This is a collection of essays by some of the most prominent and influential writers, scholars and critics of the African arts and humanities. The initial impetus for the collection came from an international symposium held at Harvard University in September 2007 in honor of Abiola Irele. The full complement of contributors includes Abiola Irele himself, Wole Soyinka, Tim Crib, Femi Osofisan, Biodun Jeyifo, Elaine Savory, Tejumola Olaniyan, Olakunle George, Jean-Godefroy Bidima, Mpalive-Hangson Msiska, Moradeun Adejunmobi, Akin Adesokan and the late Esiaba Irobi.
The twenty-eight interviews collected in this edited volume were conducted between 1969 and 1986 in various parts of Africa, Europe and the United States. In the volume, leading writers from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Malawi and South Africa speak out candidly about significant literary developments in the African continent.
This issue of African Literature Today is entirely devoted to African women writers and to the presentation of women in African Literature.
This is a recognition of two important facts. Firstly, that African women writers, as a number of articles show, have been neglected in male-authored studies and journals. Secondly that the last ten years or so have at last, despite all sociological factors against them, shown a blossoming of accomplished works by African women writers.
Poetry is very much a growing concern in Africa. The contemporary poet is continuing a long tradition of poetry which in many places pre-dated the advent of writing. The enthusiasm for traditional poetry in Kenya and other parts of Africa has institutionalized the oral form in the written form.
The writing poet may well pine for the central position which the griot once occupied in society. But poetry has been and still is a fighting weapon. The poets too often speak from prison -Brutus, Soyinka Jacinto.
Most African writers are at least bilingual, speaking an African language and writing in an acquired one... How adequately do poets, novelists, playwrights and short story writers use their adopted languages of English and French?... To what extent do their African language backgrounds influence or even enrich their achievement in their adopted languages?... Do they still use their indigenous languages to express contemporary reality?
African novelists, playwrights and poets, even when they are writing in one of the colonial languages, draw on their rich ethnic bases. These resources provide ideas, themes and linguistic delight. The myriad languages of the continent, although used today mainly for workday communication, have through the centuries been vehicles for the oral artistic verbal compositions and transmission now formalized as orature'.
Professor Eldred Jones says 'African literature continues to be intensely political and seems destined to remain so for some time. The writers are in the thick of the fight for the true liberation of their countries, a position which is still fraught with dangers.' He believes that 'it is is possible to distinguish in the literatures of most countries pre-independence from post-independence literature but only as trends rather than as sudden dramatic breaks.'
African women writers have come a long way from the sixties when they were hardly acknowledged or noticed as serious writers. In the past four decades, their works have been steadily rising in quantity and quality. Today these writers are redefining images of womanhood, providing new visions, and reshaping distorted characterizations and representations of African women in fiction. This rapid upsurge of writing by African women has been one of the most dynamic, phenomenal trends of African literature at the end of the twentieth century.