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The Case For African Fantasy - Part 1

Updated: May 31, 2020

It is an open secret in the literary world that while all writing is equal, some writing is considered more equal than the others. You can see what writing high society gives the nod to by scrolling to the Nobel Prize list for literature - feel free to check the nominations too. With the exception of H. G Wells, nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932, only light speculative fiction like Jose Saramago’s Blindness, Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People, and most recently, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, have gotten the nod. These books are generally soft speculative works. You wouldn’t find George Orwell with his talking pigs on Animal Farm or his hyper-totalitarian dystopia in 1984 tackling themes like media and language, but Albert Camus would manage with The Stranger because it stays within the bounds of literary reality.

For H. G Wells, lauded today as the father of science fiction for introducing literature to the idea of airplanes before the Wright Brothers and placing men on the moon before NASA could dream of it, the message was that the incorporation of creative imagination is not respected when we speak of the highest form the art can be elevated to. In fact, in 1932, Osterling, one of the judges on the Nobel’s panel said:

“H. G Wells, surpassed Galsworthy both in strength of intellect and fertility of imagination.”

But another said that he was too “minor and journalistic” causing the award to go to Galsworthy. Not much has changed now, even though writers of fantastical fiction have always made it clear that the genre cannot be regarded in anyway as second fiddle.

Ayn Rand, the writer of the Fountain Head and other works of imaginative recreation went as far as declaring that literary fiction was not art. Her reason being ironically, that simply painting a picture of reality without giving the world direction is just journalism - objective reporting. In her view, it was stories that dared to drastically reimagine the world that truly moved the human spirit by creating alternate possibilities. Tolkeline was also on the record to defend the fantasy genre pointing out that the art form of storytelling is rooted in fantasy, what we call mythology and even sometimes religious truth. He points out that the creation of fantasy spaces also allows more participants into a world as opposed to more literal work where it can be a struggle to become a character.

On the sales side of things, if the people were to be speaking with their money, then fantasy would at least be doing better than literary. Romance and erotica of course lead the pack, followed by crime and mystery, religious and inspirational, and then sci-fi and fantasy. Even horrors generally do better than literary fiction. With this market position in mind, and a large base of the fantasy market covering Young Adult readers - fantasy might actually be the most important genre when it comes to the reshaping of society. Studies have shown fantasy and science fiction books to encourage life long reading, perception of science, and to improve general cognitive development. Personally, I also believe complex and sensitive ideas are better modelled in fantasy spaces, and that by arming young people with an active imagination, we are unleashing a gift that keeps on giving.

In Africa, the ancestral home of the fantasy genre in folklore and mythology, the time has never been more right for a renicessce in the art form. Already, Americans of African decent like Nedi Okafor and Tomi Adeyemi are exploring this genre, now termed Afrofantasy. Black Panther, though American owned by all accounts is Afrofantasy in its presentation. And there is Suri Davies Okuongbowa’s Godhunter, Nigerian God-Punk, I believe is the categorisation on Goodreads. This market is opening up, but, beyond the opportunity to make money, this is also a chance to reshape the African narrative. As African cultural and spiritual consciousness continues to rise, it might fall on the shoulders of the fantasy writers to paint the pictures necessary to start placing the youngest on the part of narrative liberation. It is a responsibility, and one we must all take seriously. This will further be explored on the next part of this article.

It is my hope that local publishing houses and award institutions start to take all forms of speculative writing seriously, and not as an after thought. It is a genre valid in creative depth and in economics; and it holds a potential for great social change in a society desperate for it. I will like to use this opportunity to mention the Nommo Awards for their work in the fantasy space, and the Omenan blog for making a home for these amazing stories. BrittlePaper has also been a good sport when it could have snubbed the genre, and publishers like Ouida and Narrative Landscape have been open too. All that being said, Festive Media is here and we are dedicated to magnifying the voices of the best African fantasy. If you have an imaginative story you want to tell, we would like to read it and share it with the world.


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