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the african literature

African literature isn't just the voices of African people during colonialism and the slave trade. It is much more than that. It covers the stories of African people before colonialism, during colonialism, and after colonialism (this is known as post-colonial literature).African literature reflects the stories of people from hundreds of years ago…

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  • African Literature
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  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Amiri Baraka
  • Arcadia Tom Stoppard
  • August Wilson
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • David Henry Hwang
  • Edward Albee
  • Eugene O'Neill
  • European Drama
  • Fences August Wilson
  • Goethe Faust
  • Hedda Gabler
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • Jean Paul Sartre
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Lillian Hellman
  • Long Day's Journey into Night
  • Lorraine Hansberry
  • Luigi Pirandello
  • Luis Valdez
  • M. Butterfly
  • Murder in the Cathedral
  • No Exit Jean Paul Sartre
  • Oedipus Rex
  • Oliver Goldsmith
  • Prometheus Bound
  • Pygmalion Overview
  • Sean O'Casey
  • She Stoops to Conquer
  • Six Characters in Search of an Author
  • The Cherry Orchard
  • The Children's Hour
  • The Glass Menagerie
  • The Homecoming
  • The Iceman Cometh
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • The Little Foxes
  • The Misanthrope
  • The Way of the World
  • The Wild Duck
  • Tom Stoppard
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • William Congreve
  • Zoot Suit Luis Valdez
  • Age of Revolution
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  • Puritan Literature
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  • Slave Narrative
  • Transcendentalism
  • A Journal of the Plague Year
  • A Map of the World
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Albert Camus
  • Alexandre Dumas
  • Alias Grace
  • All Quiet on the Western Front
  • An American Childhood
  • Angie Thomas
  • Anita Desai
  • Anna Karenina
  • Annie Dillard
  • Antelope Wife
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Asian Literature
  • Babylon Revisited
  • Bernard Malamud
  • Blood Meridian
  • Bobbie Ann Mason
  • Book of Daniel
  • Brideshead Revisited
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  • Carson McCullers
  • Cat's Cradle
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver
  • Charles Bukowski
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  • Clear Light of Day
  • Cormac McCarthy
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  • Daniel Defoe
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  • Death Comes for the Archbishop
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  • The Rotters Club
  • The Secret Agent
  • The Shipping News
  • The Sign of the Four
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • The Turn of the Screw
  • The Woman in White
  • Things Fall Apart
  • Toni Morrison
  • Victor Hugo
  • Waiting for the Barbarians
  • What Maisie Knew
  • When the Emperor Was Divine
  • White Teeth Zadie Smith
  • Wilkie Collins
  • William Golding
  • Wives and Daughters
  • Women in Love
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Zadie Smith
  • Zadie Smith On Beauty
  • A Bird came down the Walk
  • A Quoi Bon Dire
  • A Valediction Forbidding Mourning
  • A Woman Without a Country
  • A narrow Fellow in the Grass
  • Absent from Thee
  • Ae Fond Kiss
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson
  • America Claude Mckay
  • Anne Sexton
  • Ariel Sylvia Plath
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Batter My Heart
  • Birthday Letters
  • Carol Ann Duffy
  • Charlotte Mew
  • Christina Rossetti
  • Death Be Not Proud
  • Dulce et Decorum Est
  • Eavan Boland
  • Edna St Vincent Millay
  • Elegy XIX To His Mistress Going to Bed
  • Elizabeth Jennings
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Ernest Dowson
  • For My Lover Returning To His Wife
  • From Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV
  • Frost at Midnight
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • George Herbert
  • Holy Sonnet VII
  • Homecoming by Simon Armitage
  • Hope is the thing with feathers
  • I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud
  • I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
  • I, Being born a Woman and Distressed
  • If We Must Die
  • In Memoriam Tennyson
  • It was not Death for I stood up
  • Jacob Sam La Rose
  • John Milton
  • John Wilmot
  • Kid Simon Armitage
  • La Belle Dame sans Merci A Ballad
  • Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
  • Louis MacNeice
  • Love and a Question
  • Marianne Moore
  • Meeting Point
  • Memory Christina Rossetti
  • Mending Wall
  • Musee des Beaux Arts
  • My Last Duchess
  • Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae
  • Ode on a Grecian Urn
  • Ode to a Nightingale
  • Ode to the West Wind
  • Out of the Bag
  • Paradise Lost
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • Philip Larkin
  • Richard Lovelace
  • Robert Burns
  • Robert Frost
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Seamus Heaney
  • She Walks in Beauty
  • Siegfried Sassoon
  • Simon Armitage
  • Sir Thomas Wyatt
  • So We'll Go No More a Roving
  • Songs of Experience Collection
  • Stop All the Clocks
  • The Canterbury Tales
  • The Darkling Thrush
  • The Death Bed Siegfried Sassoon
  • The Famine Road by Eavan Boland
  • The Garden of Love
  • The Good Morrow
  • The Love Poem
  • The Mind is an Enchanting Thing
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • The Road Not Taken
  • The Ruined Maid
  • The Scrutiny
  • The Sun Rising
  • The Waste Land
  • The Whitsun Weddings
  • This is Just to Say
  • Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
  • Thomas Hardy
  • To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
  • What Are Years
  • Whoso List to Hunt
  • Wilfred Owen
  • William Blake
  • William Wordsworth
  • Woman in Kitchen

