First-Year Studies: Contemporary Africa Literatures: Against the Single Story of Things Fall Apart

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This course will introduce students to the rich literary traditions that are grouped under “African Literature,” focusing particularly on the aesthetic, political, thematic, and cultural representations in several genres, including: drama, fiction, film, music, nonfiction, and poetry. We will examine the rich contexts of African literary production and their diversity in terms of language, thematic, and formal preoccupations. Engaging the works of writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, Bessie Head, Nadine Gordimer, Yvonne Vera, Sembene Ousman, Chimamanda Adiche, Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, Okot p’Bitek, Alex La Guma, and others, we will explore questions such as:  How is it that most of what is known as “African Literature,” both within Africa itself and outside, is originally written in European languages? That is one of many important critical questions posed by the recent collection edited by scholar Teju Olaniyan and Ato Quayson, African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, which forms our critical/theoretical base during our course of study. Therefore, we will explore themes of orality and literacy, national liberation and nation (re)building, gender, race and sexuality, migration, globalization, queer identity, and postcoloniality, alongside questions regarding the function of the writer and writing in the various spaces. What does it mean to be an African woman writer? What thematic and formal shifts occur within the works of writers such as Ngugi, who engage the colonial, postcolonial, and post-independence moments? What shifts occur in works of more contemporary writers such as Adiche, who offers that she works against contemporary engagements of the “single story” that still stereotypically casts Africa as a “dark continent”? We will also explore the implications of the international exchange of “Nollywood,” which is consumed by Nigerians and Africans living on the continent, as well as by those in diaspora, and which have become a popular part of programming in nations in the Caribbean. Lastly, we may explore the impact that the work of Fela Kuti and other musicians have had on national and international politics and on the cultural expressions of contemporary artists more familiarly aligned with hip hop and reggae.