By Martin Banham (University of Leeds)
The Ordeal of the African Writer. Charles R Larson. Zed Books, London and New York, 2001. pp168, ISBN 11 85649 931 6 (pb.) £14.95, $19.95.
Like many other expatriates, Larson first encountered African writing when he taught – in his case with the Peace Corps in Nigeria – in Africa. Like many of us he didn’t initially fully understand what he was encountering and made errors of critical judgement – both over and under enthusiasm. But the experience was central to Larson’s life and work that has been dedicated to the teaching and promotion of the extraordinary writers of Africa. This splendid book is both celebratory and cautionary. It chronicles the writing and publishing experience of a range of individual authors commencing with the Nigerian Amos Tutuola, looks at popular publishing ventures such as the Onitsha Market Literature, introduces us to many writers (published and still unpublished) from Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe who deserve to be more widely known, and describes the grim realities of publishing in Africa (plus the occasional successes such as Baobab Books in Harare) and the grimmer realities of the persecution of writers. His penultimate chapter includes ‘Censorship, Imprisonment, Exile [and] The Death of Ken Saro-Wiwa’.
Larson argues for the creation of a non-profit making pan-African publishing house, and it would be good to think that this hugely informative, often angry but always enthusiastic book would assist in the realisation of such a venture.
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 64 (2001), p. 106]