Photograph — IKHide

It all started with a Man Booker Prize longlist.

When US-based Nigerian author, Chigozie Obioma, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the instant fame he enjoyed in his home country was not without attendant problems. While his book, ‘The Fishermen’, has been released to a slew of affirmative reviews including the esteemed New York Times’ stamp of approval, some African critics have deemed the book as undeserving of the auspicious reception it got.

In a review titled “Wading in Words”, writer Percy Zvomuya claimed that Obioma’s book was ‘overwritten…with metaphors stretched beyond breaking point’. He went further to assert that Obioma’s inclusion in the Man Booker longlist might have more to do with literary geopolitics than brilliant storytelling. In response, a prominent Nigerian writer, Obinna Udenwe, posted a counter-review which refuted Zvomuya’s claims and established that Obioma’s book was indeed worthy of its place on the longlist.

Author Chigozie Obioma apparently had a problem with this – and with being tagged on social media in discussions of his work – as he tweeted:

Udenwe’s tactful reply tried to reveal the unfeasibility of Obioma’s request:

It’s hard for a social media interaction between two prominent Nigerian writers to go unnoticed, especially one that raises questions on the rules of writer-reader engagement; a Brittle Paper staff wrote a blog post on how social media might be changing the aforementioned rules. Although the post was intended to strike conversation on a literary issue and was obviously not meant to be a personal jab at Obioma, Obioma nonetheless took out time to write a 600-word comment, referring to the blog post as “mean-spirited and lazy journalism”.

Obioma response

Expectedly, Twitter Nigeria picked it up.

obioma bellla

While Chigozie Obioma is within his rights to call out perceived wrongs, it appears as though his anger is being misdirected at innocent Africans who hold genuine appreciation for his work. However, it is important to note that Obioma’s comment, however rude and unsavoury, raises important questions in Africa’s literary community.

Obioma’s claim of being antagonised in literary circles since the Man Booker announcement raises the need for a critical assessment of the intellectual and professional atmosphere being fostered by the literary community. These concerns are aptly captured here:

obioma omcern

Then he ends with this:

obioma ending

There is one obvious question in the light of Obioma’s claims –  is there really a ‘bad-belle’ attitude, a kind of discontent between some African writers and their contemporaries who have ‘made it abroad’? While some writers claim that they haven’t experienced such in their careers, it is unlikely that a respected writer such as Obioma would make unfounded accusations against his contemporaries.

Like Ainehi Edoro said, it is important to foster a culture of inclusiveness. Writers, critics and readers may not get along all of the time, but a community filled with hatred and distrust cannot grow.

Speculation still abound as to why Chigozie reacted the way he did. While his anger is understandable, there were perhaps more tactful ways to go about it. The author has been accused of doing it for publicity, as we all know no publicity is bad publicity.

Then someone said this:

However this ends, Nigerians are still rooting for Chigozie Obioma.

Elsewhere on Ventures

Triangle arrow