Thursday, July 23, 2015

My African Literature Summer Course, 2015

On July 13, I started teaching a summer course on African Literature. I have chosen to use the following texts.

1. Leila Aboulela's Minaret.
2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck.
3. Ama Ata Aidoo's The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa.
4. Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences.
5. Athol Fugard's Valley Song.
6. Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

I have decided to teach Leila Aboulela's Minaret after teaching it last spring and seeing the impact it had on my class, as I mentioned in a previous blog post. Leila Aboulela is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because most us do not consider Sudan when we think about Anglophone African Literature. We equate Sudanese Literature with writers like Tayeb Saleh, who write in Arabic, and have their works translated into English. Having seen how well Leila Aboulela's Minaret worked for my class, I am already thinking about teaching her other works in the future.

I am familiar with the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, having taught several of them, as I mentioned on this blog. I have not, however, read The Thing Around Your Neck. That is why I wanted to teach it this summer. Having greatly enjoyed Adichie's Americanah, I want to keep teaching her works.

Ama Ata Aidoo's Dilemma of a Ghost is one of the African works whose profound implications I have been discovering in the course of teaching it again and again. This summer, I wanted to focus in a particular way on Aidoo's use of the techniques of oral storytelling and folklore in general. I wanted to dwell, for example, on the roots and ramifications of the theme of the dilemma, common in African folktales, and on the motif of the bird of the wayside.

Athol Fugard is another writer whose works I have taught, as I wrote in a previous blog post. So far, his Sorrows and Rejoicings has been my favourite play. I wanted to try a different work by Fugard and settled on Valley Song. We discussed it early this week, and it has left a lasting impression on me.

I have never taught any Mozambican writer here at St. Olaf College. Yet, I have always remembered how I used to enjoy Mozambican writing since my undergraduate years at the University of Dar es Salaam, 1973-76. These ranged from the short stories of Louis Bernardo Honwana to the poetry of Marcelino dos Santos, Noemia de Sousa, Jose Craveirinha, Valente Malangatana and others, all translated into English. As I was planning my summer course, I decided to revive my old love for Mozambican writing and chose Mia Couto's The Tuner of Silences. We have just started reading it.

Dinaw Mengestu is another writer I am teaching for the first time. When most of us think about Anglophone African literature, we rarely think about Ethiopia, just as we do not think about Sudan. Yet, Ethiopia has a steady stream of writing in English, going back to Sahle Sellassie. In the subsequent years, names such as Nega Mezlekia have come into the picture. From the available options, I settled on Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears.

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