A. Skomsvold’s debut novel, which won Norway’s Tarjei Vesaas's debutantpris (2009), provides a brief, sentimental glimpse into what it means to be lonely. The gloom of such a weighty (and tried) theme is relieved, refreshingly, by the narrator, Mathea, an aging introvert who is charmingly naïve, occasionally funny, often whimsical, but always … sad.
The following conversation took place via email. Between Novuyo and myself, we exchanged about 35 emails, in which I was greatly moved by her dedication (as you would see) to her writing, her understanding of her craft, and her willingness to engage. I have never met Novuyo in person, but it feels as though I have known her for a long time. Indeed, there are few of the writers scheduled in this series that I can recognize from a distance. I am yet to fully come to terms with what this means, suggests.
GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry and Prose (2010) comes with a breath of the sensational, from its title to its cheeky cover, exploiting the contradiction of a celebration of homosexual culture in staid Singapore. It’s both warranted and unnecessary at once—while homosexual sex acts (specifically man to man) continue to be criminalized by Singapore law, homosexuality seems to be condoned or tolerated by law enforcement and much of the citizenry, though not by more conservative and traditional segments of society.
To start with, I do not disagree that there is so much writing coming out of Africa. But I make the claim that we only see this abundance in terms of creative expression, because there has never been a time, like now, where we have had this amount of visibility. Of course, visibility is an important consideration – just as it is important to have an ear if the radio is to become useful, it is important to have the capability to be seen if African literature is to be considered meaningful.
What is a book? Once we could proffer answers with the clearest certainty. Today, it is difficult to do so. In this vein, I am keen to explore what can be termed the “fragility of meaning,” under which heading I can rightly argue that a book is now without precise definition, and has formed the subject of a contested terrain. It is a fashionable contest, which in this decade will probably remain unending. Already there are numerous examples of how interesting this ongoing dialogue is, but as I am keenly interested in what definition the book has assumed for today’s Africa, I will shelve the less urgent appeal of what the global book is, and ask pointed questions.
After his panel on the Arab Spring, I asked Libyan writer Hisham Matar about the Libyan revolution, Libya's complex relationship with NATO countries, and the role of the writer in times of conflict.