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African literature isn't just the voices of African people during colonialism and the slave trade. It is much more than that. It covers the stories of African people before colonialism, during colonialism, and after colonialism (this is known as post-colonial literature) .

African literature reflects the stories of people from hundreds of years ago and the people who live now. It is a hugely important part of the literary world as it brings underrepresented voices to the fore and allows them to re-tell their experiences of the world.

African literature: characteristics

There are many defining characteristics of African literature and African books. Though there are differences between the literature of each country, the following characteristics are present in most books.

African literature not only comes in the written form but also as oral literature . Before colonialism, Africans would tell their stories orally and through performance, sometimes using music as well.

After colonialism, the African writers started to write in European languages such as English, Portuguese, and French. Their stories would share similar themes such as denouncing European colonisation of the African countries, the greatness of their African past before the European countries invaded, and hope for independence in the future of Africa.

African authors who wrote in European languages were many times accused of trying to cater for a western audience but the true reason behind their intentions was to portray their experience in a language that the oppressors could understand. 1

Historical influences

Another characteristic of African literature is the writers’ focus on themes of freedom and independence, questions of identity and liberation.

In the period between 1881 and 1914, known as the ‘Scramble for Africa’, numerous European powers took control of most of Africa. The only three countries untouched by the Europeans were the Dervish State, Liberia, and Ethiopia.

The slave trade that lasted approximately four hundred years is also another key historical influence on African literature.

The Atlantic slave trade involved the movement of more than twelve million African people to America to work as slaves. Some of these slaves eventually gained their freedom and those who were literate started writing stories to fight against slavery by recounting their horrifying experiences as slaves. The first generation of these narrators was Ottobah Cugoano, Olaudah Equiano , and Ignatius Sancho.

Types of African literature

The different types of African literature can be divided into four groups:

Oral African literature

Pre-colonial african literature, colonial african literature.

  • Post-colonial literature

These can further be divided into three periods of African literature: during African liberation, colonialism of Africa, and Africa after colonialism.

African oral literature was performative. Its themes were usually mythological and historical.

Performance, Tone , riddles, and proverbs were key components of oral African literature. These elements were manipulated by the orator to produce certain effects on their audience.

The performer also often had visual aids during their performance. As the performer was usually face-to-face with the public, they were able to perform in specific ways by using mimicry, gestures, and expressions to produce an impact on their audience. They could also portray a certain image by dressing up as a specific character.

Oral African literature was versatile and communal. Performers could at times even introduce pieces of their older stories into their new stories or create completely new content and structures in their stories.

Pre-colonial African literature is the literature written between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries and includes the Atlantic slave trade.

These stories were based on the Folklore of different regions in African countries.

For example, Sungura is a hare in Folklore in East Africa and Central Africa. Often, these stories included mischievous animal characters such as Anansi, a spider found in the Folklore of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana.

