Bower on Translocality, Small Magazines and Nigerian Poetry

Our next seminar takes place on the 14th of May in Seminar Room 2 of the Leeds Arts Humanities Research Institute at 4 pm. The open to all.

Abstract

Translocality, Small Magazines and Nigerian Poetry by Rachel Bower

This paper considers some of the small literary magazines that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Ibadan and Leeds, with a particular focus on the poetry published in The Horn (University College, Ibadan, est. 1958) and Poetry and Audience (University of Leeds, est. 1953). I look closely at the work of Minji Karibo, a student at Ibadan, and also consider other magazines, including Outposts (Hull), Ibadan (Ibadan) and Fresh Buds (Nsukka). The paper focuses on these specific examples as case studies from the period of decolonisation, in which multiple and diverse literary communities experienced a series of locally specific transformations. The concept of translocality therefore underpins this investigation into the African literary materials that developed in this period.

The informal, often student-run, magazines from this period were underpinned by literary relations between Nigeria and the UK, and sometimes by direct collaboration between poets in Ibadan and Leeds. Writers with connections to both cities contributed to or edited The Horn and Poetry and Audience for instance, including Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Aigboje Higo, Kalu Uka, Tony Harrison, James Simmons, Martin Banham, John Heath-Stubbs and Geoffrey Hill. Some of these writers are now celebrated as national literary heroes. This paper not only adds to existing evidence showing that student magazines were important in constituting literary communities in Africa (and the UK) during this period, however, but also shows that we must look beyond the ‘nation’ if we are to better understand how literary relations shape literary aesthetics – in this case, African literary materials in English. The paper combines close reading with an analysis of the literary fields in which these magazines were produced, to show how translocality and collaboration are key to understanding the craft of a key generation of poets in Britain and Nigeria during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

About Our Speaker

Dr Rachel Bower

Dr Rachel Bower is a poet and a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Epistolarity and World Literature, 1980-2010 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) and Moon Milk (Valley Press, 2018). She is the co-editor of a special issue of English Studies on Tony Harrison, and a special issue of The Journal of Commonwealth Literature on the crafts of world literature. Rachel also edited the Verse Matters anthology with Helen Mort (Valley Press, 2017). Her poems have been published in Stand Magazine, New Welsh Reader, The Interpreter’s House, Frontier, Popshot Magazineand many other places and she has also been shortlisted for the London Magazine Poetry Prize and won several other poetry prizes. 

Kaur and Malson Kelly on African Decolonisation and Colonial Education

Finding Africa Seminar

16 April 2019

Leeds Humanities Arts Research Institute (Seminar Room 2)

4-5.30 pm

Abstracts

Re-thinking African Decolonisation: representation of self and the motherland by African travel writers by Kirapreet Kaur

Travel writing, as a genre, has a unique power to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct the identity of any foreign space and its inhabitants for the world. It is through travel literature that the world has seen, felt and traversed the other world. This genre has not only been instrumental in defining, describing and detailing the unseen lands, such as Africa, for the other part of the world, specifically the western world. Rather, it has also influenced the ways through which the indigenous know and understand themselves and their land.  

For a significant amount of time the genre has been known as a western tool of representation of faraway lands for western utilitarian and adventurous eyes. However, since last decade a notable shift in this power structure of knowledge production can be seen with the fame of African authored travel narratives about Africa. African authors could be seen grappling with the westernised construction of African identity, through their travel narratives. Though the canon of African travel writers could be seen confronting the stereotypical image constructed by the Victorian travellers, still the relevance and continuous presence of the colonial nostalgia cannot be ruled off.

This paper proposes to discuss the travel narratives by three contemporary African travel writers: Orford Catja, Sihle Khumalo and Maskaram Hailey. The paper will discuss the representation of African space by these travellers in context with their own struggle for identity. How the authors position their identity in context with bigger African identity? What influence do (or do not) the Victorian travellers hold in the contemporary world of African travellers? How relevant is this influence when compared to the African space, that is, how deeply (or not) the colonial nostalgia is rooted in the African structure of self-knowledge?

