By THEA LENARDUZZI
Last night, in the opulent surroundings of the Commonwealth Foundation’s headquarters, just off Pall Mall, a panel of Commonwealth writers came together, chaired by the Sri Lankan novelist Romesh Gunesekera, to discuss the place, if indeed there is one, of humour in conflict. The event coincided with the launch of the Foundation’s 10-by-10 Podcasts, a series of ten-minute contributions from writers across the Commonwealth, including Margaret Atwood (Canada), Binyavanga Wainana (Kenya) and Gunesekera himself.
Back in Malborough House, however, Gunesekera was joined by Leila Aboulela, a Sudanese playwright and novelist, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a Ugandan novelist and poet (and the winner of last year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize), and Kei Miller, a Jamaican writer for whom, apparently, “a novelist” is “the worst thing in the world you could be called” – a contentious point to make in a room full of (amateur) novelists. (Miller writes in multiple forms at the same time – “It’s a form of ADD”, he says – poem, essay and novel are in constant rotation on his computer screen.) His point is rooted in the idea that looking at the world through the lens of any one genre (be it romantic, scientific or otherwise) risks minimizing the complexity of the situation. We also need to dispel the myth that humour cannot carry heft – “there is great terror and profundity to be found in humorous writing”.