|Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one – John Berger
Last summer, I was in Nigeria to promote the publication of the Nigerian edition of my book – Voice of America. The readings I gave in Nigeria were very far from the subdued bookish events that I had done for the book both in the U.S and in Europe. This was a Made in Nigeria book tour. It had the robustness and boisterousness that is so typically Nigerian. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
What I did not enjoy was having the phrase the danger of a single story thrown at me over and over again. None of those who harangued me with this phrase had heard of John Berger or read his novel G. The novel won the Booker Prize in 1972 and the writer famously donated half of the prize money to the Black Panther Party. They could care less about the origin of the expression that they now chanted like a mantra.
I wished that there was some way I could reassure them that their fears were unfounded. As Arundathi Roy once remarked – There can never be a single story. There are only ways of seeing. So when I tell a story… I tell it as a story-teller who wants to share her way of seeing.
Whenever I read in the U.S. and in Europe people tend to ask me if I see myself as an African writer. I am without any doubt an African writer. I do of course see why some will balk at the term. What I do not understand is why this group of writers does not have a problem with being called African. They seem to be saying – African is fine just don’t add writer to it. Or writer is fine as long as you don’t add African to it. As the writer Helon Habila once said, it is possible to start out as an African writer and end up as an Australian writer or British writer. JM Coetzee started out as an African writer though he is not one now. So did Doris Lessing who was born in Rhodesia.
Why is being identified as an African writer problematic and unhelpful for some? Is it possible that we fear the images that being African conjures? – images of war, diseases, child soldiers, poverty etc.
The writers in this issue were told to work around the theme of Identity. They handle this theme in very different ways. It is no surprise that their ways of seeing differ. This is as it should be. They tell multiple stories. They remind us that there are many stories to tell and many ways of seeing.
Dear Reader, enjoy…
E C Osondu