constructive criticism


Thanks for the comments on the previous blog. I am glad some folks agree with me, but I wanted to be clear about something. To borrow a phrase from my women writer's workshop, I will say that Uwem Akpan's book "didn't work for me." It worked for Oprah and, doubtless, millions of others, just not me. That doesn't make it a bad book not worth reading, it just makes it a book I didn't enjoy. I'm not telling you not to buy it, I'm encouraging you to read it and decide for yourself.

There are no good or bad books. People who say that there are usually have an agenda. I think that each book represents a writer's effort and courage to impart their view of the real or imaginary world. That makes the experience of reading infinitely valuable, allowing us to tap into our shared humanity even if a particular book falls short of our expectations.

Some people question Oprah's choices, and I'm occasionally among them, but I think her choices are valid even though she may not pick the books that I would. What she says is, Hey, this book really worked for me and I think you should read it. So we all go out and buy it, then decide for ourselves whether it works for us or not. (Without her, I would never have known that there was a Jesuit priest from Ikot Ekpene with an MFA who writes short stories! Amazing.) She gets us reading and I think it's a very good thing.

If we acknowledge the prevalence of poverty p*rn and other such literary trends, the answer is not that so-and-so's book should not be published or read, it is for us to read and write more, to language ourselves, to create more alternatives. Bit by bit we will dispel the myths and understand each other better.

I think it can be really dangerous for people (myself included, of course) to criticize what they haven't labored to produce. Making art is not an easy, impartial, or democratic process. It is personal, subjective, emotional, and largely biased by a singular point-of-view. You can't any more criticize it than you can a human being for having a different perspective than your own.

That said, when we look at the larger patterns of mainstream media, the stereotypical perspectives promoted and advanced, we might criticize the powers for their choices. And I definitely think that's valid. But respect should always be paid to the artists.

The courage it takes to write even one word deserves a measure of respect. (And I should have given the man props for being an Akwa Ibomite!) I think his writing is important even if it doesn't work for me. I would be interested in following him over time.

Am I making sense? I hope so. I will try to be more constructive in the future.

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  1. noted.

    not sure if this post was partly in response to my post - but yes, I, too should have clarified that the book did not work for me personally. and like i mentioned in my comments, I will be following his changes as a writer. i guess the book happened to meet me at the wrong time, at a point where I am just a bit fed up with the poverty and disease narrative. as for Oprah's choices, while I applaud Akpan's efforts, I just wish that the first African novel/collection of short stories to be featured on her list would have been something other than the doom and gloom that many find inherent to the continent. But, like I said, I was naive to think so.

    as for constructive criticism, well, I guess I will be frequenting your blog more often for your take because constructive, I guess, implies some familiarity with the art of creative writing....of which I am not.

  2. hey nneoma, not at all! i just needed to check myself and establish some guidelines moving forward. i've been there before, re: fed up with doom and gloom. worked in global health communications after college and all we talked about was malaria, hiv/aids, clean water et al. as if nothing on the continent was going right. long story short, i had to get out of there! :)


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