Examining Canonisation in Modern African Literature


  • Tanure Ojaide, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, USA


This essay examines the idea of an African literary canon through the creative works of African writers, their criticism by African literary scholars, and the validation of African aesthetic values. Based on the premise that literature is a cultural production, modern African literature expresses the socio-cultural, historical, and other experiences as well as the sensibility of its people. Literary works that focus on certain criteria of cultural acceptability, African-ness, or Africanity constitute modern African literature and its canon. Since modern African literature is still relatively young compared to Western literatures, there have been debates and controversies over what is truly African literature. It is in the context of the people’s overall experience and the aesthetic considerations involved that canonisation will be discussed. Among these issues are the language of modern African literature and the current debate as to whether African writers in the West (North America and Europe) writing and publishing there are still African writers. Cultural identity and what constitutes what Abiola Irele describes as “the African imagination†will thus be the touchstones of any African literary canon. As a result of the postcolonial experience shared by many African and Asian societies, many of the issues relating to African literature and its canon will likely have parallel responses in modern Asian literary discourse.



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Author Biography

Tanure Ojaide, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, USA

Born in the oil-rich Niger Delta area of Nigeria, Tanure Ojaide was raised by his grandmother in a riverine rural environment. He attended a Catholic Grammar School and Federal Government College, Warri. Ojaide was later educated at the University of Ibadan, where he received a bachelor's degree in English, and Syracuse University, where he received both the MA in Creative Writing and PhD in English. A Fellow in Writing of the University of Iowa, his poetry awards include the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Africa Region (1987), the All-Africa Okigbo Prize for Poetry (1988, 1997), the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award (1988), and the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Award (1988, 1994, and 2003). Ojaide taught for many years at The University of Maiduguri (Nigeria), and is currently the Frank Porter Graham Professor of Africana Studies at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he teaches African/Pan-African literature and art. He received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for 1999/2000 academic year to collect and study the “Udje Dance Songs of Nigeria’s Urhobo People.†He has also received the Fulbright Research/Teaching Fellowship (2002/2003). He has published fifteen collections of poetry, a memoir, a short story collection, two novels, and five books of literary criticism. He has read from his poetry in Britain, Canada, France, Ghana, Israel, Mexico, Malaysia, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Spain, the United States, and South Africa. His poetry has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, and Spanish.




How to Cite

Ojaide, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, USA, T. (2009). Examining Canonisation in Modern African Literature. Asiatic: IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature, 3(1), 1–20. Retrieved from https://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/ajell/article/view/66