Chinua Achebe, one of the founding fathers of African literature, this week won a Man Booker International award, in tribute to his lifetime contribution to literature.
Achebe has been championing a positive view of Africa since he first wrote his novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ in 1958 to provide an alternative narrative to the notions of Africa as a place that needed rescuing from the white man from its supposed savagery.
Many believe that he has been denied other awards (particularly a Nobel prize) precisely because he has always contested the stereotypical Westernized views of Africa which were often perpetuated through Western literature. In an essay (‘An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’ written in 1975), he accused Conrad of, amongst other things, making Africa into “a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril”.
The written word is a powerful one, and we need even more authors such as Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who recently won the Orange prize for fiction) to use the power of their pen to re-shape and re-write the African narrative as told to us by non-Africans. Props to both of them for their important contributions.