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‘African Literatures’: A Conference Focuses on a Continent’s Plural Ways of Writing

/ 04 Nov 2021

‘African Literatures’: A Conference Focuses on a Continent’s Plural Ways of Writing

The richness and variety of writing by African authors was the focus of the recent International Conference on African Literatures, hosted by the Spain’s University of Oviedo in cooperation with the cultural foundation El Pájaro Azul.

African literature has regained global interest recently, in the wake of the Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Gurnah’s victory was not the motivation for the conference, whose topic was chosen months before. Still, it was cause for celebration.

“There is a welcome among Spanish cultural circles for Gurnah’s winning the Nobel this year,” said Ahmad Abdulatif, a Madrid-based Egyptian translator and novelist who participated in the conference. “First because he is a good novelist, and secondly because he is an African writer, who belongs to a marginalized continent.” (See a related article, “Abdulrazak Gurnah: ‘Arab’ Nobel Laureate Is Little Known to Arabs.”)

Colonial Influence and Diversity

“The conference is aware of the differences between African countries, so it chose the title ‘African Literatures.’ There is no single African literature.”

Ahmad Abdulatif   A Madrid-based Egyptian translator and novelist

The plural “African Literatures” in the conference’s title highlights the diversity and plurality that characterize literature by African writers, as well as the diversity of variables that left their imprints on Gurnah and others.

“The conference is aware of the differences between African countries, so it chose the title ‘African Literatures.’ There is no single African literature,” Abdulatif told Al-Fanar Media in an interview.

“Colonialism may have brought together many African countries, but even colonialism’s results varied from one country to another,” he added. “This is why we find the roots of culture and language in the Maghreb greatly different from those in Egypt.”

“Other sub-Saharan African countries, like Mali, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivoire, were most affected by colonialism that forcibly imposed its language on them to be the entire nation’s language. So, colonialism can be understood as a major issue in African literature, paralleled by issues of immigration and the conditions of immigrants in Europe.” (See a related article, “Hard Lessons: North African Writers on Education.”)

Attachment to One’s Roots

The comments of participants from different African countries included the effects of colonialism and the value of oral heritage. In her presentation, Souad Hadj-Ali, an Algerian novelist who writes in French and Spanish, spoke about Algeria’s history with colonialism, and its impact on French-written Algerian literature.

The International Conference on African Literatures was held over three days in late October at Spain’s University of Oviedo in cooperation with the cultural foundation El Pájaro Azul. Sessions were also available online. (Photo: El Pájaro Azul)
The International Conference on African Literatures was held over three days in late October at Spain’s University of Oviedo in cooperation with the cultural foundation El Pájaro Azul. Sessions were also available online. (Photo: El Pájaro Azul)

Fatoumata Fathy Sidibé, a Mali-born Belgian writer, talked about her immigration to Belgium as a child with her family, and her path to becoming a lawmaker, poet and storyteller.

Abdulatif represented Arabic literature in the conference. “My participation focused on my writing experience, both the works I wrote in Egypt and the novels I wrote in Spain, like (“Fortress of Dust”), which was recently translated into Spanish,” he said. “The novel touches Arab and Spanish history.”

He also discussed his novel “Legs That Know Unprompted When to Leave”and his latest story collection, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Kingdom and His Fable Birds.”

“The central question of my participation was, can immigration produce its literature? Do we recognize ourselves through immigration?” said Abdulatif, who resides between Egypt and Spain.

“My participation focused on my writing experience, both the works I wrote in Egypt and the novels I wrote in Spain, like ‘Fortress of Dust,’ which was recently translated into Spanish.”

Ahmad Abdulatif  

“My suggestion was that we are attached to our roots anyway, but emigration has a great addition to our vision of ourselves and our culture. If ideas change and evolve when one emigrates to strange environments, as Edward Said held, then man is exposed to this change and so is literature.”

Different Contexts

The cultural components of African Arab countries impose specific literary themes, different from those characterizing sub-Saharan African fiction, says Abdulatif. “African literature is generally associated with colonialism and its effect, not only during the occupation but about the French and British domination on African countries even after independence,” he said.

“On the other hand, Egyptian fiction took another direction. Apart from some exceptional works by Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian fiction, for example, was not concerned with colonialism as a fictional theme or space,” said Abdulatif.

“Literature is ultimately the product of its context,” he added. 

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El Pájaro Azul focuses on education and health, and pays special attention to Africa, building bridges of dialogue with its writers, artists and scholars.

This year, the foundation gave the public a greater opportunity to follow the conference’ panels, by making them available online. In the closing event, it organized an open dialogue between the participants and Ismael Diadié, a prominent Malian thinker and historian.




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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام