Syllabus Project – Jonathan Dunn


The Novel, Immigrant Experience and the Modern African Diaspora

The African diaspora is an enormous topic spanning huge swaths of time and space, an experience covering hundreds of years and millions of people. For the purpose of this course we will focus on the specific experiences of modern African immigrants and exiles today, looking closely at the ways their struggles are presented and interpreted through fiction. Some questions that will guide our study include: How might we understand the African diaspora in its modern/postmodern context? How are Africans in the modern diaspora shaped by the experiences of so many Africans enslaved and forcibly exiled from the 16th to 19th centuries? What challenges do African immigrants today face leaving their native country and starting over in a new place, and how are these uniquely addressed in fiction? Are any of the struggles especially unique to Africans, or are they faced by immigrants and exiles around the world?  What does our examination of the topic suggest about the role of family or religion in the immigrant experience? How is identity shaped and reshaped for the exile?

Course Goals:

  • be able to situate the modern African diaspora in context and understand some of the unique struggles faced by immigrants from Africa today
  • have a well-rounded understanding of the issues at play for exiles and immigrants, especially in regard to questions of identity
  • better understand the ways that family and religion operate within the unique context of the modern African diaspora
  • gain a better sense of the ways these experiences are processed through art, and especially fiction



Week 1 – Introduction
Primary text: Ambiguous Adventures by Cheikh Hamidou Kane (1961) (Melville House)

Secondary texts:
1. Akyeampong, Emmanuel. “Africans in the Diaspora: The Diaspora and Africa.” African Affair. 99. No. 395. Centenary Issue: A Hundred Years of Africa. (April 2000), pp. 183-215.
2. Steemers, Vivan. “(Post)Colonialism and Ideological Configurations: An Analysis of the Power Structures in Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s ‘Ambiguous Adventure.’” Rocky Mountain Review. 67, No. 2. (Fall 2013), pp. 137-149.

Supplementary reading:
1. Butler, Kim. “Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse.” Diasporas: A Journal of Transnational Studies. Vol. 10, No. 2. (Fall 2001), pp. 189-219.
2. Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe. “Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic.” African Affairs. Vol. 104. No. 414. (January 2005), pp. 35-68.

Week 2 – Diaspora and the search for identity
Primary text: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu (2008) (Riverhead Books)

Secondary texts:
1. Olopade, Dayo. “Go West, Young Man.” Transition. 100. (2008) pp.134-151.
2. Clark, Msia Kibona. “Questions of Identity Among African Immigrants in America.” The New African Diaspora. Eds. Nkiru Nzegwu and Isidore Okpewho. Indiana University Press. Bloomington: 2009. 255-270.

Week 3 – Children/family in the diaspora
Primary text: We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo (2014) (Back Bay Books)

Secondary texts:
1. Moore, David Chioni. “African Philosophy vs. Philosophy of Africa: Continental Identities and Traveling Names for Self.” Diasporas: A Journal of Transnational Studies. Vol. 7. No. 3. (Winter 1998), 321-250.
2. Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. “Migration and Trans-Racial/National Identity Re-Formation: Becoming African Diaspora Women.” Black Women, Gender + Families. Vol. 5. No. 2. (Fall 2011), pp. 4-24.

Week 4 – Counter-narratives of exile
Primary text: The Translator by Leila Aboulela (1999) (Grove Press)

Secondary texts:
1. Hassan, Wail S. “Leila Aboulela and the Ideology of Muslim Immigrant Fiction.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction. 41, No. 2/3, The Form of Postcolonial African Fiction. (Spring – Summer, 2008), pp. 298-319.
2. Gibb, Camilla. “Religious Identification in Transnational Contexts: Being and Becoming Muslim in Ethiopia and Canada.” Diasporas: A Journal of Transnational Studies. Vol 7. No. 2. (Fall 1998), pp. 247-269.

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3 Responses to Syllabus Project – Jonathan Dunn

  1. This seems a worthwhile project, Jonathan. This course is well organized, and it seems to survey multiple critical perspectives. Is it intended for graduate students? Are there breif articles or essays on the nature of fiction/uses of fiction that you might include?


  2. mmagnero says:

    One text that you might check out is Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, which deals with some of the issues in Units 2 and 3. Great guiding questions presented in the intro. I think that this theme of immigration, exile and diaspora will likely attract students working in a wide range of fields.


  3. Anne Gulick says:

    Mengestu, Bulawayo and Aboulela all in a row – wow. Yogita Goyal’s work might be of interest to you.


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