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How to write about Africa

How to write about Africa

This essay by Binyavanga Wainaina from an Africa-themed issue of GRANTA is not new. But I just stumbled on it in the course of researching a story about Africa and bloggers, and found much worth paying attention to:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Link. Binyavanga Wainaina lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and founded the literary magazine Kwani? (unfortunately, the magazine's website appears to be dead). Image: detail crop from the cover of Granta #92, in which this essay appeared, from January 2006. You can purchase a copy online.

posted by Xeni Jardin

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