Remember how we reported that African writer Petina Gappah won the Guardian First Book award? Apparently she’s not African. As such.
The early press material for An Elegy for Easterly, the collection of short stories that this week won the Guardian First Book award, called Petina Gappah “the voice of Zimbabwe“. She objected to her publisher, and it was rewritten. But too late: it is there on Amazon, which had received proof copies of the book, a ponderous phrase that misrepresents the way she sees herself as a writer.
“It’s very troubling to me because writing of a place is not the same as writing for a place,” she says. “If I write about Zimbabwe, it’s not the same as writing for Zimbabwe or for Zimbabweans. I have to remember that as much as there are many people unhappy with Robert Mugabe’s regime, there are many who are not: about 49% [of the electorate] voted for him.”
Gappah faces the perennial problem for writers from Africa seeking to win favour from the western media: how to avoid being pigeonholed. “I get irritated by the term ‘African writer’,” she says, “because it doesn’t mean anything to me. Africa is so big. There are some people who are happy to be African writers. They are pan-Africanists. I’m not a pan-Africanist. I think African countries have a lot in common. But we are also very different. I’m very happy to hang out with my friends from other African countries who are writers, but I don’t see myself as an African writer, because it comes with certain expectations of you.”