Wednesday, 27 February 2008

So you want to write about Africa?

You've travelled a bit? You've seen some of the world? You're smart and liberal? You're not naive, you're not idealistic? Sounds like you're the perfect person to write another book about Africa. I certainly cringed a little when I read this advice from Binyavanga Wainaina:

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title.
Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi',
'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also
useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and
'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The
People' means black Africans.

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...

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