The Changing Face of African Literature

April 2006 -

From 21 to 23 March 2006, the Centre for African Literary Studies organized a conference entitled "The Changing Face of African Literature" at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. This conference was held in conjunction with the "Time of the Writer" festival in Durban, which brought together more than twenty writers from around the world including Abdelkader Benali (Morroco/The Netherlands), Amitav Ghosh (India) and the famous South African cartoonist Zapiro, winner of the 2005 Prince Claus Award.

The keynote speaker Nana Wilson-Tagoe from the School for African and Oriental Studies in London, Great Britain, set the tone of the conference by discussing the changing paradigms of African literature. She discerned four new “locations”:

  • the emergence of women’s writing and its new approaches to notions such as nation, culture, and narrative itself;
  • the near collapse of many African states;
  • increasing migration, inside the continent as well as to other parts of the world, through voluntary and forced exile;
  • and, finally, the emergence of narratives about illness and war, with HIV/Aids and the figure of the child soldier as specific (and often extreme) examples.

There was much debate both among academics and writers, about the balance between the claims of art and the pressing political demands of the continent. In addition, questions were raised about the continuing existence of the genre of “African literature”. The diversity of African literature was emphasized by the fact that there were academic papers on literature in several languages (Afrikaans, English, French, Portuguese, Zulu and Xhosa). Interpreting facilities made it possible for people to speak to each other who would otherwise rarely get the opportunity to do so.

This panel discussion with academics and writers was part of the conference “The Changing Face of African Literature” and chaired by Stefan Helgesson from Uppsala University, Sweden. The five writers who participated in this discussion were: Chris Abani (Nigeria), José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola), Patrice Nganang (Cameroon), Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda) and Ishtiyaq Shukri (South Africa).

Bernard De Meyer is Associate Professor of African Literary Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal - Pietermaritzburg in South Africa.