Teaching African Literature

Allen Webb, Aedin Clements, and Arthur Camara

African Folktales

African Literature for Children and Young Adults

African Novels for the High School Curriculum

A Selection of Resources on the World Wide Web

African Folktales

Aardema, Verna. Anansi Does the Impossible! An Ashanti Tale. Ill. by Lisa Desimini. NY: Atheneum, 1997. Verna Aardema is from New Era, Michigan. According to Something About the Author (vol. 107), Aardema has ìnever been closer to the shores of Africa than Florida (5). Aardema's earlier published works were collections rather than single stories, and these include bibliographies showing that translations by missionaries and ethnologists from Europe were one of her main sources. --.

Bimwili and the Zimwi: A Tale From Zanzibar.

How the Ostrich got its Long Neck: A Tale from the Akamba of Kenya. Ill. by Marcia Brown. NY: Scholastic, 1995. Told to a NY schoolteacher traveling in Kenya.

Koi and the kola Nuts: A Tale from Liberia. Ill. by Joe Cepeda. NY: Atheneum, 1999. The original source is Koi and His Heritagî in a booklet, ìNemo and Other Storiesî published by the National Fundamental Education Centre, Klay, Liberia, 1954, as part of the Each One Teach Onî program.

Diakite, Baba Wague. The Hatseller and the Monkeys. Scholastic, 1999. Diakite, the author and illustrator, is from Mali, in West Africa. The tale has variants in many parts of the world, perhaps the best known here in the U.S. being Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Gatti, Anne. Tales from the African Plains. Paintings by Gregory Alexander. NY: Dutton, 1994. ìPaintings by Gregory Alexanderî is the statement that gets the larger print on the title page. ìRetold by Anne Gattiî is in minute print. The back-of-book information tells us that Anne Gatti writes a nature column in England. Gregory Alexander has traveled extensively in Kenya, and his artwork, inspired by African tales and art, appears to be the main motivation for this book.

Kurtz, Jane. Fire on the Mountain. Ill. by E. B. Lewis. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Authorís note in back of book: ìAs a child growing up in Ethiopia, I heard the story ìFire on the Mountainî a number of times.î Kurtz goes on to explain that the sister in this retelling is her own introduction, but that there is a tradition of strong women in Ethiopian stories. Jane Kurtz, the daughter of American missionaries, grew up in the village of Maji in southwestern Ethiopia.

Mollel, Tololwa M. The Orphan Boy. Ill. by Paul Moran. Oxford U. P., 1990. Mollel is from Tanzania, and lives in Canada. This story is a retelling of one that was told to him by his grandfather. After Mollel left Tanzania to study in Canada, he ìgot enough distance from his Maasai roots to recognize the depth of experience related in the fables and myths his grandfather told him as a childî (Something About the Author, vol. 88, 141).

Nevin, Tom. Zamani: African Tales from Long Ago. Nairobi, Kenya: Jacaranda Designs, 1995. Illustrated by various African artists. The author, a white South African, has worked as a journalist in many parts of Africa. He has collected folktales himself and he has also built up a large collection of published folktales. There is a ìKeeperís Introductionî before each story, setting the scene in terms of place and tradition.

Onyefule, Obi. Chinye: A West African Folk Tale. Ill. by Evie Safarowiez. NY: Viking, 1994. Compare with the African-American tale, The Talking Eggs Onyefule is a member of the Igbo people of Nigeria. He has been collecting folktales of the Igbo for many years.

Paye, Won-Ldy and Lippert, Margaret H. Why Leopard Has Spots: Dan Stories from Liberia. Ill. by Ashley Bryan. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1998. African Studies Association award winning book. Won-Ldy Paye is a member of the Dan ethnic group in northeastern Liberia. He belongs to a storytelling family, and so became trained in storytelling when he was growing up. In addition to the stories, this book includes explanations of the storytelling tradition in the Dan culture, with notes on each story and the circumstances when they were usually told.

Steptoe, John. Mufaroís Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale. Lothrop, 1987. John Steptoe (1950-1989) was an American illustrator and writer, who saw a need for ìbooks that black children could honestly relate to.î This book won the Coretta Scott King Award, and is available on a ìReading Rainbowî video.

