In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Literature and the Study of Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Surveys
  • Bibliographies
  • Encyclopedias and Reference Books
  • Interviews
  • Anthologies
  • Teaching Guides

African Studies Literature and the Study of Africa
Evan Mwangi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0087


It is customary for students of African studies in different disciplines to use literary texts to study various aspects of the continent. Some use European-authored creative works to examine the images of Africa in the Western imagination, especially in works based on Europeans’ travels to Africa between the 15th century and the late 19th century. Many major European writers (e.g., Shakespeare, Rider Haggard, Miguel de Cervantes, and Conrad) have referred to Africa and Africans in their writings, hence eliciting a rich body of commentaries by Africanists in different disciplines. The 20th century has seen the rise of studies of Africa from indigenous perspectives and in different languages spoken in the continent. Because of the breath, volume, and diversity of African literature, it is next to impossible to discuss it comprehensively as a single category. Institutions, especially in Africa, break the subject into different subsets based on region (e.g., “West African literature”), language (e.g., “Francophone literature”), genre (e.g., “African poetry”) technique (e.g., “magical realist novels”), or literary movements (e.g., “Négritude poetry” or “black consciousness art). This article, therefore, is just a preliminary heuristic attempt to explore the study of Africa in literary texts and the use of African literature to study Africa.

It starts with overviews and surveys of African literature, bibliographies, encyclopedias and reference books, interviews, anthologies, and teaching guides. Then, it presents representative texts on oral and written literatures in different languages, including scholarship on literatures in African languages and writing in the main Europe languages used in Africa: English, French, and Portuguese. The article includes regional categories. Because the study of Africa through literature tends to privilege the novel, this entry includes sections on poetry and drama from different parts of the continent. The article concludes with a section on two theoretical areas that predominate in the study of African literature—namely, the place of modernism in African letters and the presentation of gender and sexuality as cultural signifiers.

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