You probably don’t know that I wrote a memoir – a little book about my extremely ordinary life. And I’m not surprised only three people bought I Could Be Someone. Seriously, who would want to read a memoir about an unknown African boy? People don’t read memoirs by people they don’t respect or revere.
I’m not a Nobel Laureate like Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela or Wangari Maathai. And neither am I specimen of grit and bravery. So, my memoir isn’t about escaping genocide like Immaculée Ilibagiza’s Left to Tell. It’s not about my stint as a child soldier like Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. And it is definetly not about becoming the first female president like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s This Child Will Be Great. Why should you care about my memoir?
I lost my Dad when I was 9, my Mom when I was 16 and at 17 I was a head of a household. Throughout my time in high school, I was kicked out for unpaid fees, I scavenged local dustbins, I was betrayed by close relatives and I succumbed to depression. But there is nothing unique about my story.
They’re more than 153 million orphans in the world. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, more than 200,000 households are headed by children. There is nothing unique about a story about death, disease and poverty. I was a mere statistic and my experiences were a cute anecdote. Nothing much. People don’t care about numbers and cute stories, they want unbelievable stories.
Writing a memoir, or any book for that matter, as an African is an act of bravery and foolishness. Only a brave person can write a book knowing no one will read it. And it takes a fool to write a book knowing no one will read it.
Why I Wrote a Memoir
“Your life is an inspiration to many people,” my wife said. She reminded me of how people wept when I shared my story at her village a few months back. Of course, I remembered the day; I still remember watching people trying hard to hide their tears as I spoke about life after losing my mother. And I was one of the people who cried.
For the first time in my life, I was honest about how I felt when my mother was ill-treated for failing to pay my tuition. I was honest about how what I felt when my uncle bought my young brother vegetable seeds when he asked him for a new school uniform. And I was honest about why I searched dustbins in my neighborhood at night with my young brothers. I didn’t know there was so much pain and so much scars in my heart.
For more than 20 years, I tried to cover hideous emotional wounds with cosmetic Band-Aids. Writing my memoir was my process for healing. I knew no one was going to read my book because people assume Africans are not good writers. Above all, most people think that books by Africans are of low quality and a waste of money. But I didn’t care about the number of copies I Could Be Someone would sell.
Christ words in Matthew 16:26 resonated with me, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Of course, they are times I wish more people would read my memoir. But whenever that thought enters my mind I remember my wife’s timeless writing tip, “Do not write to be read, write to help.”
Why I Keep on Writing
Very few publishing company are interested in publishing or helping unknown Christian writers from the majority world. For example, Crossway, publishers of English Standard Version, have never published an African author in their 80 years history. Does this mean in the past 80 years, there is no African who could write “gospel-centered, Bible-centered content that will honor our Savior and serve his Church”?
You might want to blame the publishers for economic segregation but it’s a business decision that reflects the cultural prejudice of people who buy books. For example, of the last ten books you bought, how many where by African or Asian Christians? I noticed this prejudice in my book spending and decided to change.
Despite the risk in publishing unknown Christians from majority world, InterVarsity Press and Langham Literature swim against the tide. But if we consider Philip Jenkins estimate that by 2050 most Christians will be African Christians, IVP and Langham Literature are ahead of the tide. It is this future prospect that pushes me to write. My generation might be enamored by western Christian literature my children and their children will not because the tides would have turned.
For that reason, I am currently writing two more books; one on how to read and understand the Bible as an African Christian and another memoir on prosperity gospel in Africa. And after self-publishing my first three books, my next two might be traditionally published. Thanks to Oasis International, like IVP and Langham Literature they are willing to take the risk of publishing an unknown writer because they know Africa needs more books by African Christians.