Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire: It is always fun reading stories, reviews and commentary on Brittle Paper. Do you define Brittle Paper differently from Ainehi Edoro, the academic? Where does Brittle Paper stop, and Ainehi start? Or are they one and the same?
Ainehi Edoro: Brittle has grown way bigger than Ainehi at this point. These days, I focus more on trying to build a community around African literature than promoting my personal brand.
On the definition of identities again, there is such an eclectic range of material on Brittle Paper. You define it as the virtual space/station where you play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture. Obviously, its digital nature is important and essential to the content it presents and how it does so. But can we find the nearest equivalent in print culture for an eclectic platform like Brittle Paper? Would it be a magazine? A journal? A mix of both? Or does this thought of imagining Brittle Paper in print ever occur to you?
Brittle Paper is neither a magazine nor a journal. I’ve never thought of it in those terms. Our editorial process is much more dynamic than that of a magazine. African literature never sleeps. Lol. Neither do we. That’s what makes us different—we do on-the-moment coverage of happenings in the literary community. We also write fun, easily digestible posts on African literature that keep our readers engaged. We are so passionate about African literature that we have to say something about it everyday, and a blog is the only digital platform that lets us do that.
You are based at Duke, is this accurate? Yet your site offers readers a wide variety of material from the continent. Of course the internet has put to shame all the geographical difficulties of movement from one place to another and so you can run an African platform from wherever, but do you sometimes think that being on the continent would somehow help the platform? Or are there times you thank God you run Brittle Paper from Duke?
I remember meeting one of the founders of Chimurenga, Ntone Edjabe, at a workshop in Johannesburg. He told me that there is nothing like thinking and writing about the continent from the continent. There is nothing like thinking and writing about Africa from the raw urgency of its moment and from being immersed in its daily and material reality. I totally agree with him. It is true that Brittle Paper might be so much more powerful if it were based in Lagos or Nairobi. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the work we do at Brittle Paper or take away from the success we’ve achieved. We provide a platform for young African writers to share their work in a way that no one else does. Most of the submissions we receive come from students in Nigerian, Kenyan, and South African universities. That’s something about which I am very proud. Even though Brittle Paper is based abroad, we are not a diaspora enterprise. Our audience is Africa-based, and we source a large chunk of our content from the continent.
The early days of Brittle Paper were focused on feeding us with information about literary personalities, events, facts, etc. At what point did you start publishing short stories and poetry, and visual art? At what point did the platform grow beyond the covering of literary personalities and their work to actually publishing literary work? Why this widening of scope?
There is more writing and reading taking place on the continent than ever before. There is a myriad of African writers hungry to share their work. There is a global community of African literary fans always hungry to read new writing from the continent. It didn’t take us too long to realize that Brittle Paper was a prime location to bring the two groups together. Apart from providing online access to a growing archive of stories from the continent, publishing stories also makes Brittle Paper a training ground for African writers. So, yeah, while people have come to know us for our engaging editorials on African writing, publishing original fiction and poetry by African writers is something we find endlessly rewarding.
You talk of an African literary culture in Brittle Paper’s mission. How do you define a literary culture? And to what extent would you say that literary culture is becoming digital?
Culture is all about outlook and perspective, the way we think, our expectations, ideas, and practices regarding a particular thing. Brittle Paper is inspired by a significant cultural shift in the contemporary African literary scene. To put it simply: the older generation of African writers saw African writing as a kind of cultural manual for Africans after decades of colonial abuse. They tried to connect with African readers from the standpoint of their victimhood. Today many of us writing about African literature, especially, within digital platforms, think of the African reader, first and foremost, as a fan of African literature. We try to connect to readers from the standpoint of their love and passion for African stories.