African Literature: Colonialism, Liberation, Disillusionment

We will meet for nine more weeks
Thursdays, February 9 through April 6, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Organized by Ibrahim Diallo of the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. … this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away. If it does that, it’s a miracle. –Chinua Achebe

With the reading of novels by Ousmane Sembene (Senegal), Tayeb Salih (Sudan), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) and Ngugu wa Thiong’o (Kenya), we examine four different areas of Africa as the peoples there emerge from European colonization. We witness the struggles of workers on strike before their full independence, anti-colonial resistance spanning from Mount Kenya to academic circles in London. As nations become independent we discover new and recycled forms of oppression, exploitation and war. In the midst of disillusionment, we see resolve and signs of what remains possible.

Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood) considered to be Ousmane Sembene’s masterpiece, rivaled only by Xala. The novel fictionalizes the real-life story of a railroad strike on the Dakar-Niger line that lasted from 1947 to 1948. Though the charismatic and brilliant union spokesman, Ibrahima Bakayoko, is the most central figure, the novel has no true hero except the community itself, which bands together in the face of hardship and oppression to assert their rights.

Season of Migration to the North (Arabic: موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال ‎‎ Mawsim al-Hiǧra ilā ash-Shamāl) is a classic post-colonial Sudanese novel by the novelist Tayeb Salih. Salih was fluent in both English and Arabic, but significantly chose to write this novel in Arabic. The novel is a counter-narrative to Heart of Darkness. It was described by Edward Said as one of the 10 great novels in Arabic literature.

Petals of Blood by Ngugu wa Thiong’o The novel largely deals with the skepticism of change after Kenya’s liberation from the British Empire, questioning to what extent free Kenya merely emulates, and subsequently perpetuates, the oppression found during its time as a colony. Other themes include the challenging of capitalism, politics, and the effects of westernization.

Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, tells the story of the Biafran War through the perspective of the characters Olanna, Ugwu, and Richard. The book jumps between events that took place during the early 1960s and the late 1960s, when the war took place, and extends until the end of the war.

Ibrahim Diallo was born in Guinea but has lived in Brooklyn, New York since his childhood. He has lived, worked, studied and/or travelled in nearly a dozen African countries. Ibrahim is one of the initiators of The Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group at The MEP.

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Day 2, Session 4—Southern Insurgency: Mass Movements Throughout the Global South

A presentation and discussion with Manny Ness and Lisa Maya Knauer
Manny Ness provides an expert perspective of three key countries where workers are fighting the spread of unchecked industrial capitalism: China, India, and South Africa. He considers the broader historical forces in play, such as the effects of imperialism, the decline of the international union movement, class struggle, and the growing reserve of available labor. Lisa Maya Knauer will look at other responses to neoliberal capitalism focusing on the Americas: resistance to anti-extractivist projects, refugee/migrant flows to the U.S., and organizing efforts by Central American workers in the U.S.

Lisa Maya Knauer is a founding member of the MEP and its predecessor, the Brecht Forum. She has taught a variety of classes on feminism and Marxism, and gender and capitalism. She is currently working with indigenous resistance movements in Guatemala, and with immigrant women workers in the U.S. In her day job, she is the chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. (you don’t need to include the academic affiliation if you don’t want)

Immanuel Ness is a political economist and professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He edits Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society and is the author of numerous works including Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism. He has worked and organized in the food, maintenance, and publishing industries.

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