Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Postcolonial Literature course, Spring 2015

Today, I completed drawing up the list of books I plan to use for my Postcolonial Literature course this Spring. The idea of Postcolonial Literature has always been contentious, and teaching a course with that name requires, in my view, incorporating the conflicting perspectives. It is never easy to justify any list or configuration of texts for this course. Nevertheless, one must prepare such a list.

I have taught Postcolonial Literature from my first year here at St. Olaf College. The English Department I was hired to initiate this course, at a time when English Departments across the USA were awakening to the need to embrace literatures in English from around the world. In view of the large and growing number of authors and texts that fall under the "post-colonial" rubric, one must select only a handful.

For the Spring, I plan to teach the following works:

Aboulela, L. Minaret
Adichie, C.Americanah.
Desai, A. Village by the Sea
Fugard, A. Sorrows and Rejoicings.
Gunesekera, R. Monkfish Moon
Roy, A. The God of Small Things.

One can see that all the authors are contemporary in the truest sense of the word, some very young. I wish to say a word about each.

I had heard about Leila Aboulela for a few years, but did not get the opportunity to acquire and read any of her works. Recently, I bought her Minaret, and read a little about her and her work. Born in Khartoum, she reminds me of Tayeb Salih, the Sudanese writer, whose Season of Migration to the North is well known. I remember having taught his short stories at the University of Dar es Salaam. Leila also reminds me of Meena Alexander, a notable Indian writer who was born and raised in Sudan.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the young Nigerian writer who has been quickly gaining international acclaim with her writing, such as Purple Hibiscus and Half of Yellow Sun, both of which I have taught. I badly wanted to read and teach her Americanah, which readers and critics are raving about.

I have taught some of Anita Desai's works before, such as Fire on the Mountain and Baumgartner's Bombay and am touched by her views on writing. With this background, I want to teach more of her work, hence my choice of Village by the Sea.

Athol Fugard is a playwright I first knew about when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Dar es Salaam. Fellow students Martin Mhando and Jesse Mollel (now known as Tololwa M. Mollel) staged an unforgettable performance of Fugard's The Island. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we studied Athol Fugard's A Lesson From Aloes with Professor Edris Makward.

Here at St. Olaf College, the first Fugard work I taught was Master Harold and the Boys. I went on to teach Sorrows and Rejoicings, several times. My experience with Sorrows and Rejoicings, slowly discovering its deep implications and nuances, parallels my experience of reading and teaching Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Ama Ata Aidoo's Dilemma of a Ghost.

Only recently have I discovered Romesh Gunesekera, when I designed a course on South Asian Literature. I chose his novel, Reef, and ended up teaching it each time I have taught the South Asian Literature course. This time, however, I have decided to try Monkfish Moon, one of Gunesekera's collections of short stories.

Finally, there is Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. There was a time when everybody around me seemed to be raving about The God of Small Things , and, not having read it, I felt like an outsider or a traitor. Then I included it in one of my courses, but my selection of texts was, it turned out, rather ambitious. We did not manage to read The God of Small Things . If I remember correctly, we just started it, before the semester was over. I hope things will work out better this time.

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