Thursday, November 15, 2007

Modern African Literature: An Introduction

Modern African Literature: An Introduction
by Azfar Hussain

a) Geographical

1) East and Central African Literature (ECAL): ECAL embraces, among others, such countries/regions as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Malawi, and Republic of the Congo. Some of the most important and influential writers coming from this part of the African continent include Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1938--, Kenya, novelist-short story writer-prose writer, principal works: Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat, Petals of Blood, The River Between, Devil on the Cross), Nuruddin Farah (1945--, Somalia, novelist-short story writer, principal works: From a Crooked Rib, A Naked Needle, Sweet and Sour Milk, Sardines), Okot p’Bitek (1931--1982, Uganda, poet, principal works: Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol, The Horn of My Love), Shaaban Robert (1909--1962, Tanzania, prose-/story-writer & poet, principal works: Maisha Yanga/"Autobiography," Kufikirika/"The Conceivable World," Insha na Mashairi/ "Compositions and Poems"), David Rubadiri (1930--, Malawi, novelist-poet, principal works: No Bride Price, Selected Poems), Tchicaya U Tam'si (1931--1988, Congo, poet-playwright-novelist, principal works: Epitomé, Le Ventré, Les Cancrelats).

2) South African Literature (SAL): SAL embraces, among others, the Union of South Africa including Basutoland, South-west Africa, Rhodesia (southern and northern). Some of the most important and influential South African writers include Thomas Mofolo (1873--1948, Basutoland, novelist-prose writer, principal works: Moeti oa Bochabela/ "The Pilgrim of the East," Chaka the Zulu), Solomon T Plaatze (born in Bechuanaland towards the turn of this century and died in 1950, translator-novelist, principal works: Mhudi, a novel, and Native Life in South Africa, a famous political work), Peter Abrahams (1919--, novelist, principal works: Song of a City, Mine Boy, The Path of Thunder, Wild Conquest, A Wreath for Udomo), Ezekiel Mphahlele (creative writer-Africanist-critic, principal works: Down Second Avenue, a novel, and The African Image, a book of criticism).

Other more contemporary South African writers include A. C. Jordan (novelist), H. I. E. Dhlomo (novelist), B. W. Vilakazi (poet), Alex la Guma (novelist), Bloke Modisane (short story writer), Alfred Hutchinson (novelist), Lewis Nkosi (playwright), Noni Jabavu (one of the few woman-writers writing among the Xhosa people of the East Cape Province of South Africa; she is famous for her two novels called Drawn in Color and The Ochre People), Dennis Brutus (poet), and Nadine Gordimer (the Nobel-prize-winning novelist and short story writer).

3) West African Literature (WAL): Anne Tibble in African-English Literature rightly observes: "Thinking briefly, of West Africa as a self-contained literary unit--which of course it is not, though cross-currents with East and South Africa are not strong--we may say that this section of the continent began its production of a written literature latest of the three....When as late as the 1940s, West Africa did awake, the number of its writers quickly grew. Especially so was the case in Nigeria, in spite of the hundred or more indigenous languages there. The total of poets, novelists, and dramatists in West Africa as a whole quickly exceeded those in the South or East."

Some of the West African countries producing powerful writings include Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Sénégal. And some of the most outstanding writers come from Nigeria alone--Amos Tutola (1920--, novelist-short story writer, principal works: The Palm Wine Drinkard, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle, The Brave African Huntress), Gabriel Okara (1921, poet-novelist, principal works--poetry: Were I to Choose and Other Poems; novel: The Voice), Chinua Achebe (1930--, novelist and prose writer, principal works: Things Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, A Man of the People, Arrow of God, Anthills of Savannah), Cyprian Ekwensi (novelist-short story writer, principal works: People of the City, Jagua Nana, Burning Grass, Beautiful Feathers), Flora Nwapa (1931-1993, novelist-short story writer, principal works: Efuru, Idu, Never Again, One is Enough, This is Lagos and Other Stories, Wives at War and Other Stories, Women are Different), Wole Soyinka (1934--, Nobel-prize-winning novelist-playwright-poet, principal works--plays: The Swamp Dwellers, Brother Jero, The Strong Breed, The Lion and the Jewel, A Dance of the Forest; novels: The Interpreters, Season of Anomy; memoir: Aké: The Years of Childhood; poetry: Idanre, Mandela's Earth and Other Poems), Elechi Amadi (1934--, novelist, principal works: The Concubine, The Great Ponds, The Slave, Sunset in Biafra), Buchi Emecheta (1944--, novelist, principal works: In the Ditch, Second Class Citizen, The Bride Price, The Slave Girl, The Joys of Motherhood, Destination Biafra, The Rape of Shavi), Ben Okri (1959--, novelist-short story writer, principal works--novels: Flowers and Shadows, The Landscapes Within, The Famished Road; short stories: Incidents at the Shrine, Stars of the New). Some of the more contemporary Nigerian poets of repute include Christopher Okigbo, Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, John Ekwere, Mabel Sagun, Michael Echeruo.

Poets in West Africa other than Nigeria include Lenrie Peters of Gambia, and the Ghanaians, George Awoonor-Williams, Efua Theodora Sutherland, Kwesi Brew, and Ellis Ayitey Komey.

Some of the important West African writers other than those in Nigeria are Abioseh Nicol (poet), William Conton (novelist), and Syl Cheney-Coker (poet) of Sierra Leone; Francis Bebey (short story writer-novelist-poet), Mongo Beti (novelist-essayist), Werewere Liking (playwright-novelist) of Cameroon; Ama Ata Aidoo (playwright-novelist-short story writer), Efua Sutherland (playwright), Kofi Anyidoho (poet) of Ghana; Mariama Ba (novelist), Nafissatou Niang Diallo (novelist), Ousmane Sembène (novelist-short story writer), Cheik Aliou Ndao (novelist-playwright) of Senegal.


According to Martin Tucker, "African writers can probably best be characterized by four broad divisions:

1. The Westerner or other non-African writer who utilizes the subject matter of Africa in a language not native to the African continent.

2. The African writer, black or white, who utilizes the subject matter of Africa in a language native to the African continent.

3. The African writer who utilizes subject matter other than Africa, but who writes in a language native to the African continent.

4. The African writer who utilizes the subject matter of Africa, but who writes in a Western language that has, by custom, become part of the African means of communication."

Tucker further observes, "using this convenient outline it may be said that African literature exists in several languages: in English (Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi, Wole Soyinka, to name a few); in French (Bernard Dadié, Birago Diop, André Gide, Joseph Kessel, Jean Lartéguy, Jean Malonga, Ferdinand Oyono, Jean-Joseph Rabéarivelo); in German (Kurt Heuser, Janheinz Jahn); in Danish (Johannes Buchholtz); in native African languages (Thomas Mofolo, Thiong'o); in the English of South Africans ( Nadine Gordimer, Sarah Gertrude Millin, Alan Paton); and in Afrikaans (Nuthall Fula, Ernst van Heerden)."

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