‘That Which Eats at You Is Within You’: Dismembering Colonial Education and the Traumatic Consumption of the Mother Tongue in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Longue Durée Narrative by Aislinn Malson Kelly

In the spring of 2018, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions was placed on BBC Culture’s list of “100 stories that shaped the world,” a list meant to reinscribe the global importance of the selected texts and to contribute to their durability as cross-cultural and transnational “classics” and open a discussion about the endurance of some texts and not others. It is important to be aware of Nervous Conditions’ place in this global literary canon and its continued prominence in the academy because this novel and its sequels are, in part, bearing witness to a traumatizing and epistemicidal colonial education. Before the third book was published, the scholarly conversation about Dangarembga’s first two novels hopefully anticipated that This Mournable Body would narratively close the traumatic wounds opened in Nervous Conditions. This closure is subverted and complicated by the final book, published in 2018, which shows that Tambudzai Sigauke’s difficult project of recuperating herself in postcolonial Zimbabwe continues beyond the final page of the novel, just as the project of decolonization continues and is continuous with earlier processes of existence and resistance. That is, Dangarembga’s novels are structured in the style of what I am calling a literary longue durée, a textual space and temporality that bears witness to the continuity of colonial and postcolonial circumstances and that is informed by the traumas of a colonial education. Through a deconstructive micro-analysis of passages from all three books featuring the linked themes of language, education, punishment, consumption, and nourishment, I argue that colonial education is a force that consumes the mother tongue (language), is responsible for an epistemicidal bingeing and purging cycle of consuming only imposed literatures and histories, and is in tension with the consumption of food and the recuperative (consumption as recuperation) gesture of Tambudzai’s own mother’s tongue.

About our Speakers

Kiranpreet Kaur is a Ph.D student at Department of African Studies and Anthropology at the University of Birmingham. She is working on both British and African authored African Travel Writings under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Jones and Dr. Kate Skinner from the Department of African Studies and Anthropology and Dr. Asha Rogers from Department of English. Her work focuses on African identity construction in colonial and postcolonial Anglophone African Travel narratives. She holds an M.Phil degree in English from the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India.  She has published in various research journals and has also published a book that is a collection of poems in Punjabi language. Along with this, she has worked as a creative head for Bombay based Film Company. She has written fiction and non-fiction for them for two years.

Aislinn Malson Kelly

Aislinn Kelly is currently pursuing an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature, Culture, and Thought in the School of English at the University of Sussex. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of North Florida (UNF) in Fall 2017 with a BA in English. She is interested in the way literature uses archives and in the textual-biological tension between bodies and the archives that represent, replace, and erase them. Her literary-critical interests inform her practice. She has assisted a historian in the Weston Library, Oxford, with transcribing colonial papers and has experience working on a number of archival projects, including the digitization of the Eartha M. M. White papers in the UNF special collections. Most recently, she has helped move the print archive of the Total Theatre Magazine into an online repository. Her other research interests include disability studies and non-canonical WWI literature. Her article “Passing Through a World of Birds: The Performance and Signification of Blindness in Stephen Kuusisto’s Planet of the Blind” was published in 2018 in The Sigma Tau Delta Review. She has presented her research on WWI writing at the 13th International Robert Graves Society Conference, at St. John’s College, Oxford, and the SHARP affiliate panel at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association (SAMLA88).

Nivesjö and Rooks on Townlife, Sexuality and the Bush

Our first seminar in the 2019 series will be delivered on 02 April in Seminar Room 2 of the Leeds Arts Humanities Research Institute at 4 pm. The open to all.

ABSTRACTS

“A revolting immoral place”: Town Life and Sexuality in R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy by Sanja Nivesjö

R.R.R. Dhlomo’s An African Tragedy (1928) – one of the first novels published in English by a black South African author – written in the form of a morality tale and steeped in Christian ethics, depicts the moral corruption of a black man from the countryside in the urban environment of 1920s Johannesburg, and the effects of this corruption on his family in the rural village.

In the 1920s, hegemonic forces in the nascent South African nation posited the rural as the black person’s “natural” home, at the same time as black urbanisation was rapidly increasing. I argue that Dhlomo negotiates the theme of urban-rural relations and mediates ideas of race and their relation to space through the trope of sexuality. The urban seemingly becomes a hostile environment through its sexually corrupting influence of prostitutes, single men, loose sexual morals, and syphilis, which constitute a threat to the rural Christian patriarchal family. By reading the novel from perspectives that critically interrogate sexual norms and space as a social construct, I argue that the black person’s lived experience of space and sexuality, as represented in the novel, disrupts and displaces this moral lesson of black familial happiness in the countryside to indicate Dhlomo’s engagement with a more complex spatial belonging.

An African Tragedy thus allows its reader insight into the contradictory conditions under which black South Africans lived in the city of the 1920s, and the ideological position that the rural space held, and how these conflicting experiences took expression and were imagined in early English language literature. 

