African literature refers to the literature of and for the African peoples. As George Joseph notes on the first page of his chapter on African literature in "Understanding Contemporary Africa", while the European perception of literature generally refers to written letters, the African concept includes oral literature. [ George, Joseph, "African Literature" ch. 12 of "Understanding Contemporary Africa" p. 303 ]
As George Joseph continues, while European views of literature often stressed a separation of art and content, African awareness is inclusive:
:"Literature" can also imply an artistic use of words for the sake of art alone. Without denying the important role of aesthetics in Africa, we should keep in mind that, traditionally, Africans do not radically separate art from teaching. Rather than write or sing for beauty in itself, African writers, taking their cue from oral literature, use beauty to help communicate important truths and information to society. Indeed, an object is considered beautiful because of the truths it reveals and the communities it helps to build." [ ibid p. 304 ]
Early written literatures
North Africa had an early literate indigenous civilization (
Ancient Egypt) some of whose hieroglyphic writings survive. North Africans also contributed to writing in Phoenician, Greek and Latin. Phoenician material, from Carthageand other colonies on the continent, has been very largely lost. Encouraged by the royal patronage of the Ptolemaicrulers, scholars in Alexandriaassembled the famous Library of Alexandriaand Alexandrian writers contributed not insignificantly to the material housed in this institution. North Africans writing in Latin include Apuleiusand Saint Augustine.
In Islamic times, North Africans, such as
ibn Khaldunattained great distinction within Arabic literature.
Oral literature (or
orature) may be in prose or verse. The prose is often mythological or historical and can include tales of the trickster character. Storytellers in Africa sometimes use call-and-response techniques to tell their stories. Poetry, often sung, includes: narrative epic, occupational verse, ritual verse, praise poems to rulers and other prominent people. Praise singers, bards sometimes known as " griots", tell their stories with music. [http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/ent/A0802673.html] Also recited, often sung, are: love songs, work songs, children's songs, along with epigrams, proverbs and riddles. [ George Joseph, op. cit. pp. 306-310 ]
Examples of pre-colonial African literature include the
Epic of Sundiatacomposed in medieval Mali, The older Epic of Dinga from the old Ghana Empire, and the Kebra Negast or book of kings from Ethiopia. One popular form of traditional African folktale is the "trickster" story, where a small animal uses its wits to survive encounters with larger creatures. Examples of animal tricksters include Anansi, a spiderin the folklore of the Ashantipeople of Ghana; Ijàpá, a tortoisein Yoruba folklore of Nigeria; and Sungura, a harefound in central and East African folklore. [ [http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761555353/African_Literature.html African Literature - MSN Encarta ] ]
Colonial African literature
The African works best known in the West from the period of colonization and the slave trade are primarily slave narratives, such as
Olaudah Equiano's " The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" (1789).
In the colonial period, Africans exposed to Western languages began to write in those tongues. In 1911,
Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford(also known as Ekra-Agiman) of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) published what is probably the first African novel written in English, "" [ [http://www.thoemmes.com/african/ekra_agiman_intro.htm] . ] Although the work moves between fiction and political advocacy, its publication and positive reviews in the Western press mark a watershed moment in African literature.
During this period, African plays began to emerge.
Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomoof South Africapublished the first English-language African play , "" in 1935. In 1962, Ngugi wa Thiong'oof Kenyawrote the first East African drama, " The Black Hermit", a cautionary tale about " tribalism" ( racismbetween African tribes).
African literature in the late colonial period (between the end of
World War Iand independence) increasingly showed themes of liberation, independence, and (among Africans in French-controlled territories) négritude. One of the leaders of the négritude movement, the poet and eventual President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, published the first anthology of French-language poetry written by Africans in 1948, "Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française" ("Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in the French Language"), featuring a preface by the French existentialistwriter Jean-Paul Sartre. [ [http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761579258/Leopold_Senghor.html Leopold Senghor - MSN Encarta ] ]
Postcolonial African literature
With liberation and increased literacy since most African nations gained their independence in the 1950s and 1960s, African literature has grown dramatically in quantity and in recognition, with numerous African works appearing in Western academic curricula and on "best of" lists compiled at the end of the 20th century. African writers in this period wrote both in Western languages (notably English, French, and Portuguese) and in traditional African languages.
