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Reviewed by:
  • Words and Worlds: African Writing, Theatre, and Society
  • Lynda Gichanda Spencer
Susan Arndt and Katrin Berndt, eds. Words and Worlds: African Writing, Theatre, and Society. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2007. xi + 402 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $ 34.95. Paper.

Words and Worlds is the English version of a Festschrift first published in German as a tribute to Eckhard Breitinger who retired in 2005. It includes twenty-five essays by African authors, playwrights and theater practitioners, and German literary critics “whose work focuses on Africa [and] reflects on the social, political, and cultural processes in Africa from historical and contemporary perspectives” (ix). An eclectic collection, Words and Worlds brings together different genres to reflect the diverse domains of African literary studies to which Breitinger has contributed.

Susan Arndt’s introductory essay provides a historical background on reception of African literatures in Germany, situating Breitinger’s scholarship within the German academy. She is at pains to point out that Breitinger has contributed significantly “to the modernization and liberalization of African studies in Germany” (12).

The book is divided into four sections. The first (“Historical Perspectives on Literature, Theatre, and the University in Africa”) includes six essays. Focusing on Nigerian theater, Femi Osofisan explores the demise of theatrical productions, especially the vibrant traveling theater groups. Yet, arguing that this is but “a transient state of incubation,” (27) Osofisan is optimistic that in the near future theatrical productions in Nigeria will be revitalized. Sélom Komlan Gbanou postulates that “Anglophone theatre is foremost a medium of nationalism and. . . a form of art to be consumed locally, whereas Francophone theater more often than not brings to mind the expression ‘export theater’” (48). Temple Hauptfleisch gives a concise but useful history of theater in South Africa from precolonial times to 2004. Zakes Mda contemplates the trends of theater in postapartheid South Africa [End Page 222] —a theater perpetually reinventing itself and being used as a vehicle for reconciliation.

Part 2 (“Theatre for Development in Africa”) explores the social function of theater in Africa. Bole Butake uses Cameroon as an example to suggest that development at the grassroots level is achievable only if theater practitioners “encourage the social and psychological development of the people by the people through theater” (11). David Kerr uses his experience in Malawi to survey the way in which “the performing arts in sub-Saharan Africa function not only as a form of entertainment, but also as a tool for knowledge formation and dissemination” (12). Emman Frank Idoko’s focus on the Nigerian prison system illustrates how theater for development and role-playing therapy in particular can be used in prison as a strategy to rehabilitate inmates, and Frowin Paul Nyoni’s essay illustrates how theater for development has been used to address the issue of HIV/AIDS among secondary school girls in Tanzania.

In part 3 (“Challenging Society in Writing and Film”) Ambroise Kom and Ezenwa-Ohaeto reflect on the responsibilities of the writer in promoting cultural production that is meaningful to society, while Omofolabo Ajayi-Soyinka provides a fascinating discussion of the reception of the television adaptation of the play Àrélù. The editors should be commended for including two essays on contemporary female writing in this collection. Susan Kiguli gives a detailed exposition of contemporary women’s writing from Uganda by examining the circumstances that led to the formation of FEMRITE, established to create a distinct female literary tradition in Uganda. In its twelve years of existence FEMRITE has published sixteen titles (including two poetry collections, seven short story anthologies, and seven novels). Kiguli argues that in their attempt to explore societal issues from a female perspective women writers in Uganda often meet “sustained subtle resistance” (183). However, such writing can be seen as the “navigation of the slippery spaces between the long standing institution of patriarchy and the emerging positive attitudes towards [women]” (177). Goretti Kyomuhendo, cofounder of FEMRITE, draws on her personal experience to reflect on the numerous challenges that women writers in Africa continue to face. Women are at the center of her stories: “I do not relegate the female characters to the peripheries of the narratives but rather make them active participants...


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pp. 222-224
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