Demands are made of an African writer that are not made of a European or American writer. Insistence is made on proof of authenticity. Questions are asked about the degree to which it is ethnically genuine. No one questions whether José Saramago represents Portuguese culture. It's irrelevant to know whether James Joyce corresponds to the cultural standards of this or that European ethnic group. Why should African writers have to show such cultural passports? This happens because people persist in thinking of the production of these African writers as belonging to the domain of anthropology or ethnography. What they are producing isn't literature but a transgression of what is accepted as traditionally African.
The writer isn't just someone who writes. He’s someone who produces thought, someone capable of pollinating others with feeling and delight.
More than this, the writer challenges the basis of thought itself. He goes further than challenging the limits of political correctness. He subverts the very criteria that define what is correct, he questions the boundaries of reason.
An excerpt from the rousing essay "What Africa Does the African Writer Write About?" by 20 Neustadt Prize-winner Mia Couto, published for the first time in English earlier today on the BITSblog. The piece is also forthcoming in Pensativities: Selected Essays, Couto's first collection of non-fiction in English, forthcoming from Biblioasis in April.