African Literature Comes of Age
Edited by Ernest N. Emenyonu
ALT 40: African Literature Comes of Age is a non-themed volume that reflects a variety of perspectives of African literary studies. The articles deal with diverse subject matters, set in all geographic regions of the continent. The authors demonstrate with unique presentations of familiar subject matters and novel critical theories, that this volume not only affirms but also celebrates the coming of age of African Literature in all its ramifications.
Since its inception in 1969/70, ALT has regenerated itself 39 times. In this 40th edition, the centrality and core of the discourse revolve around the unique and strategic status of African Literature demonstrated in themes relevant to human conditions in Africa and its diaspora. The thematic concerns include among other critical issues: children’s literature and storytelling as tools for acculturation and socialization, Diaspora realities and the concept of return in physical, philosophical and metaphorical imaginations; queer matters as 21st century living cultural manifestations in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and global environmental transformations as continuously evolving realities, to mention but a few.
At the apex of its development, the themes of African Literature have no boundaries; they have instead widened the scope of realities that they represent. For instance, in the lead article in ALT 40, “Of Literature and Medicine: Narrating Sickle Cell Disease in a Nigerian Novel”, Kazeem Adebiyi-Adelabi states that ‘Medical personnel can draw illumination and pedagogic values from reading illness narratives.’ He argues that ‘the sickle cell disease has become so rampant in Nigeria over the years that it deserves the type of wide attention given to HIV/AIDS in both the medical humanities, and in African literary studies.’ In the volume, Feminism has a new twist whereby pioneer African feminist writers were guilty of the stereotypes of womanhood that they criticized and lambasted in male chauvinistic writings. In an article titled “Posthumanism and Speciesism in African Literature: Animals and the Animalized in Zakes Mda’s novel, The Heart of Redness”, Chikwurah Destiny Isiguzo brings a rare perspective in the analysis of the portrayal of animal characters in the novel. There are personifications of animal behaviours and actions that remind one about anthropomorphic transformations in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In the same vein, conventional literary genres are either disappearing or crossing boundaries. John Uwa in his well-argued article titled, “The Text and Textual Fields of African Popular Literature: The Agency of Nigerian Stand-Up Comedy”, categorically states that genres are either disappearing or crossing boundaries. He identifies the theatre as regenerating new forms that in theory and practice change the known trajectories of dramatic theatre, and more. These are only a few examples of the changing horizons of African Literature discussed in ALT 40.
Indeed, African Literature has come of Age, in word and deed. The components of its coming of Age include maturity, diversity, scope, spread, and most especially its relevance. As far back as 1962, non-Africans were defining African Literature for Africans and the world embodying glaring misinformation in their definitions with impunity. Emerging African literary scholars travelled to Europe (Britain and France in particular) to study African Literature or earn their doctorate degrees in African Literature from Departments of English or French. Non-African literary scholars without proper knowledge of African oral performances as the foundations of African Literature claimed the authority to decide the standards for the criticism of African Literature. Perhaps most offensive was the denial of the very existence of African Literature as a literature in its own rights. The ‘best’ concession to African writing in English and French was that it was merely an appendage to English or French Literature. Therefore, to be credible, an African creative writer must manifest knowingly or unknowingly, his or her debts to an established European author. Two epoch-making events happened to change the perception of African Literature in the world. First, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958)happened and world literature changed forever. Secondly, in 1986, Wole Soyinka, a quintessential Nigerian (African) writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature. By the end of the 20th century, three other Africans also won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The rest, as the saying goes, is now history!
Yes, literary scholars in Africa, and their counterparts elsewhere in the world have joined hands to spread the word about African Literature. The demands for African creative works grow by the day, and African writers, male and female, are responding with amazing innovative distinctions and productivity.
ALT 40 substantiates authoritatively the increasing thematic depths and upsurges that have not only reinforced the autonomous status of African Literature, but also endowed its criticism with vibrant , formidable theoretical approaches to a height never before explored.
ERNEST N. EMENYONU is Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies at the University of Michigan-Flint, USA. He is Series Editor of African Literature Today. His publications include A Companion to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2017), Emerging Perspectives on Nawal El Saadawi (2010), and the children’s book Uzoechi: A Story of African Childhood (2012).