“This Fucking Forest”:
The Bush as a Traumatic Space in African Literature by Elinor Rooks

The bush occupies a special place within African literature. From the earliest moments of African publishing—Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1955)—the bush has functioned as a particularly potent literary space, one which blurs boundaries between the real and fantastic, the internal and external, the past and the present. These literary uses of the bush are rooted in the history of African vernacular theories of the bush. Vernacular theories of the bush make many uses of it, including reckoning with traumatic histories. Just as the bush enfolds villages abandoned to war, it holds the spirits and ghosts that enact these troubling histories.

I propose to explore literary uses of the bush as a space of trauma, focusing on Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1957) and Chris Abani’s Song for Night (2007). Both authors use the bush as a space of death, war and memory. Set during two civil wars—the Yoruba Wars and the Biafran War—the novels track dislocated boys journeying through nightmarish, ghostly forests populated with spirits embodying the terrors of war. Abani’s protagonist retraces his steps, moving through the distorted spaces of traumatic memory, towards acceptance of his own death. For the ghost My Luck, there is no stable boundary between the inner and outer worlds—his memories are overlaid onto and merge with the blighted countryside. There is no distinction between the ruined landscape and his ruined mind. Although the bush functions similarly in Tutuola’s novels, critics have missed this. Abani’s clear use of the bush helps highlight its functions in Tutuola. Just as the physical bush resists mapping, the literary bush opens smooth textual spaces, enabling authors to tackle painful topics with fierce freedom.

About our Speakers

Sanja Nivesjö

Sanja Nivesjö is completing a joint PhD at the Department of English, Stockholm University, Sweden and Justus Liebig University, Germany. She is interested in South African literature, sexuality and gender studies, and queer theory. Her PhD project looks at the relationship between sexuality and spatiality in 20th and 21st century South African literature in English. From a queer theoretical perspective she looks at how sexuality is both represented and used as a trope in the literature to negotiate belonging to different types of spaces, and in extension a belonging to community and, perhaps, to the nation. She has published an essay on the queering of literary form and content in response to a crisis of whiteness in Nadine Gordimer’s novel The Conservationist (1974) and in J.M. Coetzee’s novel In the Heart of the Country (1977). Together with Heidi Barends from UCT, she is the guest editor of a forthcoming special issue on Olive Schreiner’s novel From Man to Man (1926) for the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

Elinor Rooks

Elinor Rooks is an independent researcher in African literature, history and culture. She completed her PhD at the University of Leeds with her dissertation, “Vernacular Critique, Deleuzo-Guattarian Theory and Cultural Historicism in West African and Southern African Literatures,” focussing on the novels of Bessie Head and Amos Tutuola. She is currently researching responses to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and is authoring a book on Tutuola. She also serves as the reviews editor for Red Pepper Magazine and works as a freelance editor.

Re-thinking Sunjata: Epics and Epistemology in West African Oral Narratives

The next seminar paper in our Theorising Africa series will be delivered by Stephen Bulman and is entitled “Re-thinking Sunjata: epics and epistemology in West African oral narratives”. The seminar will take place on 27 March at the LHRI seminar room 1 at 4pm. The event is free and open to all.

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Abstract

African oral epics, in common with African oral traditions as a whole, have in the past too often been understood as hallowed messages from the past, handed down unchanged from generation to generation. New thinking based on analysis of Manding epics about Sunjata Keita and his rival for power Sumanguru Kante, two legendary rulers from the pre-colonial era, suggests that such oral traditions are part of a cultural meta-discourse fashioned and re-fashioned over time in response to social and political shifts; and their tellers, hereditary griots or jeliw, intellectual actors whose narratives help shape and re-form the identities of, and relationships between, cultural and social groups. This seminar will examine how the recently published Epic of Sumanguru Kante, a narrative retelling medieval Mali’s foundation from the perspective of Sunjata’s defeated rival, offers fresh insights into the role of African historical oral poetry in shaping Manding ‘oral historiography’ and epistemology.

He said: It is true, indeed, I came with my name. My name is Soo-Maanguru. That’s the meaning of being Sumanguru. He said: I, here, I will not be slave. I will not be lackey.

– Bulman The Epic of Sumanguru Kante (2017)

About Stephen Bulman

bulmanStephen Bulman (Ph.D. Birmingham 1990) studied the Epic of Sunjata as a doctoral student. He has taught history at Newman University in Birmingham, worked as an academic at Leeds Trinity University and Cumbria University, and has published several studies of the Epic of Sunjata and related African oral traditions including, with Valentin Vydrine, a critical source edition of The Epic of Sumanguru (Brill, 2017) based on an oral epic he recorded in the Republic of Mali.

