By Delalorm Semabia
Published September 9, 2014
The critic is everything (well, almost!) in the arts. The critic is the best chisel of a piece of art-work in progress.
The first critic of any piece of writing is the writer himself. For a writer to write anything enjoyable, he must have anticipated and addressed any possible questions from the reader on his choice of words, storyline, characters, narrative voice and grammar.
I have over the past few weeks been reading some exciting stories as part of the reading (or is it ‘critiquing’, ‘appreciating’ or ‘evaluating’?) team of the Golden Baobab Prize for African Children’s Literature. I have discovered that going back and forth, reading and re-reading a story and benchmarking it against my own view and imagination of the world makes the story more open to me. I owe it to every writer whose work I read, to be thorough, liberal and accepting of change and difference as a fair critic can be. If my view is narrow, my critique will be narrow. If I have seen enough of the world by travelling or by diverse reading, I will appreciate better those quaint twists in a story set in another part of the world.
An art critic is not typically a judge; he is more of a supporter in the stands, maybe even the coach, urging on his players (the story, the writer) to a winning end. It may not have crossed many minds but the critic critiques because he is cheering you on to a win.
From my experience as a member of the reading team of the sixth Golden Baobab Prize for African Children’s Literature, there is only one conclusion I can draw about the next generation of stories on African children’s library shelves: they will be bold and fearless. I know this because I have felt the roller coaster of emotions that writers have told their stories with. All of those stories, some affected by true (and oft times, harsh) African political, economic and cultural inflections, are the real reason why the Golden Baobab’s grand vision will succeed. The African has been given another stage to tell his unheard story to the world.
Yes, one of the stories I have read will go on to win. When it does and you hear anyone mention that it has achieved ‘critical acclaim’, just remember the critic. It all started with a writer who second-guessed the story he wanted to tell; who listened to his characters lie to him in the first and the second and the third drafts; and who, regardless of the odds, outwitted the judges, answered their unspoken questions and critiqued his way to triumph. In this game, only the best critic wins.
Delalorm Semabia was a member of the manuscript evaluation team of the 6th Golden Baobab Prize for African Children’s Literature whose winners shall be unveiled in November 2014.This is an abridged version of the article he wrote on his experience as a cheer-leader.