ENGB22: African Literature

ENGB22: African Literature



Course Name: African Literature

Instructor: Prof. Neil ten Kortenaar

Course Description: Much of the finest writing in English today is by writers who live in or who come from parts of the world other than Britain or North America. Wole Soyinka from Nigeria and Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee from South Africa have won the Nobel Prize for literature; Ben Okri from Nigeria won the Booker Prize; Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria won the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

The reason there is English-language writing in Africa is a direct result of European colonization, which started with the slave trade in the 1500s, took hold in the nineteenth century in what is called the Scramble for Africa, and lasted until the 1960s in most of the continent. The presence of African writing in English and other European languages is thus a direct result of colonization, and Africans only began to write literature in English beginning in earnest in the 1950s. Yet, in spite of these recent origins, what African writers have produced is astounding, brand new and endlessly inventive with much to teach everyone everywhere about language, literature, history, and colonization.

What does it mean to write African literature in a European language? Who does a writer from Africa write for? How can English and the conventions of literary genre borrowed from Europe be made to represent worlds very different from Europe? What adjustments (or subversions) have to be made to indigenize the language and the literature? How do written texts relate to oral traditions of poetry and story-telling? How does a writer champion a culture that has been disparaged by the colonizer and at the same time criticize a sordid social and political reality? These are some of the questions we will be examining in this course.

Learning Objectives: To understand how modern writers have reflected African realities, how African writers resist colonialism and subvert the assumptions of empire, how the English language has been adapted for literary use in Africa, and how Western literary forms such as the novel and lyric poetry have been adapted in Africa (and to appreciate what those genres can do).


Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Wole Soyinka, Death and the King's Horseman

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions

Chimamanda Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater

Lauren Beukes, Zoo City


Learn more about Prof. Kortenaar's teaching and research, as well as how to contact him with any questions.


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