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Literature > African Literature

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Rethinking African Cultural Production Cover

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Rethinking African Cultural Production

Edited by Frieda Ekotto and Kenneth W. Harrow

Frieda Ekotto, Kenneth W. Harrow, and an international group of scholars set forth new understandings of the conditions of contemporary African cultural production in this forward-looking volume. Arguing that it is impossible to understand African cultural productions without knowledge of the structures of production, distribution, and reception that surround them, the essays grapple with the shifting notion of what "African" means when many African authors and filmmakers no longer live or work in Africa. While the arts continue to flourish in Africa, addressing questions about marginalization, what is center and what periphery, what traditional or conservative, and what progressive or modern requires an expansive view of creative production.

Return to the Kingdom of Childhood Cover

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Return to the Kingdom of Childhood

Re-envisioning the Legacy and Philosophical Relevance of Negritude

Return to the Kingdom of Childhood: Re-envisioning the Legacy and Philosophical Relevance of Negritude examines the philosophy of Negritude through an innovative analysis of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s oeuvre. In the first book-length study of Senghorian philosophy, Cheikh Thiam argues that Senghor’s work expresses an Afri-centered conception of the human while simultaneously offering a critique of the Western universalization of “man.” Senghor’s corrective, descriptive, and prescriptive theory of humanness is developed through a conception of race as a cultural manifestation of being. Thiam contends that Senghor’s conception of race entails an innovative Afri-centered epistemology and ontology. For Senghor, races are the effects of particular groups’ relations to the world. The so-called “Negroes,” for example, are determined by their epistemology based on their fluid understanding of the ontological manifestations of being. The examination of this ontology and its ensuing epistemology, which is constitutive of the foundation of Senghor’s entire oeuvre, indicates that Negritude is a postcolonial philosophy that stands on its own. The hermeneutics of Senghor’s race theory show that the Senegalese thinker’s pioneering postcolonial philosophy remains relevant in the postcolonial era. In fact, it questions and expands the works of major contemporary African-descended scholars such as Paul Gilroy, Edouard Glissant, and Molefi Asante. Thiam’s approach is thoroughly interdisciplinary, combining perspectives from philosophy, literary analysis, anthropology, and postcolonial, African, and cultural studies.

The Sacred Door and Other Stories Cover

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The Sacred Door and Other Stories

Cameroon Folktales of the Beba

Makuchi

The Sacred Door and Other Stories: Cameroon Folktales of the Beba offers readers a selection of folktales infused with riddles, proverbs, songs, myths, and legends, using various narrative techniques that capture the vibrancy of Beba oral traditions. Makuchi retells the stories that she heard at home when she was growing up in her native
Cameroon.
The collection of thirty-three folktales of the Beba showcases a wide variety of stories that capture the richness and complexities of an agrarian society’s oral literature and traditions. Revenge, greed, and deception are among the themes that frame the story lines in both new and familiar ways. In the title story, a poor man finds himself elevated to king. The condition for his continued success is that he not open the sacred door. This tale of temptation, similar to the story of Pandora’s box, concludes with the question, “What would you have done?”
Makuchi relates the stories her mother told her so that readers can make connections
between African and North American oral narrative traditions. These tales reinforce the commonalities of our human experiences without discounting our differences.



Shaken Wisdom Cover

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Shaken Wisdom

Irony and Meaning in Postcolonial African Fiction

Gloria Nne Onyeoziri

In her focus on irony and meaning in postcolonial African fiction, Gloria Nne Onyeoziri refers to an internal subversion of the discourse of the wise and the powerful, a practice that has played multiple roles in the circulation of knowledge, authority, and opinion within African communities; in the interpretation of colonial and postcolonial experience; and in the ongoing resistance to tyrannies in African societies. But irony is always reversible and may be used to question the oppressed as well as the oppressor, shaking all presumptions of wisdom. Although the author cites numerous African writers, she selects six works by Chinua Achebe, Ahmadou Kourouma, and Calixthe Beyala for her primary analysis.

Modern Language Initiative

Sounding Off Cover

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Sounding Off

Rhythm, Music, and Identity in West African and Caribbean Francophone Novels

Julie Huntington

Intrigued by "texted" sonorities—the rhythms, musics, ordinary noises, and sounds of language in narratives—Julie Huntington examines the soundscapes in contemporary Francophone novels such as Ousmane Sembene's God's Bits of Wood (Senegal), and Patrick Chamoiseau's Solibo Magnificent (Martinique). Through an ethnomusicological perspective, Huntington argues in Sounding Off that the range of sounds —footsteps, heartbeats, drumbeats—represented in West African and Caribbean works provides a rhythmic polyphony that creates spaces for configuring social and cultural identities.

Huntington’s analysis shows how these writers and others challenge the aesthetic and political conventions that privilege written texts over orality and invite readers-listeners to participate in critical dialogues—to sound off, as it were, in local and global communities.

