Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"How to Write About Africa"

Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer. I first came across his work in Granta magazine’s issue on "The View from Africa" (92), in an article titled "How to Write About Africa."

"How to Write About Africa" is a satirical piece written as if providing advice to writers on everything from what words to use in titles (‘Africa,’ ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’) to what types of characters to depict (no well-adjusted Africans, always one Starving African), to how to present Africa (always as a country, not a continent).

I can’t do the article justice without quoting extensively from it but fortunately you can check it out at http://www.granta.com/Magazine/92/How-to-Write-about-Africa/Page-1.

Wainaina’s article speaks to the stereotypes about Africa and Africans that persist in North American and European media. (If you don’t think this is so, just scan a daily newspaper or news website and see what you find.)

I happily discovered that Wainaina’s writing has appeared elsewhere. His piece "Nairobi: Inventing a City" was published in National Geographic in September 2005. It’s a complex portrayal of a dynamic city and its people. He’s also had articles in the South African Mail and Guardian, The East African, the Sunday Times (South Africa), The Guardian (UK), and The New York Times, among others.

Wainaina is a founding editor of Kwani?, a Kenyan literary magazine. He won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing for his story "Discovering Home," and eloquently declined a 2007 "Young Global Leader" award from the World Economic Forum. He has had several blog sites and also writes on African cuisines.

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