Reading 2010: Nana Fredua-Agyeman (Ghana)

Today we feature Nana Fredua-Agyeman, a reader and blogger from Accra, Ghana.He is an Agricultural Economist by profession and a poet by passion, who also writes short stories. Some of his Haiku poems have been published in magazines such as Frogpond, The Heron's Nest, Acorn etc and at e-zines such as and Shamrock Haiku Journal. His popular blog, ImageNations, features reviews and news about African books. He is a promoter of African literature who believes that African writers have a lot to offer, and as more and more books are written, they should be matched with a growing readership.His list, which features contemporary and classic works emphasizes African books, but he also reads books from other places. In addition to reading creative works, he reads non-fiction works, some of which are about with his professional field, economics.

So far this year, Nana has read 24 books, and is finishing a 25th, The Hairdresser of Harare, by Tendai Huchu. Below is Nana's reading list, followed by a by brief interview I did with him:

1. Praying Mantis by Andre Brink, Vintage (2005)
2. African Roar (e-copy) by Various authors, StoryTime (2010)
3. Bloodlines (e-copy) by various authors, DreamDeep LLC (2009)
4. Through the Gates of Thought (e-copy), by Nana Awere Damoah, Athena Press (2010)
5. The Healers by Ayi Kwei Armah, Per Ankh (1978)
6. Possession by A.S. Byatt, Vintage (1991)
7. Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan, Bookcraft (2010)
8. You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka, Bookcraft and Ayebia (2009)
9. Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Washington Square Press (2010)
10. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Virago (2009)
11. Before I Forget by Andre Brink, Vintage (2004)
12. A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul, Picador (2008)
13. The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah, Heinemann (1988)
14. The Castle by Franz Kafka, Penguin (2000)
15. Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again by Ola Rotimi University Press PLC (1966)
16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Plume/Penguin (1987)
17. The Blinkards: A Comedy and the Anglo-Fanti Short Story by Kobina Sekyi, Heinemann/Readwide (1997)
18. Matigari by Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Heinemann (African Writers Series) (1990)
19. Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo, Heinemann (African Writers Series) (1991)
20. Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Spectrum Books (2003)
21. The End of Skill, a short story by Mamle Kabu (2009 Caine Shortlist)
22. The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka, Oxford University Press (1963)
23. AmaZulu by Walton Golightly, Quercus (2007)
24. A Heart to Mend (e-copy) by Myne Whitman (2009)

Currently reading: The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu

What Nana Fredua-Agyeman says about his reading in 2010
1. This is a great reading list, Nana, with an emphasis on African writers. Was this…the emphasis on African classic and contemporary literature--deliberate, or were these the titles that were readily accessible?

It was deliberate and it projects my passion and the vision of my blog. Until last year June my readings have basically centered on Western writers like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham, Michael Crichton and the likes. I considered African novels to be academic. I saw all African novels as revolving around the ‘calabash and hut’ stories. Besides, the books were also expensive. However, in 2007 or thereabout I questioned myself on what I really want to gain from reading and whether am I gaining them from the novels I have been reading, which seems to be centered so much on theme and plot. I also found it weird that someone who is passionate about the continent without necessarily being sentimental about it could refuse to read writers from the continent with such flimsy excuses. So I promised myself while in graduate school that if I landed a job I would devote my time reading African novels. Before then my reading of African novels were few: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; Ngugi’s Weep Not Child (a book I read twice) and few others. I got a job in July 2008 and procrastinated for a year. In June 2009, I finally set out to read African novels and that was when I revitalized my blog, which had by then been dormant.

In doing so I did not want to just read anything. I wanted to read quality works so I sought refuge from the African 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century which was initiated by the Zimbabwean International Book Fair. The list served as the basis of my Top 100 books I must read. It was during this search that I found a lot of Top 100s and I was surprised to know that, though I called myself a reader, I hadn’t read any book on most of the list except perhaps, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and that’s when they found themselves on some of the lists. I searched more and realize that there is popular fiction and then literary fiction. I was devastated because then almost everybody I met on the net was talking about books that could be categorized as literary fiction. I went ahead and draw books from many other Top 100 books such Modern Library Top 100, BBC Top 100, the Guardian’s list and many others. Along the line friends began recommending books and my list kept growing. Regarding the contemporary books, I read so I could discuss with friends. Don’t want to wait till they become classics.
I also restricted my blog to African Literature because I realized that non-African books are talked about more and so lending a voice to it wouldn’t change a thing. However, if I could talk about the African books I am already reading it would do a lot of good and that’s how I set out to read African novels. I have read less than 20 books in my Top 100 because of poor accessibility. For instance, had it not been for the republication of Tsitsi’s Nervous Conditions, I wouldn’t have had a copy, though it is on my list.

2. Of course, even with the non-African titles, you kept the trend of reading both classics and contemporaries, and I would guess this was reading for pleasure. Do you always prefer to mix up your titles this way, year to year?

