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Let’s Name Africa’s Best Books of the Decade – and SA’s Top Ten

A post by BOOK SA editor Ben Williams

It dawned on me rather late in the year that 2009 marks the end of the oughties – the first tender years of this young century which have “0″ as their penultimate number (some call them the noughties). By now, however, enough “best of the decade” lists are marching through the media to make for an almost daily reminder of 2010′s imminence.

Two such lists, both formulated in the UK, caught BOOK SA’s attention last week: the Times‘ and Telegraph‘s top 100 books of the past ten years.

Only two books from African pens featured: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Youth by JM Coetzee.

That these two novels, by dint of their election in two major newspapers, should come to represent Africa’s literary odyssey in the oughties struck me as unjust – though both works are, of course, marvelously crafted and highly significant. There are so many others, though, that this decade in African publishing should be remembered for.

Then I received a note from Isobel Dixon to the effect that The Asian Word was spearheading a campaign to name Asia’s top books of the decade. Dixon suggested that a similar initiative be undertaken on African literature’s behalf.

I wholeheartedly concurred, and hereby put a challenge to ReadSA members: starting today, let’s give ourselves three weeks to name the top 50 African books of the oughties – as well as the SA top ten.

It will be difficult, of course, to do this fairly – the first list, for instance, will likely be biased toward English-language and southern African books – but the exercise will be worthwhile if it produces a solid signpost for all the directions that literature from the continent took us in the past ten years.

I propose that we set some basic rules:

  • Authors may be living in the diaspora, but must be or have been citizens of an African state
  • We don’t need to come up with a ranking system – just filling fifty Africa and ten South Africa slots will suffice, and we can list the “winners” alphabetically by title (unless someone is willing to take responsibility for overseeing a ranking system)
  • Books that feature on the South Africa list can, of course, also feature on the Africa list
  • Books of all types may be considered
  • The cutoff date for nominating books will be Friday 11 December
  • ReadSA will announce the final lists during the week of Monday 14 December

I further propose that we leave the rest to crowdsourcing at the ReadSA Facebook page. A ReadSA admin member can create a “Discussion Topic” on the page, and book titles suggested there will be entered for final consideration.

The more a book appears or is seconded in the Facebook forum, the greater its weight will be come the final reckoning. Said reckoning should probably be managed by a committee of ReadSA’s most active members. I’d suggest that Damaria Senne, Zukiswa Wanner, Louis Greenberg and Thando Mgqolozana be included in this committee; I’d further suggest that we get the likes of Percy Zvomuya, Tymon Smith, Victor Dlamini and Veronique Tadjo involved.

The list-making will likely be rather messy, but also quite illuminating, I’m hoping. What do you think? Constructive comments welcome below – and don’t forget to post your nominations at the ReadSA Facebook page once the topic is live!


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    November 23rd, 2009 @11:33 #

    Brilliant, Ben. Can't wait to see what emerges. What about non-Facebookers? Can they post their suggestions here?

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    November 23rd, 2009 @11:35 #
  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    November 23rd, 2009 @11:40 #

    Most people will be on Facebook, Helen - ReadSA has almost 700 fans - but in the unlikely event a commenter isn't, nominating a book here will be ok, too. (Someone will have to re-post the nomination over at FB.)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Damaria Senne</a>
    Damaria Senne
    November 23rd, 2009 @12:19 #

    Thanks ben, Helen. I'm monitor this page and repost on FB.


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