Ali A. Mazrui and others mention seven conflicts as themes: the clash between Africa's past and present, between tradition and modernity, between indigenous and foreign, between individualism and community, between socialism and capitalism, between development and self-reliance and between Africanity and humanity. [ Ali A. Mazrui et al. "The development of modern literature since 1935" as ch. 19 of UNESCO's General History of Africa vol. VIII p. 564f Collaborating with Ali A. Mazrui on this chapter were
Mario Pinto de Andrade, M'hamed Alaoui Abdalaoui, Daniel P. Kunene and Jan Vansina.] Other themes in this period include social problems such as corruption, the economic disparities in newly independent countries, and the rights and roles of women. Female writers are today far better represented in published African literature than they were prior to independence.
Wole Soyinkabecame the first post-independence African writer to win the Nobel Prizein literature. Algerian-born Albert Camushad been awarded the 1957 prize.
Noma Award, begun in 1980, is presented for the outstanding work of the year in African literatures.
Major African novels
Chinua Achebe, " Things Fall Apart" ( Nigeria)
Alan Paton, " Cry, The Beloved Country" ( South Africa)
Gracy Ukala, " Dizzy Angel" ( Nigeria)
Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, " Ogboju odẹ ninu igbo irunmalẹ(The Forest of a Thousand Demons)" ( Nigeria)
Dalene Matthee, "Kringe in 'n bos" (en|Circles in a forest) ( South Africa)
Mariama Bâ, "Une si longue lettre (So Long a Letter)" ( Senegal)
Ousmane Sembène, " Xala" ( Senegal)
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, " A Grain of Wheat" (Kenya)
Benjamin Sehene, " Le Feu sous la Soutane(Fire under the Cassock)" ( Rwanda)
Thomas Mofolo, "Chaka" ( South Africa/ Lesotho)
Tsitsi Dangarembga, " Nervous Conditions" ( Zimbabwe)
Dambudzo Marechera, " The House of Hunger" ( Zimbabwe/ Rhodesia)
Yvonne Vera, " Butterfly Burning" ( Zimbabwe)
Mia Couto, " Terra Sonâmbula(A Sleepwalking Land)" ( Mozambique)
Ayi Kwei Armah, " The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born" ( Ghana)
Ben Okri, " The Famished Road" ( Nigeria)
J.M. Coetzee, " Disgrace" ( South Africa)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, " Half of a Yellow Sun" ( Nigeria)
Major African poets
Chinua Achebe( Nigeria)
Wole Soyinka( Nigeria)
Christopher Okigbo( Nigeria)
Lenrie Peters( Gambia)
Kofi Anyidoho( Ghana)
Dennis Brutus( South Africa)
Kofi Awoonor( Ghana)
*"Encyclopedia of African Literature", ed Simon Gikandi, London: Routledge, 2003.
*"The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature", ed
Abiola Ireleand Simon Gikandi, 2 vls, Cambridge [u.a.] : Cambridge University Press, 2004. [http://www.gbv.de/du/services/agi/B3F431645C8BC864C1256FCC005937EE/420000136828 Table of contents]
*"Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writing by Women of African Descent", ed Margaret Busby (Random House, 1992).
*"General History of Africa vol. VIII, ed. Ali A. Mazrui, UNESCO, 1993, ch. 19 "The development of modern literature since 1935," Ali A. Mazrui et al.
*"Understanding Contemporary Africa, ed. April A. Gordon and Donald L. Gordon, Lynne Rienner, London, 1996, ch. 12 "African Literature", George Joseph
List of African writers
* [http://african.lss.wisc.edu/ African Languages and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison]
* [http://www.africanlit.org/ African Literature Association]
* [http://www.zibf.org.zw/awards/100bestbooks.html The 100 best African books of the 20th century]
* [http://www.africaresearch.info/ Research in African literature and Culture]
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