Mukoma explores African literacy tradition in new book

In his new book, “The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity and Ownership,” Assistant Professor of English Mukoma Wa Ngugi considers key questions around the critical reception of African literature and its beginnings.

The author says this book is the first “to situate South African and African-language literature of the late 1880s through the early 1940s in relation to the literature of decolonization,” which spanned the 1950s through the 1980s, and what he calls “rooted transnational literature” of today.

Mukoma challenges and seeks to correct this narrowing of the identities and languages of the African novel and writer. The book restores a missing foundational period to the African literary tradition, and shows how early South African literature, in both aesthetics and politics, is in conversation with the literature of the African independence era and with contemporary literature rooted in Africa and its diaspora.

“I try to answer a series of questions,” Mukoma says. “Why did Chinua Achebe’s generation privilege African literature in English, despite the early South African example of writing in African languages and then getting translated? What are the costs of locating the start of Africa’s literary tradition in the wrong literary and historical period? And what does it mean for the current generation of writers and scholars of African literature not to have an imaginative consciousness of their literary past?”

For scholars engaged in African literary studies, the book raises questions about the nature of African literature and criticism, and illustrates the ways in which critical consensus can be manufactured and rewarded at the expense of a larger, historical literary tradition. The publisher also recommends it to general readers seeking a greater understanding of African literary history.

The Africana Studies and Research Center celebrates the book’s publication at a Words and Wine event Monday, April 30, from 6 to 8 p.m., free and open to the public.

Available now in hardcover, paperback and as an e-book, “The Rise of the African Novel” will be released later this year and in early 2019 in southern, western and eastern African markets.

Mukoma also is the author of three novels including “Black Star Nairobi,” and two books of poetry. He is the cofounder of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature and the co-director of the Global South Project.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle

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