When he published his first novel at 16, Chris Abani was hailed as, ‘Africa’s answer to Frederick Forsyth.’ Drawing on what he’d learnt about other cultures and conflicts, it was about Neo-Nazis taking over Nigeria to institute the Fourth Reich. It was so convincing that the Nigerian government arrested Abani under suspicion of organising a coup.
The middle class Abani later became an activist and was imprisoned twice more. He drew on his experiences to produce poems which have been described as moving and vivid descriptions of the loss of humanity in prison.
In this talk, he quotes poetry and literature from Africa in an attempt to search for its heart.
It turns out that Africans can be as clueless about their continent as the rest of us. Many judge Africa based on the news, yet Abani tells us if we were to judge 2007 Bush led America by CNN reports we would have an image of Zimbabwe. Reading African literature can educate about the continent; and not just, ‘Things Fall Apart.’
Abani quotes from writers such as Yusef Komunyakaa and Jack Gilbert as he searches for the heart of Africa. Their words are sensual and rich in imagery. Abani’s thoughts ring out; language doesn’t simply mirror the world we live in, it shapes it.