African Migration Narratives
Politics, Race, and Space
An article by Cajetan Iheka and Jack Taylor
Join the editors as they take you through their publication and their goals with African Migration Narratives. Find out the many ways in which this book is relevant today.
African Migration Narratives: Politics, Race, and Space emerges out of a shared interest and concern with the politics of migration and black diaspora studies. Migration is fundamental to the creation of the black diaspora, the shaping of black subjectivity, postcolonial thought more broadly, and contemporary African migration narratives in particular. Our goal is to braid together these issues under the unified theme of migration. The range of materials and themes addressed here allows the collection to appeal to those working in the disciplines of African literature, African film studies, black diaspora studies, and postcolonial and ethnic studies.
The book is divided into four sections. Section one, “African Migration on the Screen: Films of Migration,” analyzes filmic representations of migration from North Africa to Europe, Nigeria to England and the United States, alongside Gambia and Sweden with the goal of highlighting a multiplicity of migration routes.
Section two, “Forgotten Diasporas: Lusophone and Indian Diasporas,” provides a refreshing break from standard migratory flows by paying attention to what we call “forgotten diasporas,” routes of migration often neglected in the study of African literature and culture.
Section three, “Migration Against the Grain: Narratives of Return,” examines an underappreciated and under-analyzed migratory pattern: the return. The chapters in this section focus primarily on contemporary African novels dealing with African protagonists who return to their native lands.
Section four, “Migration and Difference: Indigeneity, Race, Religion, and Poetry at the Margins” draws attention to the function of memory, globalization, neoliberal politics, and violence in contemporary African narratives in an effort to understand the politics of migration and belonging. The section also demonstrates the importance of indigeneity and religion in relation to the politics of migration, and as important markers of subjectivity.
The collection is partially in response to a profound shift happening in African literature. The literary turn to migration was/is indeed pronounced. For example, migration is central to African literature particularly in its recent manifestations in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and The Thing Around Your Neck, Dinaw Mengestu’s The Beautiful Things that Heavens Bear, How to Read the Air, and All our Names, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods Inc., Teju Cole’s Open City and Everyday is for the Thief, D. Nandi Odhiambo’s The Reverend’s Apprentice and Smells Like Stars, Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Imbolo Mbue Behold the Dreamers, to name just a few texts. Though a great deal of the aforementioned literary texts are given careful attention in the collection, the collection also covers memoirs, poetry, films, visual culture, and other cultural productions by presenting essays by established scholars such as S. Shankar, Ken Harrow, and Valerie Orlando, to name just a few, and rising scholars as well to discuss migration as it takes shape in African culture productions. The contributors come from universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Africa, and come from scholars working in a range of disciplines from literary and film studies, visual culture studies, and beyond.
One of the primary goals of the collection was to not only cover a range of materials, but to cover many routes or migratory paths. The collection deliberately avoided presenting migration as a one street out of Africa and into the cosmopolitan west. For example, the collection has a wonderful chapter discussing the Lusophone diaspora, a chapter discussing the importance of the black diaspora to formation of foodways in Peru through a deft visual culture analysis, a chapter discussing regional migration set against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa, and a chapter discussing intra-African migration on the heels of the Rwandan genocide. Additionally, the volume helps provide what Chinua Achebe calls a “balance of stories” to challenge what Adichie calls “the danger of single story” by highlighting returnees in works such as Cole’s Everyday is for the Thief, Noo Saro-Wiwa’s Looking for Transwonderland, and the speculative fiction of Sylvestre Amoussou’s Africa Paradis and Abdourahman A. Waberi’s In United States of Africa.
The collection also came about in response to our political and social climate. The migration crisis has left no part of the world untouched as people flee Africa and the Middle East in search of better opportunities in Europe and America. Migrants from Latin America also beseech the United States’ border with Mexico begging to be let in or finding ways to enter illegally. As migration increases, the intensity of the politics of migration increases as well. As is well known, anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise as right-wing, anti-immigrant movements make waves throughout Europe and the United States. In this way, the collection itself is birthed out of the increasing political tensions surrounding the politics of migration. This heightened socio-political attention to migration is also responsible for the proliferation of African narratives on the subject.
It is our hope that the collection’s insights will enrich the multidisciplinary conversation on migration as a pressing problem of contemporary life and inspire a radical openness towards the stranger to come.
Cajetan Iheka is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama; Jack Taylor is Associate Professor of English at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
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