Conference of the African Literature Association

21 Jun 2019 - 06:30
Poster of the African Literature Association's 45th Annual Conference & Meeting (Photo courtesy of African Literature Association)


In May, South African Research Chair in Archive and Public Culture (APC), Carolyn Hamilton and APC research associate, Professor Lesley Cowling (Wits University), attended the 45th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association, held in Columbus, Ohio, USA.  Both scholars offered papers that take their work on public intellectual life (see Babel Abroad: Rage, Reason and the Reshaping of Public Life, in press with Wits University Press) in new directions.

The conference extended over four days and involved 128 sessions. Three keynotes were delivered, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Carol Boyce Davies. Of interest to some APC-ers will be the fact that at least five sessions were on aspects of afrofuturism.

Hamilton presented on “Exiled Writings, Consecrated Sources and the Institutional  Displacement of Politically Potent Historical Discourse.” The paper engages critically with the way in which, in the period 1890-1936, productions of history by Black writers, typically operating in urban settings, were consigned out of the field of historiography and positioned as  literature. It then looks at the way in which oral productions of history by Black oral discoursers in the same period, typically in rural settings, were in turn, positioned as sources. This double manoeuvre not only denied historical authority to both of these forms of history production, but favoured the narratives of the rural informant as historically more authentic than the writings of the urban intellectuals, thereby lancing both forms of historical production of their discursive potency. The paper then discussed some of the implications of these moves for the Black Humanities today.

Cowling’s paper, Laying it “On the Line”: Aggrey Klaaste and the use of literary tactics for nation-building in South Africa looks at the editor of Sowetan, Aggrey Klaaste’s late 1980s and early 1990s nation-building project. The paper argues that Klaaste eschewed the conventional approach of political commentators, who tend to work in the arena of reasoned argument, using logic and evidence to make their case. Instead, he used the free space of the column in highly divergent ways, embracing a range of literary tactics. Klaaste mixed storytelling, characterisation, dialogue and scene-setting to promote nation-building among his readers and fellow political intellectuals. The column also modelled the ways different political players could be in dialogue, and persuaded his readers to consider an inclusive politics.