‘Let’s start with the covers’: Depicting Icons of Black Women, Fashioning Markets for African Women’s Literature by Matthew Lecznar

The next seminar on our calendar will be on book covers of novels by African women writers and will be presented by Matthew Lecznar. This event is brought to you in association with the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS) and is hosted by the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI).

*This seminar has been postponed until further notice*


Never-AgainSince the release of the Nigerian author Flora Nwapa’s first novel Never Again (1966) by Heinemann’s African Writers Series, which was the first work written in English by a Nigerian woman to be published in Britain, the profile and reach of novels written by African women and women of the African diaspora has steadily increased. Now, in the second decade of the 21st-Century, a prominent group of female African writers including Taiye Selasi and Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie command substantial international readerships and media interest. However, while the content and impact of African women’s literature has changed profoundly in the last 50 years, the cover designs used to market these works return again and again to the same motif: the image of the lone black woman.

This paper traces and explores the development of this now central genre of African literature through a study of the cover designs of selected novels by African women. By grounding these cover designs in their particular publishing and political contexts, which traverse the feminist activism of the 1970s and 80s and the chick-lit explosion of the 1990s, I argue that the repeated employment and signification of an iconic image of the black woman on the covers of African women’s literature has helped fashion a visible and marketable genre of literature by African women. I also suggest that this recognition and visibility is predicated upon the repetitive evocation of stereotypical and exoticized images of black African women, which both reaffirm the expectations of white Western readers and limit the creative scope of the genre.

About Matthew Lecznar

IMG_1224 (1)After graduating from the University of York with a BA in English and Related Literature, Matthew Lecznar moved to the University of Oxford to read for a Master’s degree in World Literatures in English, which he graduated from last summer. Matthew is broadly interested in postcolonial literature and theory, and in the ways these have been marketed in West. He is particularly interested in 20th and 21st-Century West African literature and African women’s writing, and different cultural forms such as fashion, film and photography. He wrote his Master’s dissertation on different forms of textual and textile fashioning in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and other fictional narratives of the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-70). Matthew is currently applying to do PhD research, through which he intends to further interrogate the ways the Biafran war has been culturally represented and refashioned through different media and material forms, both in Nigeria and internationally.



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