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English-the common denominator of Africa
June 18, 2014

I hope you are doing well? As I create this issue of the Book Lovers Club News, I am enjoying monsoons in a small town of West Bengal in India along with fresh water fish and juicy mangoes.So I am not doing very badly too!

We talked about Indian writing in English in our last edition. There are many other countries that produce a substantial portion of their local literature in English. In the case of Africa, an entire continent produces world renowned volumes of literature in English.

African Writing in English

 Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe A large part of Africa is illiterate. The part of Africa that is literate has a milieu of several hundred languages. Nigeria alone has over a hundred native languages. English serves as the common denominator for Africa. This, coupled with the colonial history of Africa, makes it a hotbed of English literary writing.

And why just English, Africans have produced significant volumes of literature in Arabic, French and Portuguese languages also, learning these languages from their colonizers.

English was introduced to Africa during the colonization period. Heart of Darkness (1899), written by Joseph Conrad during this time has been criticized as a racist novel. King Solomon’s Mines (1885)by Sir H.R. Haggard, is another best seller that portrays many colonist attitudes.

Much earlier than these works, however, the first slave narrative in English was published in 1789 from Great Britain. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was an autobiography of an Ibo man, kidnapped and enslaved by the British. It talked about the injustices of slavery and its consequent cultural destruction. Many more works were produced in the 1900s in Africa with a similar consciousness of African native culture. These works decried the colonizing Western culture that attempted to destroy African values by labelling them ‘pagan’ and ‘primitive’. The most popular work in this category is perhaps Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart(1958).

After this wave of anti-apartheid literature, African literature has now grown further to accommodate more diverse themes like social corruption, economic disparities and women’s issues. Some of this literature is in English. The works of Sony Labou Tansi, Henri Lopes, Yambo Ouloguem, and Ahmadou Kourouma belong to this category. Nobel Prize winning author J M Coetzee’s works like Life & Times of Michael K and Disgrace are also illustrative of this kind of African Writing. Wole Soyinka's The Interpreters (1965) is another famous work in the same league.

Book Review Circle gossip

J M Coetzee is a prolific and much ornamented white writer of South African origin who has now accepted Australian citizenship. His move to Australia from South Africa has invited much speculation even as Coetzee himself does not offer any direct explanation for the move. Many say that the outrage in Africa after his publication of Disgrace was partly responsible for his decision to move out of Africa. Some also say that Coetzee could have run out of literary inspiration in his native land.

Book Review Circle suggested read:

Disgrace by J M Coetzee. To read a review of the novel click here

Test your Literary Quotient

See if you know answers to the following:
  1. Name the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
  2. Name the second African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
  3. Name the most popular indigenous African literary award


  1. Albert Camus(1957)
  2. Wole Soyinka(1986)
  3. The Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. The Award was given out annually between 1980 and 2009 after which it was discontinued because the Noma family terminated its sponsorship
Do write in to me at with your comments, updates and suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ok. I will leave you to munch on that.

Happy reading till we meet again.


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