Debates And Critical Engagements
A rich critical tradition developed early around modern African writing. Francophone Africa had journals such as Présence Africaine (African presence), Peuples noirs, peuples africains (Black peoples, African peoples), Abbia, and L'Afrique littéraire et artistique (Literary and artistic Africa). Anglophone Africa had a wider array of early journals: Black Orpheus, The Conch, The Horn, The Muse, Drum, Okike, Transition, Ba Shiru, and African Literature Today. While most of these journals no longer publish, Notre Librairie (Our bookstore) and Research in African Literatures remain the most important. Furthermore, writers became implicated in the early process of elaborating a critical tradition by engaging critics or one another in debates ranging from the question of critical standards to the role of the writer in society. Chinua Achebe's Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), Wole Soyinka's Myth, Literature, and the African World (1976), and Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Decolonising the Mind (1986) are some of the most important contributions to African literary criticism.
One of the earliest debates concerned the definition of African literature. The writers and critics who gathered in Uganda in 1963 faced the fundamental question of determining who qualified as an African writer and what qualified as African writing. The high point of the ensuing debate was the famous essay by Obi Wali, "The Dead End of African Literature" (1963), in which he declared that the literature written in European languages did not qualify as African literature. This was the beginning of the ongoing atavistic language debate. Although Achebe countered Wali's position, Ngugi embraced it, transforming the call for a return to African languages into a critical crusade that has lasted for more than three decades.
Another important debate concerned the issue of who was better qualified to critique African literature: the Western or the African critic. The high point of this debate occurred in African Literature Today between the American, Bernth Lindfors, and the Nigerian, Ernest Emenyonu. Lindfors had written an unflattering essay on the fiction of the Cyprian Ekwensi. Emenyonu wrote a fiery rejoinder, questioning the aptitude of Lindfors as a Western critic. The next big debate occurred in 1980, when the troika of Chinweizu, Onwucheka Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike published their famous book, Toward the Decolonisation of African Literature, condemning the overwhelming recourse to Western literary models and forms by writers such as Soyinka and urging a return to African traditions. With the explosion of postcolonial and postmodernist theories in the West at the end of the twentieth century, African critics became engaged in debating the appropriateness of applying those theories to African literature.
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