It is important to understand that before colonial rule, African literature existed. Africans wrote in Africa as well as in the west and they also wrote in their native languages.

Colonial African Literature was produced between the end of World War I and African independence (the date of which depends on the different countries, such as Ghana's 1957 independence from British control and Algeria's independence in 1962 from France). It contained themes of independence, liberation and négritude .

Traditionally, Africans combine teaching in their art forms. For example, rather than writing or singing about beauty, African people use elements of beauty to portray crucial facts and information about African society.

Négritude: a movement starting in the 1930s led by African people in places controlled by the French who were raising awareness of ‘Black consciousness’ and protesting against French colonisation. Aimé Césaire was the first to use the word 'Négritude' in his poem 'Cahier d’un retour au pays natal' (1939). Other key Poets presenting Négritude in their poetry were Léon Damas in his P igments (1937) and Sédar Senghor’s in his Hosties noire (1948).

Post-colonial African Literature

Writers in this period wrote in both western languages and African languages. The main themes that African authors explore in post-colonial African Literature are the relationship between modernity and tradition, the relationship between Africa’s past and Africa’s present, individuality and collectivism, the notion of foreignness and indigenous, capitalism and socialism, and what it means to be African.

Writers who reflect these themes in their writing include Chinua Achebe in Arrow of God (1964) and Ngugi wa Thiong'o in Wizard of the Crow (2006) .

In the quote below from Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie , the author reflects on the relationship between Africa's past and present by showing how Kambili has been taught to see God as white. For her, God can't be her skin colour as the colour black isn't 'pure' enough for God. It also presents the strained relationship she has with her skin colour and her understanding that the colour white is good and pure:

When she made a U-turn and went back the way we had come, I let my mind drift, imagining God laying out the hills of Nsukka with his wide white hands, crescent-moon shadows underneath his nails just like Father Benedict’s. 2

Short stories in African literature

Let's explore some African short stories.

Wives at war and other stories (1980) by Flora Nwapa

This collection of short stories focuses on the involvement of women in wars. They portray the different experiences of women during the Nigerian civil war and show the bravery of the military leaders of Biafra's women's organisations. These women started a war against the bureaucracy that didn't allow them to represent their homeland around the world.

The stories also portray women's hatred of war. There are women who are not interested in politics and rather focus more on familial concerns. There are some who would sacrifice everything to prevent their loved ones from being conscripted into the army.

Let’s tell this story properly (2014) by Jennifer Nansugba Makumbi

In this collection of short stories, Makumbi presents the lives of Ugandans in Britain. Whether they are highly visible individuals or barely noticed, whether they care for the elderly or work in hospitals, Makumbi aims to show how the lives of Ugandans who live in Britain are not included in 'White British' life. As these characters try to find themselves in Britain, their homeland drifts further and further away from them.

Who will greet you at home (2015) by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Set in a surrealistic version of Lagos, women must fabricate a child out of materials from the earth: the special ingredient is words from an elderly woman and they must take care of it for a year before it comes to life. Arimah uses this story to critique Nigerian society's obsession with babies; she criticises the belief that a woman can only achieve her purpose by having children.

Other stories from African literature

  • What it means when a man falls from the sky (2017)by Lesley Nneka Arimah.
  • A private experience (2008) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .
  • Tales of tenderness and power (1991) by Bessie Head.
  • I am not my skin (2017) by Neema Komba.
  • Diplomatic pounds & other stories (2012) by Ama Ata Aidoo.
  • Go tell the sun (2011) by Wame Molefhe.

African American literature: timeline

Let's talk about African American literature.

Before the Civil War

One of the first ‘slave narratives' of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was The interesting life of Olaudah Equiano (1789). This was just one of the many enslaved people narratives that were written at the time and although it wasn’t one of the key texts in the American abolitionist movement , it spread the anti-slavery message in Britain.

Slave narratives: slave narratives are the autobiographies of enslaved Africans. Many of these enslaved people's narratives were written by African Americans who had escaped or were freed.

Frederick Douglass’s Autobiography Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass (1845) was an important text in the American abolitionist movement and remains a hugely successful text. When it was published, it sold thousands of copies instantly and before the Civil War. Historians believe that approximately 30,000 copies of the book were sold.

