“WE NEED NEW NAMES”, NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, which was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, excited more international acclaim than any Zimbabwean book in the recent past. Zimbabwe’s literary arena had some rich pickings recently including the overdue comeback of Charles Mungoshi with “Branching Streams Flow in the Dark”, Spiwe Harper’s “Footprints in the Mists of Time” and the most improved Zimbabwe International Book Fair in recent years.
All these went virtually unnoticed by the international media except “We Need New Names” which was not only nominated for the Man Booker but also revelled in glowing reviews in British and American newspapers, notably The Guardian and New York Times.This brings the criteria used by these Western cultural institutions and media echo chambers up for scrutiny.
Is greater emphasis being placed on merit or rather on works that align with the West’s stereotypes on Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular?
The Western media is in consensus that Africa is a dark continent and Zimbabwe is a trouble spot.
Stories about local achievements and authentic African aspirations always get overlooked while Africa is only a synonym of war, poverty and civil unrest going by the lenses of Fox, CNN and BBC.
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