Syllabus Project

The City in African Literature

Theme: This graduate course is designed to invite students to reconsider the role of urban spaces within African literature. Together, we will consider the ways in which socio-political and geographic realities are represented and configured within the imaginary space of the novel. In what ways do African novelists intervene in the discourse of urbanity? What, exactly, is the relationship between the globalized form of the novel and the globalized forms of urban space?  How do African writers abroad reimagine non-African cities? Through a variety of mediums and genres, including novels, documentary film, travelogue, and critical essays, this course will combine literary theory with geographic inquiry to provide new frameworks for considering the reality and the representation of cities in African literature and beyond.

Course Goals: 

After completing this course, students will have ideally

  • expanded their familiarity with African literature
  • developed a better understanding of the role of place in African fiction
  • engaged with the economic, political, social, and geographic realities of various city spaces
  • established connections between artistic forms and forms of urbanity
  • enjoyed themselves to some degree




Week 1 – Johannesburg


Vladislavic, Ivan. The Restless Supermarket. 


Mbembe, Achille. “Aesthetics of Superfluity.” Public Culture 16.3 (2004): 373-405.

Simone, AbdoulMaliq. For the City Yet to Come. (Read “Introduction” and “Cities and Change”)


Week 2 – Washington, D.C. 


Mengestu, Dinaw. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. 


Ledent, Bénédicte. “Reconfiguring the African Diaspora in Dinaw Mengestu’s the Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears”. Research in African Literatures 46.4 (2015): 107–118.

Banerjee, Swapna. Accumulation through Dispossession: Transformative Cities in the New Global Order. (Read “Introduction: Transformative Cities in the New Global Order.”)


Week 3 – Lagos


Saro-wiwa, Noo. Looking For Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria. 


Koolhass, Rem. Lagos, Wide and Close.  (Film)

Watts, Michael. “Oil City: Petro-landscapes and Sustainable Future.” Ecological Urbanism. Ed. Gareth Doherty and Mohsten Mostafavi. Baden: Lars Muller, 2010. 420-430.


Week 4 – New York


Cole, Teju. Open City. 


De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. 91-130. 

Vermeulen, Pieter. “Flights of Memory: Teju Cole’s Open City and the Limits of Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism”. Journal of Modern Literature 37.1 (2013): 40–57.


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3 Responses to Syllabus Project

  1. mmagnero says:

    This is a really interesting class, as it provides an opportunity for students to study and to write about many different aspects of cities- the economic, the political, urban landscapes, ecology, etc. After reading your syllabus, I was trying to think of texts that might work for this course and one that came to mind is Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar, which is set in Alexandria, Egypt. It’s been awhile since I have looked at it but from what I remember, the city is significant within the novel.


  2. Chalice says:

    I think it would be fascinating to investigate the presence (and absence) of the urban in African novels. Cities sound like a great way to enter into identity and culture dynamics, and fold in things like local/national economies along the way. Your syllabus reminds me of one novel I came across while working on my syllabus, Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames, which is set in Los Angeles.


  3. Anne Gulick says:

    Lovely. For an expanded version of this course (or a research project), Ato Quayson’s book on Accra would be fun. I love that you made enjoyment a course goal!


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