Guest lecture: Madhu Krishnan, University of Bristol


Date: Thursday 5 October 2023

Time: 15.30 – 17.00

Location: E890

Literary Activism in Contemporary Africa: Praxis, Publics and the Shifting Landscapes of the “Literary”


In this paper I outline recent work on literary activism in Africa today. The concept of literary activism is as inchoate as it is (increasingly) ever-present. Wither the “literary” in literary activism? The “activism”? For some, literary activism stands apart from so-called “market activism”, detached from questions of representation and politics; whereas, for other, literary activism is intrinsically political, the very act of constituting spaces for literary engagement and activity a radical act of politics. I trace, then, the contested genealogies of the term, as well as the tensions which have undergirded it and which are linked to larger concerns about the nature of the “literary” and its “uses”. Contra the argument that literature can and must be disinterested, singular in its forms, I argue that the work of literary activists in Cameroon and elsewhere on the African continent demonstrates how even the most carefully-attuned work of aesthetics retains a political use and usage which cannot be separated from the question of activism. To do so, I look at the case of Bakwa (Cameroon), setting its work within a longer continental history of literature and activism which has spanned at least seventy years. Focusing particularly on the ways in which the colonial invasion fractured the creative ecology and linguistic imaginary, I explore how contemporary efforts to revitalise Africa-centred literary networks around translation can be seen as a crucial node in the larger nexus of social production and political activism.

Madhu Krishnan is Professor of African, World and Comparative Literatures at the University of Bristol. Her research considers contemporary African writing in the context of transnational, world and global literary production. To date, she has published three monographs: Contemporary African Literature in English: Global Locations, Postcolonial Identifications  (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), Writing Spatiality in West Africa: Colonial Legacies in the Anglophone/Francophone Novel (Boydell and Brewer, 2018 – part of the African Articulations series) and Contingent Canons: African Literature and the Politics of Location (Cambridge University Press, 2018 – part of the Elements series).