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African Literature

Challenges + Ideas + Resources

Jimoh Buraimoh "Three Wise Men" 1991

Teachable Texts

God's Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane is the story of the railway workers as the strike against the oppressive French colonialists. It takes place in three cities, Bamako, Theis, and Dakar, and depicts the struggle to stand up for rights. The book is initially tragic as the railway workers are starved out by the French management, in the attempt to force the workers back to their jobs. Yet, women begin to take a vital role in culture as the provide the strength the men need to stand firm in their demands. Instead of forcing the workers back, the French have instead created a catalyst for change. by Kyle Krol.

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane is the true story of a black boy growing up in Apartheid South Africa. Mark Mathabane tells his story from the age of four to eighteen, specifically relaying his family's struggle to survive and his own struggle to get an education. Students will likely be profoundly affected by the consequences of a policy of racial separation on all of the people, both black and white, in South Africa. This novel would be appropriate for grades 10-12 in a secondary English classroom, and would also be an excellent addition to a history class. It would be interesting to pair this text with Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton or narratives by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and other advocates for racial equality. by Lindsay Steenbergen

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga is a poignant novel about young Tambu from Rhodesia and her coming of age in post-colonial Africa. The story is driven by Tambu's desire for an education while the subtext focuses on the dichotomy between the traditional African woman and the modern, westernized African woman. Throughout the story, Tambu observes, questions and reflects upon others around her, especially her cousin Nyasha, and in doing so, learns much about her culture and herself. This novel is appropriate for the upper-secondary and post-secondary classroom, and completely fitting for classrooms outside the English discipline, including Women's Studies, Anthropology, Ethics, and/or Social Studies. The following article looks carefully at the challenges of bringing this novel into the classroom and offers some resources and ideas for doing so. by Nicole Ziegler

No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe
The story of a man whose foreign education has separated him from his African roots and made him parts of a ruling elite whose corruption he finds repugnant by one of Africa's great novelists. by Jeff Patterson

The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola
This is the story of his fantastic adventures. It reads like a folk tale and has a simple and artless style that is very effective. Warning: this text, although suitable for high school students, has its challenges due to an eccentric style of writing. by Peter VanGorp

So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba is an epistolary novel set in Senegal, Africa. It is composed of letters written by Ramatoulaye to her old friend Aissatou . She weaves together a retelling of both of their stories. Ramatoulaye is forsaken by her husband when he takes a new, much younger wife. She decides to stay with him. Aissatou is also faced with a wandering husband, but she decides to get a divorce. The contrast of the two women's decisions is juxtaposed with the political struggle for women's rights in the Senegalese national assembly. So Long a Letter is suitable for grades 11 through college. Christy Yingling

The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta. This book by Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta encompasses themes of racism, mysogyny, and post-colonial hardship in Nigeria and Igbo culture during the mid-19th century. The Joys of Motherhood follows the protagonist, Nnu Ego, from birth to death and through the hardships of wife and motherhood in Igbo society. This book could both be considered for high school instruction; however, there are passages that are frankly sexual, so it may be best suited for instruction at the college level.
by Mandy Browning

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta. A semi-autobiographical account of a woman's struggle for education in postcolonial Nigeria, and subsequent move to Great Britain. Second Class Citizen is suggestively titled, as it illustrates the drastic change in status from a well educated Nigerian woman in her home country to a foreigner in Britain. The main focus of the book is in how the protagonist, Adah, struggles with Igbo societal norms in order to achieve her goals.
by Mandy Browning

Tribal Scars by Ousmane Sembene. Tells the story of a group of men, discussing how tribal scars came to be in Africa and why there are no tribal scars on people of African descent in the Americas.
Mandy Browning

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Sadaawi follows a young girl as she comes of age in Egypt. Through a series of struggles and disappointments she discovers the key to creating her own happiness, which she maintains while on death row. Recommended for senior English and college level courses. by Michelle Ringle-Barrett

Also Recommended:
Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart, A Man of the People, Anthills of the Savanah
Emecheta, Bucchi, The Joys of Motherhood
Emecheta, Bucchi, Second Class Citizen
Gorgui Dieng, A Leap Out of the Dark
Kane, Cheikh Hamidou, Ambiguous Adventure
Laye, Camara, The Dark Child
Ngugi wa'Thiongo, Devil on the Cross
Nwapa, Flora, Efuru
Patan, Alan, Cry the Beloved Country