The American abolitionist movement was an organised movement to end slavery in the US. The first leaders of the campaign (between 1830 and 1870) took inspiration from the strategies that British abolitionists used to end slavery in Britain during the 1830s.

During the Civil War

Harriet Jacob’s I ncidents in the life of a slave girl (1861) was another important slave narrative published during the Civil War. It was originally published in a newspaper and presents further Intersectionality into the discrimination of African people as it presents the different experiences she had to face as a female slave.

Intersectionality : the interconnection between social categories such as gender, class, and race in a certain group overlap to produce further discrimination. For example, discrimination against Black people wasn't the same for all Black people. Further discrimination may have happened to a Black person depending on whether they were a woman, elderly, or disabled person.

After the Civil War

After the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws in the south of America enforced racial segregation between Black people and White people. This prompted Black writers in the United States, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois to write 'Up from slavery' (1901) and 'Souls of Black fold' (1903) respectively. These essays explored issues of social mobility and black people’s right to equal treatment in work and education.

By 1910 and 1920, Black writers were being more and more recognised in fiction and poetry. One of Claude McKay’s famous poems ‘If we must die,’ (1917) focuses on racial discrimination and the civil rights of Black people and in particular the violence as a result of the Jim Crow laws.

In the early 1950s, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man (1952) was published. It explored the socio-political struggles faced by the Black people in the south of America and Harlem. In this book, the author implies that racism isn’t geographically inclined but is part of the American consciousness.

Later on, female authors such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker contributed to African American literature with their books. In The Color Purple (1982), Walker portrays segregation in Georgia in the 1930s and in Beloved (1987), Morrison tells a story of a family during the American Civil War and presents the many horrors the slave trade caused.

African Literature - Key takeaways

  • African literature is divided into four different types depending on the type period when a piece was written or performed: oral African literature, pre-colonial African literature, colonial African literature, and post-colonial African literature.
  • African oral literature was performative and was often about mythological and historical stories.
  • Pre-colonial African literature covers the time between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries and includes the Atlantic slave trade. These stories were based on the folklore of different regions in African countries.
  • Colonial African Literature was produced between the end of World War I and African independence. It contained themes of independence, liberation, and négritude .
  • African writers wrote in both western languages and African languages. The main themes that African authors explore in post-colonial African literature are the relationship between modernity and tradition, the relationship between Africa’s past and Africa’s present, individuality and collectivism, the notion of foreignness and indigenous, capitalism and socialism, and what it means to be African.

1. Aneeta Joseph, 'Themes in African Literature,' Academia , 2016.

2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus , 2003.

Frequently Asked Questions about African Literature

--> what is modern african literature.

Modern African literature is literature written in indigenous languages of Africa as well as European languages. It includes oral literature as well as written literature.

--> What are the famous African literary pieces?

Famous African literature includes:

Things fall apart  by Chinua Achebe

Purple hibiscus  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a yellow sun  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Beloved  by Tony Morrison

--> What are characteristics of African literature?

The characteristics of African literature concern themes related to colonisation, African independence, liberation, and African pride.

--> What are the five major themes of African literature?

The five major themes of African literature are colonialism, tradition, displacement, liberation, and nationalism. 

--> What makes African literature unique?

African literature is unique because African novels include aspects of oral literature (such as riddles, proverbs and songs).

Final African Literature Quiz

African literature quiz - teste dein wissen.

Before colonialism, as well as written text how did Africans tell their stories?

Show answer

Show question

After colonialism, why did Africans start writing in European languages?

To portray their horrifying experiences to their oppressors.

What themes are present in African literature?

modernity and tradition, the relationship between Africa’s past and Africa’s present, individuality and collectivism, the notion of foreignness and indigenous, capitalism and socialism, what it means to be African, freedom and independence, liberation, colonisation and tradition.

What happened in the ‘Scramble for Africa?’

Several European countries took control of most of Africa.

For how long did the ‘Scramble to Africa’ last?

From 1881 to 1914.

How long did the Atlantic slave trade last for?

