Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What To Write and What Not to Write

I was reading one of the articles about Chimamanda Adichie's Orange Prize win last week and a section caught my eye caught my eye.

Literary editor of Nigeria's Weekly Trust, Odoh Okonyedo:
"As the new leading light in this Biafra renaissance, the task on the table of Adichie is to clarify what Biafra is about, rather than her newest nostalgic and superficial romance," Mr Okonyedo told the BBC News website.

While Ms Adichie says she wanted to write a story about love during the war, Mr Okonyedo feels she should have tackled the subject more seriously.

And I ask Why? Why should she not tell the story that she wants to? I feel that I can understand the thinking that certain people, by virtue of their education, position, wealth, connections or plain good fortune, should contribute positively to society. However, sometimes so many expectations are placed at the feet of some that it is tantamount to a shifting of responsibility. In many cases, it is simply placing burdens that the person in question simply is not interested in shouldering.

In this particular case, I don't see why Ms. Adichie shouldn't write about whatever she damn well pleases. Writing is hard enough without having to take into consideration what other people expect to read from you.


adefunke said...

Pray tell what is 'unserious' about love during the biafran war? Humans will be human, needs and all. I daresay Mr Okonyedo would probably have a heart attack comprehending the fact that pple did fall in love, have sex and conceive children right on the battle front (I exagerate but u get my drift). As usual we have our head in the sand concerning this issue. Atleaset Ms Adichie acknowledges the Biafran War. Do you know that today children in primary and secondary school are still learning about how Mungo Park 'discovered' the Niger, etc. Not a peep about the Biafran war in the mandatory Social Studies classes? I think Mr Okonyedo should take offence with that, not his perceived trivialisation of one of the most bloody civil wars in recent history.

Omodudu said...

You know some folks are really emeotional about the Biafran war. Some folks are also one track minded. Serious to them means retelling a story that has been told a thousand times.

Morountodun said...

Your post reminds me of the debate over a programme called Jamaica ER a few years ago. The show's producers said it was to portray how the doctors in Kingston were combating difficulties to deliver health care, its critics said it focused on the gun crime and gave westerners the wrong impression about the Country.

The only time that these debates become relevant is when they are in a virtual vacuum. Had Chimamanda's novel not become so successful it wouldn't have the criticism you mention, also if there were other novels 'of a more serious nature' about Biafra that were currently enjoying the same attention then the criticism would be deemed completely irrelevant. But I agree Chimamanda is only one woman and she should be able to write about what she wants without having to carry all our hopes and desires on her young shoulders...

obyno said...

I have never read anything so unintelligent. Does Mr. Okonyedo imagine that wars are made up of only fighting? Only children's war games consist in running around and shouting and fighting. The Biafran war like any other, was fought on several deep levels, most of it in the seemingly mundane, everyday choices that poor, ordinary, common people had to make, most often far, far away from the war fronts. And those choices included loving or not loving, scavenging, betrayal, hatred, grief, bereavement, mutilation, conflict and then forgiveness. And when they were done with all of this, they went back to the beginning and started all over again. (And these were grounds the novel bravely and ambitiously attempted to cover and I believe the writing in the book will do the reputation of Chimamanda Adichie very little harm.)
The tragedy of living in that war was filled with the tedium of the repetition of all these (to presume Mr. Okonyedo, may he forgive me, amen and amen) not so newsworthy and 'unserious' events. These were stuff not worthy of the scrapbook of any writer on the hunt for a scoop or some bombshell. This was the story of the life of the people who had to live through Biafra. Not the political rantings that predated the war and sadly continued in European capitals and the United States while hundreds of thousands starved and bled to death. Yes that was a part of the story but it was not the most important.
Chimamanda's book will eventually stand or fall as a great novel by how well her readers adjudge that she has related and represented these events. In the way Chinua Achebe's seminal Things fall Apart is today held up as a shining example of the fact that there was live in Africa before the European Colonisation, Half of a yellow sun could well be said to be holding up a finger and saying that there was life in Biafra while the dying and the fighting continued. The judges at the orange prize have already stated their thoughts on the book loudly. If Mr. Okonyedo wants history and Morality, then might I suggest the following:
1)The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran war(or some title like it) By Alexander Madiebo, who was the overall commander of the Biafran Army, and oversaw the day to day running of the war on the Biafran side.
2)Any book or pamphlet by the inimitable Arthur Nwankwo.

Apparently most of the books Mr. Okonyedo is wishing Chimamanda had written, have already been penned by someone else...and he wasn't even looking. Shame!.

And by the way Ore, may I be the first to let you know that Chinua Achebe has just been announced as the winner of the Man Booker International Prize. The second winner of the biennial event. Nigerian literature has never been so suffused with the possibility of champagne and wineglasses and laughter. I feel so proud.

obyno said...

Opps sorry I forgot to make these available in the last post:
and also:

Wordsbody said...

The 2 detractors of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' quoted in the BBC article are not unknown to us in the arts community; and that is all I feel I can say about that.

What I find depressing about the piece, is how the journalist found 2 non-Igbos to oppose - and an Igbo to support. It gives the impression that only Igbos are proud of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work - and this is so not true. It implies that Nigerians are not evolved enough to rise above ethnicity, that the win was merely a thing of sectional pride - and this is sad. I couldn't read that article to the end.

Adichie was a deserving winner. Her achievement will stand, and nothing anyone says can change that.