Call for papers: “Critical perspectives on contemporary East African literature”

2019-09-09

East African literature has been an institution ever since the 1960s when writers and literary practitioners gathered at the 1962 Makerere conference to deliberate the future of the discipline. It is at this important gathering that the idea of a literature that encompassed the entire region was born, with writers such as James Ngũgĩ, now famously known as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o getting his inspiration at the conference through a meeting with Chinua Achebe from Nigeria. At that point in time, continent-based literary critics gave directions on thought and practice in literary criticism, with the troika of Ngugi, Taban Lo Liyong and Henry Anyumba famously advocating for the abolition of the English Department at the University of Nairobi, and the establishment of the Department of Literature in its place. This event is significant and continues to have reverberations in Departments of English in universities of former British colonies that have followed suit over the years, as is the case in the Caribbean, for example. Since the 1960s literary production and research on the same has gone from strength to strength, helping to foster a literary tradition in East Africa, which is evident through the establishment of a literary canon in the region. That literary criticism from the region was rich in these early days of the independent East African countries is evident, as the region was at the forefront in regard to critical approaches to the decolonial, Black Aesthetics, orature, and popular literature, among others.

The breaking up of the East African community in 1977, as well as political upheavals and the rise of dictatorships in the East African countries of Kenya and Uganda, led to a bleak period in the production of literature in the decade between 1978 and 1988. This was a period in which academic freedom was reduced in universities and many scholars and writers were forced into either political or economic exile, thus leading to a situation whereby the production of texts and critical commentary was predominantly undertaken by foreign-based practitioners rather than those residing in the region.

In more recent times, there has been a reawakening of literary activity in the region. However, apart from literary prizes which are awarded every year to what increasingly seems to be a small cabal of writers, there seems to be a dearth of homegrown critical thought that documents the recent developments in East African literature. Thus, at a time when East Africa is making efforts towards regional economic and social integration and intends to expand its membership from the initial three countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and to now include South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and potentially the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is no guidance from the local literary establishment on how to account for these changes in terms of accommodating the expanded scope in terms of culture, language and the politics of the wider family of East Africans in the contemporary period.

The following questions arise, among others:

  • Is there attendant formulation of the identity of the new “East African” that comes with the new political and economic arrangements? If so, how is it being expressed in literary texts?
  • What are the new forms of texts in literature, and how are they being exploited by practitioners from the region?
  • Is there a new aesthetic that could/should be used in terms of evaluating these new texts? How would such an aesthetic be developed ?
  • What are the theoretical perspectives that are suited to the analysis of the new literary texts emanating from the region?
  • Do we have a literary equivalent in East Africa of what has been referred to as Nigeria’s third-generation writing?

This journal issue intends to search for homegrown conceptions of East African literature that expand the scope of analysis to accommodate the analysis of literary texts that exist in English, Kiswahili, local and emerging languages, as well as ways of examining the unorthodox genres of literature that may have come into existence in East Africa in recent years. The issue will include essays, review articles and interviews. Papers that analyse all genres of literature, as well as related genres, will be considered for publication.

Research essays of no more than 7 500 words, including notes and works cited, in English or French, are invited for submission by 30 April 2020. All submissions must follow the MLA 8th edition citation guidelines. (Please note that 8th edition MLA varies considerably from earlier MLA guidelines.) Authors must also ensure that their submissions adhere to all the requirements listed in the author guidelines of Tydskrif vir Letterkunde.

Please submit for consideration an abstract of 200-250 words by 30 NOVEMBER 2019. Your abstract should be accompanied by a cover letter indicating your name, institutional affiliation, full contact details, and a brief biography. All queries and submissions should be sent to Alex Wanjala at nelungo@uonbi.ac.ke.

Editor biography: Dr. Alex Wanjala is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Literature and sub-Department of French at the University of Nairobi. He is also the Regional Editor, East Africa for Tydskrif vir Letterkunde. His research interests include postcolonial, gender and cultural studies in Anglophone and Francophone African literature.