3 October 2010

Revolutionary Imagination

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6

Ousmane Sembène

Revolutionary Imagination

So far, in our African Revolutionary Writers Series, we have done well enough to provide sufficient dialogic material in each of the first five parts of the total of ten parts.

True, there are works not included yet, which we would wish to feature and will try to include the next time this course is run. Among them are writings of Paul Robeson and W E B du Bois; Oginga Odinga and Malcolm X; Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto and Samora Machel.

Gaps remain in the last four parts as they are planned. The CU still does not have electronic (“soft copy”) material from Steve Biko, Cheikh Anta Diop or Albert Memmi; Henry Winston; Sékou Touré, Julius Nyerere or Thomas Sankara.

We also don’t have anything from Ruth First’s book “Mozambican Miner: Proletarian and Peasant”, which should be of great topical interest today.

We have very little from women at all in this category of “African Revolutionary Writers”. Whose fault is that? Fault or not, the CU needs assistance to find more serious general revolutionary writing from African women, and not just from South African women.

Once again, the CU appeals to readers to come forward with suitable material. If all goes according to plan this African Revolutionary Writers Series will be run every year from now on, on one or another of the CU’s three main channels, which are SADTU Political Education, CU-Africa, and this Communist University channel or “pipeline”. The series can be improved. It is always work in progress, freshly made, and transmitted as a steady flowing resource for revolutionary study circles in and beyond Africa.

Please help if you can, by e-mailing texts, or URL links to texts, to dominic.tweedie@gmail.com.

This week’s part, called “Revolutionary Imagination”, was planned to show off some of Africa’s revolutionary story-telling, or fiction. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when the majority of African former colonies regained their national sovereignty, were also the boom years for the paperback book-publishing business worldwide. Companies such as Penguin Books and Heinemann (which had and still has a dedicated African Writers Series) popularised many African authors in English or in English translation during this time.

We would mention four, as a start.

Large parts of Ousmane Sembène’s 1960 “God’s Bits of Wood”can be read on Google Books. This novel is about a strike among railway workers on the line between Dakar, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali, in the time of the French colonial empire. Ousmane Sembène, who died in his eighties in 2007, was also an outstanding film-maker.

Ayi Kwei Armah’s 1968 “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born” also has parts visible on Google Books. This is a post-independence “not yet uhuru” story based in Ghana.

The late South African writer Alex La Guma and the mercifully still surviving Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o should also be more fully featured in this part, next time around.

Did the African writers create a “genre”? At least one could say that they were typically open and keen to portray life and personalities as they were. They represented a revolutionary, generally optimistic (but sometimes tinged with disillusion) popular imagination that was widespread in those years, at least among African intellectuals. One of the highlights of those years was “FESTAC”, The Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture, held in Nigeria in 1977.

Is there continuity today? No. It is not the same today. Culture is now more “globalised”, the consequence of a reactionary, neo-liberal Imperial offensive. The sense of an African anti-Imperialist popular cultural wave has lost momentum, for the time being. But we are working on the problem!

This post goes out early. The next one is scheduled to go out in ten days’ time from now.

Image: Ousmane Sembène

1 comment:

  1. Good morning Comrades,
    I just wanted to add that Semebene Ousmane was a communist and a member of our Party (Parti africain de l'Independance (PAI) and then PIT (Parti de l'independance et du Travail) du Senegal from 1957 to his death in 2007. Before that he was a member of the PCF (French Communist Party) while sojourning in France.

    Ayi Kewi Armah is a ghanaian Marxist who for the last 25 years has been living in Senegal where he continues to write and groom young writers through a School he runs from the coastal village of Popenguine


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