How To Dress Like An African Writer

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Every fiction writer out there is trying to become the next Chinua Achebe or the next Chimamanda Adichie, who can blame them though. Based on the startling success they have both had it is difficult to imagine any other way for an African writer to write. So authors young and old write like them, sound like them and even begin to dress like them.

I know this for a fact…I have attended several book readings in African and they normally are carbon copies of the previous one. The writer is talking about one imaginary village in one corner of Nigeria or Africa. The big words are spilled mercilessly and liberally across each paragraph, the only rest we get is not from comma’s or full stops in the book but when the author or authoress pauses to adjust their large traditional attire or dreads that got in the way of the words.

Sadly this carbon copying phenomenon is not limited to only fiction writers, non-fiction writers are even worse. If you dare write a non-fiction book without quoting 5-7 bible verses you are toast! No publisher will look at your book. Now I am not against bible spilling verses in books, but after sometime it becomes quite overwhelming and quite fake. And then the testimonials! Let me not even go there…ok ok let me go there…if you don’t get testimonials from the top 2 or 3 motivational speakers in Nigeria your book is not complete. At least that what most authors think as they stalk and sometimes buy testimonials from these motivational guru’s. And for what so they can have that authentication that their book is like every other book out there!

I mean, why does every writer have to be the same as the next. Why can’t they be different?

Why can’t you be different? Why can’t you write a story set not in a village but in outer space? Why can’t you show up to your book readings decked up in cute hot and sexy dress! Why can’t your lead character have special powers like those mutants in x-men? Why? Why can’t our book stores have a variety of books with different settings and messages instead of the same old ish?

I have no idea why to be honest…I just know that my goal is to tell people out there that it is okay to be different, to write differently, to sound differently and to dress differently. Because the world appreciates uniquenss and the world appreciates you.

Keep writing and remember whatever you do…write different

Ofili is an award winning literary writer motivational speaker, author, success coach and successful entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on twitterfacebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!” To bring Ofili to your school or organization as a speaker simply go here.


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Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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45 comments on “How To Dress Like An African Writer

  1. You speak my mind. This is same campaign I have been on since I started writing. I always wondered why African writers don’t attempt genres such as gothic, horror, detective,legal and crime thrillers, fantasy etc.
    Am going somewhere in this life. Watch this space! Wait for my book!

  2. Kingsley on said:

    The same reason why Hollywood makes movies like “Inception” while Nollywood makes Blackberry Babes. It’s much easier to carbon copy trash than be creative and come up with something uniquely briliant. Also it has to do with our rote nature of learning. We want to find a formula and simply apply it, rather than innovating new solutions. This has eaten into our system man. Think about it, do our universities research any innovations, or are they simply teaching the same theories from the 50s? We have a long way to go and it’s not just in our authors but in just about every Nigerian sector.

  3. This was so funny Oke….. And true…..but you know to be as you are saying takes a fair amount of guts. It means, you write what you want as it pleases you without paying too much mind to what people will say about it/you. You have to believe in your own ‘voice’. I was told no body would buy my books cos I refused to be locked in by ‘normal queen’s english’. I was told to ‘tidy up’ my sentences and translate the local lingo….I said ‘Not gonna happen’. And today, 4 years down, I am still loving my own style……..

    My next book, True Confessions, is even more ‘out there’ cos I refused to be tied down again….. Maybe when (if?) you read it, you will be able to tell me what I threw to the wind!

    Keep being an inspiration!
    Salt latest post is Being Like God: Be VocalMy Profile

  4. manueladesola on said:

    I agree with this post. But the most common form of innovation stem from existing idea as its basis. This probablly explains why. But with this post, am inspired to do it differently.

  5. I usually do not comment on your posts but I had to for this one because it hit home. My genre of preference is fantasy fiction. I love exploring mythical creatures and I was worried about how the Naija market would receive such work especially since I have had debates with Nigerians, young and old, about the fact that reading Harry Potter will not invite witchcraft into your home. The other thing is, those who buy fantasy fiction will buy it when a white man writes it, but not when a black person does. My cousin said I would regret it if I gave in and tried to do the “in the deep village of umuegwu” thing that the likes of Chinua and Chimamanda did and he is right. So, I put my first web series online and whaddaya know? I got fans. So, I WILL write different, and if these hypocritical Nigerians who bought Enid Blyton’s books don’t buy it, then I’ll look for a British or US publisher.

    Thanks for the added motivation!

  6. Have wondered whether maybe it’s because these kind of stories are not just part of our culture? I don’t remember ever hearing any sci-fi folk tales as a kid. Also I don’t think it’s all authors who keep to this carbon copy style. The problem is that these works never get popular. The audience just seem to prefer the village/city tales. It’s the same way more junk is acceptable as music these days, to extent that some artistes are accused of “over-singing” of being too “oyinboish”. Anyone who is going to venture into such uncomfortable genres must be really outstanding to get any attention. It’s just the same way Asa was able to make waves with her jazz/soul music, in an industry dominated by audience’s taste for afro-pop. You just have to be irresistibly outstanding.
    Muyiwa latest post is How To Be A Successful Nigerian BloggerMy Profile

  7. Amiphat on said:

    As usual, highly amusing Mr. Ofili.

