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Writers chronicle Africa in sync with World Cup

July 7, 2010 | 10:15 am


Writers of African descent from Europe and America are winding their way across Africa; they're joining African authors who are writing about their experiences, all in coordination with the World Cup. It's for Pilgrimages, a project of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists, sponsored by several foundations. Right now, the authors are contributing to a group blog; in the future, each will publish a book of nonfiction about his or her travels.

Southern California-based Chris Abani is one of 15 authors who are participating. Abani, a poet and novelist who teaches at UC Riverside, is the award-winning author of the acclaimed novella "Song for Night." He begins his story of a man in the stands at a World Cup game this way:

The light is brittle from the floodlights, the night colder than any African night should be, the Vuvuzelas are blaring at full volume, and Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg is a riot of color as the fans arrive giving the stands the look of a bedazzled sweater. The game is the US versus Slovenia and the South African fans are torn between supporting the USA, who they love and Slovenia who are the underdogs in the game.

Seated in the stands among the screaming fans is Eric Akunda a Kenya-born US citizen. Like so many fans from around the world, Eric has come to watch the world cup, but unlike many of the other fans, he is on a special mission. He is here to make his son’s dreams come true in a most unusual but heartbreakingly beautiful way.

While Abani is in South Africa, which is hosting the World Cup, not all of the authors have Johannesburg as a destination. Victor LaValle, author of "Big Machine," is in Uganda -- he grew up in New York, the son of a Ugandan mother. "My mother and uncle and cousins have stories about their Uganda, but part of the reason I’m excited for this journey is that now I get the chance to have my own experience. To see the country through my eyes," writes LaValle. "As the summary of my trip suggests, I plan to spend time talking with the faithful. But I will be going to the pork joints and the night clubs, too. I believe a man can love the Lord and still enjoy a cold bottle of Heineken."

The books written by the participants, the website says, "will be the most significant single addition to the continent's archive of literary knowledge since the African Writer's Series founded in the 1960s." The site continues:

At a moment in time when the whole continent is more visible to its inhabitants and to the rest of the world than at any other since independence, PILGRIMAGES will reintroduce Africans to the literary world in the same form that so many outside writers have employed to create a distorted idea of us to the world.

To keep up with these far-flung and individual stories from master African storytellers, visit Pilgrimages.org.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Chris Abani in 2007. Credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times

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