Art and Ways of knowing in Uganda

A screening and discussion of two short films developed in response to a

workshop with artists and activists

 Ruth Kelly  (CHR, York) & Director, Patience Nitumwesiga

Communion poster

We are delighted to be opening our Theorising Africa session with a screening, discussion and interview with the Ugandan director, Patience Nitumwesiga, who will be speaking to Ruth Kelly about two short films made in Kampala last year.  The event will take place on 13 February 2018 at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI) Seminar Room 1 at 4pm.

This event, which is hosted in collaboration with LUCAS, is open to all and entrance is free.

 

Abstract                                                                                 

In July 2017, a group of academics, artists and activists met in Kampala, Uganda to explore how art could help us imagine and inhabit new ways of being, feeling and knowing, opening space to dream up visions of a more just and sustainable world. The methodology for the research is inspired by the research practice of Boaventura de Sousa Santos and of J.K. Gibson-Graham who have undertaken studies that have questioned dominant paradigms – Western epistemologies and capitalism, respectively – and gone on to develop research and practice uncovering and proposing alternatives – epistemologies of the South and community economies respectively.

Our assumption was that Western epistemologies and dominant paradigms limit what the researcher, practitioner or activist finds important, or even what they are able to know and learn from their interactions with others. In the workshop, the researchers sought to use arts-based practices to disrupt dominant ways of knowing and performing “development,” encouraging participants to explore and articulate the different ways of knowing that they embody, have experienced, or could experience through engagement with the arts. In particular, a session linking traditional and hybrid forms of oral poetry in Uganda helped participants to tap into the cultural heritage of the different language groups represented to explore alternative ways of knowing, being in community and making political interventions. As part of the presentation, I will show and discuss two short films made in response to the workshop: ‘Should I stay or should I go,’ a video collage of performances of a poem by Helena Okiring about diaspora and politics, composed and performed during the workshop in each of the different Ugandan languages that participants spoke, produced by Emilie Flower; and the second, ‘Communion,’ a short film reflecting on performance and reality, written and produced after the workshop by Patience Nitumwesiga.

 

About Ruth Kelly & Patience Nitumwesiga

Ruth Profile photoRuth Kelly’s doctoral research (Centre for Applied Human Rights, York) explores the potential for art and narrative to help communities and activists articulate alternative approaches to development. In the past, Ruth has worked with ActionAid, Oxfam, UNDP and the European Commission, on jobs and industrial policy, international trade and tax policy, land rights, and programme implementation.

 

Patience headshotPatience Nitumwesiga is a writer/director whose play monsters premiered in March 2017 at Le Cartel festival in Burkina Faso. It has been translated into French. The play also received a reading at the BIBU festival in Sweden. She has been trained at the famous Prospero performing arts centre in Sweden and Denmark, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Drama from Makerere University, Kampala.

Patience has written both for stage and for TV, having attended the renowned Hollywood Director Mira Nair’s Maisha film lab (screenwriting) in 2009 and 2016. She was a writer, and assistant script editor for the TV Series Yat MaditYat Madit is produced by Media Focus on Africa and Trivision Uganda, two of East Africa’s leading producers in social awareness content. She also worked with Rafiki Theatre from 2010-2012, writing and acting with German director Claus Schrowange.

In May 2014, Patience was an Assistant director for the pilot project of the TV-adapted Rock point 256 seriesIn September 2015, she was a 1st assistant director for the Yat Madit seriesIn June 2016, she enrolled as a creative directing apprentice with Silent Voices Uganda’s Ga-AD! Production, as a step towards her Creative Directing career.

In 2012, she directed Everybody Needs an Electrician, a short documentary that she developed at the Maisha documentary lab. She has worked as an assistant director, researcher and logging assistant for the documentary Somebody Clap for Me. She was an associate producer and video coach on Sauti, a documentary that has graced a number of international festivals since 2016.

Nitumwesiga was discovered in 2012 as a photographer by ICT Creatives, and she went on to work on photography campaigns for NGOs, private contractors and individual projects. This birthed her ventures into art and design.  She was also the photographer for Yat Madit production, 2015-2016. She was the production designer for the short film Askari, 2017

She is a published poet, featured in anthologies like Painted Voices Volume 2 by FEMRITE, A Thousand Voices Rising, by BNN, and Reflections: An Anthology of New Work, by African women poets by Lynne Reinner publishers.

