Ben Okri, Brittle Paper

We are celebrating here the beginnings of a great coming together. In less than a hundred years the modern phase of African literature has undergone an exponential growth. There was a time when to be considered as being part of African literature you had to be published in the African writer’s series. Now all the best publishing houses find it de rigueur to have an African writer on their books. It is the most expanding literature in the world. There are those who go so far as to say that the future is African literature.
This does not surprise me in the slightest. For decades now, I have been singing of the incalculable richness of African realities and how it will explode in literature in the time to come. Not only the stories, but also the nature of the African sensibility, at once conservative and innovative. There are few traditions that have both, in equal measure, the inclination to respect – indeed revere – tradition and the evolutionary impulse to make new, to create new dances, angles, dreams, inflections, forms. When you add to this mix the tremendous pressures on African life, from poverty, politics, suffering, tradition, modernity, along with the immeasurable beauties of African reality – the ancestral creativity, the capacity for joy, the unimaginable resilience, the incredible playfulness, the wild humor, the big laughter, the immense capacity for forgiveness, the amazing hospitality, the fertility of stories – when you take all these together and hurl them into the creative matrix, then you have a recipe for the possibility of a literature so great that it will one day rival that of the Russian, the American, and surpass the Latin American.

Make no mistake about it, African literature is taking over the world. It has sprouted from Africa, but it has grown in all the corners of the globe. It is a literature of the native lands, but it is also a literature of sensibility, of exile, of migration, of travel, of home-leaving, home-staying, homecoming. It is a literature that can no longer be contained in a continent, or by a school, or a name, or a homogeneity. It is a literature of all schools, of new schools without a name, a re-invention of the past, a transmutation of the storytelling earth.
There was a time when African literature was treated with a ghettoization. Now it is a universe. It always has been the fact that the excellence of its practitioners transforms the perception of a place, a school, a tradition, a nomenclature. It is a literature of great stories, of great laughter, of great suffering, of great technical abilities. The literature has altered the geography of world literature…

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