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M Lynx Qualey Challenges the Anglophone Focus of Literary Prizes and Works on African Writing

In an article for Africa is a Country, M Lynx Qualey has criticised the latest issue of the Journal of Postcolonial and Commonwealth Studies with its theme “African writing in the twenty-first century” for its strong focus on sub-Saharan Africa and English African literature. Qualey questions why a division should be made between North Africa and the rest of the continent and says that in this journal’s focus “there is a slighting not just of Arabic writing, but of Shona, Swahili, Hausa, or Gikuyu, or other non-colonial languages”.

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Qualey commends the Caine Prize for African Writing for having previously shortlisted Tunisian writer Hassouna Mosbahi, whose work was translated from Arabic, as well as Charles Mungoshi, who writes in Shona and English, but points out that they are exceptions to the prize’s usual focus on English writing. This focus on English is shared by the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, the Kwani? Manuscript prize and the Etisalat Prize for Literature, Qualey says.

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She calls for a greater effort to be made with cross-translation and cites Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of North African Literature as a good attempt at this. In contrast, she feels that translated stories in the Granta Book of the African Short Story read like “afterthoughts”. Qualey believes that, “finding more multilingual literary pathways will benefit all of African—and world—literatures”.

The latest issue of the Journal of Postcolonial and Commonwealth Studies takes on “African writing in the twenty-first century” and presents views on topics as varied as South African theater, queer Kenyan bloggers, digital publishing, and the Caine Prize for African Writing. An edited version of Lindsey Green-Simms’s introduction to the issue appeared here on AIAC mid-June. But as varied as the issue is, it’s hard not to read the Africa depicted in the journal—like most popular and scholarly Africas—as a shrunken, sub-Saharan continent. More than that, it’s hard not to read it as a primarily Anglophone Africa.

Looking first at English-language works is an accessible way to talk about African literature, and certainly it does provide an “embarrassment of riches,” as Green-Simms writes. Many African authors are doing beautiful, boundary-pushing things with the English language. If we were to paste North Africa back onto the map, we could find plenty of authors doing interesting things with English: Libyans like Khaled Mattawa or Egyptians like Youssef Rakha and Maged Zaher. Algerians (Rachid Boudjedra) and Moroccans (Abdellatif Laabi, Fouad Laroui, Rachida Madani) are meanwhile moving French in new directions, or sometimes Dutch (Abdelkader Benali). When there is an event like the impressive 2013 “Africa Writes,” it is usually the English-writing North Africans who are included, authors like Leila Aboulela and Jamal Mahjoub, although a July 5 event does foreground the importance of translations.

Book details

  • Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern and Postmodern Poetry Volume 4 by Habib Tengour, edited by Pierre Joris
    EAN: 9780520273856
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