Why do Nigerians shout the word Hey

Nigerian author Elnathan John : With satire against clichés about Africa

Shortly after the Nazi marches in Charlottesville, the Nigerian Foreign Office declared the southern states of the USA a no-go area. Black people are not safe there, according to a travel warning. It is shockingly easy to buy a gun. Rampages take place regularly. Police violence against blacks has been increasing rapidly since 2014. Patriots with Confederate flags patrolled the streets. Even the president is openly inciting against foreigners.

“The Nigerian Embassy warns its citizens: Be extra careful around traffic lights, around police cars and around Americans who don't have their children vaccinated. Also, avoid large black gatherings. These attract Molotov cocktails, tear gas or murderous nationalists again and again. "

Sure, this message doesn't really come from the Federal Foreign Office. “But couldn't she?” Asks its author, the satirist and writer Elnathan John. The man from Nigeria is sitting in a small café in Lichtenberg. He wanted to turn the tables, he explains. The feeling he gets when he read the negative accounts of his homeland. And adds: “I could write about Lichtenberg in a similar way. There are also areas here that, as a black man, I don't dare to go. "

Instead of talking about his literature, he has to explain Africa

John has been living in Berlin for two years. He is still better known in the international literary scene than in Germany. His highly acclaimed debut novel “Born on a Tuesday” was recently published by Wunderhorn, and he is now writing two new books. In addition, John organizes his own literary series "Elnathan's #BOAT", which takes place quarterly in the Literaturhaus. To this end, he invites authors who inspire him. Next time he will speak to award-winning South African Henrietta Rose-Innes.

The 36-year-old says the project was born out of necessity. For him, as a Nigerian author, it is almost impossible to take part in a witty discussion about literature in German-speaking countries. He experienced this again and again in panel discussions: “As soon as someone announces that you are an African writer, even with advanced critics it is suddenly tabula rasa. They treat you like a National Geographic documentary. ”Instead of talking about his literature, he has to explain his homeland. Or the whole continent. The more exotic the better. “Next to me are authors from the USA. Nobody asks them: Hey, can you tell us about American pizza? "

Through his enthusiasm for poetry, he later found prose

John often laughs when he talks about things that upset him. His satire also lives from the false bottom. It is a poison soaked in reality in the icing of delicious humor. And he covers the buffet equally for everyone. The powerful, the NGOs, the common people, his Nigerian homeland and the European media circus, whose schizophrenic image of Africa he likes to parody. In his advice glossary, for example, he gives tips on how to develop the reputation of a “good African” in the West. One of them goes like this: When on vacation in Europe, carry your return ticket with you at all times so that you can prove that you do not intend to immigrate, possibly secretly.

Everything starts very differently for the son of a beautician and a civil servant, who was born in northern Nigeria. Writing is a side street that he is slowly discovering. He heard about literature for the first time just before high school. The teacher instructs the students to write a sonnet. “I sat there and thought: What the hell is a sonnet?” Years later, through the enthusiasm for poetry that arose, he found prose - a connection that can still be seen in his nuanced texts today. John studies law, works as a lawyer for an NGO. But instead of helping to make the world a better place, it is all about improving the business bank account. John quits - he still knows the exact date - and never looks back. One of his short stories made it onto the shortlist of the Caine Prize for African Literature, the “African” Booker Prize. Later he was nominated again, among other things for the national literature prize in Nigeria.

Using drawers so that at some point they no longer exist

It's paradoxical. Next week John is performing at Berlin's first African Book Festival. The multi-day event sees itself as a self-confident celebration of literature from the African context. Apart from a few marketable world stars, there is still hardly any space in the German mainstream for literature from Africa, they say. That should change.

But don't you put the authors back in a drawer when you organize an exclusively African literary festival? "Of course," replied John when asked. “But that drawer exists anyway. We are now using it so that this drawer no longer has to exist at some point. ”It is his dream that novelists will one day sit side by side on the literary stages of the world on an equal footing, regardless of where they come from; that speaking about origin is only a supplement to speaking about writing as such, genre, style, philosophy. One category among many.

“We still have a long way to go,” he believes. In any case, John seems to be two steps ahead.

Elnathan John: Born on a Tuesday. Novel. Translated from the English by Susann Urban. Wunderhorn Verlag, Heidelberg 2017. 250 pp., € 24.80. Next event of "Elnathan's #BOAT" on April 25th in the Literaturhaus. Elnathan John will perform at the African Book Festival at Kino Babylon on April 28th.

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