AFRICA: Africa World Press Guide

compiled and edited by WorldViews

AFRICAN LITERATURE
Voices from "another Africa"

Note: This chapter is intended to be read in tandem with "The Voice of Women," which highlights the literary and other artistic contributions of African women. Some works by women authors and poets are included in this chapter, "African Literature, " but they are covered more fully in "The Voice of Women."
In his Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris, 1784) Thomas Jefferson observed: "Never yet could I find that a black man had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never saw even an elementary trait of painting o r sculpture."

Responding to this astonishing assertion, Ali A. Mazrui states: "As for Thomas Jefferson's belief that blacks were a people without poetry, black Ethiopians were writing poetry before Jefferson's ancestors in the British Isles were taught the La tin alphabet by the Romans" (see Ali Mazrui's article, "The Development of Modern Literature Since 1935," in Africa Since 1935 [Mazrui 1993], the eighth volume of the General History of Africa, pp. 579-80).

Even when Africa's literary accomplishments are acknowledged, problems persist. "Western critical discourse on [Africa's literary output] for centuries has been jaundiced and imperial," Raoul Granqvist observes in his introduction to Culture in Afri ca: An Appeal for Pluralism (Granqvist 1993). "The denigration of [Africa's] productions through misquotation and misrepresentations has been monumental. Western hierarchical notions of literary categories and canonical preferences have tended to obsc ure the artefacts under consideration" (p. 7).

The resource materials listed and described in this chapter demonstrate the truth of Mazrui's historical reminder and they illustrate the accuracy of Granqvist's critique. They also justify Mazrui's evident pride in the centuries-old literary gifts (ve rbal and written) of the people of Africa.

Ali Mazrui's article (reference above, pp. 553-81) is a good place to begin for a concise overview of the state of literature in Africa in the period since 1930--"an era," Mazrui notes, "which has witnessed the most extensive flowering of written liter ature in Africa." Mazrui identifies and discusses "the most basic forms of creative literature in this period of African history," namely, rhetoric and poetry, drama and theatre, and the novel.

The first ten of the thirteen essays in A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures (Owomoyela 1993) are grouped into three major language divisions (English, French, Portuguese), with an additional chapter entitled "African Language Lite ratures." Subdivisions within the French- and English-language categories are (a) poetry, (b) fiction, and (c) drama and theater. One chapter is given to a literary history of African women writers, and publisher Hans Zell contributes another chapter enti tled "Publishing in Africa: The Crisis and the Challenge."

Robert Cancel's essay on African language literatures in Oyekan Owomoyela's collection reminds readers "that another Africa exists besides the one that normally preoccupies the world's attention, and that [this other Africa] also produces noteworthy li teratures" (p. 3).

Reference guides to African literature include

Two introductory educational guides are A Handbook for Teaching African Literature (Gunner 1987) and the older Teaching of African Literature in Schools (Gachukia and Akivaga 1978).

The recent flourish of published studies (in the United States) on "multicultural literature"yields numerous suggestions for the study/teaching of literary works from and about Africa.

Poetry and rhetoric

Two anthologies showcase the richness of the poetic tradition in Africa: The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (Beier and Moore 1984) and The Heinemann Book of African Women's Poetry (Chipasula and Chipasula 1995).

Studies and anthologies organized along regional lines include

An Anthology of Somali Poetry (Andrzejewski and Andrzejewski 1993) focuses on a country that was once described as "teeming with poets," Somalia.

A History of Twentieth-Century African Literatures (Owe Du S. Read's article--"Beginnings of Theatre in Africa and the Americas"--is particularly noteworthy for the emphasis it gives to the need to put aside Western preconceptions and prejudices when approaching theatre in Africa. "Theatre as performance," Read reminds us, "has been emphasized increasingly in the West and drama as a process of social development has flourished in the Third World [Africa included]."

A study devoted exclusively to theatre in Africa is African Popular Theatre: From Pre-colonial Times to the Present Day (Kerr 1995).

Two engaging studies that help Western readers analyze and judge theatre in Africa on its own terms are Culture and Development: The Popular Theatre Approach in Africa (Mlama 1991) and When People Play People: Development Communication throug h Theatre (Mda 1993).

Regionally oriented surveys and studies are

Fiction

Individual works and anthologies of African fiction are listed in Appendix 3 below. Readers with Internet acce Du S. Read's article--"Beginnings of Theatre in Africa and the Americas"--is particularly noteworthy for the emphasis it gives to the need to pu t aside Western preconceptions and prejudices when approaching theatre in Africa. "Theatre as performance," Read reminds us, "has been emphasized increasingly in the West and drama as a process of social development has flourished in the Thi rd World [Africa included]."

A study devoted exclusively to theatre in Africa is African Popular Theatre: From Pre-colonial Times to the Present Day (Kerr 1995).

Two engaging studies that help Western readers analyze and judge theatre in Africa on its own terms are Culture and Development: The Popular Theatre Approach in Africa (Mlama 1991) and When People Play People: Development Communication throug h Theatre (Mda 1993).

Regionally oriented surveys and studies are

Fiction

Individual works and anthologies of African fiction are listed in Appendix 3 below. Readers with Internet access can see an updated version of this list at .

Requesting catalogs from the publishers whose works appear on this list is a good way to keep current. Heinemann's African Writers series is particularly noteworthy. So, too, is the catalog of "New and Recent Titles on African Literature and Languages " published periodically by African Books Collective (Oxford).

Critical studies

Reference sources of note are

The latter series includes The Marabout and the Muse: New Approaches to Islam in African Literature (Harrow 1996), New Writing from Southern Africa: Authors Who Have Become Prominent Since 1980 (Ngara 1996), and Thresholds of Change in African Literature: The Emergence of a Tradition (Harrow 1994).

Critical studies in the New Perspectives series (Hans Zell) include A Mask Dancing: Nigerian Novelists of the Eighties (Maja-Pearce 1992), Teachers, Preachers, Non-Believers: A Social History of Zimbabwean Literature (Veit-Wild 1992), and books listed elsewhere in this chapter.

Studies on individual African authors include

The literature of Francophone Africa is examined in three texts, Francophone African Fiction: Reading a Literary Tradition (Ngate 1988), African Francophone Writing: A Critical Introduction (Ibnifassi and Hitchcott 1996), and Postcolon ial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers (Green et al. 1996).

Other regionally oriented critical studies include

See also:

Literature in South Africa


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