"Originally I was going to read from the ending. But the ending is dark, gloomy and tragic at best and I thought that would be a low way to end this evening of very intelligent and witty writing. So instead I’m going to read from the beginning when things are still looking up for our ill-fated protagonist. It all goes swiftly south from here, but these are the good days. This is a little short story that I wrote, I should say, some years back when I had the good fortune to meet an amazing American writer named Toni Morrison; and she asked me if I could send her some writing. And I said Yes, as you do..."
One moment you’ve never heard of someone and the next, they’re all over the place and popping up every other day. And in the case of Taiye Selasi, you know it’s only going to get more so.
If as a published writer you’ve ever had your work turned down by Granta, then you know what a leap it is for someone to make their fiction debut there, as happened with Ms Selasi, whose father is Ghanaian while her mother, a Nigerian, lives in Ghana. From her story ‘The Secret Lives of African Girls’ published to rave reviews in Granta’s The F-Word issue to a literary reading celebrating the edition to an interview on the journal’s website as well as growing press mentions, the momentum builds for Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, ‘Ghana Must Go’ – due out in the next year or so.
From there she’s at the BBC pleading for more fictional portrayals of the African middle class (I’d say Amen! to that – and I’d add that there should be more of the African middle class in stories singled out for recognition by international awards and prizes).
Then she’s over at the NPR which proclaims thus: African Writer Helps Put Her Community On Media Map. Although I seriously question whether Ms Selasi, delightful though she seems, could be credited with putting her “community” on the map, as though others didn’t come before her. One of those daft declarations the Western media makes about our “community” as par for the course, all the time.
Anyway, the writer is fashionably thin, has chiselled features, soul singer hair and speaks in a ‘smiling’ American voice – all of which helps, I’m sure. What matters most though is that by all accounts, she’s loaded with talent, which is always welcome. Her ‘Ghana Must Go’ – a very Nigerian title if I ever heard one – has been sold by the Wylie Agency to Penguin, and is being championed by Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison. What’s that like?
Wylie is said to have promised blurbs by Rushdie and Morrison for the book. In fact, ‘The Secret Lives of African Girls’ was first submitted to Toni Morrison (“She would like to help you” – Morrison’s son told Selasi - some help!), who very likely had a hand in the story then ending up on the pages of Granta. Talk about the dream endorsement. I love the deliberate casualness with which Selasi drops the revered name of Morrison in her YouTube appearance for Granta. I also love the fact that she couldn’t actually pull off the casual name-drop without touching her nose, as superstitious liars do when they fear their nose might grow.
Anyhow, Taiye Selasi is gonna blow. Watch out.
Another thing Meanwhile, Salman Rushdie's in today's Observer talking about his latest book, Luka and the Fire of Life; and musing about the shift from writing from the child's eye view ('Midnight's Children' and others) to writing as a father (Haroun and the Sea of Stories). He also rules out a fifth marriage, especially after the much publicised ill-fated one to model Padma Lakshmi, but we'll leave that alone, for now. In the same Observer, constrast Rushdie's view of London to that of Helen Oyeyemi, who muses about packing up from the British capital to roam through cities including New York, Prague, Berlin and Paris. Any chance of Oyeyemi ever touching down in Lagos?
I am a writer and arts journalist now based in Lagos. This is a blog on arts and culture. The focus is on Nigeria's art scene, especially her 'Word's Body' - the writers. As and when, we'll also touch on wider African writing, as well as international literature. In short, a saturation of the arts.