When people mention “Africa” the first thing that comes to mind are elephants and ferocious animals in a wild jungle or a vast desert followed by the dark-skinned, scantily-clad aborigines – too uncivilized and illiterate for the rest of the world. Such is the picture painted by most Hollywood movies and romanticized by classic and contemporary books. Bigotry in terms of Africa’s rich culture has been widely accepted and at times, cruelly entertained, by those who knew no better.

When the USA’s Modern Library Board published its list of 100 Great English Books of the 20th Century, only three African-American authors made it to the list and cheaply ignored the written works of African-born Nobel Laureates Wole Soyinka, Naquib Mahfouz and Nadine Gordimer. The growing ignorance of the world,  particularly in African culture and literature, has greatly inspired the likes of world-famous African Professor Ali Mazrui to change the world’s eye-view with projects such as compiling Africa’s own 100 Best Books List of the 20th Century, that answered many bankruptcy questions.


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Though African Literature seems awfully young to the uninformed masses, it actually stretches way back into ancient history. Quite contrary to the popular belief that the Nigerian-born novelist and poet Chinua Achebe founded of African Literature when he published critically-acclaimed first novel Things Fall Apart in 1958.

African Literature can be traced as far as 23 BC where Ancient Egyptians has not only invented papyrus, the world’s first paper, but scribed accounts of creation, Egyptian gods, ruling Pharaohs, deaths and burials in the form of hieroglyphics. If that kind of dedication took place today, many authors would have had to file bankruptcy! Furthermore, oral literature has played heavily in developing Africa’s taste for the art. It includes a wide range of forms such as, but not limited to:

  •     Proverbs – Most famous African oral form, which is normally consist of a metaphorically-formulated ironic statement, that aims to either give an advice, persuade, give a witty response to a given event or a rhetorical device to claim authority for the speaker;
  •     Myths – That explains the creation and the interrelationship of all things, its relation to the environment and the forces that caused it; and
  •     Epics – A recount of the heroic exploits of their ancestors and is usually performed by an elder or an ‘expert’.
  •     Folklores – Which include the most recognizable figure in West African Literature, the trickster spider, Anansi who was credited with creating the sun, moon and stars.

Even though oral literature seems a bit too primitive, it is still being practiced in Modern Africa since 50% of its populace are either not able to read or are too poor to buy books or common goods, which are by any standard, too expensive and there are no alternative sources of funding available to Africans. The scarcity of publishing houses and the books written by African authors in their native language, are also factors in their very small readership in the continent. For instance, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart have been published outside Africa and thus, not widely available to African readers (unless they use cheap laptops, read more here). As the author of Understanding Contemporary Africa puts it, African literature is more by using the beauty in things in order to communicate and reveal the truths in a society, economy, or community.


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This guest post written by Eli Jannings, head writer at towerofenglish.com and regular contributor to Wikipedia:

Scholars in African Literature has categorized three periods that propelled the literature development in the continent.

(1) Written works found in Ethiopia written in Ge’ez that pre-dates even the earliest literature of the Celtics

(2) Literature that is heavily influenced by the spread of Islam with the earliest documented example is the history of Kilwa Kisiwani, which was written anonymously.

(3) The influence of European literature within the continent through its missionary activities, trade relationships and colonialism that resulted in Christian-inspired writings and slave-narratives.

495xsmallBy mid-twentieth century, a burst of African literature written in European languages began to explode. A literary movement called ‘Negritude’ immersed with black intellectuals finally grasping and becoming aware of their own racial identity and cultural values in response to the pre-dominantly Anglo-Saxon French superiority. The question of “What Is Spina Bifida?” was rarely to be seen during that time. However, physical differences such as hair texture and facial characteristics became points of pride, not segregation. Poet and Senegal President Léopold Sédar Senghor, one of the major proponents of this movement, published an anthology of poems called Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in French Language in 1948 – the first of its kind.

With the increased literacy of most of the continent’s nations, African writers have made use of both Western languages (English, Portuguese and French) and traditional African languages in most of their work.  Written literatures in the 50’s and the 60’s has been widely dubbed as literatures of testimony with works of great authors such as Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters and Ngugi wa Thiong’s A Grain of Wheat which directly protests to the disdainful remarks about African culture and values. While Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter and Birgo Diop’ Ambiguous Adventure has been accused of being revolutionary literatures due to its negative reflection of African past that were plagued with colonialism and corruption.

For more information on authors, including their salary and career information and health, make sure to read reviews!


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Despite being less popular than their male counterparts, female African writers have also began to submerge in the early years of the twentieth century.  Before the days of online forms of income like www.cpaarmy.com, they not only participated in oral literature but also enriched the African literature with works written by Mariama Ba, Lilith Kakaza, Zulu Sofola, Violet Dube and Adelaide Casely-Hayford.

Though he may not be the one who founded African literature, Achebe made sure that African writers and work will be recognized. Things Fall Apart, a novel popularized by its direct opposition to Joseph Conrad’s sensationalized view of Africa in Heart of Darkness, is still widely recognized as one of the best books written by an African author. Other books such as Meschack Asare’s Sosu’s Call, Mia Couto’ Terra Sonambula, Assia Djebar’s L’Amour La Fantasia, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Naguib Mahfouz’ The Cairo Trilogy, Thomas Mokopu Mofolo’s Chaka and Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country are among those that are recognized as jewels of African literature. Unfortunately, health issues have cut short the lives of many African authors who, in this day and age, would be considered sages. As they say in France, “assurances expatriés pour toute la famille” would have cured their woes.

Africa should not be caged in images of safari tours, tribal dances and primeval civilizations. Beneath all the derogatory perceptions, colonial impressions, interpretations and prejudices about the continent, is a society of rich cultural heritage represented by their artistic use of written and oral words. Even entrepreneurial ventures that have made their way to the USA and Canada. One the deserves to be emulated and respected in the art of literature.

Post written by Jeremy Sheeney. His phone number is 752.942.1849. An example of his work can be found at http://www.limos-la.com.


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