African thought in English writing

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Several years ago, I was involved in a project that drew inspiration from the work of Amos Tutuola (1920-1997). Tutuola was the first African novelist to attract international attention, writing in the English language. The Palm Wine Drinkard  is a classic that should be read by anyone who has a remote interest in Black African derived storytelling traditions. Some of Tutuola’s other works have inspired creative people working in other art forms to make memorable pieces of work, including dance, recorded music and television dramas.

I was inspired by Tutuola’s creative flair, even before I read his most renowned novel. I came across short passages from works of his that seemed to open up new poetic possibilities for telling stories, based on the fact that he chose to craft his ideas and statements using literal translations from his mother tongue, Yoruba, into English.

In actual fact, I was probably more inspired by the idea of what Tutuola was reported to have done, than by any of his works that I’ve read. For example, if I was to say “I’m happy” in Yoruba, I would say “Inu mi dun”. If I translate “Inu mi dun” directly into English, I could say “My belly is sweet” (or something similar).

Did Tutuola ever write in the way that I understood him to have done? Maybe not, but the potential for new ideas that came from his legendary status and the urban myths that I remember being told about him have filled significant spaces in my artistic vocabulary.

Mr Tutuola is probably Africa’s most influential literary stylist. May his output inspire many more generations of artists.