How do you decolonize African literary culture?
In 1962, a group of prominent African writers gathered at Makerere University, Uganda, to answer that question. They agreed that the project of decolonizing African literary culture required a vital tool: the creation of a “new” English able, in the words of Chinua Achebe, “to accommodate African thought-patterns.”
But African literature is not what it was in the ‘60s. It is now a global phenomenon inspiring readers within and without the continent to experience the wealth of African writing. A new era, however, comes with new challenges, which call for new tools. Brittle Paper is one such tool. Founded by Ainehi Edoro, Assistant Professor of Global Black Literature, in 2010, when she was a graduate student at Duke University, Brittle Paper was initially conceived as a “general interest philosophy and literature blog.” Since then, it has evolved into a leading online platform for African literary news, bringing African and non-African readers of African literature across the world together to catch up and converse.
Yet Brittle Paper is more than just an African version of Publishers Weekly. It challenges conventional understandings of what African literature is in several ways. First, Brittle Paper is a space where contributors can push the current boundaries of African writing. Think speculative fiction, LGBTQ+ writing, pulp-fiction, and fan-fiction, like the Things Fall Apart spin-off, “Thighs Fall Apart” (yes, you read that right). Second, Brittle Paper isn’t beholden to the idea of the literary as simply text. It reports on all aspects of African literary life, from Chimamanda Adichie’s latest hairdo to Wole Soyinka’s battle with cancer to book festivals. Finally, Brittle Paper is committed to being a purely digital enterprise that seeks at the same time to document the life and forms of writing within social media space, whether on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Hence its name, Brittle Paper, which intends to evoke the ephemeral nature of literary work and ideas online.
“I didn’t like the way we talked about African literature,” says Edoro, in an interview. “I didn’t like the gate-keeping that allowed only a select few access based on decisions being made by people who had lost touch with what was cool and amazing about African literature. There was need for a place where we could talk about African literature in a fun and meaningful way.”
Brittle Paper was named a Publishers Weekly “Go-To Book Blog” in 2014, and its stance as a progressive platform for new Africn literature has been most recently recognized by Literary Hub. The annual Brittle Paper Awards, which recognizes the best of African literary writing published online, is one of the most coveted awards for African writers. Through a combination of careful curation, editorial insight, and a touch of humor, Brittle Paper offers for the 21st-century student and reader of African literatures a way to break from institutionalized ideas in the ongoing project of decolonization. That Brittle Paper has always done so within the heart of academic institutions is a little act of decolonization in itself.
Brittle Paper is an open-access platform and intends to remain so. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.