Nikita Bernardi has a piece in Think Africa Press about the Caine Prize for African writing. For Caine, “‘An African writer’ is taken to mean someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or whose parents are African”. For Caine finalists, not so much. At a recent event with the shortlisted writers, an audience member asked, "“What does it mean to you to be an African writer?” Bernardi recounts their replies:
“I will happily answer that question once someone asks a French writer what it means to him to be considered a European writer”, began Stanley Kenani, author of Love on Trial, a short story about homosexuality and homophobia in Malawi. Kenani continued by explaining that, as an accountant by day and writer by night, he does not think about what is expected of him when he is writing, but rather waits for “the voice” to come to him and then writes it down.
Billy Kahora of Kenya, nominated for his story Urban Zoning, responded by saying that in order for him to answer the question he needs to be given a definition of ‘African’. This was seconded by Melissa Myambo, author of The Departure Lounge, who said that this was her least favourite question to answer. Myambo referred to an interview she did with the BBC World Service in which the exact same question was asked, which she answered indirectly saying: “first of all I must become a writer – I was born in Zimbabwe so obviously I write about Zimbabwe”.
Let's linger on that last bit, which I love: "First of all, I must become a writer."
Me, too, Melissa.