    Especially loved the part about “uncombed natural hair”. I had begun to wonder if there was some benevolent “writing spirit” who gave the gift of prose in exchange for combs!

    May the good Lord give us unction to find our own writing voice (and dress sense).


  8. Chuddi on said:

    I totally agree with being different, but guess what, maybe in these parts most of us were abducted by aliens & made into walking, talking, human xerox machines that will just keep copying stuff. I can’t just help writing differently, its refreshing to me so, long live my favorite horror fantasies.

  9. I think you will love my book when it comes out…oh yes you are goin to lovit cuz its not like anything you’ve seen before. 🙂 Great piece. I use to think my writing was awkward/that it wasn’t writing at all/ till I read this piece 🙂
    Thanks Ofili and PLZZZ keep speaking!!!! Mwuah!

  10. @ your illustration’s actually called a ‘crossbody bag’ hehehe. Nice one though. Totally love your website, its colorful, its fun and very inspiring stuff, vey motivational indeed. (Y)

  11. This. Grt piece tho,every body is learning and trying to be different,every body wants to write somtin out of d normal,dat kull ,very very very cool,but pls while trying to be different and trying to write pls write the real inspiration you have, most of our today writers are actually goin out of the line,in the point of doing somtin different,dey end up changing the real massage dey Α̲̅я̩̥̊ε̲̣̣̣̥ trying to pass on to their fellow readers, and wen they Α̲̅я̩̥̊ε̲̣̣̣̥ trying to make it perfect dey end up using the works of other writers.
    It time to get up,get working and do somtin different, don’t write like other writers,you can do dis if U̶̲̥̅̊ listen to the massage in you.And tanks dis is grt.keep d inspiration movin.D REAL TIN
    comfort chancha latest post is abortion a coup against destinyMy Profile

  12. kambi nachi on said:

    Okay, i guess i might need to go out on a limb here and say I disagree. i mean, i’m totally with you on the being different thing, and i totally catch your drift on the somewhat similarities between authors in style and appearance, but i believe it is more consequential than a conscious attempt at emulation. I think it’s funny you ask ” Why can’t they be different?”, but the very qualities that they have that make them “different” is what you also question.
    As a female, this article hit a nerve with me. Let me explain.
    I too have also wondered why a lot of African writers (and here, I’m referring to females) tend to have a certain “look” about them. and this is not even restricted to just writers – there are those singers, those activists, people you picture when you think about powerful african women over the course of history. People who have used their art and craft to resonate with the african woman and what she represents. Here, we are thinking Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo, Thandiswa, Kopano Matlwa, Asa, Zahara… and yes, while we’re at it – Chimamada Adichie. What do they all have as common denominators? A pride in whom they are. A pride in their natural hair. A pride in their native attires. A pride in their culture.
    Now, by no means am I saying that people who don’t portray these qualities as evidently as others are any less of legitimate Africans, ofcourse not! But what I am saying is that some appearances that people have are not as a result of trying to be like anyone else, but simply as a result of reaching a certain level of social consciousness and finding, through that, an identity that you represent.
    I think it is not coincidental that these people gravitate towards writing about their villages or what not. That would be what convicts them the most. Some of us may never understand it, but it’s kinda like how Nneka is always singing about the pain and yearning for the deliverance from bondage of Africans and all, and you sometimes catch yourself wondering “But it’s really not THAT bad na, Nneka. abeg kool dan”, but anyways, i digress. I think a lot of factors contribute to what writers write about. Writers also need to write to their target audience. They write about relevant social issues that their audience can relate to. Things that bring back elements of Nostalgia. Things that address the concerns and questions that they have had; pertinent social, religious and cultural issues. The West is preoccupied with extra-Terrestrial life, and are willing to invest millions into finding and discovering “our neighbours out there”, but I tell you give that money to a Nigerian, and he would show you what else it can do. So it’s little wonder that westerners write more of these genres. But I am with you on one thing, maybe Nigerians don’t have to be the ones buying these books written by foreigners. How about we create a market to sell to them what we have – just as we are – just like they have sold to us, and have succeeded in buying us over on their interests – hook, line and sinker.
    And going for a brief moment back to the idea of appearances, this doesn’t even apply to just artists/activists. Think about any unconventional group of people. Why do reggae singers always have dreads with ganja written all over their face? chanelling their inner Bob Marley? probably not. Why do the Physics teachers, or Partial Differential Equations or Statistics teachers/lecturers always tend to be the weird ones with uncombed and unironed shirts always seeming to puzzle over an invisible equation that only them can see? chanelling their inner Einstein? probably not.

