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Africa Inside Out: Stories, Tales and Testimonies PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 September 2012 14:05

Edited by Michael Chapman

Review by Sephen Coan

A feature of the annual Time of the Writer Festival run by the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts is the opening night when the authors attending are each allowed a few minutes to strut their stuff – a brief advertisement of what they might have to offer in the coming week.

In some respects Africa Inside Out, Michael Chapman’s collection drawn from festival participants, is the equivalent of that opening night in book form.  Eighteen writers responded to Chapman’s invitation to submit a story or essay that transcended the ‘images of the global newscast’, what Chapman refers to as ‘CNN Africa’ – the stereotypical images of  ‘Big Men, wars, abused women, ravaged children, droughts and floods, disease, starvation, criminality, failed states’.

Ironically, most of the stories turn out to be commentaries on that same CNN Africa – nearly all of the issues listed by Chapman get a mention – there’s nothing rose-tinted on offer here. Elana Bregin’s seemingly whimsical Missing Mama Afrika becomes cautionary parable while Saving Agu’s Wife, Chika Unigwe’s raw tale of a Nigerian woman on the corporate ladder in her own society reduced to being a menial among her fellow Nigerians in exile, uncomfortably echoes Lauretta’s Ngcobo’s recent Prodigal Daughters.

But for the ebullient spirit on display Africa Inside Out would be a depressing affair but each of the contributors tackle the ironies and contradictions of the African experience with a fresh eye, not least Albie Sach’s in his ruminative essay Free Spirits and Ravaged Souls, a valuable addition to the current debate as South Africa present seeks to come to an accommodation with South Africa past.

South Africans dominate the collection - 12 out of the 18 writers – which is also determinedly sub-Saharan. Somehow the African voice seems to falter faced with the countries north of the Sahara. But then again is the use of ‘Africa’ as an all-embracing term not a spent currency? Hasn’t the time come to move beyond it? Yes, the African continent is satisfying shape seen from space and one that conveniently lends itself to lapel badges. But this continent consists (at the time of writing) of 54 countries. Each presumably boasting an individual identity. Would one attempt a similar collection under the banner ‘Europe Inside Out’?

Such caveats aside Africa Inside Out is an enjoyable and challenging collection, if somewhat slim at 125 pages. A size presumably indicative of the poor response to Chapman’s original invitation. Perhaps the organisers of the Time of the Writer festival - now having notched up its fifteenth year – should make it a condition of appearance that writers submit a short piece for the next collection of this nature.

* Africa Inside Out, Stories, Tales and Testimonies, A Time of the Writer Anthology, edited by Michael Chapman is published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press in association with the Centre for the Creative Arts.