Syllabus Project

“Stories Create People Create Stories”: The African Bildungsroman

Course Description: This course will explore Bildungsroman African literature from Nigeria and Zimbabwe, spanning the latter half of the twentieth century. Bildungsroman literature serves as a window into the private experience of the individual as he or she struggles to position the self in relation to the collective public. Although not every novel or work of criticism that we will read in this course is considered a typical Bildungsroman or is strictly centered on theorizing the Bildungsroman, every novel and critical work revolves around coming of age or identity construction issues. These novels and works of theory will enable us to ask questions about what it means to construct identity alongside with, or in reaction to, the changing landscape of this time period—from the anticolonial moment in Things Fall Apart to the more modern Purple Hibiscus. Our conversations will be shaped by questions of gender and sexuality, nationhood and communal belonging, and trauma and memory among other issues, both personal and social.

Course Goals:

By the end of the course, students will:

  • Analyze work from a wide range of African literature and scholarship, historically and geographically.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the Bildungsroman genre in its multiple forms.
  • Practice conversational skills on issues relevant to the field of African literary scholarship.
  • Develop rhetorical skills by writing argumentative responses to our readings, culminating in a seminar paper at the end of the course.

Week 1:

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. 1958.

Austen, Ralph A. “Struggling with the African Bildungsroman.” Research in African Literatures 46.3 (2015): 214-231. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Recommended: Achille Mbembe, “African Modes of Self-Writing.” Trans. Steven Rendall. Public Culture 14.1 (2002): 239-273.

Onyemelukwe, Ifeoma. “Search For Lost Identity in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Emerging Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. Volume 1. Omenka the Master Artist: Critical Perspectives on Achebe’s Fiction. 35-48. Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 2004. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Week 2:

Wole Soyinka, Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981).

Maduakor, Obi. “Autobiography as Literature: The Case of Wole Soyinka’s Childhood Memories, Aké.” Presence Africaine: Revue Culturelle Du Monde Noir/Cultural Review Of The Negro World 137-138.(1986): 227-240. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Recommended: Selection from Bryce, Jane. “‘He Said, She Said’: Gender and the Metanarrative of Nigerian Identity Construction.” The Postcolonial Lamp. 317-343. Ibadan, Nigeria: Bookcraft, 2008. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Week 3:

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions. 1988.

Susan Z. Andrade, “Tradition, Modernity, and the Family as Nation: Reading the Chimurenga Struggle Into and Out of Nervous Conditions.” Emerging Perspectives on Tsitsi Dangarembga: Negotiating the Postcolonial. Ed. Ann Elizabeth Willey and Jeanette Treiber. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002. 25-60.

Recommended: Berndt, Katrin. Female Identity In Contemporary Zimbabwean Fiction. Bayreuth, Germany: Bayreuth University, 2005. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Hay, Simon. “Nervous Conditions, Lukács, and the Postcolonial Bildungsroman.” Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture 46.3 (2013): 317-334. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Week 4:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus. 2003.

Basu, Manisha. “Loving and Leaving: The Ethics of Postcolonial Pain in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.” ARIEL: A Review Of International English Literature 43.1 (2012): 67. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Recommended: Hewett, Heather. “Coming Of Age: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the Voice of the Third Generation.” English In Africa 32.1 (2005): 73-97. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

Vitthal, Panade Somnath, and Londhe Sachin Vaman. “‘Families in Crises’ in Chamamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.” New Academia: An International Journal of English Language Literature and Literary Theory 3.2 (2014): 1-4. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 5 Mar. 2016.

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3 Responses to Syllabus Project

  1. mmagnero says:

    Your course has a very clear focus and all of these texts seem to complement each other quite well. Slaughter’s reading of Nervous Conditions might be an interesting text to add here. I included Purple Hibiscus on my syllabus and was interested in looking at the Gothic elements in the novel; I hadn’t considered it as a Bildungsroman so it was very cool to see it in that framework here!


    • Thanks, Michelle! You’re right, Slaughter’s reading would definitely fit well there. I found it challenging, so since I was framing a college level course, I didn’t add it. But thanks for the suggestion! I could probably add it as a recommended reading.


      • Anne Gulick says:

        I’m a big fan of ventriloquizing a scholar like Slaughter for undergrads: giving them the citation on the board, asking them to think about some of his key terms (we do a free association around the concept of “development” – revealing that word’s progressivist function in spheres like economics, history, even human anatomy), and then asking them to think about how NC plays around with that concept. Then, on the board or a handout, a brief quote: Slaughter identifies NC as “a critique of the bildungsroman in the form of a bildungsroman.” Or whatever. So it’s really just a nibble, but lets them in on the conversation. But hell, he is hard.


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