How to Write About Africa

It’s interesting, having written about Africa, to find this razor-sharp essay, “How to Write About Africa,” cataloguing basically all of the cliches about Africa in Western literature.  I think it’s interesting, and should be required reading for anyone who writes about Africa, particularly if they are not African.

Here is a great reading of fragments of the essay (the reader intentionally or accidentally mistates the title)

If you click through to YouTube, there are also videos of the author talking about the essay under “related videos.”

Having written about Africa, of course I use it to self-evaluate, and am glad I fare well by it, though I don’t get a perfect score. Mamba Point does feature a loyal servant, for example, and he is afraid of snakes. There is magic in my book, too, but no more magic than I’ve placed in Minnesota and New England. Otherwise I don’t think I commit any of the grievances the author lists. But that’s my opinion, and it’s not objective. Ultimately readers and reviewers will decide that for me. 

To be fair, my second novel isn’t really “about Africa” anyway. It is set in Africa, but it’s about an American kid who moves to Liberia. Some of the people he meets are American, some are African, and one is a snake.

2 thoughts on “How to Write About Africa

  1. I definitely don’t think you fall into these traps. In fact this was my main take-away from your book–that you managed to portray Liberia as a young boy would see it, without characterizing everything as extreme and primitive.

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