fighting sacred cows


I received an anonymous comment to my old african male writers blog. Although I have a strict rule against publishing anonymous comments (you must have the courage to write! and stand by what you believe), I have posted it here:

Attacking successful writers by finding excuses like "they are lucky and their fame is due to circumstance and timing" is both ignorant and pathetic. You really need to read up on the role of Achebe in creating the African literary institutions!

In every sphere of creativity,in the west, young artists don't sit around bemoaning their failures unless of course they are not truly talented.

Artists from the poor parts of the world saddly often feel a need to attack the successful ones from preceeding generations because they feel that is they way to "announce themselves"

One will never find Denzel Washington feel the need to attack Sidney Poitier or Danticat attacking Morrison. Here is my two cents worth, "produce good work and pray hard like most struggling artists, and maybe, maybe you will make it"

Adichie, Akpan, and Attah are the only ones we hear about because they clearly "get it"

I think it is a somewhat misguided comment, although I was waiting for the "brave" soul who would challenge me. I am not an untalented young writer. I am simply a writer who is, as Morrison says, finding the words to say it. I think talent is a dangerous idea when often discipline, dedication and commitment are more accurate in describing what is required of all artists, writers included. I am tempted to say that this commenter is not a writer, as he/she has a very essentialist/inaccurate notion of what this process and the publishing industry entails.

I do not show up to the paper or the laptop with thoughts of my inferiority or I would never write a single word. I do not show up thinking about Achebe or Adichie or anyone except my characters. It is only late at night, when I should really be sleeping, that I allow these thoughts that sit behind my conscious mind to enter in.

I was hesitant in writing the "old" blog because it is an unpopular thing to say a word against any type of luminary. You might enjoy reading about my fight with Amiri Baraka, which talks about creating a new language, writing a new book to represent the challenges of the current generation. You might also read the blog I wrote about Meri Danquah as a means of understanding the difficulty encountering and interrogating writers one respects, perhaps even idolizes. I do not believe in sacred cows, that certain people are exempt from criticism. I did not even offer a literary criticism of Achebe; I had not a negative word about his writing. I simply wished there was space for more voices.

And dear anonymous writer, I have a degree from Stanford and (working on) one from NYU, I am looking on my bookshelf at Armah, Adichie, Achebe, Soyinka and Abani. I am not in need of additional lessons, least of all from a cowardly commenter.

And by the way, oh anonymous commenter, my name is Iquo, which means that Mr. Akpan is one of my people. Rather than shy away from speaking the truth for the sake of praising my countryman, I have stated that he still needs much growth in the craft--as do I. I think such early success for him may seriously hamper his development as a great writer, that he will stop turning a critical eye to his work simply because we've all bought it wholesale.

I am not sure what you mean by "get it," but to assume that literary success is based upon merit and understanding is the most erroneous assumption of all. One need only point to myriad examples in pop culture for why this is not true. This is not to say that Achebe's success has no merit, but simply to discredit the assumptions you base your argument upon, thereby discrediting you.

I am a writer; I am courageous; I am also very smart. ;)

Might I also add that this is my blog and I do not tolerate cowardice. If you have something to say, you must have the strength of your convictions or your voice will not be heard. This is also true in the real world, for every writer and artist.

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  1. Well said and while I'll have to read the blog post in question, I will say you are entitled to your opinion (your blog, your voice). I personally think Achebe is a bit overrated and people always bring him up when they hear I'm Nigerian and a writer. I don't have to love his work because we're from the same country.

  2. ...claps...
    nothing else to say other than i wholeheartedly cosign....

  3. (Can not be bothered to be will just write plainly)

    Something I think many people do not understand is that you have every right as a READER to enjoy what you read. Just because you are a writer as well, does not make you any less of a reader. I bet you, if you were not a writer, nobody would accuse you of "attacking" anybody.

    I think we all have periods when certain kinds of lit do not appeal to us. I used to be crazy for post colonial lit at one time in my life. I couldn't get enough of it. I soaked it all in like a sponge.

    Before that, I was crazy about french lit.

    Now I am into Japanese literature and having such a marvelous journey.

    I personally don't understand why people are so sensitive about fellow Africans not liking the so called "African canon" or whatever. Its almost like cos you are African, you MUST like Okonkwo.

    That is simply not realistic cos we all have different experiences in life and hence, different expectations when we read.

    If a BOOK does not excite you (emphasis on BOOK, cos People really need to differentiate the work from the artist and stop using words like "attack") does not mean that you don not value his/her contribution to the literary world. It simply means that at that particular point in your life, "the book" (or certain kinds of stories, whatever) did not appeal to you.

    I did read your post and its not something I have not read before. I am also bored with Achebe. Not because I do not value his contribution to African Lit, but its kinda like eating the same thing everyday. Its logical that one day you will puke. And I think thats whats happening to many readers/writers/literature nerds.Can not count the number of seminars, conferences, study groups,internet sites, etc etc, that we have discussed Achebe. I think I have been talking about Things Fall Apart since I was born...

    Another thing I have noticed, is that it is mostly people that discovered African lit(or even literature in general)as adults that are always super sensitive. They are the ones that always get all intellectual on your ass.

    People that have been discussing this guy for years understand what you mean. You are simply bored and you have every right to be.

    Give them another 30 years of discussing, they too will get sick of it.

    But you know, you might re discover him again when you are old and be the one pissed off at young writers...who knows?

    Good luck with your writing. Like anonymous said, work hard, but I am not sure if "praying hard" will do much...

    P.S: As for this comment, "Artists from the poor parts of the world saddly often feel a need to attack the successful ones from preceeding generations because they feel that is they way to "announce themselves"

    Isn't it the other way round? Successful artists from poor parts of the world are always claiming people are "attacking" them.

  4. @Nogobelieve: "I don't have to love his work because we're from the same country." Thanks for backing me up with a good dose of common sense. I think the anonymous commenter wanted to either shoot me or take back my Naija card. LOL. :)

    @Nne: Thanks for the claps! I can be somewhat dispassionate to a fault, thought maybe I came on too strong in my response, but I'm glad it resonates with you. I might also add that I was in a very irritable mood this morning. :)

    @Waffarian: Thanks for saying (plainly) everything I couldn't in the blog! I also agree that it is important to distinguish our responses as readers from our responses as writers. Emotional, somewhat irrational, more reader-y responses are completely valid (and sometimes, I think, even more important than writerly ones given that they tell the writer how a public audience receives the work). I suppose I forgot my own rule for constructive criticism in saying that achebe is not working for me at the moment. It's less a judgment on the man, his work and contribution, and more of a personal preference thing. I wish folks were generally less sensitive to other people's differing opinions. Amazing the amount of insults this commenter heaped on me!

  5. I just finished reading the other post and I cannot see where this commenter is coming from. Nogobelieve and Waffarian have really said it all, I just want to add that i like that you replied the anonymous comment. Take care and have a good week.


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