In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modern African Literature in European Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Students’ and Teachers’ Guides
  • Censorship
  • Debates and Controversies
  • Theory and Criticism
  • Book History Studies
  • Translation Studies

African Studies Modern African Literature in European Languages
Evan Mwangi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0004


African literatures in European languages are as diverse as the continent itself, treating different themes in varying techniques, depending on the individual author’s choices and the region and period the work is about or written in. If there are any unifying contexts in the continent’s diversity of literary production, it would be the legacy of the European colonial presence during, most especially, the 19th and 20th centuries, the pressures of colonial modernity on traditional African cultures, and the challenges of nation-building processes. Stylistically, although writers are critical of colonialism and seek to break with the European canon and establish autonomous forms, their works reflect the dual legacy of European cultures and precolonial African modes of expression. Many reasons are adduced for the continued proliferation of writing in colonial languages decades after independence in Africa. With underdeveloped publishing networks, a limited audience for writing in indigenous languages, and harsher censorship at home than abroad, most influential works are published in Western metropolises or by subsidiaries of metropolitan publishing houses in European languages. This bibliography offers a bibliography of African literatures in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Afrikaans. Although it is natural for Western scholars to categorize the literature according to the European languages in which they were written (e.g., Anglophone, Lusophone, and Francophone), African scholars and institutions prefer to categorize the writing according to the period of publication or the region from which the works come, probably to avoid privileging the colonial linguistic partitioning of the continent. The linguistic, temporal, and spatial boundaries cannot be delineated with absolute precision, as some authors and texts occupy different categories at once. In some instances, some works are created in one European language but published in another, as is the case with the works of Chika Unigwe (Nigeria), who writes in English and is published in Dutch and some of whose works have yet to appear in the original language in which they were composed. Sidi Seck (Senegal) writes in French but publishes in Spanish. This bibliography includes a variety of topics such as guides for students and teachers, works on theory and criticism, and writing on book history and censorship. Further, it presents materials discussing early writing by Europeans because they are essential in helping us understand the preoccupations of modern African writing. This bibliography proceeds to survey work on major themes and techniques and to offer an outline of literatures by periods in which they were written (late 18th century to mid-1950s, 1960s–1970s, and 1980s–present) and by region (East, Central, West, South, North, and northeastern Africa). It also considers literature by Asian Africans, an important category in eastern and southern Africa.

General Overviews

Several books give an overview of African literatures in European languages. Gérard 1986 is an excellent starting point in surveys of the major issues and figures in African writing in European languages. The two volumes of essays discuss texts by both African and European writers and give overviews of the preoccupation of individual authors and specific national literatures. Cook 1980 is an early overview of Anglophone literature that considers poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction by a wide range of writers. Gakwandi 1977 is an early overview of realist works published in the 1960s, while Gurnah 1995 is an edited volume that discusses emerging themes in African writing. Gikandi 1987 offers an excellent model for reading African novels using modern literary theory in the sense that it emphasizes the consideration of formal techniques in the analysis of themes and ideology of specific texts. Booker 1998 reads the African novel in English but considers its dialogue with Francophone literature and works in African languages. Mpalive-Hangson and Hyland 1997 is a multidisciplinary volume giving an overview of the literature from regional and national perspectives. Brancato 2008 is one of the few surveys of African writers in various European countries writing in different languages, such as Italian and Spanish.

  • Booker, M. Keith. The African Novel in English. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.

    The book discusses the rise to prominence of African literature, using various novels to illustrate its arguments. Writers discussed in detail include Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Buchi Emecheta, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Tsitsi Dangarembga.

  • Brancato, Sabrina. “Afro-European Literature(s): A New Discursive Category?” Research in African Literatures 39.3 (2008): 1–13.

    DOI: 10.2979/RAL.2008.39.3.1

    This essay draws on a wide corpus of writing by European-based African writers to show their different perspectives. Writers discussed include Antonio Campobasso, Mohamed El Gheryb, Nassera Chora, Sidi Seck, Chika Unigwe, Fouad Larou, and Smari Abdel Malek.

  • Cook, David. African Literature: A Critical Overview. London: Longman, 1980.

    This book is an exploration of trends in African literature and its European legacies. Besides a general overview on African art, Cook conducts close readings of fiction and drama by Cyprian Ekwensi, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, and Peter Palangyo. The book contains discussions of key works of nonfiction, such as Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and Lewis Nkosi’s Home and Exile.

  • Gakwandi, Shato Arthur. The Novel and the Contemporary Experience in Africa. New York: African Publishing, 1977.

    A sociological discussion of African novels in English and English translation, the book examines works by Ferdinand Oyono, Alex La Guma, Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Peter Abrahams, and Cameron Duodu. Limited to works published in the 1960s, the book maintains that realism is the most prominent mode of writing at the time.

  • Gérard, Albert, ed. European-Language Writing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1986.

    This is a two-volume, 1,289-page collection of essays on various aspects of African literature. Through comparative analyses, contributors try to account for differences in texts from different linguistic and national territories. The book includes overviews of national literatures (e.g., Zambia, Nigeria), major authors (e.g., Tutuola, Achebe, Okigbo), movements, and themes as well as bibliographies and an index.

  • Gikandi, Simon. Reading the African Novel. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987.

    An examination of contemporary African literature using modern literary theory, the book argues for the need to establish the relationship between form and content in the African novel and to avoid the tendency to read individual novels as sociological or political tracts. The author draws on works by Camara Laye, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ferdinand Oyono, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Wole Soyinka, and Alex La Guma to make his claims.

  • Gurnah, Abdulrazak, ed. Essays on African Writing: Contemporary Literature. Oxford: Heinemann, 1995.

    The collection discusses a new generation of writers, such as Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chenjerai Hove, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Assia Djabar, Moyez Vassanji, Ben Okri, and Dambudzo Marechera. Gurnah’s other edited volume, Essays on African Writing: A Re-evaluation (London: Heinemann, 1993), addresses new critical approaches and challenges of readership in contemporary writing.

  • Mpalive-Hangson, Msiska, and Paul Hyland. Writing and Africa. London: Longman, 1997.

    These multidisciplinary essays discuss African literature and black literature in Britain and the Caribbean in exploring issues of colonialism, decolonization, and gender and as presented and problematized in various African texts. Some of the authors highlighted include Chinua Achebe, H. Rider Haggard, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Wole Soyinka, and popular writing trends, such as the Onitsha market literature from Nigeria, are considered. Some essays focus on East, Central, North, and West African writing.

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