    My point is that maybe observed similarities in artists is just a consequence of individuals that seem to be in the same “place”, if you can call it that. there’s a reason why the saying goes “birds of the same feather flock together”, and not “birds in the same flock have the same feather”. They didn’t develop similar feathers because they were flocking together. They gravitated towards each other and formed a flock because they had the same feathers.
    But i liked your drawing 🙂
    … Kambi

    • Babe, I feel you! I regretted not responding to that aspect of the post after I got over the whole bit on people expecting to read traditional/cultural stories so I’m glad you brought it up. It IS a certain consciousness, and not mere “copy cat syndrome”. I happen to have natural hair and it was born out of an awakening and realisation that (in simple terms) relaxers no be by force and has nothing to do with wanting to look like “other African writers”.
      Thank you for pointing this out.

    • Princess on said:


      This is probably a really ignorant question–set among the sharing of enlightened ideas by enlightened people–but is your name really “Kambi” or is “kambi nachi” a clever name meaning “can be nachi, as in natural”?

      If so, high five.

      If not, as you were.

  13. Your post resonated with me. I sometimes feel the pressure to produce a flawless piece of writing almost equal to the ones written by the well-known writers. However, I rest assured in the knowledge that we are all different with equally different interests and styles of writing. I personally believe that there is enough room at the top and as long as we keep improving ourselves and stay true to our interests, we would be successful.
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  14. Finally! Someone who sees it as well. I mean, get a little creative. I get that we sometimes want to stay true our traditional roots (not me anyway), but be honest, Naija has gone way past the village scene. Years ago I read a book, Zara the Wind Seeker, and I enjoyed it because it was different; it had science and magic and tradition. Sir Achebe, God bless his soul, was a writer from a different era, Chimamanda is a writer from a different era, WE are writers from a different era. By all means have a mentor, but be original!!!

  15. Thank you, thank you so much for this piece. It made a whole lot of sense and you just helped to express what’s been going on on my mind. Especially about using the bible passages and testimonials from top writers, that makes everything boring. Why write something when it would still look like another person’s work. Why be similar when you can be unique?
    This piece just gave voice to many of us who see things the way you do. And thanks so much for the inspiration.
    When I started my blog, I was putting up posts that I wanted. Things that will only inspire people not just gist and entertainment like every other blog. I want pure inspiration but people are not used tot hat kind of thing. But this post is however a push for me.
    Thank you.

  16. Ife Martins on said:

    Hilarious! A civilian version of Fela’s “Zombie” should be created for those folks. Personally I think it is a cheap blackmail to exploit “African” dressing just to have the aura of an Achebe or Soyinka. Not helping too, are some fluff-laden episodes of “Africa-dedicated” shows on the likes of CNN and Al-Jazeera where you see some individuals in their 50s speaking in pure “oyinbo” accent talking about the “relevance of literature” in Africa and how “artists should be proud of their heritage”….bla bla blah, all dressed in an “Adire” top as if a tie and dye fabric is all it takes to have the “African spirit”.

    I attended a book reading some years ago and i told on of the authors present that I am an aspiring writer. Oh my, why did I do that? He asked if that was why i kept an afro hairstyle, i said no. He said i should try work on my stuff since i was already cultivating the look.

    What “look”? Here I am, looking for ways to express myself in less-crude fashions and tame the horrible beast that denies me of accurate punctuations, and he is talking about the “look”. Oh, please!

    As for the authors who ride on scriptures to sell, I say “Big Shame”. I’d rather have few people read my book than sell it on the back of scriptural camels or quotes like “according to TD Jakes”, “Myles Munroe said something” and so on. Enough of cheap analogies (David should start demanding for royalties each time a writer or pastor uses him as an example of “rooting for the underdog”, Goliath too could use a good lawyer #libelThings).

    Let’s have stuffs like “Amadioha and Sango Dine with the Martians” or even “Chronicles of The Ogun Space Station” or something like that.#OfiliGetBusy.


  17. If we don’t do this we won’t push the imaginations of young African aspiring writers out to sea! We don’t need to remain landlocked for all the Black cliches in the world!
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  18. This could be directed to ‘Nollywood’ as well. The fakeness is just beyond me. Few original stories, fewer original actors ( or even actors who know what the hell they are doing). I think that the secret to success is not shamelessly copying your predecessor but ensuring that whatever it is you are doing is a damn good job.
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  19. Good stuff.
    You see, when I was growing up and writing, I was told my English was too English, my outlook too future-oriented, my attire to cosmopolitan.
    I thought their stance, fake, their consistent reach for gourds and cattle, cowardly, and their constant call for authenticity, a denial of a long since independent Africa.
    They won the battle but the tide of war turns.

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