Around 400 years

What are the four different types of African literature?

Performative African literature

What type of stories was African oral literature about?

Mythical/ historical stories

What are some of the key components of Oral African literature?

Performance, tone, riddles, proverbs, songs, narratives

For how long did pre-colonial African literature last?

Between the 15 th and 19 th centuries.

How long did colonial African literature last?

Between the end of WWI and African independence.

What was the 'Négritude' movement about?

Raising awareness about Black consciousness and protesting against French rule.

What are ‘slave narratives?’

Memoirs of freed Black people writing about their horrifying experiences as a slave

What law created racial segregation in the American south?

Tim Crow laws

Why was Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl  important?

It showed the female experience of slavery.

What is intersectionality?

The interconnection between social categories such as gender, class and race in a certain group overlapping to produce further discrimination. For example, discrimination against Black people wasn't the same for all Black people. Further discrimination may have happened to a Black person depending on whether they were a woman, elderly or less abled etc.

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Literature, Language and Media SLLM

African Literature

The field of African Literature includes the many rich works of literature of the African continent in both African and European languages.   

At Wits, we study African literature written in or translated into English , with an extended focus on the literature of the African diaspora.   

The study of African literature includes an exploration of aspects of the history, politics, intellectual   traditions   and cultural heritage of the diverse societies within which the literature   is produced . As South Africa's links with the rest of the world continue to grow, such knowledge is increasingly invaluable. African Literature provides you with useful knowledge not only for a changing South Africa but also for a dynamically changing landscape of global literature and culture.  

Do I Need an African Language?  

While an African language would be extremely useful, the course focuses on material written in English - which is the only language you will need to enrol in our courses.  

  • Potential Careers

The Department was established in 1983 under the leadership of Es'kia Mphahlele. It is the only department of its kind in the country and probably in the world.

Its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes investigate the specificity of local conditions informing the production of knowledge about African literature and cultural practices while, also, remaining aware of and engaging with similar developments in the black diaspora and the rest of the world.

Consequently, the range of texts taught is primarily national and continental with texts from the black diaspora at the more senior levels. While its focus is largely literary, its scope includes orature, performance, media and other expressive modes within its domain of teaching and research.

Graduates in African Literature have entered the following professions 

  • Work in cultural and non-governmental organisations 
  • Publishing 
  • Journalism  
  • Media and communications  
  • Academic Career
  • Teaching English 
  • Creative Writing 

Oral Literature and Performance in South Africa

This course introduces students to debates about oral and written traditions and their interactions. The modules also introduce students to the area of performance studies.

Since the interaction of oral and written forms lies at the heart of African Literature as a discipline, this course aims to introduce students to some of the key concepts and ideas in the field.

The module aims to equip students with both close-reading and contextual skills, and it encourages them to examine a range of South African cultural forms as part of a changing intellectual and political climate.

Themes covered include:

  • Praise poetry
  • Two novels which draw strongly on the oral tradition
  • Two South African plays

African Fiction: An Introduction

This course introduces students to a range of African fiction by focusing on the idea of regional literatures. By choosing a cross-section of West, East and South African texts, we attempt to introduce students to some of the major themes and concerns characterising this fiction.

These include the disparate colonial contexts which have led to distinct literary trends in the various regions, the various ways in which writers draw on indigenous intellectual traditions; changing literary themes in the post-independence era; and the complex interplay between different literary genres. The course aims to give students contextual reading skills and the ability to place a text in its social and historical context.

Gender and Writing II

Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift within the field of feminist literary criticism. Previously attention tended to fall only on women writers; the representation of women and historical construction of femaleness. Questions of maleness and masculinity received little attention and remained invisible. There has in short been a move from studying women and / in literary texts to studying gender.

This course seeks to apply this thinking to a range of African literary texts. The course begins with a consideration of the masculinist bias of much nationalist thinking and the ways which this informs many of the major male writers. The course then examines the ways in which women and certain male writers have attempted to reshape or rewrite the masculinist orientation of much canonical African writing.