Your guess is right. I think it’s always good to read classics and contemporaries. As a writer I love language and this helps me to know how it had been and how it is now. Besides, I want to read so that I could match my reading friends. I love to talk about books and feel bad when a book I haven’t read comes up for discussion. There are a lot of grounds to be covered regarding the African and non-African authored literary fiction. Thus, as far as I can see my titles are going to be mixed. One thing I love with these titles is that after reading Kafka, I would want something less dystopian, and that isn’t too serious about life.

3. You do book reviews, which means that you also read as a reviewer, with a critical mind. Is this how you read always, or is Nana the reviewer separate from Nana the poet and reader?

My literary life started as a reader (general), writer (poems), reader (reviewer), writer (short stories) in that order. So no, I haven’t always read novels critically. Initially, all I wanted was to grasp the plot and theme and get to like or hate the characters. I didn’t care whether the story is an allegory of life, or what the story is not saying, how different could a line have been written to improve the overall beauty of the write, should we have known more about a character or not. But now as a reader cum reviewer I care enough about these. Now I want to see more, I am more particular about sentence construction, about diction, about plot, about theme, about structure and many others. I read and questions. Now I would say Nana the reader cum reviewer is different from Nana the Poet. Yet, there are times that I distance myself from my poems and judge them. I know I have become a better poet ever since I started reviewing books.

4. What do you think of readership in Africa? How do most people you know compare to someone who reads an average of two books per month (you)?

I would hazard a guess and say that reading is not that much rooted on the continent and that’s one thing I would want to change through my blog. For instance, there are about four book bloggers in Ghana for a population of twenty-million. Even if a quarter have access to the internet that is bad. In Ghana specifically what I see most people read are self-help books: One hundred and one ways to riches and the likes. I also see a lot of this poorly written, poorly printed story books (if they could be called books) being hawked around by people who can hardly spell their names. I believe that if we take up reading African authors would be able to live better than they are doing now. Currently, most authors have a first job and write during their free time, which I believe impedes the growth of writing.

Reading, even at a meager rate of 2 books per month, has helped me to talk on several issues and my ability to support my arguments with quotes from books, albeit novels, makes me feel wonderful. It has also given me a broader understanding of issues. Most of my friends are not readers except those I made when I started blogging. My friends in professional circles find it time-wasting and would rather read scholarly journals and articles than literary books.

5. What do you think of the state of creative writing in Africa? How does it compare to trends elsewhere?

Creative writing is on the rise as writers explore diverse subjects. I just finished reading Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare and I was impressed by his subject matter. Same as Myne Whitman, whose novel, A Heart to Mend, I had read earlier. Now African writers are gradually moving from what has become known as ‘The African Story’, which is supposed to be set in some village, populated by bare-chested denizens and thatch roof huts. This makes me happy. However, I would say that this upsurge in creative writing is skewed, as far as I know. I hope I am not suffering from the ‘the-grass-is-greener-at-the-other-end’ syndrome but I think Ghana is not much represented in terms of numbers. New authors are coming up every day and countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe are leading the pack and this new generation of writers, having not seen the independence struggle, are deleting ‘colonialism’ from the works. Now it is about what is happening; what our people are doing to us. Names like Irene Sabatini, Chimamanda Adichie, Helon Habila, Sefi Atta, Tendai Huchu, Bryony Rheams, Benjamin Kwakye, E.C. Osondu, Mamle Kabu, give me reasons to hope.

Comparatively, we are getting there. We cannot say we are there yet but we would need our African Publishers to do more. They need not follow ‘The African Story’ culture of the established non-African publishers.

6. Tell us a little more about yourself, and your reading plans for 2011.

I hold an MPhil in Agricultural Economics and works as a Research Associate, which means that I do a lot of data analyses and report writing. I started writing poems in 1998 when I wanted to my appreciation towards my mother for having seen me through Secondary School. In 2006, I discovered Haiku while reading Dean Koontz’s ‘False Memory’. I have been more successful with Haiku, in terms of publication, than the ‘mainstream’ poetry. However, before I wrote I was a reader.

My plans for 2011 are to read books on my Top 100 and also read books by Africans from countries other than Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. I want to sample from different parts of the continent if I could get access to them. I have realized that if I keep my pace I could read about 5 books per month as shown by my active reading periods. This year active reading only started somewhere in May.

7. Thank you for sharing your work.

Thank you for having me.


Amy said…
Great to hear more about why you read what you do, and what a great list of books. Certainly quite a few that I would love to read one of these days.
Sarah Norman said…
Very interesting, thanks Emmanual. I never heard of the top 100 African books - I must look it up!

Anonymous said…
Very good interview. I admire and appreciate Nana Fredua's commitment to promoting African literature.
Anonymous said…
I commend Emmanuel Sigauke
for this interview. Africans do a lot of reading, but it is unfortunate that our readings - lika Nana says -is mostly centered on foreign authors. Africa is well gifted with many talented writers -both creative and non-fiction and that is why I am grateful for Nana Fredua-Agyeman who continues the work of promoting African literature.

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