Arab Writers, Publishers: Don’t Forget That We, Too, Are Africa

The shortlist is out for the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. While the press release says that submissions came from “all over Africa”—and an earlier blog post cites entries from Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa—the thirteen shortlistees are from three countries: Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Oh, and one writer from Zambia makes the cut.

Perhaps these are the African countries with the strongest English-language writing culture (as submissions must be made in English or in English-language translation). Or perhaps these are the countries with the best prize-submitting culture.

Of course, writers from sub-Saharan Africa need venues to publish, and these prizes are a good way to find new writers. No, I don’t think Arab writers should “crowd” venues like this and the Caine prize.  And yes, as I’ve been reminded before, we already have the “Arabic Booker.”

However, I think there’s something to be gained by joining the African conversation—Egypt, for one, has too long held herself apart from the rest of the continent. And there is something to be lost, of course, if this African literary conversation cannot manage the translation of Africa’s many tongues.