Contemporary Sub-Saharan African Writers (55+)

In recent years, many original and talented writers from sub-Saharan Africa have gained international attention. As suggested by Sisonke Msimang’s memoir title, Always Another Country, African authors often write, publish and become known outside their countries of origin. Not surprisingly, issues of identity, culture and displacement are common artistic preoccupations.

We’ll examine complete and excerpted works from several contemporary voices of African origin, many of them young. Titles include This Book Betrays My Brother, by Kagiso Lesego Molope; Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah; and We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. A Kenyan-born poet who lived in Uganda will also visit and read from her work.

Note: This course involves required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Introduction: Selecting African writers.

The problem of category choices from “sub-Saharan Africa” reflects complex issues concerning homelands and identities. Like writers elsewhere, African writers must negotiate languages, politics and censorship, but in unique ways. We will watch a film clip from the movie Skin and consider the ideas of Taiyi Selasi on national versus local identities. Students will have a chance to share what drew them to the course. We’ll briefly review the terminology used to discuss literature.

Week 2: Universal Literary Themes Seen Through African Lenses.

The variety of short works and excerpts in the course pack portray universal themes of class divisions, gender roles, family dynamics, miscommunication, social pressures and condoned violence. We will discuss the works assigned last week in thematic terms.

Week 3: Contemporary Themes in Contemporary African Writings.

We will continue to discuss readings from the course pack, as assigned last class. Returning to the issues of African identity raised in Week 1, we will also observe how writers portray society’s promotion of illusionary “pure” monolithic ethnicities and examine the social disapprobation faced by people who do not fit into simple categories.

Week 4: Post-Apartheid South Africa: This Book Betrays my Brother.

First published in South Africa in 2013, this novel won the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for Youth Literature. The title expresses teenage narrator Nadeli’s conflict. After she witnesses an act of socially sanctioned violence by the brother she loves, the author slowly reveals the events that disrupted her young life.

Week 5: Discussion of This Book Betrays my Brother, continued.

Many of the issues raised in Molope’s novel echo those in reports we see in contemporary media. Though the story takes place in the new South Africa of the 1990s, the author makes no direct reference to recent political developments in her teenage narrator’s country. In what ways is this a story that could happen anywhere?                                                               

 Week 6: Themes and Motifs, Learnings and Live Poetry Reading.

Using focus questions, we will discuss the thematic impact of the works we have examined and share our thoughts about what we’ve learned. We will also enjoy listening to some poetry read by a Kenyan poet now living in Canada.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

  • Kagiso Lesego Molope, This Book Betrays My Brother

This book will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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