African Literature for Children and Young Adults


Khorana, Meena. Africa in Literature for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliography of English-Language Books. Westport, CT: Greenwod Press, 1994. African and Western authors are represented. The annotations are substantial.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers. New Providence, NJ: Bowker, 1992. The second half of this bibliography deals with the world outside the U.S. There are three chapters on Africa, one for North African and the Middle East, one for Sub-Saharan Africa, and one devoted to South Africa. The bibliography is a very good source for teachers seeking age-appropriate books that can easily be found in U.S. libraries.

Rochman, Hazel. Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World. Chicago: ALA Books/Booklist Publications, 1993. ìMulticulturalî bibliography. The section on Africa consists of a small selection of books considered suitable for high school.


Hunt, Peter. International Companion Encyclopedia of Childrenís Literature. Edited by Peter Hunt, associate editor, Sheila Ray. NY: Routledge, 1996. ìEnglish-Speaking Africaî by Jay Heale, pp. 795-801. A survey writing and publishing for children in Africa. Notice that the body of literature published in Africa for Africans is not the same as the body of African literature that is available in the United States.

Maddy, Yulisa Amadu and Donnarae MacCann. African Images in Juvenile Literature: Commentaries on Neocolonialist Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1996. Criticism of the portrayal of Africa and of Africans that is found in literature by non-African people and by white South Africans.

Bookbird World of Children's Books- Quarterly journal of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Youth. Most issues are on a theme, e.g. postcolonial childrenís books. The Spring 1998 issue (vol. 36, no. 1) is a special issue on African childrenís literature.

African Novels for the High School Curriculum

Chinua Achebe¹s novels Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease, A Man of the People, Arrow of God, and Anthills of the Savannah trace the history of Nigeria from colonialism to the present. All are approachable classics appropriate to the classroom.

Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born is a challenging radical novel from Ghana. Two Thousand Seasons set during the period of the slave trade and describes the cultural nationalism needed to rebuild Africa in the aftermath of slavery. The Healers is more approachable than Armah's other works. A teenage protagonist resists colonialism by organizing village healers.

Mariama Ba's epistolary novella So Long A Letter examines polygamy from a woman's perspective.

J.M. Coetzee, winner of the 2003 Nobel prize is well know for his allegorical depictions of the colonial relationships. His best known work, approachable for secondary students is Waiting for the Barbarians. Foe is Friday's version of the Robinson Crusoe novel.

Tsitsi Dangerembga¹s Nervous Conditions is an engaging and disturbing coming of age novel from Zimbabwe.

Gorgui Dieng's A Leap Out of the Dark is the first English language novel published in Senegal address the importance of indigenous African languages in political change. (Copies available from Dr. Dieng at gdieng@ucad.sn.)

Buchi Emecheta's Joys of Motherhood is an ironic novel about moving from the village to the city in colonial Nigeria­a great work for exploring the role of women in modern Africa, tribal vs. modern customs, the Third World urban crisis, etc. Similar issues are addressed in The Double Yoke. Second Class Citizen and In the Ditch address challenges that face Nigerians living in London.

Nadine Gordimer won the Noble prize for her brilliant writing on the theme of Apartheid in South Africa. Her best known novel is Burger's Daughter; her short stories may be more approachable.

Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure is justly one of the most canonical works in the francophone (French) African tradition. Works well in the classroom as it examines European civilization from the point of view of an African from Senegal who travels to Paris to study philosophy.

Camara Laye's Dark Child, another francophone classic, describes the tribal youth and the distance that a young boy moves from his home community when he enters a colonial school.

Rene Maran's Batouala is one of the early francophone texts written by a black Martiniquian administrator in French West Africa in 1921; the novella portrays the vitality of African culture.

Mark Mathabane's Kafir Boy reveals the nature of South African Apartheid from the point of view of a teenage African boy who falls in love with the sport of tennis. In the next volume of this autobiography Mathabane tells the story of his immigration to the United States. His story was made into a film.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o, one of the best known East African authors, writes novels that are challenging and politically engaged. One might begin with Weep Not, Child.