Performing Power in Post-Independence Africa

The post-independence state in Africa is frequently depicted as a 'theatre state' in African Literature. The relations between government officials and ordinary people, men and women, are structured and negotiated through a wide range of social acts that serve as physical and symbolic enactments of power. The staging of power is embedded in social events as different as the political rituals of government, popular culture and its spaces/occasions of expression, and gendered encounters in the home, youth league rallies and many other instances. Drawing on novels, plays, poetry and film, this course explores the centrality of language, culture and ideology in imagining and contesting the nation-state in Africa after independence.

Literatures of the Black Diaspora

This module aims to introduce students to a representative range of literary texts from the African diaspora. The module will cover texts from the African American and the English-speaking Caribbean. The module begins with theoretical discussion of the nature of diasporic communities and identities; strategies of language appropriation and abrogation; and the politics of pan-Africanism. A range of genres will are taught - autobiography, novels, poetry, short stories, music and video material. Themes investigated include explorations and uses of the past; the search for "wholeness"; the ambiguities of dependence; cultural nationalism; gender and class.

Contemporary Trends in African Literature

The popular image of African Literature both without and sometimes even within the academy is largely based on the literature that emerged during and shortly after the decolonising years. This movement included figures like Mahfouz, Soyinka, Achebe, Armah, Ngugi, Beti, Oyono, and Laye and it is often from these writers that a canon has been formulated which in some instances may take in a few 'second wave' writers - like Farah, Head and Aidoo. However, over the last decade there has been the emergence of a distinct 'third generation' of writers including figures like Okri, Dangarembga, Vassanji, Gurnah, Hove, Laing, Bandele-Thomas, Chipasula, Couto and so on.

In theme, style and concern, this cohort of writers is distinct from the 'classical' writers of the canon and tends to take up issues that have emerged in other 'postcolonial' literatures. This shift in literary emphasis has been accompanied by a shift in critical focus and much African literary theory is now dominated by various forms of 'postcolonial' theory. The object of the course is to introduce students to a cross-section of contemporary writers whilst simultaneously looking critically at shifts in literary theory.

East African Literature

This course seeks to examine discourses relating to decolonisation in the colonial and the post-colonial state in East Africa. Drawing on theories on decolonisation which attempt to understand the coloniser/colonised relationship and the effects of colonial structures and the post-colonial state, the course seeks to explore how the literatures of the sub-continent engage with ways in which power is deployed, contested and appropriated. It examines discourses relating to committed literature and alienation in the post-colonial state. Indeed, the apparent diverse political experiences of East African states ranging from Nyerere's ''Arusha Declaration'', Kenyatta's commitment to capitalism, to Amin's reign of terror are examined as mediating factors in the post-colonial literatures of East Africa.

Postgraduate Programmes

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The must-reads in African literature

The must-reads in African literature

African literature is full of captivating stories, poems and plays written by African authors that reflect the diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of the African continent. As a student, reading these books can help you better understand your African roots – which is one of the pillars of Enko Education – and the unique experiences of the African people. Plus, it’s a fantastic way for you to broaden your horizons and develop cultural-awareness. So, let’s dive into this exciting literary journey with a list of must-read contemporary, classic, francophone, and anglophone African books for young african students!

Contemporary African Literature

  • Americanah (2013) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) : Meet Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who moves to the United States and experiences the challenges of race, identity, and love. This fascinating novel will take you on a journey across three continents as it explores modern African identity .
  • Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) : Travel back in time to the Biafran War and follow the lives of five individuals caught in the chaos. This powerful novel will open your eyes to the impact of war on ordinary people and their struggle for self-determination in Nigeria.
  • Homegoing (2016) by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana) : Get ready for an epic adventure that follows the descendants of two half-sisters from Ghana over several generations. This book brilliantly explores the effects of slavery and colonialism on African families as the story unfolds between West Africa and the United States.
  • The Fishermen (2015) by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) : In this heartbreaking tale, four brothers in a small Nigerian town have their lives turned upside down by a local madman’s prophecy. The novel delves into themes of family, fate, and the power of belief.
  • Stay with Me (2017) by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Nigeria) : Set in Nigeria during the 1980s, this novel tells the story of a couple struggling with infertility and societal expectations. Discover the complexities of marriage, love, and the lengths people will go to have a family.

