Feminist and Womanist Criticism
of African Literature:
By Sharon Verba
July 20, 1997
Those women who struggle without giving up hope, herald the impending change...: change in attitude for both men and women as they evaluate and re-evaluate their social roles.... -Rosemary Moyana, "Men & Women"
Rereading, willful misreading, and de- and re-coding are tools used in African literature and womanist or feminist discourse to challenge "canonized 'literature'" that tends to black out Black and blanch out Woman. -Kofi Owusu, "Canons Under Siege"
[T]he collective effort has to emerge from the ranks of those whose life is theorized. -Sisi Maqagi, "Who Theorizes"
Feminist criticism of African literatures is a steadily growing field. The following bibliography includes articles and essays in English and French which examine African literatures (fiction, poetry, drama and oral literature) from a feminist or womanist perspective. It does not include, unfortunately, criticism in other languages -- such as Wolof, Xhosa, Zulu, Portuguese, German, or Arabic -- due to my own inability to read those languages. Also, authors whose works are originally written in languages other than French or English, such as Ngugi wa Thiongo's plays and the novel, Devil on the Cross, and Nawal al Sa'dawi's works, may be under-represented in this bibliography, as criticism often tends to be written in the language of the work being addressed.
The first sections of this essay will present overviews on two key issues for those interested in both feminism and African literatures: the current debate over the role of feminist criticisms in addressing African literatures, and an examination of the changes which have developed over the past decade in the ways feminist criticism approaches African literatures. This examination will trace these changes from 1985-1996 by considering articles which represent the ongoing evolution of feminist criticism in this field. Finally, this essay also includes a section which explains my methodology and sources in compiling the bibliography, and a section offering hints for future searches, especially of online indexes.
Feminist Criticism and African Literature
Many issues of concern to feminist/womanist thought are raised and addressed in these articles.(1) Among the issues taken up in the state of feminist theory and criticism are the importance of feminism as a literary critical method; the representation and mis-representation of women in literary texts; the education of women; the access of women to the economic means of survival; motherhood; women in the domestic sphere; women as part of their communities; women's role in politics and revolution; sexuality; and the direct treatment of women by men, and men by women. Underlying this array of specific interests are questions of gender in representation and of the reality or realities of life for women in Africa--past, present, and future. The arguments found in the articles in this bibliography present a multiplicity of views, a few of which may even be anti-feminist, but all of which make gender a basis of discussion, and all of which offer much for the consideration of feminist thought with respect to African literatures.
The state of feminist literary criticism/thought in Africa "now" is the direct focus of several of the articles, although all of the articles could be said in some degree or another to be a part of this particular debate. I put "now" in quotations, because these articles cover a broad range of time--1980-1996-- and those which focus on this particular topic present an evolving discourse. Two collections of essays in particular are noteworthy for their presentation of a range of ideas on feminism and literary criticism in Africa: Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature (1986) and South African Feminisms: Writing, Theory and Criticism 1990-1994 (1995).
Ngambika includes twenty...
Bibliography: of Criticism and Related Works." Ngambika: Studies of Women in African Literature. Ed. Carole Boyce Davies and Anne Adams Graves. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1986. 283-93.
Fister, Barbara. "Appendix V: Criticism." Third World Women 's Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 363-76.
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