Africa’s top writers discuss modern literature (and what to do if you’re haunted by ghosts)

The lovely folks over at the Guardian pulled together a liveblog Q & A with some of Africa’s top writers earlier today, enlisting the five shortlisted authors for the 2015 Caine prize to discuss everything from sci-fi to magical powers. Oh yeah, you can also find out why the phrase “Ka tsaya ku yi dialogue kawai” might come in handy if you ever want to deal with being haunted by a ghost…

Western beginners start here

Question by Babbocaccio

For a Westerner who would like to discover African literature, what 5 classic and/or contemporary African novels would you recommend to read? What is your favourite African novel or writer?

Masande Ntshanga:

Five contemporary (South) African novels I would recommend:

1. High Low in-Between by Imraan Coovadia

2. Tales of the Metric System by Imraan Coovadia

3. The Restless Supermarket by Ivan Vladislavic

4. Penumbra by Songeziwe Mahlangu

5. Laduma by AK Thembeka

I don’t have a favourite.

Kings and Queens of African sci-fi

Question by DenisOakley

What’s the best African science fiction and/or fantasy? Is it influenced by western scifi or does it have a uniquely African flavour (in the same sense that there are distinct differences between European and U.S. scifi)?

FT Kola:

Hi Denis! African sci-fi and fantasy is still something I’m discovering for myself, but I can recommend to you two books that I have really loved. One is Sofia Samatar’s ‘A Stranger in Olondria’, which is more traditional fantasy. Another is Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘Lagoon’, which explores that idea of what would happen if aliens landed not in London or New York but in Lagos. There is also ‘Dark Matter’, an anthology series of sci-fi, fantasy and horror specifically for African writers, which is pretty excellent. From my reading, both these books draw on on a range of influences, including Western sci-fi and fantasy. Someone who has read more broadly than I might be able to comment whether African sci-fi has its own distinct style, as with European and U.S. sci-fi, but I think this is a really interesting question.

Jokes that go bump in the night

Question by Mildred_Hubble

What is the best course of action to take when one is being haunted by a ghost? And no I don’t mean the way Africa is haunted by the ghosts of imperialism. I mean an actual literal ghost. How do I determine if my ghost is malicious or benevolent?

Namwali Serpell:

Mildred_Hubble, what is the best course of action to take when one’s Guardian coQ&A is haunted by one assiduous but tonally wily commenter? And no I don’t mean the way the Guardian website is haunted by internet trolls. I mean an actual, interesting, curious person whose comments vacillate between all seriousness and total irony? How do I determine if my ghost is malicious or benevolent?

Elnathan John:

Great question. I’m glad you made it here for the chat. My mother once told me, when I was afraid to stay alone in a house we had recently moved to – twice the size of the previous one – if there really was a ghost, I could do nothing to run away from it anyway. “Ka tsaya ku yi dialogue kawai,” she said. Meaning, just face it and dialogue.

If you had one magical power?

Question by Mildred_Hubble

If you had a magical ability (different from a superpower, obviously) what would it be and do you think there would be consequences that went along with using it?

Segun Afolabi:

Probably to eradicate the destructive gene in humans that seems to constantly rear its ugly head despite the so-called lessons of history – the world wars, Biafra, Vietnam…

Creativity and inspiration

Question by Gail F

How exciting do you find the groundswell of creativity in Africa and how much is your writing influenced by it?

Masande Ntshanga:

To speak about South Africa in particular, there does seem to be a shift towards becoming more vocal and creative amongst the younger population. The drive behind this isn’t always pleasant, however, as it can arise as much from an increased form of access as it would from disaffection or increased marginalisation.

Having said that, the country does have a growing population of young people who are engaged in finding new ways of interacting with – as well as defining – their environment; and not only in terms of creativity, either, but also in regards to social politics. I draw inspiration from that.

You can find more from the Q & A over at the Guardian liveblog.

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