“There has always been imaginative storytelling in Africa.”
Geoff Charles Ryman, a three times literary laureate of the British Science Fiction Association Award, together with his ongoing non-fiction series 100 African Writers of SFF (Science Fiction and Fantasy), acknowledged as much. And more than anyone else, Africans can relate to and confirm the sentiment. Among the Akans of Ghana, for instance, the oral tradition of narrating tales by the fireside, passed down and embellished from generation to generation, and hinged on the legendary Kweku Ananse, gives a sense of the historical depth of African imaginative stories in the telling.
Even today, a legacy of this tradition is indelibly marked in common Ghanaian usage and has long since leapt beyond borders in deviant variations.
The tradition of Ananse stories by the fireside gave way to the local term, Anansesem (Akan: Anansesɛm—Literally: About Ananse—Meaning: Ananse Story), to signify, not just stories related to Kweku Ananse, but all native fantastic storytelling. The term is now an echo of its Kweku Ananse roots and is widely used as synonymous with fiction (like its western equivalent in fairy tales), effectively establishing itself as a genre for Ghanaian speculative fiction.
The character of Ananse (anglicised as Anansi) has, however, breached multinational settings, undergone multi cultural translations, and even permeated western popular culture as an American God. This global transcendence has positioned Ananse as a mascot, not only of Ghana but of the African storytelling heritage, where the Ananse Tale may loom to be a definitive genre of African speculative fiction as a Mythopoeia for Africa.
Yet, if the mythopoeic heritage is sound, what about the literary legacy?
The Manchester Review—On Literary Africa through the Ages
That is the question Ryman seeks to shed light on as he explores “how African speculative fiction gave birth to itself” in the literary circles. By literature, he means, not merely something presented in written form, but also the “social process that makes aesthetic judgements and facilitates the production and consumption of writing”, and encompasses “writers. . . readers, editors, critics, bloggers, fans, agents, [and] publishers.” This question of the origins of African speculative fiction in literature is captured in his newly released anthology entitled 21 Today: The Rise of African Speculative Fiction, published online by the Manchester Review, which “traces the social process that created African speculative fiction.”
According to Ryman, the rich African landscape of imaginative storytelling hasn’t always inspired “a defined series of genres that help shape writing, venues where readers could find the stuff, [avenues] where SFF writers could get published and (sometimes) even get paid, [and] awards specifically for speculative fiction by Africans.”
“Not until recently.”
In the last (but definitely not least) section of the anthology—in what Ryman describes as a work in progress with “no pretence of [it] being a complete history of African” fiction, and open to further additions, correction, and building-up, in a public plea to help keep the culture alive—he painstakingly lists works demonstrating the rise of African Speculative Fiction year by year whose timeline spans from the 1900s to date, and ranges from comics to fantasy movies. Ryman, nonetheless, posits 2012 as the turning point year, emerging from the “deep roots [that stretched] back to earlier fantastic writing, and all the way into millennia of African culture.”
Ghanaians and their SFF works represented in the timeline include:
An Imaginary Journey to the Moon by Victor Sabah
The Adventures of the Kapapa by J. O. Eshwun
Search Sweet Country by B Kojo Laing
Osimbe by Kwadwo Abaidoo
Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Parke
Afrocyberpunk blog, Jonathan Dotse
Contributor to ‘Comic Republic’, Kadi Yao Tay
21 African Stories—Today and Tomorrow
The focal attraction of the anthology, however, is what lies between the introduction and the closing historical review; the main seven-part section, 21 Today, and a supplementary 21 Tomorrow section. There, twenty-one African stories are each presented for their “moment in history” and their role as part of the African literary process.
Ryman qualifies them as “a collection of damn good stories” as “they tell tales about how South Africans will market themselves in the future. About how fire came to Uganda. About how two lonely women in the far future can each be writing a novel, one about the other. About how ancient West Africans wrote about the stars. About how superheroes are always political. About how people will in the future mourn their dead.”
Even though most of the stories under the 21 Today section are already in print, this initiative makes it widely accessible and available online for the first time. The goal is to attract young Africans to access the stories electronically and serve as “a resource for seminars, workshops and courses on fiction or specifically African SFF.”
Ghanaians and their SFF works represented under the 21 Today section include:
‘The Writing in the Stars’, by Jonathan Dotse
‘The Old Man with The Third Hand’, by Kofi Nyameye
The 21 Tomorrow section was reserved for providing “links to a further 21 stories that are [already] available only online and for free.” ‘Virus’ by Jonathan Dotse was the lone SFF representative of Ghana in the list.
African Storytelling Forever—What Say You
The entire project definitely bespeaks a tremendous effort and passion from a man who is not even a native of Africa yet has a yearning eye for the latent potential of African Storytelling rising beyond into time indefinite. The recent debut success of newcomer Tomi Adeyemi’s upcoming novel—Children of Blood and Bone—is a singular testament to this phenomenon of rising African speculative fiction that Ryman is attempting to document.
Remember, however, that Ryman is just one person in the literary process—the “social process that makes aesthetic judgements and facilitates the production and consumption of writing.”
It means that, for the literary enterprise of African speculative fiction to be successful and continue rising, it’ll need all of us to play our part in the process—especially as Africans. It’ll need “writers. . . readers, editors, critics, bloggers, fans, agents, publishers” and all facilitators.
So, what say you?
Well, you can start now and play your part as a reader by considering “The Rise of African Speculative Fiction” anthology.
Ryman, however, strongly cautions: “Prepare to be amazed by, to be challenged by, maybe even to fall in love with African speculative fiction.”