Womanism in Contemporary African Feminism

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The next seminar paper in our African Feminisms series will be delivered by Joanita Mireme Lwanga and is entitled “Womanism in Contemporary African Feminism”. The seminar will take place on 06 April at the LHRI seminar room 1 at 5pm. The event is free and open to all.

Abstract

In most African fables, oral literature, culture and tradition an African woman is highly revered and respected. A mother in the community one dares not talk back or upset her.
Most African cultures believe being disrespectful to the African woman, equates to being cursed for life. African women have always spoken out and their stories have been passed on. This message is reinforced by Ogundipe- Leslie who decries simplistic false images and depiction of the African woman. She maintains that the problem is the refusal of scholars to search for African women’s voices.

The African woman on a contemporary platform is faced with a wider dilemma of justifying herself to the world as she is, as opposed to the historical image on her. In the diaspora she faces an even more complex relationship with regard to identification, imagery and projection. Diasporan feminism is rooted in the historical experience of enslavement and racism. Conflicting images of assimilation in the diaspora have led many an African woman to alter their image to an exterior superficiality using appendages such as fake hair, skin lighteners, accents and fashion sense. Outwardly the African woman objectively alters her image, whilst battling the truth of ‘self’ on the inside; lost in a world that has rules and parameters already conscripted to exclude, unless one assimilates. This paper explores a journey of the definition of African feminism in the diaspora, whether one can afford to be African and feminist whilst towing the intricate line of assimilation and conformism.

About Joanita Mirembe Lwanga

imageA mother, daughter, sister and friend, holds a Master’s degree in Globalization, Development and Transition from the University of Westminster UK and a Bachelor’s degree in Literature, Psychology and Linguistics from Makerere University Uganda. Founded and currently the president of the Fight Against AIDS (FAA) Society now a fully registered company limited by guarantee in the UK, with global partners in Africa, Europe and America, bringing together university students plus various partners all over the world to help curb and prevent HIV/AIDS. Highly experienced and involved in volunteering for minority and youth related initiatives in the UK and East Africa. Experienced executive and an expert on the Uganda private non-state health sector; served as Uganda Healthcare Federation (UHF) Executive Director a USAID funded project between October 2013 – December 2014. Currently working on a historical compilation of experiences as an African woman, from journals dating twenty years back on both sides of the hemisphere.

The Birth of ‘New’ Materialism? Abortion and Southern African Women’s Writing

UntitledThe next seminar in our African Feminisms series will be a paper by Caitlin Stobie entitled “The Birth of ‘New’ Materialism? Abortion and Southern African Women’s Writing”. The seminar will take place on 27 February 2017 in the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI)  seminar room 1 at 5pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome.

Abstract

In her preface to Opening Spaces: Contemporary African Women’s Writing (1999), Zimbabwean author Yvonne Vera recalls a scene from Haile Gerima’s Sankofa wherein a pregnant woman’s corpse mysteriously gives birth after she is whipped to death (1). At the conclusion of her commentary, she returns to the theme of fertility by proclaiming that the authors of the collected stories are “witnesses, in that seemingly impossible birth” of African feminist fiction (5). Yet throughout Opening Spaces, it is the fear of maternity which recurs for those living in rural and urban environments previously colonised by the British ‘motherland’. Tracing tropes of abortion through selected stories written during the ‘birth’ of postcolonial southern African nations in the late twentieth century, this paper considers feminist responses to the shifting relationship between corporeal embodiment and political agency. The writers in this study focus on environments not as essentialised settings, but rather as interconnected and organic systems; creative forms which manifest in these stories include human, animal, vegetal, elemental or textual participants in ecosystems. In this respect, the writers appear to anticipate new materialist theories – particularly the concept of trans-corporeality, which states that human and more-than-human bodies are all enmeshed actors that constitute the environment (Alaimo 2010: 2). Paradoxically, however, they also trouble such purportedly ‘new’ theories by complicating the long history of environmental health and reproductive rights in post/colonial contexts. Illustrating how natural symbolism interacts with the artifice of narrative form, such fictions create spaces for complex, ambivalent perspectives on women’s agency to emerge.

About Caitlin Stobie

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Caitlin Stobie is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds, where she is co-director of the Leeds Animal Studies Network. Her research interests include postcolonial ecocriticism, posthumanism and critical animal studies. She has been published, or has work forthcoming, in Green Letters (2017), Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (2017) and scrutiny2 (2016).