ENGL 850: THE MODERN AFRICAN NOVEL
Professor: Dr. Anne Gulick
Office: Humanities Office Building 319
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30 – 12:30 and by appointment
Course blog: https://africannovel2016.wordpress.com/
This course will provide a fast-paced, theoretically rigorous (in other words, “graduate-level”) introduction to the study of the African novel from the 1950s to the present. We will explore what it means to think about a canon of modern African fiction in the first place, given the linguistic, regional, and cultural heterogeneity of the continent. We will consider how key periodizing terms of contemporary African history—anticolonialism, decolonization, post-independence nationhood, and the neoliberal (“post-postcolonial?) twenty-first century—inform how African literature has been theorized, and debate whether that schematization makes sense to us. An intersectional approach to race, gender, class, and sexuality will be intrinsic to our discussions throughout the semester. Other possible topics for exploration include ecocriticism; war, imprisonment, torture, and narrative form; speculative fiction and other non-realist genres; the new African diaspora; and prize economies.
You do not need to be a specialist in African or postcolonial literature in order to benefit from this course (though if you do have background in these areas, that’s obviously great). I am anticipating a classroom populated by modernists, postmodernists, Americanists, Brit lit aficionados, and comparativists of all stripes. As we will see, the boundaries between African literature and other canons are and always have been porous and mutually invigorating. Further, while I can guarantee that this seminar will provide you with exposure to some of the “great writers” of modern African literature, you and your fellow seminar participants will bear much responsibility for determining the exact direction of the course, and for selecting many of the readings in the final weeks of the semester. In other words, we will not only talk about how other people have constructed a canon of modern African fiction and its critical contexts; we will do that work ourselves.
By the end of the semester, the successful participant in this section of ENGL 850 will:
- Demonstrate substantive knowledge of a broad range of contemporary Anglophone African novels, including their critical reception.
- Be conversant with key debates in African postcolonial literary theory.
- Produce a historically and critically informed “mini-syllabus” in the subject area, thereby gaining experience with course design as well as familiarity with contemporary African literary history.
- Produce fifteen pages of polished, original critical prose focusing on the themes and texts from our syllabus.
- Develop skills in informed, effective, generous scholarly discourse, both orally and in writing.
TEXTS, REQUIRED AND OTHERWISE
Perhaps the most important “text” for this course will be our WordPress site. See further below for details on the blog assignment, but in a more general sense this site will be a space for us to create community and conversation outside of class, develop collective bibliographic resources, and archive the fabulous work we do together this spring. All enrolled students should sign up to “follow” the blog, via email, Twitter, or RSS feed, during the first week.
All titles below will be available at the Russell House Bookstore. (Crossbones will not be immediately available.)
- Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Anchor)
- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (Grove)
- Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Petals of Blood (Penguin)
- Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Ayebia Clarke)
- Nuruddin Farah, Crossbones (Penguin)
- M. Coetzee, Disgrace (Penguin)
- Stephanie Newell, Readings in Popular African Fiction (Indiana)
In addition, you will need to obtain a copy of:
- Either Chris Abani, GraceLand (Picador) or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Knopf) – both available at Russell House
- Either Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sozaboy (Heinemann) or Ahmadou Kourouma, Allah Is Not Obliged (Picador) – Sozaboy is available at Russell House; anyone wishing to read Kourouma’s novel in the original French is welcome to do so
All additional readings will be listed on the blog. Readings that are not accessible via library resources (i.e., online journals or downloadable e-books) will be made available via links.
The following volumes will be on reserve at Thomas Cooper:
- Abiola Irele, The Cambridge Companion to the African Novel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2009.
- Teju Olaniyan and Ato Quayson, eds. African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory. Malden, Ma; Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2007.
- Ato Quayson, ed. The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature, Vol. I and II. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2012.
See the WordPress site for a Google Doc containing a bibliography of African literary criticism and theory. All seminar participants are invited to edit this bibliography throughout the semester.
Class participation (15%)
My guiding principle for participation is as follows: in a graduate seminar you assume significant responsibility for your colleagues’ intellectual growth as well as your own. If you skip class, are underprepared, dominate discussion in a way that shuts down others’ experiences, or do not contribute to the discussion regularly, you are not shouldering that responsibility effectively. The most brilliant final paper will not, alone, earn you an A in this course; you must be an active, engaged participant throughout term.
Critical reading responses (25%)
Eight times over the course of the semester, you will write a 400-500 word critical reflection on the day or week’s reading. These responses are meant to help you synthesize the material, and give you regular practice with critical writing throughout the semester. Responses should be posted by 9 am of the day on which we are discussing the material. Please pace yourself, keep track of how many posts you have completed, and limit yourself to one post per week. Absolutely do not write and post multiple responses in the last two weeks of the semester; doing so defeats the point of the assignment and creates a lot of relatively thankless work for you, me, and your classmates!
Please tag each post with relevant titles, author names, themes, theoretical concepts, geographical designators—anything that will help situate your writing within the discursive web we’re weaving collectively on this site.
Short assignments (5%)
- By Wednesday 1/13, please post a short “letter of introduction” on the blog in which you introduce yourself to me and your classmates. Among other things, this letter will ensure that we’re all comfortable with WordPress before we get too far along in the semester.
- No later than Friday 2/5, please choose one critical response you have completed thus far, polish it, and email it to me as a Word document. This will be your opportunity to get some detailed feedback on your writing fairly early on in the semester.