The Storyworld Accord Cover

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The Storyworld Accord

Econarratology and Postcolonial Narratives

Erin James

“Storyworlds,” mental models of context and environment within which characters function, is a concept used to describe what happens in narrative. Narratologists agree that the concept of storyworlds best captures the ecology of narrative interpretation by allowing a fuller appreciation of the organization of both space and time, by recognizing reading as a process that encourages readers to compare the world of a text to other possible worlds, and by highlighting the power of narrative to immerse readers in new and unfamiliar environments.

Focusing on the work of writers from Trinidad and Nigeria, such as Sam Selvon and Ben Okri, The Storyworld Accord investigates and compares the storyworlds of nonrealist and postmodern postcolonial texts to show how such narratives grapple with the often-collapsed concerns of subjectivity, representation, and environment, bringing together these narratological and ecocritical concerns via a mode that Erin James calls econarratology. Arguing that postcolonial ecocriticism, like ecocritical studies, has tended to neglect imaginative representations of the environment in postcolonial literatures, James suggests that readings of storyworlds in postcolonial texts helps narrative theorists and ecocritics better consider the ways in which culture, ideologies, and social and environmental issues are articulated in narrative forms and structures, while also helping postcolonial scholars more fully consider the environment alongside issues of political subjectivity and sovereignty.

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Theatrical Jazz

Performance, Àṣẹ, and the Power of the Present Moment

Written by

Omi Osun Joni L. Jones provides the first full-length study of an artistic form, the theatrical jazz aesthetic, that draws on the jazz principles of ensemble—the break, the bridge, and the blue note. Theatrical Jazz: Performance, Àṣẹ, and the Power of the Present Moment is a study of the use of jazz aesthetics in theatre as created by major practitioners of the form, giving particular attention to three innovative artists: Laurie Carlos, Daniel Alexander Jones, and Sharon Bridgforth. Theatrical Jazz examines how artists are made and how artists make art. In charting their overlapping artistic genealogies, the book also discusses the work of veteran artists Aishah Rahman, Robbie McCauley, Sekou Sundiata, Ntozake Shange, and Erik Ehn, as well as the next generation of theatrical jazz innovators, Grisha Coleman, Walter Kitundu, Florinda Bryant, and Zell Miller III. Using autocritography as a primary methodology, the author draws on her role as performer, collaborator, audience/witness, and dramaturg in theatrical jazz, and her experiences with Yoruba spiritual traditions, to excavate the layers and nuances of this performance form. Jones’s use of performative writing, a blend of intellectual, artistic, and sensory experiences, allows scholars and students not only to read but also to “hear” the principles of theatrical jazz on the page.

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Transnational Discourses on Class, Gender, and Cultural Identity

by Irene Marques

This exploration of class, feminism, and cultural identity (including issues of race, nation, colonialism, and economic imperialism) focuses on the work of four writers: the Mozambican Mia Couto, the Portuguese José Saramago, the Brazilian Clarice Lispector and the South African J. M. Coetzee. In the first section, the author discusses the political aspects of Couto’s collection of short stories Contos do nascer da terra (Stories of the Birth of the Land) and Saramago’s novel O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis). The second section explores similar themes in Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K and Lispector’s A hora da estrela (The Hour of the Star). Marques argues that these four writers are political in the sense that they bring to the forefront issues pertaining to the power of literature to represent, misrepresent, and debate matter related to different subaltern subjects: the postcolonial subject, the poor subject (the "poor other"), and the female subject. She also discusses the "ahuman other" in the context of the subjectivity of the natural world, the dead, and the unborn, and shows how these aspects are present in all the different societies addressed and point to the mystical dimension that permeates most societies. With regard to Couto's work, this "ahuman other" is approached mostly through a discussion of the holistic, animist values and epistemologies that inform and guide Mozambican traditional societies, while in further analyses the notion is approached via discussions on phenomenology, elementality, and divinity following the philosophies of Lévinas and Irigaray and mystical consciousness in Zen Buddhism and the psychology of Jung.

Trickster and Hero Cover

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Trickster and Hero

Two Characters in the Oral and Written Traditions of the World

Harold Scheub

The Uncoiling Python Cover

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The Uncoiling Python

South African Storytellers and Resistance

Harold Scheub

The oral and written traditions of the Africans of South Africa have provided an understanding of their past and the way the past relates to the present. These traditions continue to shape the past by the present, and vice versa. From the time colonial forces first came to the region in 1487, oral and written traditions have been a bulwark against what became 350 years of colonial rule, characterized by the racist policies of apartheid. The Uncoiling Python: South African Storytellers and Resistance is the first in-depth study of how Africans used oral traditions as a means of survival against European domination.

Africans resisted colonial rule from the beginning. They participated in open insurrections and other subversive activities in order to withstand the daily humiliations of colonial rule. Perhaps the most effective and least apparent expression of subversion was through indigenous storytelling and poetic traditions. Harold Scheub has collected the stories and poetry of the Xhosa, Zulu, Swati, and Ndebele peoples to present a fascinating analysis of how the apparently harmless tellers of tales and creators of poetry acted as front-line soldiers.

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