Flora Nwapa's Efuru tells the life of a precontact Ibo tribe (modern day Nigeria) from the point of view of female villagers. Considered one of the most important African women writers, the novel makes a very interesting comparison with Things Fall Apart.

Ferdinand Oyono's The Old Man in the Medal describes a man who is rewarded for his cooperation with colonialism yet begins to question his beliefs.

Alan Patan's Cry the Beloved Country is the chestnut of South African literature. Written in 1949 at the start of Apartheid, it chronicles the separations of race and economics that still mark not only South Africa, but the world.

Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North is a compelling Sudanese work about the lasting and disturbing effects of receiving a European education.

Ousmane Sembene, a francophone writer from Senegal, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of African literature. His radical novel God's Bits of Wood works well in the classroom. Xala is a short but powerful novella that has become an allegory of contemporary Africa. There are fine short stories in Tribal Scars and Other Stories.

Aminata Sowfall's The Beggar's Strike is a short, ironic novel. What might happen if the beggars in a modern African city went on strike?

Definitely not written from an African perspective, nonetheless Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a powerful critique of Belgian colonialism. See Achebe¹s famous essay, "Racism in Heart of Darkness" and read along with African titles such as Things Fall Apart, Efuru, Ambiguous Adventure, etc. (Other problematic literary depictions of Africa include Tarzan by Burroughs and King Soloman's Mines by Haggard.)

Watch for authentic African films and the video series Africa The Triple Heritage by Ali Mazuri.

Help students critique stereotyped versions of Africa, such as Disney's The Lion King or Tarzan, etc.

Works such as Decolonizing the Mind and Writers and Politics by Ngugi, Manichean Aesthetics by JanMohmad, Resistance and African Fiction by Lazarus, and In My Father¹s House by Appiah are all valuable works addressing African literature. Wretched of the Earth by Fanon and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Rodney provide important background on colonialism.

African Literature A Selection of Resources on the World Wide Web

African Literature: Starting Points on the World Wide Web

Hans Zell Publishing, (Formerly The Electronic African Bookworm: A Web Navigator) This guide is to general web resources on Africa, with special attention to web sites on African books and publishing.

Femmes Ecrivains et Litterature Africain Francophone This site provides an attractive compilation of information on Francophone women writers of Africa. Entries include biographical information, bibliographies, and some poems and short stories. The web site is in French, with a briefer English version available.

University of Florida Libraries Africana Collection Page A section of the librariesí web site that serves as a compendium of information on African topics. Under "Literature" there are pages for individual poets and for childrenís authors, including biographic information, and in some cases, excerpts from their writings.

Children's Literature

African Children's Literature. This is an excellent starting point. A brief article by Lillian Temu Osaki seeks to define African childrenís literature. There are information pages on a selection of childrenís authors, and a good web links and bibliography section.

Africa Access Review Database An online journal compiled and edited by Brenda Randolph, which contains reviews and annotations of materials on Africa, mainly books for children and adolescents. In addition to reviews, books are given ratings and the grade level is indicated. Reviewers are all knowledgeable about Africa.

General Information on Africa: Background, Current Affairs, etc.

Africa Today This journal is available online by subscription through Project Muse. This means that it may be available through your university libraryís web site.

Africa News on the World Wide Web

Worldview Magazine Online

Daily Nation on the Web Kenya's main newspaper. The website also has access to The East African, a weekly newspaper.

Publishers on the Web African Books Collective The African Books Collective distribute books for a number of African publishing houses. The web site has links to some interesting publishers' sites.

African World Press, Inc. / Red Sea Press, Inc. New Jersey-based publishers that specialize in books on issues related to Africa. The catalog lists reference books and many works on African literature.

Baobab Publishers of Zimbabwe One of the attractions of this web site is a list of award winning books, indicating winners of such awards as the Noma Award, which is given to books published in Africa each year.

Jacaranda Designs Ltd. A Nairobi publishing house that publishes children's books written and illustrated by Africans.

Created by: allen.webb@wmich.edu
Revised Date: 10/03