Classic African Literature

  • Things Fall Apart (1958) by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria) : Often considered the cornerstone of African literature, this novel introduces you to Okonkwo, an Igbo leader, as he grapples with the arrival of British colonialists. Experience the clash of cultures and the disintegration of traditional African societies in pre-colonial Nigeria.
  • Une si longue lettre (1980) by Mariama Bâ (Senegal) : This heartfelt story of friendship, love, and betrayal offers a glimpse into the lives of two Senegalese women. Written as a series of letters from a widowed woman to her best friend, the book explores themes of gender, tradition, and modernity in post-colonial Africa.
  • A Grain of Wheat (1967) by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya) : Set during Kenya’s struggle for independence in the 1950s, this novel explores the personal and political turmoil faced by a group of villagers. Join them as they navigate the complexities of loyalty, betrayal, and the quest for freedom.
  • Les bouts de Bois de Dieu (1960) by Ousmane Sembène (Senegal) : This novel takes you to a railway strike in colonial Senegal and Mali, where you’ll explore themes of labor rights, colonialism, and the struggle for independence. Witness the importance of collective action and solidarity in the face of oppression.
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) by Alan Paton (South Africa) : Set in South Africa during the era of apartheid, this novel follows a black country priest searching for his son in Johannesburg. The book delves into themes of race, injustice, and the possibility of reconciliation in a deeply divided society.

Francophone African Literature

  • L’Enfant Noir (1953) by Camara Laye (Guinea) : This autobiographical novel tells the story of a young boy’s childhood in Guinea and his journey to France for education where he faces many challenges related to identity, nostalgia, and adapting to a new culture.
  • Une Vie de Boy (1956) by Ferdinand Oyono (Cameroon) : Set in colonial Cameroon, this satirical novel provides a stark portrayal of the abuse and indignity suffered by Africans under French rule. Follow the life of a young African houseboy working for a French colonial administrator.
  • Les Soleils des indépendances (1968) by Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast) : This novel tells the story of a man struggling to navigate the complex political landscape of post-independence Africa. Explore themes of power, corruption, and the challenges of nation-building.
  • La Vie et demie (1979) by Sony Labou Tansi (Congo) : Set in a fictional African dictatorship, this novel follows the life of a persecuted family as they struggle to survive in a brutal regime. Discover themes of political oppression, resistance, and the human spirit.
  • La saison de l’ombre (2013) by Léonora Miano (Cameroon) : This novel takes place in a pre-colonial African village devastated by the slave trade . Delve into themes of loss, resilience, and the search for identity in the face of unimaginable suffering.

Anglophone African Literature

  • Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) : Set in post-colonial Nigeria, this coming-of-age story follows a young girl’s struggle for freedom and self-discovery. Explore themes of family, religion, and the search for identity.
  • No Longer at Ease (1960) by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria) : This novel explores the challenges faced by a young Nigerian man as he navigates the complexities of British colonialism and traditional African society. Delve into themes of corruption, moral ambiguity, and the struggle for self-determination.
  • Our Sister Killjoy (1977) by Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana) : This novel follows a young Ghanaian woman’s journey through Europe and her experiences with racism, colonialism, and identity. Experience a powerful exploration of the African diaspora and the challenges faced by those living in a foreign culture.
  • The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968) by Ayi Kwei Armah (Ghana) : Set in post-independence Ghana, this novel tells the story of a railway worker struggling to navigate the corrupt and disillusioning world around him. Discover themes of disillusionment, morality, and the search for integrity in a broken society.
  • Death and the King’s Horseman (1975) by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) : This play, based on a real event in Nigerian history, explores themes of cultural conflict, duty, and the clash of traditional and modern values. Witness the events leading up to a ritual suicide and the resulting confrontation between British colonial authorities and the local Yoruba community.

African literature is an incredible collection of stories that can teach you so much about the complexities and beauty of the African experience. Whether contemporary or classic, francophone or anglophone, these must-read books offer a captivating journey through African history, culture, and identity. As a high school student, engaging with these works can help you develop cultural awareness, making you a more well-rounded individual.

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the african literature



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