Call for papers
Interrogating the African literary ‘renaissance’
With a conference keynote and reading by Billy Kahora, writer and Kwani? editor
Université Paris 13- Campus de Villetaneuse – July 5th 2017
As messy and artificial any attempt at literary periodisation may seem, and bearing in mind that oppositions between the old and the new, between permanence and change often obscure rather than enlighten, one cannot deny that the turn of the 21st century witnessed a boom in African writing in English, with writers gaining visibility on the international literary scene. Parallel to this movement, on the continent itself, literary journals (such as Kwani ?, Saraba, or Chimurenga to quote but a few), publishing houses (Cassava Republic, Kachifo, Kwani Trust or Storymoja for instance) or writers’ organisations (Femrite) flourished and seemed to point to a newfound creativity.
Within academic and literary circles, critics, writers and scholars spoke of literary ‘renewal’ and ‘renaissance’. Others, such as Helon Habila, Harry Garuba or Paul Zeleza described the generation of writers emerging in the late 1990s and 2000s as ‘the third generation’ of African writers or poets, and sought to shed light on the distinguishing features of this generation while acknowledging elements of continuity linking it to its predecessors. They all insist on its cosmopolitan, ‘post national’ (Helon Habila) nature, which accounts for looser ties to African cultural rootedness, a vision of identity that is fluid and shifting, and in which multiple allegiances are favoured over hybridity. While tropes such as migration, war and poverty still occupy centre stage, new themes have appeared such as gender, sexual identity or religious radicalisation and international terrorism. Moreover, once ‘minor’ or under-represented genres have been invested or re-invested by this new generation, whether it be science-fiction, crime fiction, fantasy or romance.
If, for many critics, the new millennium seems to herald a turning point in African Anglophone literature, it is in part due to the changes that marked the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, changes that have had a profound impact on literary production and reception. The end of single party rule in Kenya, the fall of the military regime in Nigeria, the end of apartheid in South Africa or of the civil war in Sierra Leone have had political and social consequences on literary creation, which expressed itself differently depending on specific contexts.
The increase in global cultural flows and the rise of the Internet also played a key role as writers soon discovered the latter’s potential as a more democratic platform for literary expression. As such, it also opened new avenues for experimenting with form and represented a space where new sociability networks could develop and where ‘imagined [literary] communities’ (Benedict Anderson) could emerge around shared interests and ambitions rather than a shared geographical space. Lastly, the development of literary prizes, such as the Caine Prize created in 2000, played a significant part in the increased visibility of the writers of this third generation.
The aim of the workshop is to question the notion of ‘literary renaissance’ applied to contemporary literature from Africa. The following questions could be raised: are the concepts of change and novelty enough to account for the great variety of works produced since the beginning of the 21st century, without falling into the trap of a monolithic vision? Is it possible to highlight new forms, new genres and thematic directions? If so, within those changes, can ‘simultaneities of the residual and the emergent’ (Lindsey Green-Simms) be identified and their relationship analysed? Moreover, focusing on emerging literary institutions (publishing houses, journals, prizes) and networks on the continent in a context of increased global cultural flows, what can be said of the evolution of the ‘space of possibilities’ (‘espace des possibles’, Bourdieu) for writers? However strong the influence and power of ‘literary centres’ described by Pascale Casanova’ in The World Republic of Letters remain, are new models not required in order to better account for recent changes? Is it not necessary to go beyond traditional oppositions between the ‘centres’ and the ‘peripheries’, and between centrifugal and centripetal forces at work within the ‘world literary space’?
Among possible topics of interest are the following (the list is neither comprehensive nor exclusive):
- Emerging themes (sexuality, gender, radicalisation, terrorism) or themes that are re-invested with meaning or re-inscribed within specific contexts (the city, migration, history / memory writing);
- Stylistic and formal experimentation (postmodernism, forms linked to new technologies: SMS, blogs, etc.);
- ‘Minor’ and emerging genres (Afro-futurism, science-fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, romance, etc.);
- Evolutions in contemporary literary practices: emerging literary institutions and networks, new forms of literary sociability; literary prizes, legitimation and canonisation; production, circulation and reception of literary works, etc.
Please send your abstract (400 words maximum) and a short biography to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, by June 9th, 2017.