What Writers Are Reading: Patrice Nganang

by    /  March 30, 2021  / Comments Off on What Writers Are Reading: Patrice Nganang

Patrice Nganang image

Photo: via nganang.com


Born in Yaounde, Cameroon in 1970, Patrice Nganang is an activist, writer, literary scholar, and is currently working as a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. Since 1995 he has published three scholarly books and twelve creative works, written in French, German, and English. His creative writings come in a variety of forms from his poetry collection Apologie du Vandale, to novels like Temps de chienand La promesse de fleurs, and Contre Biya: Procès d’un Tyran, a collection of essays. As an activist, he has consistently challenged the Cameroonian government for silencing and arresting people who protested — including himself — against these wrong doings. Nganang, along with a group of other scholars, started the campaign Generation Change, a citizen movement that works to improve general living conditions in Cameroon while making a call for solidarity and responsibility. 

What are you reading right now? 

As a professor, reading is my profession, everyday activity, and the bread and butter of my daily life. It is true that I have blended my professional reading with the reading I do out of passion for books. For instance, my interest in Blackness informs my choice of reading quite heavily. And the fact that I tend to read systematically is probably a consequence of my own professional training. I am currently very interested in reading novels in verse, written by Black writers Evaristo, Oho Bambe, Kwame Elexander, Safia Elhillo.

What stories and authors inspired you to become a writer? 

It depends. As an adolescent, comic books, the writings of Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, particularly Words. And then when I started writing again as a student, Bertolt Brecht, for sure. German writers in general, particularly because I was interested in reading anything that was part of the non-French world. Japanese No theater, for instance. You see, I was raised reading books in French, and I could not reconcile the oppressive nature of the French political system we experienced at home, with a love for the literature written by French writers. And, of course, German literature also came with the heavy burden of German history, and the necessity for writers to be committed to a very democratic understanding of the world. And to be willing take risks for that.

What are your reading habits like? 

I read and stop, this book, that book, without distinction. Sometimes I read all the books of an author, and then move to other writers. I just finished reading the books by Cameroonian writer Max Lobe, and now it is Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor I am reading, after this I am reading Imbolo Mbue.

Do you have any reading suggestions for Sampsonia Way readers? 

Imbolo Mbue, Max Lobe, Djaili Amadou Amal, and Jonathan Franzen.

How does what you are reading impact what you are writing?

It is impossible to write without reading. Both come together and work together. Writers are readers and readers are writers. As such, when I do not read, I write, and when I do not write, I read. There are two kinds of readings that are essential, or that have become essential for me as a writer. Reading archival material and reading what is published through social media. Both have literally transformed my writing, and I would say even more than reading novels.

Are there any authors or stories that you would consider an essential read?

Bertolt Brecht, Wole Soyinka, Friedrich Nietzsche, these are writers and thinkers I always come back to. I may also add Aimé Césaire. I used to read his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal to put my mind back together. I still do that with Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy. I read Tragedy every year.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about reading and/or writing? 

Reading has changed a lot, particularly because of social media. If during the ’80s television had transformed writing as David Foster Wallace or even people like Barthes and others remind us, social media has had a similarly transformative impact on writing. Cinema also had such an impact on writing during the forties, and Faulkner is unthinkable without its impact, or Baldwin without Black religious structures his strong moral sense combined with a certain transgressive need. Social media is similar for us, it rejuvenates writing, even if we still need to think the impact through. It is still so new!

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