Edwige-Renée DRO: I am an African Writer!

What are your 5 favourite novels?

  • La Mémoire Amputee by Wêrewere Liking
  • La Révolte d’Affiba by Régina Yaou
  • En Attendant le Vote des Betes Sauvages by Ahmadou Kourouma
  • Le Vieux Nègre et La Médaille by Ferdinand Oyono
  • O Pays, mon beau peuple by Sembène Ousmane

Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most?  How did each influence your work?

Ahmadou Kourouma because the French in his books is not the French spoken in Paris, and he even had to explain some of the terms he was using to his readers. He owned French.

Sembène Ousmane because of his engagement, because he wrote books that didn’t care for all the stylistic figures of speech some Ivorian writers seem to be insisting on, that you can be engaged and be a readable writer.

Ahmadou Hampâté Bâ because “A people without a culture is a people that is dying” and in L’etrange destin de Wangrin (The strange destiny of Wangrin) he placed side by side the African religions, Islam and Christianity and showed these conflicts. I see it in my country, everybody is a Christian or a Muslim but at every corner of the streets, in newspapers, there are these “féticheurs” offering their services. And for many people here, Jesus cannot deal with some African stuff so at some point, the “féticheur” will enter on the scene to solve that problem. But it is all hush-hush.

What plans do you have for your literary career over the next 3-5 years?  What are you working on?  What do you hope to publish?  Which artists/authors/publishers/editors do you hope to work with?

I have finally finished my first novel — I shelved the one I was writing during the whole Africa39 period because I felt that it wasn’t me anymore so I started a new novel which is now finished.

Then, I’m looking into setting up a literary space next year in Abidjan, where we will work towards making works published by African writers more accessible on the continent. I live in Côte d’Ivoire and I don’t even know what’s happening on the literary scene in Burkina Faso is, so let’s not speak of Botswana for instance. So I’m thinking translation but also selling the works of these writers here in Côte d’Ivoire. One of the advantages of the Africa Rising discourse is that we have an African middle-class that has money and has this thirst to read work published by African writers, at least, that is the case here in Côte d’Ivoire. Furthermore, they can read English. Another thing I want to do with this space is to better promote work by Ivorian writers. I don’t just want work to be launched in some posh neighbourhoods of Abidjan for people to think they have done great work but then turn around and say, “Ivorians don’t read!” I always want to ask, “Who reads then?”

I’m working with Jalada Africa Collective on their The Language Issue as a writer as well as a translator and this is one project I’m excited about. We will have francophone writers in this issue which came out on 15th, September.

Then, I’m working with Writivism and again, we will have writers from Côte d’Ivoire mentored this year by other francophone writers.

Are you involved with any literary organisations in Africa or outside of Africa?  How do you see the work of these organisation as contributing to your vision and career, as well as to broader cultural production in Africa?

I’m involved with Jalada and Writivism, and because I want a pan-African approach to literature, I feel at home with these organisations

For me, the success of African literature will be based on a pan-African approach to literature. We have a billion-plus people; that’s a huge market. I did a TEDx talk in Abidjan this year where I mentioned that for the reading public already available, let’s translate and do a better politic of marketing and distribution of the work.

For the illiterate population that speaks French or English however, let think of having audio recordings of our work.

For the illiterate population that neither speak nor understand French or English, let’s think of having audio recordings in national languages.

Let’s also collaborate, with translators, playwrights, etc.

Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?

I’m involved in translating some of the stories in the Jalada Language issue coming out on 15th, September. I learned that we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of bringing out the fantastic stories that are waiting to be unearthed; I learned that we need collaboration and more translators are needed.

I learned that perhaps as African writers we complain about the whole tag of being African writers, or the whole ‘poverty porn’ issue because we don’t have a lot of vibrant publishing houses on the continent. We have Parrésia or Cassava Republic among many others of course, but more needs to be done. The day we really become actors and players in our destiny, that day, we will not care that someone is calling us African Writer and coming to us with their view of how we should be writing. Personally, I have no qualms about being called an African Writer. I’m an African Writer. Now if someone wants me to write about war and famine only, I might well ask them if they think that we reached 1 billion mark through immaculate conception.

How do you hope/anticipate that the Hay Festival and the Africa39 project will help advance your career?  What impact has it had thus far?  What specific things would you like to see Hay Festival do for writers?  

Well, I suppose I’m an Africa39er but I don’t like resting on my laurels. I didn’t even realise it has been a year already. I want to stay current. I don’t want to say, “Oh I was an Africa39er”. I am an Africa39er, that is done; it is an asset. In revolutionary language, we say, “You don’t come back to the asset.”

The impact: I visited Nigeria for the first time; without it, I might never have visited Nigeria. That country scared me and no, not because of Boko Haram but because I read a travel guide once which depicted Nigeria as a heavy country, a country where people were always on the go and I was like, I don’t want to visit such a country. But it is a charming place and I just adore it the way you would adore a very rich man you also happen to love!

Perhaps on the strength of that, I did the Valentine’s Day Anthology organised by Ankara Press.

What are the main challenges you see facing artists, writers, and literary culture in your country and region?  How are you ameliorating these difficulties?  What specific things would you like to see done in order to address these challenges?

Do you know, Côte d’Ivoire is a funny country. We have two associations of writers here: an association of writers and an association of young writers but personally, I don’t know what they are doing. I suppose when they finish fighting re. the election of a president and when people stop trying to meddle in the election of a president, they might do something for the advancement and the promotion of Ivorian literature. Oh, and when some writers stop saying that this or that writer is a dustbin writer because he is not having a certain amount of metaphore and simile and oxymoron in this work and he doesn’t display a mastery of the French language.

Writers need to have spaces where they can talk about their books/work but I also think the main thing is to get away from this intellectualisation of story writing. Yes, because beyond all the stylistic figures of speech, we are writing a story and I am, as a writer and a reader, interested in reading a story first and foremost. That’s what Ahmadou Kourouma, Bernard Dadié, Margaret Abouet, Armand Gauz are doing. The day I want to deal with metaphore en masse, I will just go and do a French literature degree.

I’ll be working with the mairie of my neighbourhood for this academic year to have reading clubs in schools here and maybe have the students perform a play based on a novel; we want to bring literature alive. And then the creation of this space early next year. But in the meantime, I’m engaged in talks with a few of them.

Have you read the work of any of the other Africa39?  Which works have you enjoyed (Please write a few words on the aspects of the works you enjoyed)?  Which Africa39 authors would you like to work with (and on what kinds of projects)?

Of course. I love them all and I would like to work with them all. I like the irreverence of Zukiswa’s writing. She makes it look so easy!!!!!

 What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently?  What was your role?  What did you take away from the experiences you had there?

Ake Festival: to take part in a panel discussion on feminism and trends in francophone literature

Writivism: to participate in a panel discussion on how to bridge the gap between Anglophone and Francophone Africa. We also discussed bringing Writivism in Abidjan. I know my friend Richard Ali, AKA The Real Richard Ali from the DRC (not Nigeria!) says there is one Africa, but…

Through Writivism, I met some members of Jalada Collective and we are working on this language issue.

 Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?

I mentor Daniel Rifiki. A young and very talented Rwandan writer. Huya Press based in Rwanda put us in touch and the working relationship is going well.

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