Conference at the University of Cambridge, May 1999
Dr Stephanie Newell is Smuts Research Fellow
in African Studies at the African Studies Centre, University of Cambridge,
Free School Lane, Cambridge, CB2 3RQ, England. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The African Readerships Conference, attended
by 73 people from Britain, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Italy,
was based on the simple premise that there are multiple groups of
readers both inside and outside Africa, and that discussions of African
readerships should include more than two homogenised groups of consumers,
one in the West and the other in Africa.
As the programme unfolded this premise was fulfilled;
a diversity of positions and approaches to the theme emerged. The production
of writings by people of African descent was of central importance to
speakers such as Vincent Carretta (Maryland) and Helen Thomas (London),
both of whom focused upon the eighteenth century and offered challenging
reappraisals of Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative. For T. Akachi-Ezeigbo
(Lagos) and Andrew Smith (Glasgow), the imperative was to undertake
sociological research into reader responses, to study what Africans
prefer to read, and to discuss with readers their responses to particular
texts. Other speakers, including Sarah Nuttall (Stellenbosch) and Caroline
Rooney (Kent), offered detailed theoretical insights into reading and
literature in Africa.
Thirteen short presentations involved postgraduate
researchers alongside eminent academics from Africa, the USA and Britain.
Curiously, many speakers used the example of Chinua Achebe's Things
Fall Apart to illustrate their comments about African readerships,
a phenomenon which provoked an important debate in the plenary session
about the persistence of a residual canon of African literature amongst
African storytellers were integral to the conference,
and several of the delegates were also well-known creative writers.
In an animated, thought-provoking presentation, the novelist Buchi Emecheta
described the discomfort her views have caused to power-holding elites
in Britain, be they publishers or white sisters in the academy: African
storytellers often uncover troubling political truths, she argued, and
her own narratives continue that tradition from a gender perspective.
The emphasis upon storytelling continued beyond the formal close of
the conference as Ephson Ngadya, the Zimbabwean entertainer, wove animal
stories into his dance routine and invited audience participation in
his performance. [end] [BPN, no 25, 1999, p 10.]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 25, 1999>>