Cover image for The ordeal of the African writer
The ordeal of the African writer
Larson, Charles R.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London ; New York : Zed Books ; New York : Distributed in the U.S.A. exclusively by Palgrave, [2001]

Physical Description:
viii, 168 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR9340 .L37 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Only a small number of African writers - Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Nuruddin Farah, Wole Soyinka - have become known outside their own continent. They also face enormous obstacles within Africa to get their work published, let alone to support themselves financially from their writing. Charles Larson combines writers' own testimony, pen portraits of their lives, and factual investigation to explore the dimensions of the problem. Who is the readership in Africa? How do African publishing houses treat their authors? What are the consequences of political repression? And can anything be done to build a more supportive environment for African writers?

Author Notes

Charles R. Larson is professor of literature at the American University, Washington D.C. In addition to several works of fiction of his own, he has specialized in the study of English language writing by authors who may be considered to be outside the mainstream of North American and British fiction. Over the past 30 years he has written a very large number of articles, reviews, essays and stories published in major magazines, as well as books including Under African Skies: Modern African Stories (1997).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Larson, author of The Emergence of African Fiction (1972), writes a short but informative guide to the state of writing and publishing in Africa today. Larson describes in detail the painstaking process of getting a book into print and how difficult it is for African writers to see any of the profits from the sales of their books. Larson first describes the plight of Amos Tutuola, author of The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952), which many consider to be the first modern African novel. Although the novel was successful in Europe and America, Tutuola saw almost none of the profits and died in poverty. Larson also solicited the opinions of African writers writing today, such as Cyprian Ekwensi, who got his start in Nigeria's Onitsha Market; Liberian Similih Cordor; and Zimbabwean Yvonne Vera, who has enjoyed more success than many of her peers. Accessible even to those who have not read the works discussed, Larson's eye-opening book is essential for anyone who is interested in African writing or the huge obstacles African writers face. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

In broad terms, The Ordeal of the African Writer grew out of author Charles R. Larson's (The Emergence of African Fiction) dedication to confronting the problems facing African writers problems of finding a publisher, an audience either at home or aboard and the means to support themselves. (On the surface, these matters will sound familiar to the struggling American writer; they are, however, exponentially more complicated in Zimbabwe.) More specifically, the book grew out of a questionnaire Larson put to African writers both published and unpublished. Using their responses and his own research, Larson presents a careful consideration of the challenges of African authorship, complete with moving testimonials by the writers themselves. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Although the African continent has been variously identified as "dark" and "hopeless" by Western commentators since the 19th century, Larson reminds readers that the continent has contributed importantly to the archives of world literature, although those contributions have not been without travail or penalty. The author has been writing about African writing for 30 years, from his first book, The Emergence of African Fiction (CH, Jul'72), to his edited volume Under African Skies: Modern African Stories (1997). In the present volume he addresses the "complicated and debilitating environment" in which modern African writers have struggled to represent in print the continent's stories and lyrics. Larson both traces the careers of individual writers such as Amos Tutuola, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, and Yvonne Vera and describes institutional initiatives such as the East African Publishing Bureau or the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. In addition to the economic barriers to African literature's publication and distribution, Larson also recounts the dangers that writers face: censorship, imprisonment, exile--even execution. The volume concludes with a recommendation for the establishment of a "pan-African publishing house." Recommended for libraries, both general and academic; all levels. B. Harlow University of Texas at Austin

Table of Contents

The Example of Amos Tutuola: Accidental Artist or Really Writer
Talking with Paper is Only the Beginning
African Writers and the Quest for Publication
African Publishers, African Publishing
The Horror, the Horror
Conclusion: The Crisis in African Writing