Jennifer Makumbi: African writing becomes raw material for the European novel form

Jennifer Makumbi: African writing becomes raw material for the European novel form

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's podcast offered startling and provocative insights on a variety of topics. Perhaps the most surprising was when Makumbi compared African writing and stories to cotton and coffee that is packaged into Western forms and consumed in the West. Here's the full explosive excerpt. (It has been edited for clarity.)

Bhakti Shringarpure: You've spoken about being an Ugandan writer who is being published in the UK and what you observed about audiences and readerships, and what you're calling the "decentering" of readerships. You said something important about the ways in which histories of the empire have made it such that African authors tend to write to the center. And you're thinking of the ways in which this cannot be the case anymore. That this must change. 

Jennifer Makumbi: This goes back to the novel being a unique form in Africa because…In the form that it is now…And I always acknowledge that there have been found manuscripts, that would constitute novels in Africa, especially in Ethiopia. But the novel as it is now, traveled from Europe with the colonizers. Okay? Now, drama and poetry — those existed in Africa, you know, as forms. And there were theaters and they were performers of plays and there were performers of poetry. So, colonization did not have a major influence on those forms. But when it came to the novel, because of its nature and the processes of production and the language that we write in are colonial languages, it meant that the West had such strong power and influence over the novel.

First of all, they looked at the African novel as emergent and therefore, it was, it was treated as a child, you know, who has no alternative, but to grow. So, you still hear patronizing terms..that, oh, the African novel has made leaps and bounds! Who are you to tell us that it's grown or it hasn't grown? So, because of the production processes, Africans were just producing the novel..the writing..the way we produce cotton and coffee. And so, we handed over this raw material to the British. Then they edited it and processed it. And that editing process is threefold. And then they published it and then they reviewed it and they marketed it. So, all those processes…Oh my god, yeah! It's like cotton and coffee. Isn't it?

Bhakti Shringarpure: That is some serious shade to the Heineman Writers Series right there!

Jennifer Makumbi: I'm collecting Heineman Writers Series. I want to collecting all of them! But that's history as well. 

You can listen to the full conversation here:


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