Writing a novel, or writing Africa? Recent fiction by writers from Africa and the challenge of addressing problems in African societies without reproducing hegemonic stereotypes about the continent
Dr. Anja Oed, Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, Johannes Gutenberg Universität-Mainz
This panel invites contributions exploring how recent fiction by writers from Africa negotiates, in many different ways, the challenge of addressing problems in African societies without “writing Africa” in negatively stereotypical ways.
In the 20th century, many (if by no means all) writers from Africa strove to challenge western (mis)representations of the continent in their works. Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is one of the most famous examples of this trend. The diverse counterdiscursive strategies employed by African (as well as other postcolonial) writers to oppose and subvert hegemonic stereotypes have been explored as “writing back”. In the 21st century, writers from Africa continue to deal with a vast number of old and new topics of both local and global concern in innovative and divergent ways. Those for whom counterdiscursivity remains an issue often point beyond “writing back” in one way or another, questioning or deconstructing customary dichotomies and renegotiating identity in transcultural contexts. Interestingly, a recent debate – especially among the global players of African literature – indicates a renewed interest in the image of the continent in literary works. However, this time, the concern is with what some of these critics read as negative and highly problematic representations of Africa in the work of their own peers. An example of this is Amatoritsero Ede’s (2015) critique of what he calls “self-anthropologizing discourse”, alleging that western-based writers from Africa write about Africa in ways deliberately satisfying the expectations of a western book market by confirming negative preconceptions about Africa. In response to this debate, Taiye Selasi (2015) has cogently clarified that “No one novelist can bear the burden of representing a continent and no one novel should have to”. Yet, the debate highlights a dilemma writers from Africa may experience when addressing experiences of human or political crisis, suffering and injustice in Africa. This panel invites contributions exploring how recent fiction by writers from Africa negotiates, in many different ways, the challenge of addressing problems in African societies without “writing Africa”, thus effectively counteracting the projection of Africa as “Other”.