The emergence of digital literature in Africa has been met with academic curiosity, sparking the first book-length study dedicated to this topic. “African Literature in the Digital Age: Class and Sexual Politics in New Writing from Kenya and Nigeria” delves into the role of the internet and new media in shaping and reaching new audiences for African literature. Written Shola Adenekan, a former journalist, literature scholar, and associate professor of African studies, the book explores the intersection of the digital world with African literature.
Adenekan’s motivation for writing the book stems from his own experiences on the internet, particularly through interactions with writers and intellectuals through email listservs and social media platforms. He witnessed a growing trend of African writers publishing their work online, on platforms such as blogs, African-owned websites, and later on, social media platforms like Facebook and Tumblr. These digital spaces provided an organic platform for African writers to connect with an emerging digital audience, rather than relying solely on traditional publishers.
In particular, Adenekan highlights the contributions of women and queer African writers who found a voice and audience through digital platforms. Figures like Nigerian novelist Jude Dibia and activist Sokari Ekine utilized blogs to create cultural and literary networks, where writers like Shailja Patel, Keguro Macharia, Diriye Osman, and Zanele Muholi congregated. These digital spaces became a sanctuary for queer Africans to express their experiences and challenge the prevailing narratives of violence.
The impact of the internet on Kenyan and Nigerian literature cannot be understated. For example, renowned Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie first published some of her earlier works online. Kenyan writer Billy Kahora’s non-fiction iBook, “The True Story of David Munyakei,” originated from an online piece published on a defunct blog. Digital African magazines like African Writers, African Writing, Kwani, and Chimurenga provided platforms for many established voices in contemporary African literature. Additionally, online magazines such as Afreada continue to publish exciting short stories from African writers.
Queer activism has flourished in the digital sphere, with many queer African writers and activists finding solace and support. These digital platforms offer an opportunity to present a more comprehensive and nuanced view of queer African life, showcasing that it is not solely defined violence but includes love, care, and everyday routines. Writers like Macharia, Ekine, Patel, Unoma Azuah, and Romeo Oriogun play a significant role in highlighting the intersection of queerness, politics, and civil rights in contemporary African society.
The book also investigates the class dynamics within the digital literary communities. While millions of Africans use the internet, the pioneers of African digital literature tend to come from middle-class backgrounds. This privilege allows them to act as cultural ambassadors for the continent and address taboo subjects such as sexuality, which have become silenced in postcolonial Africa.
Adenekan hopes that his book will inspire others to not only explore African digital life but also delve into the complexities of queer African experiences. He emphasizes the importance of studying Africa’s everyday life, shifting the focus from the spectacular to the quotidian. By analyzing the work of these writers, we gain insight into issues of privilege, visibility, marginalization, omission, and silence within African society.
– African Literature in the Digital Age: Class and Sexual Politics in New Writing from Kenya and Nigeria Shola Adenekan
– Image Boydell & Brewer