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Reviewed by:
  • New Directions in African Literature: a review
  • Françoise Ugochukwu
Ernest Emenyonu (ed.), New Directions in African Literature: a review. Special issue of African Literature Today 25. Oxford: James Currey/Trenton NJ: Africa World Press/Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books (pb £14.95 – 978 08525 5570 5). 2006, 192 pp.

Resolutely transnational and transcultural, with the possible exception of Palmer's article on the new trends in the Sierra Leonean novel, this special issue of African Literature Today seeks to address current issues in the field of literary criticism while deliberately questioning accepted ways of thinking. Its purpose is aptly described by some of its titles: 'Bursting at the seams: new dimensions for African literature in the 21st century', 'Transcending the margins' and 'Rethinking in a global era'. Building on the legacies of the last century, the contributors review a selection of African literature and the role it played, offering, in Emenyonu's words (p. xi), 'a forum for addressing and redressing issues of education and mis-education in and about Africa'. In a small, unassuming way, this seminal and sometimes controversial volume, building on years of reflection and reviewing past trends, opens a dialogue on the legacies of the past century, seeking to move African literature forwards as it charts its course for the future.

Emenyonu's first chapter sets the tone, highlighting Achebe's prominent role in 'giving form, flesh and teeth' to modern African literary tradition and defining African writing. Nnolim then challenges writers and critics as he joins in the lament over the publishing difficulties experienced by African writers and the lack of promotion of books published in Africa. Pointing to what he perceives as a 'disquieting lull in African writing at the turn of the century', he calls for a 'new spiritual reorientation, a new creative hope' (p. 3), a 'forward-looking utopia' (p. 5) for Africa. Searching for new writers with a wider and challenging message that will appeal to critics, he seeks to promote a literary criticism which, away from theories, will serve as 'midwife between a difficult text and a non-understanding reader' (p. 7). Hale's article, the most challenging, embarks on a massive, global questioning of hitherto accepted borders, calling on writers to break away from Eurocentric literary genres written in European languages, to recover and explore the whole array of African oral and written literary genres, unearth pre-independence works and promote the reading and criticizing of works in African languages. He redraws the continent's literary geography, bridging the gap between North African literature and sub-Saharan literature 'to take a continental approach to Africa' (p. 11) that will reshape itself into a regional and multi-ethnic approach. He thus calls for the growth and expansion of African literature across previously set historical and genre boundaries, to now include and promote orality, in particular women's songs and epics, and upgrade the status of children's literature by including it in the body of literature. This move will be supported by Priebe's study of twenty-nine narratives of childhood covering the years 1952–2004, a contribution that reveals children as a cultural icon and the symbol of the future, proving the central place of education in the building of a transcultural identity. Literature from the diaspora had already attracted attention, with several voices raised in favour of its recognition, and Hale adds his support to this inclusion of what he considers a growing and [End Page 324] multifaceted field spreading across continents. Answering Nnolim's concern about publishing issues, he foresees an African literature expressed in books as well as in concerts and recordings, and pronounces the twenty-first century as 'the century of African literature' (p. 19).

Articles by Bungaro and Uko challenge traditional views and stereotypes about women's body and female education, highlight individual and political issues as intertwined, celebrate the coming of age of female writing through the study of Nigerian and Ghanaian writers across genres, and chart new directions in women's writings, 'repositioning the African woman' (p. 86) to bring her back from the fringes to the centre. Wilson-Tagoe's study explores the relationship between current theories of globalization...


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