This is a story I like to use when I’m teaching. It’s so funny and acutely observed. It’s about a writing workshop, but beyond that it’s about the power plays that go on between men and women. We follow Chioma, a young Nigerian woman, as she arrives in South Africa to take part in a residential workshop for African writers run by the pompous but well-connected Edward. The other participants are referred to throughout by their countries: “the Tanzanian”, “the Ugandan”, “the Zimbabwean woman”, “the Kenyan”, “the Senegalese woman” and so on. Chioma’s judgements are mercilessly sharp. She thinks she might like the Zimbabwean woman “but only the way she liked alcohol—in small amounts”, and Edward looks “as though God, having created him, had slapped him flat against a wall and smeared his features all over his face”. The account of the workshop is intercut with the story that Chioma writes while she’s there, a story full of pain and rage, about a young woman whose father has left the family to live with his mistress. The mother’s business begins to suffer without her husband’s contacts and the girl is unable to find a job so in the end she is forced to swallow her pride and go to her father for help, but the job he gets her involves sitting on the laps of rich businessmen to get them to keep their bank accounts with her employers. Meanwhile, in the workshop, Edward preaches to them about what’s African and what isn’t and ogles Chioma’s breasts until she finds the courage to put him in his place. It’s a story for the #MeToo generation, which seems like a good place to end.
First published in Granta 95, Loved Ones, October 2006. Collected in The Thing Around your Neck, HarperCollins 2009. Read it here