Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Books and borders

This article from the Vanguard asks about Nigerian literature some of the same questions we’ve been asking about Canadian literature in my Canadian literature class. While Canadian books today are almost always published in Canada as well as abroad, we certainly do have a number of prominent Canadian writers who have long lived outside of Canada, such as Mavis Gallant or Nancy Huston. Is there still a certain Canadian sensibility or style that qualifies these works as Canadian literature? I would argue so. To define a national identity or literature purely around geographical location oversimplifies and impoverishes both.

And yet, we in the West have also eagerly appropriated the diasporic literatures of other nations as our own, often as quickly as someone arrives and begins to write in his or her new country of residence. Can a book or writer be both from his or her country of origin and from the country in which the writing takes place? My inclination is to answer yes, though I would have a hard time accepting someone referring to my own work as that of an American professor or critic of Canadian literature.

Mcphilips Nwachukwu asks some excellent questions here:

I do not presume to be troubled by the same broad questions raised by Obi Wali, but I am compelled in this essay to ask: what is Nigerian literature? Is it only literature written by Nigerians living in Nigeria and published in Nigeria? Does this literature have to express itself idiomatically and ideologically as a Nigerian experience? What in fact is the Nigerian experience? In other words, if a Nigerian writer living in Nigeria writes lyrically about the streets of New York City with African-American characters realistically conveying a lived experience, and if such work is published in Nigeria by a Nigerian based publisher, would it be considered Nigerian literature? In other words, what has residency in Nigeria got to do with it? What qualifies a Nigerian writer to claim identity?

Literature itself is an identity marker, but it does seem that geography has upstaged consciousness and aesthetic perception in how we are beginning to define the new Nigerian literary canon. I ask because we already sense that the Nigerian writer living in Europe or America or Asia no longer qualifies to be known as a Nigerian writer by what I sense to be a blind criterium established by the Literature Committee of the LNG Prize.

As I said, I think these are all interesting questions, and not just for Nigerian literature, obviously. In terms of literary prizes, though, is there not also something to be said for a national prize that helps to encourage writers living in Nigeria who have chosen not to leave?