7 years after its emergence, the African literary site, Brittle Paper has grown into a thriving community of readers and writers interested in everything about African literature. The site, which operates as an intersection of literary criticism, literary-focused entertainment, and a publishing platform for young African writers, has successfully fashioned itself as an online destination that turns the stoic and seemingly rigid nature of literary platforms on its head. In an interview with The Style HQ, the site’s founder, Ainehi Edoro, discusses social media’s role in diversifying the conversation around African literature and how Brittle Paper might be the beginning of a literary paparazzi industrial complex.
What’s Brittle Paper’s origin story? I know you initially started the blog as a general interest literary blog in 2010. When and why did you decide to pivot and focus primarily on African Literature?
Brittle Paper started in 2010. I was one year into graduate school and grad school had been the craziest experience I had ever had. I read so much, I was pushed so hard, it’s super competitive, and I was reading all these complex texts. So that summer, I just decided that I wanted a space outside of the classroom where I could process the things I was reading. In 2012 I decided to make Brittle Paper an African literature blog, but I didn’t want it to be just a traditional literary site with book reviews and articles.
I wanted Brittle Paper to be this place where lifestyle and literature intersected. I wanted to create a space for African literature that was chill and fun, that wasn’t preachy and had a little bit of everything for everybody. For me, Brittle Paper was about thinking about how African literature intersected with so many different spheres.
What did you see coming out of the African literary community in 2012 that made you think that readers and literature lovers needed a space like Brittle Paper? Not another traditional literary site, but one that is social media oriented and is all encompassing like Brittle Paper.
I think 2012 marked the end of the first era of blogging. I started blogging in 2008, I had a Blogspot and there was this really vibrant blogging community that existed. At the time Teju Cole was just a blogger and he was blogging about things that would eventually become his first book, Everyday Is For The Thief, Jeremy Weate had Naijablog, and we would just go there and comment and quarrel about books and everything. It was an amazing time of blogging naivete. In the early 2010’s blogging began to change from this personal ranting and self-indulgent hobby to something that was more community-oriented and African writers were embracing social media in a way that they hadn’t. Nnedi Okorafor was incredibly vocal on Twitter and Teju Cole was using it as this micro-blogging space and doing incredible work on this platform, and I was looking at all of this and I thought, I could be writing book reviews but I wanted to capture this community. I wanted a space where I could tell this other story around African literary culture, a story that wasn’t traditional and conventional, and Brittle Paper became just that.
That’s interesting and I think that the response to Brittle Paper and Brittle Paper’s readership reflects the need for a platform like yours. Brittle Paper readers are excited about every aspect of African literature. From an author’s new hairstyle to a new book release, and I think it’s interesting how you tapped into this community that wanted the same reprieve you did when you started Brittle Paper.
I think people were ready for something like Brittle Paper, although I did have some pushback when I first started. I remember I wrote this post about Taiye Selasie and how sexy she is. Taiye Selasie is a brilliant woman who is beautiful and expresses her beauty confidently and with grace, and I wanted to celebrate all of that. So I wrote this post called 5 Reasons Why Taiye Selasie is The Sexiest African Female Novelist and people were like “how dare you objectify her?” If I could write the post again I wouldn’t use that title, but the point is people were not comfortable that I was looking at her ability to express her intellectual power through her body. If you follow her on Instagram, you will see that she’s unapologetic about the fact that she loves fashion and has an amazing body. She wears it proudly, and that was what I wanted to celebrate.
I’ve always known the kind of story I wanted to tell with Brittle Paper and I’ve stuck to it and I think people have been open to it. Over the years I’ve gotten fewer comments like “why are you writing a post about Lauren Beukes and her new hair color,” instead, people are more receptive. So, I think that people came on board and embraced what Brittle Paper is all about.