Celebrating 10 Years of Brittle Paper: Our Favourites
“Welcome to the harvest of the last ten years, in a new century, a new millennium, on the cusp of one of the greatest changes in the human story, when at last black people can begin to live out their potential and soar in their creativity, to give a new magic to what it means to be human…” - Ben Okri on The Decade Project.
Brittle Paper is an online platform dedicated to celebrating African literature and culture. They “inspire, entertain, and empower readers through an optimistic, diverse, and immersive experience of literature”, and should be your first stop for news on the African literary world.
To mark their ten-year anniversary, they have launched The Decade Project, “a month-long virtual festival of ideas” throughout September with specially curated content, virtual events and original writing.
To celebrate, we at The Publishing Post have picked three of our favourite pieces to share with you: one interview, one essay and one piece of creative writing.
For those that aren’t familiar with the beautiful rich history of African literature, check out Brittle Paper’s Guide to African Novels that explores over a hundred years of African writing.
In Bhakti Shringapure’s interview with Taiye Selasi, they cover an array of topics from multiplicity of identity, to the Afropolitan woman, to Beauty (with a capital B), with seamless integration and an unlikely depth. On identity, Selasi says “I am large, I contain multitudes” – there is something very powerful here: the relentless audacity of being. As a Black African woman, to not only demand to exist, demand to be seen, but to exist in profusion and lay claim to a multifaceted (not fractured) identity that is fully whole, is a radical act.
In 2005, Selasi’s controversial essay Bye-Bye Babar introduced the term ‘Afropolitan’ to encompass a new generation of Africans who “belong to no single geography but feel at home in many.” Even though it was published fifteen years ago, this essay still holds relevance. As a half-Jamaican-half-Nigerian, born and raised in that awkward place that is both South London and Surrey, I too feel the pressure to identify with one part of myself – to do quick-changes through my many cultural hats as I interact with people throughout the day. Hearing Selasi’s pride in being both, in being all, is deeply moving.
Mphae Charmaine Mashifae is a poet whose work is published in various journals: Botsotso, Journal of Africa Literature, Poetry Potion and Visual Verse. In ‘Dead Women’, Mashifae describes the oppression of women from the second person perspective. She starts with the expectations of womanhood, where a woman should be domesticated, weak-willed, and pink loving. Mashifae pushes this expectation further, comparing women with the dead, silent and lifeless – only their bodies are wanted. She writes that women are only needed alive when called, left to the whims of the men in their lives, “fathers, uncles, brothers” who “have killed [women]” and “are still killing them.” In one of the stanzas, Mphae turns the poem to herself: other women have advised her to “die a little” so that she would be loved better by men. Here, the expectation to be domesticated and oppressed is so internalised that women themselves want to be dead. The theme of helplessness and silence is thoroughly emphasised in the last stanza. After a statement of what a woman should be (voiceless, expressionless, be dictated for what to wear, and do), the line ends with “die,” as if nailing nails, one after another, into the coffins of dead women everywhere.
Even novices to the rich world of African literature will have heard of Ben Okri, the OBE Nigerian novelist known for The Famished Road, which bagged The Booker Prize in 1991. In this essay, Okri pens what reads like a short manifesto calling attention to the fresh and magnificent world of African literature whose “roads are not famished but multiplying, in dizzying profusion.” African literature, as Okri states, is “the most expanding literature in the world,” challenging the West’s circumscribed notions of the literary canon. It is a literature born out of the painful history of joyous communities that distils the complex essence of life like no other: conservative and innovative, traditional and evolutionary, lofty and playful.
While Okri looks back fondly on the romantic sixties when African literature was a small circle of continental writers and friends joined together in solidarity, he celebrates this new era where exile and diaspora are shaping what is, truly, the foremost global literature in the world. Gone are the times of petty squabbles surrounding literary schools and styles: African literature does it all, everywhere.