Transition 106 - Featured Article B
But Why, Father?
looking back on the legacy of the African Writers Series, fifty years on
by David Kaiza
For half a century, the African Writers Series was the publisher of record when it came to African literature (whatever that means). But did the quality of the writing usually meet the mark? Growing up in the shadow of the AWS, Kaiza tells us why the next generation of writers is less concerned with salvaging black pride than with the craft of fiction itself.
To read the AWS now is to feel how much the awareness of change—things becoming quite different—struck, not only the creators of these books, but the very characters they created. Africans knew their world was going; the unease of Lawino when “Ocol is no longer in love with the old type”; time and events becoming the tyrants, the future which would bring freedom also bringing fear, sweeping village and metaphor aside. It was not paranoia. Two generations of writers and books later, we know this change has taken place when the smell of the African world so dear to Lawino no longer appears in today’s African books, when the smell of yams has been replaced with the smell of “Supreme ice cream” and freshly made “strawberry fondant.” To read these books half a century later, then, is to be aware of the urgency with which they were written. In turn apocalyptic and heraldic, they mourn the past and announce a second coming... These writers saw themselves as the first of a new époque. But alas, time has shown they were the last of the old, for they were fighting a dying war against an enemy they had overestimated, one whom time had knocked the stuffing out of.
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