Looking for lit suggestions for particular freshman college demographic
April 11, 2019 1:24 AM   Subscribe

I want to revamp my syllabus for my community college writing about lit class, because I would like to stop boring my students to tears. My classes will likely consist of 50% immigrants, mostly from West Africa.

I want to cull things from my list of assigned readings like "Young Goodman Brown" which is really tough going for most students but especially impenetrable for people not of American culture.

If you teach, and you assign any African short stories, what do you assign? It'd be best if they've been around a while, both for copyright purposes and also so that hopefully somebody's written about them in a scholarly source.

posted by angrycat to Education (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:09 AM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

The poetry of Christopher Okigbo
posted by sallybrown at 4:35 AM on April 11, 2019

"The Winds of Harmattan" by Nnedi Okorafor is interesting for being African sci-fi (though newer), a genre that's generally overlooked.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:00 AM on April 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Are you looking for short stories only? If not, maybe Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe? It has been given lots of scholarly attention.
posted by clawsoon at 6:19 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might find some things in the Caine Prize archives.
posted by hepta at 6:22 AM on April 11, 2019

I don't have any background on this, but the following look promising:



posted by 6and12 at 6:43 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lesley Nneka Arimah's "Who Will Greet You at Home?" might work in place of Hawthorne. Good story, more contemporary style, free online, plenty of symbolism to chew on, etc. I haven't taught it and don't know of any scholarly sources on it though.
posted by Wobbuffet at 6:44 AM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would suggest Someone Knows My Name, (aka The Book of Negroes) which is an award-winning novel by Lawrence Hill. It won the top popular prize for lit in Canada and as such will be widely available ($2 for used copies!) and will be accessible for your audience reading level. It was even turned into a mini-series for CBC. A critical take can be found here - and teaching guides are common - like this. Google scholar indicates that it's been cited over an hundred times.

It's about the slave trade.
posted by zenon at 11:21 AM on April 11, 2019

I'm pretty sure I've read collected short stories* by Chinua Achebe though I can't remember titles at the moment. Achebe was also instrumental in Heineman's African Writers Series and the list of books in that will turn up further possible titles and authors. However I don't think the series has been added to much since the 80's? For more contemporary works maybe search African names connected to literary magazines such as Granta, or contemporary short story prizes connected to the Commonwealth.

Caribbean and Latin American writers may also be relevant here. You might have to do some lateral thinking to uncover sources of information you can then follow up.

Here is an article asking Where is African Literature Today? from 2013, which mentions the Royal African Society’s annual festival of African writing, Africa Writes (no idea if this is still a thing, and also, that title would be more accurate if it said African Writing in English) which should provide leads to more contemporary authors and works.

There is also a series, African Literature Today, which as far as I know used to be published out of Sierra Leone. There are 8 of the series on JSTOR, again, for author names and works since I think it's mostly reviews.

So I don't know if this is relevant to the level you'll be teaching your students at, but African Writing in English is its own branch of Eng Lit and kind of overlaps with postcolonial literature but not exactly and there's complex issues to do with style and use of English and idiom, and why authors make the choices they do. I'm not a scholar but I am a postcolonial African, as your students also will be. So that sort of issue might be quite vital and meaningful to them! Or not. But the students themselves might be a good source of interesting writers, esp those not known in the West because they are published locally. This is a big topic and I'm only touching on it in case it's relevant to your students' circumstances. I know you are an academic and can follow up if nec.

Also, there's quite a big difference in my opinion between the work by African writers at home and African writers who have immigrated to the West in subject matter, concerns, point of view. These are of course really basic political differences. I think Chimamanda Adichie is someone who straddles the divide, and it costs her some effort to keep herself plugged in to Nigerian sensibilities. I mean practical effort: living sometimes in Nigeria, touring and doing readings there. But you can't change the fact that the real money for publishing, fees, film rights etc, is all in the West. It's a conundrum. Someone like Ngugi wa Thiong'o has made a point of rejecting a Western publishing framework, but he is exceptional.

Oh look, Africa Writes is ongoing, here's info about the 2019 event.

p.s. strong recommendation for Bessie Head, short story collection is The Collector of Treasures. If your class is mainly guys though, the political may be too personal for them.
p.p.s. Some links about Chinua Achebe. His essays are also wonderful.
"An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'". Massachusetts Review. 18. 1977. pdf comes up as first item in search.
Review of The Education of a British-Protected Child, The Guardian, 2010
*Review of Nothing Puzzles God, Achebe's last volume of short stories. Hope the link works.
posted by glasseyes at 1:49 PM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Here is a link to African Literature Today 31, Writing Africa in the Short Story.
posted by glasseyes at 2:11 PM on April 11, 2019

'The Famished Road' by Ben Okri is a fascinating novel with an episodic structure that lends itself to excerpting chapters as short stories. I think he was maybe influenced by Amos Tutuola, whose work is also worth a look.
posted by ovvl at 5:50 PM on April 11, 2019

THANKS GUYS these are really great!
posted by angrycat at 7:30 PM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

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