Course Overview

Given the fact that Africa is a continent with 54 countries and over 3,000 languages, it is quite difficult to generalize about “the” African writer or African writing as a whole. Africans write in every form imaginable, from folktales, to realist novels, to fantasy fiction, and, like writers everywhere, they write about a wide range of topics. In order to anchor our readings for the semester and to be able to connect our texts together into a continuous conversation, we will focus on one theme in particular: violence. Our task will be to use literature to think about the forms of violence that have been inflicted on Africa (through racism, colonialism, economic policies, etc.) and to understand the complex ways that violence operates on the continent today. In other words, I will ask us to try to understand how violence works without falling into the trap of seeing Africans as inherently violent and without reducing Africa to what author Chimamanda Adichie (of Beyoncé fame) calls a “the single story.” We will therefore examine how violence co-exists with love, compassion, desire, and everydayness, and we will be asked to question narratives that see Africans as victims in need of saving. In the process, we will find ourselves reading everything from a coming of age novel about a young school girl in Zimbabwe (Nervous Conditions), to an epic story about relationships and psychiatric diseases during the Sierra Leonean civil war (The Memory of Love), to a novel narrated by a disgruntled dog (Dog Days). The novels, essays, film, and short stories we encounter will cover topics such as colonialism, independence, war, education, gender, race, class, romance, AIDS, homosexuality, xenophobia, and immigration.

Required Books:*

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Nigeria)

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe)

Dinaw Mengestu, All Our Names (Ethiopia/Uganda/US)

Patrice Nganang, Dog Days (Cameroon)

Aminatta Forna, Memory of Love (Sierra Leone)

Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow (South Africa)

Chimamanda Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck (Nigeria/US)

All other readings will be available on our course website. The password is: LIT225

*You may use books either in print or digital form. However, if you do use a digital version make sure that it contains all the pages (many books found for free on Google books do not) and make sure that your digital version has page numbers that will match up with the paper version. It is important that everyone be able to find the same passage on the same page number without wasting too much time. Furthermore, whatever form your book comes in, you MUST bring it to class with you.

Course objectives:

  • To familiarize students with the range and diversity of writing across the African continent
  • To expose students to major African writers as well as new, emerging voices
  • To explore how the political and economic crises of the past century have shaped African literary culture
  • To develop students’ critical thinking, writing, and communication skills through presentations, academic essays, and class discussion
  • To enable students to practice writing, reading, and research in the internet age
  • To cultivate independent thinkers who learn to analyze “foreign” texts on their own terms and will be unafraid to continue doing so after the course ends

The General Education Program:

Lit 225 meets the General Education Program requirement under Area One, The Creative Arts. Of the three learning objectives under Area One, we will focus on the second objective, to “situate creative works, and judgments about those creative works, in their appropriate social and historical context.” For more information on Area One, see

http://www.american.edu/provost/gened/AreaOne.cfm

Additionally, the reading, writing, and research assignments in this class are designed with the following General Education learning objectives in mind:

Aesthetic Sensibilities: Critical reflections on the nature and history of beauty and art.

Communication Skills: Interchanging ideas and information through writing, speech, and visual and digital media.

Critical Inquiry: Systematic questioning and analysis of problems, issues, and claims.

Diverse Perspectives and Experiences: Acquiring knowledge and analytical skills to understand a variety of perspectives and experiences, including those that have emerged

from the scholarship on age, disability, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.

Innovative Thinking: Venturing beyond established patterns of thought in imaginative and creative ways.

Ethical Reasoning: Assessing and weighing of moral and political beliefs and practices, and their applications to ethical dilemmas.

Information Literacy: Locating, evaluating, citing, and effectively using information.

Teaching Philosophy:

This is a student-driven class and is deliberately designed so that the questions and ideas students have are what forms and shapes discussions, papers, and exam questions. In order to meet the above objectives, students are required to take ownership of their engagement with the materials. I tend not to provide reading questions or discussion questions because I do not want to focus attention on only the aspects of the reading that I find to be most interesting, and I do not want students to feel like the point of reading and writing is to figure out what the instructor wants them to say. Rather, I want to see what students find to be note-worthy and then I will lend my guidance and expertise to those questions. Above all, I want to cultivate independent thinking in the classroom with the hope and expectation that as independent thinkers, students will be best prepared to engage ideas and cultures beyond the classroom.

Workload:

You should expect to put in an average of 3-4 hours of reading before each class session, or 6-8 hours of reading per week. (Blog posts, papers, and exams will require additional work). Typically, we will be reading about one novel per week, though some weeks we will read essays, short stories, or watch films instead of reading a novel. Please note that because all novels are not equal in length, you will occasionally need to allocate more time and, likewise, will occasionally catch a break and have a lighter reading week. Please look ahead to give yourself enough time to complete the reading.

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