Syllabus project (20%)
You will spend the first nine weeks of this course “reading until your eyeballs fall out” (in the words of one of my favorite professors) from a pre-set syllabus, immersing yourselves in what for some of you will be a brand new field of literature and literary history. You will know a lot by the midterm—enough to claim a small modicum of field expertise, and definitely enough to take some ownership over the intellectual work of the last weeks of the course. Through individual and collaborative work, you and your classmates will be responsible for setting the readings for our final five class meetings. Here’s how this will work.
- By spring break, each student will independently develop a four-week syllabus (eight class sessions) for the end of this course. We don’t actually have four weeks to work with, but for the sake of this assignment you’re going to pretend that we do. You can stick with the format for reading assignments that we’ve been following – usually one novel, plus a handful of critical/theoretical/historical secondary readings each week – but you are also invited to rethink that format in any way you choose. The only requirement is that the amount of work you assign be roughly on par with the pace that has already been set. You will post your mini-syllabus to the blog.
- Over spring break, you should look over and comment on your classmates’ syllabi on the blog.
- On Thursday 3/17, I will be out of town at a conference. You, however, should show up in class, where you and your classmates, drawing on the work you did independently, will write the syllabus for April 5, 12, 14, 19, and 21. I’ll set up a Google Doc in which you can post and edit your syllabus draft. Bring a laptop or tablet, if you’ve got one; you’ll also be able to make use of the computer in the classroom. Some additional guidelines:
- Again, you and your classmates are encouraged to think capaciously and creatively about what to do with this last portion of our course. You do not have to follow the format we’ve been following. You could, for example, break up into subgroups charged with exploring different topics and texts – for example, ecocriticism, human rights narratives, historical fiction, francophone texts, etc. You could develop a collaborative project–say, the creation of an undergraduate course–to which individual students or small groups contribute in different ways. There are a lot of possibilities! The only non-negotiable requirements are that you develop a rigorous and focused set of reading assignments, do those assignments, and attend all class sessions. If there’s group work to be done, let’s make everyone’s lives easier and make it happen during class time as much as possible.
- Because I have to cancel two class sessions due to conference travel, we will not be devoting any of these final class sessions to workshopping the final paper for the course; I want those sessions to remain focused on new content. However, I will help organize (by reserving a room and coordinating a time) an extra class session during which we can do some workshopping during the final week of class, should the group be interested.
- Sunday 3/20, your collaborative syllabus should be finalized, and I will place a book order.
In determining individual grades for this assignment, I’ll assess the quality of your independently created mini-syllabus. I will also ask each seminar participant to send me a private email describing how the collaborate part of this assignment went. This will be an opportunity for students to identify the people who made particularly important contributions to the project – and also to identify anyone whose contributions were unhelpful, minimal, or nonexistent. Collaborative projects are always challenging, but collaboration is an increasingly important and marketable skill for humanities scholars to have in their arsenals. My expectation is that by this point in the semester participants in this class will be quite comfortable with one another and ready for this challenge. In asking you to provide me with peer feedback I’m not looking for you to throw anyone under the bus, nor am I looking to hand out prizes for whose ideas win the day, etc. I do want to find out from you what the process was like, and make sure that if there are problems with collaboration, as sometimes happens, that you and your classmates have a way of communicating that information to me.
Final conference paper, in steps (35%)
Your final paper for this class will be slightly longer than a paper you would actually present at a conference (3000-3500 words rather than 2500-2800), but shorter than the 25-page “seminar paper” that has often been standard for a graduate class. My goal here is to help you produce high-quality, well-researched writing that we both feel good about at the end of a reading-intensive semester—and that you might be able to actually present at a conference, and/or use as the basis for a scholarly article, in the future. All of your work on this project should be posted on the blog. For Steps 1-3 you should paste your work into the text of a blog post and upload your work as a Word file; for Steps 4 and 5, you only need to upload the Word file.
- Step 1: Some preliminary reflections on the topic of the conference paper you will need to write for this course. Nothing is binding at this point, but I do want you to spend some time early along in the semester thinking about what you might want to write about, based on your reflections on the syllabus, a brief perusal of relevant journals, and your interests and area(s) of specialization more generally. What kinds of questions do you think you’ll want to pose and investigate in your paper? What kinds of texts would you be interested in exploring? What methodological approaches (close reading, archival research, theoretical apparatuses) are of interest? 400-500 words. Due Friday 2/12.
- Step 2: A preliminary annotated bibliography, including primary texts and secondary readings that you plan to use for your final paper. Annotations for each entry do not have to be extensive. At the top of your bibliography you should provide a brief description of the critical questions you want to explore in the paper, and a working thesis statement (it can be messy, but do take a stab at writing one out). Due Friday 4/1.
- Step 3: A formal conference paper abstract detailing your argument, the text(s) you’ll be working with, and the stakes of your argument. 300 words. Due Friday 4/15.
- Step 4: A rough draft of your conference paper, at least 2500 words long. Due Friday 4/22.
- Step 5: A final draft of your paper, 3000-3500 words long. Due Friday 4/29.
I will give detailed written feedback on either the rough or the final draft of your essay. If you would like that feedback on your rough draft, let me know and I will prioritize reading through it as quickly as possible after you submit it; you may even want to get it to me early in order to maximize the time you have to revise your work before the final deadline. If you choose this option, I will take a quick look at the final draft as I finalize course grades, but you won’t get a second round of written feedback from me. I will be more than happy to meet with you over the summer to discuss your work. Otherwise, I will take a quick look at your rough draft but provide more substantial feedback on the final draft of the paper.