This anthology is dedicated to the Nigerian who loves to read. It is also dedicated to those who write, especially the members of Naijastories.com. Without your creativity and tireless support, the idea for Naijastories.com may never have come, nor have been sustained for so long. And in a country where daily life can be so daunting, and truth sometimes stranger than fiction, it is our imagination that will ultimately grant us all a new reality.
Many of my formative years were spent in Nigeria. In my early teens I was in secondary school and it was my morning duty to rake up the leaves in the square before the daily devotion. That is what I’m doing here: preparing the square.
The stories in this volume were democratically selected from the Naija Stories Website (www.naijastories.com), a showcase for rising talent from Nigeria. These are tales of the human condition, the Nigerian human condition. They are not necessarily what the literati of the West think of when they imagine African fiction. Most of the writers do not know one another and have not met except on online forums. The making of this book has been an almost entirely online experience.
Here we get a sense of a generation trying to find its voice. We have stories of every genre. We have done away with the clichéd African. Here we are, with our abortions, our bereavement, our lust, our petty showdowns, our pederasts, our In-Law wahala, our problems chatting up girls in the diaspora, our memories of childhood, our fights, our incest, our love, our examination stress, our metafictional accounts, our encounters with university campus cults, our broken families, our…well, you get the idea. We rob banks, but we also eat salty beans to show our children we love them.
Everybody talks about Chinua Achebe’s fiction but it was always his essays that touched me. He shredded Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and shattered my colonial-influenced impression of the savage, i.e. myself.
Achebe wanted the West to view Africa as “a continent of people—not angels, but not rudimentary souls either—just people, often highly gifted people and often strikingly successful in their enterprise with life and society” instead of “through a haze of distortions and cheap mystifications”1.
We are not savages, noble or otherwise.
We are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and distant cousins. We are secretaries, lawyers, accountants, anthropologists, and programmers. We buy shares, go to the park, eat, sleep, commit adultery, grieve, die, love, and watch television. Most of us have only seen zebras in the zoo. Our stories reflect our experiences. Most of us have no direct experience of the civil war. Perhaps we care about it, perhaps we do not.
Literature in the Indian subcontinent has been accused of dwelling too much on the Partitioning and colonial rule. Perhaps Nigerian fiction dwells too much on the civil war, the diaspora, the colonisation, or whatever neo-Negro stereotype currently in fashion with our Western literary overlords who determine what is “good” fiction.
It is said of anthologies that they do not sell.
I’m Nigerian and there are 155 million of me in West Africa alone. If just 1% of them believe these stories represent them, our job is done.
I’m writing this in Portsmouth, where the author Charles Dickens was born. In fact, I am outside the house where he was born. Imagine a writer so famous that people like me come to look at the bed he had been swaddled in. Yet of black people, Dickens wrote, “the mechanical absurdity of giving these people votes”. He, like Conrad, was a bit jingoistic, a man of his time, nothing more.
I put aside the rake now, leaves in a neat pile awaiting disposal. The square is ready for you to use.
Portsmouth, March 2012
1. Achebe, Chinua. An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’” Massachusetts Review 18. 1977