Sunday, April 06, 2008

Literature of West Africa

A review by Alioune Sow of a recent book by Stephanie Newell, West African Literatures: Ways of Reading. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. 288 pp. appeared in the online journal African Studies Quarterly. Here's an extract:
Its strength lies in its important insights into existing interpretations and readings of canonical texts, or debates, as well as in its innovative and persuasive arguments. Newell’s careful discussion of “Popular literatures” gives a much-needed illustration of how the literary dynamism is ensured by local productions that “generate new types of selfhood” and activate new modes of reception. In the same vein, her chapter on the new feminism, which focuses on Werewere Liking, Calixthe Beyala, and VĂ©ronique Tadjo, explores the rejection by the three writers of outdated linguistic and normative codes to open to new expressions of “the new subjectivities of African women.” Furthermore, Newell’s discussion includes neglected problematics in the commentary of African letters, such as translation (chap. 5). She also revisits and rejects old paradigms, such as the exclusionary relationship between “written and oral genres,” which has been contradicted, as Newell demonstrates, by the works of the vibrant Nigerian “AlterNative poets” (chap. 8). Her chapter on “Marxism and literature” opens a crucial domain in the study of the history of African literatures by focusing on the dynamic debates about the affinities and divergences that make the ideologies of African literatures (chap. 10).
My fervent hope is that someday the village readers supported by FAVL are engaged themselves in the scholarly interpretations and debates captured in Newell's book.

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