literature, African

literature, African
   Africa has figured in English literature for several centuries. On the one hand, there are the wellknown ‘boys’ own’ stories of British adventure fiction, such as H.Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and John Buchan’s Prester John (1910). On the other hand, there are the few surviving accounts by Africans who travelled to Britain, such as the best-selling slave narrative The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, written by Himself (1789). Other African writers of previous centuries were Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (an African prince christened James Albert), James Africanus Horton (the first African to graduate in medicine from Edinburgh University), Ignatius Sancho (born on a slave ship) and Mary Prince (from Bermuda), who gave the first female Afro-British account of Christian England in 1831. These and others are discussed in more detail by Edwards and Dabydeen (1991). In terms of white African writing, canonical texts are Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883) and Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing (1950), two stories of white alienation, female entrapment and black inequality (in these contexts, mention should also be made of Karen Blixen, Laurens van der Post, Nadine Gordimer and Elspeth Huxley). Key African novelists who have studied or lectured in Britain are Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o (previously James Ngugi). Achebe engages with the disruption caused by British colonialism in his best-known books, Things Fall Apart (1958) and its sequel No Longer at Ease (1960), the latter focusing on political corruption. Ngugi, after writing several highly praised novels in English, such as A Grain of Wheat (1967) and Weep Not, Child (1964), turned against the ‘language of the colonizers’ in favour of his local language, Kikuyu. Achebe, however, has recommended English as a language in which the writer can speak to the world. Achebe, like Wole Soyinka, sees the writer as having an important role in forging a repository for the nation’s history, figuring not as an individual voice (as in the West) but as a voice of the community.
   There have not been many prominent African British writers in recent years, but special mention should be made of Diran Adebayo (whose parents and older siblings are from Nigeria), whose Some Kind of Black about Africans living in London won the Saga prize for new black writing in 1995. The most famous recent novelist is the Nigerian Ben Okri, who studied at the University of Essex. Okri has written several novels and is also a short story writer, but is best known for the social and magic realist novel The Famished Road (1991), which won the Booker Prize.
   Further reading
    Edwards, P. and Dabydeen, D. (eds) (1991) Black Writers in Britain 1760-1890, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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