A few months after the birth of her first child, one Nigerian writer wants more African authors to get involved with kidlit. Americanah author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wants books African children can relate to.
Accurate representations of post-colonial life, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, constitute an important, but overlooked, facet of literature-diversification efforts. Authentic representation matters, and getting African authors to write authentic stories is the first logical step.
Many, if not most, people in the West still think of Africa as a homogenous continent where everyone is poor, starving, HIV-positive, or a child soldier. Photographs of the continent's biggest cities — such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Lagos, Nigeria; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Nairobi, Kenya — boggle the Western mind. Skyscrapers? In Africa?! Yes, they have skyscrapers all across Africa.
This is all to say that when Western folks write children's books — or any books, for that matter — set in African countries, they tend to get a lot of stuff wrong. In a video from The Atlantic, Adichie says she encountered lots of children's books at the University of Nigeria's Nsukka campus, where both her parents worked, but that they did not reflect her world:
I was surrounded by books. But the children's books that I read — and I think this is true for many, many other young children in countries that were formerly colonized — is that the books didn't reflect my reality. So I read a lot of British books, and so I read some American books, and so I then had sort of this parallel, imaginary life.
In Adichie's "imaginary life," she ate apples and played in the snow — things she did not do growing up in Nigeria. Although none of us in the West can say we had childhoods like those of Sara Crewe, Heidi, or Laura Ingalls, we could at least see our world in theirs when we read classic children's novels. Seriously, try to find cassava or mangoes in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or Anne of Green Gables.
Adichie attributes the dearth of authentic African children's stories to "complex reasons that have to do with power and resources." She says that "many African realities are still being told by other people" — which is deeply problematic, for reasons noted above and others — but adds: "I want African realities to be explored by Africans."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of several adult books, including Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, We Should All Be Feminists, and the forthcoming Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Will she write kidlit for her child? We'll just have to wait and see.