According to the acclaimed writer Chinua Achebe, whose book, Home and Exile I just read; to be a writer, you must have a story to tell, the passion to tell it and the perseverence to tell it no matter what. He says that because writing is hard graft, you must persevere through the hard times, to get your story out.
I was greatly encouraged and inspired by this book. It is autobiographical, as is my book that I’m currently working on and it revealed so much about Chinua Achebe, his craft and why he is excellent at it.
The book was given to me by my brother, because he wanted to know what I would think about it, as I have in the past been critical of some African writing. I think he wanted to catch me out becuase he thinks that my criticism of African writing is a criticism of Africa. As a I describe myself as a black Briton, he sees this description as a rejection of my ‘roots’ and as such despite my assertion that I am proud of my Nigerian heritage, he believes otherwise. So by getting me to criticise Achebe, he could prove that I derise all things African.
Alas, he got the opposite response because I never stopped singing the book’s praise; his style, his wit, fierce intellect and pride for his people shone through the pages like a beacon, lighting the way for me to get insights I never knew I had, as well as an inspiration to finish my chapter 7 on my phablet. I only stopped because my battery died!
The most valuable lesson I learned from the book though is that for writing to be excellent, or even good, it has to be virtuous. Not in the sense of saving the world, though it can certainly do that, but in the sense of making an impact and making a difference in a myriad of ways.
In decrying the practice European writers had at the time of portraying black people in a negative narrative, he critisised John Cary, not for the fact that his book Mister Johnson, was factually inaccurate, but because it lacked integrity. He says, ‘What this book Mister Johnson did for me though was to call into question my childhood assumption of the innocence of stories. It began to dawn on me that although fiction was undoubtedly fictitious it could also be true or false, not with the truth or falsehood of a news item but as to its disinterestedness, its intention, its integrity.’ I guess in modern language we would call it authenticity, but Achebe, says it so much better.
His insights for me, went further, when I realised that his writing could be applied to black Britons today, as we live in exile in the country of our birth. That’s why I think it’s essential reading for every black Briton, becuase the integrity of his writing resonates across generations and cultures.
I know it’s a tall order, but they do say you should punch above your weight. So my hope and prayer is that my book will do for Black Britons, what Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart did for African writing.