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Summary: This collection provides a comprehensive formulation of what Irele calls the "African imagination" as manifested in the oral traditions and modern literature of Africa and the Black Diaspora. He illuminates works by Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Hampaté Bâ, and Ahmadou Kourouma, among others, and examines the growing presence of African writing in the global literary marketplace and the relationship between African intellectuals and the West.
"Abiola Irele is not only one of the most prominent African critics writing today, but an intellectual figure of commanding importance in an international frame. No one has a subtler appreciation of Africa's present-day cultural complexities. No one has a deeper understanding of the role of the humanities in postcolonial Africa. His trenchant intelligence supports not the byplays of academic disputation, but the judicious, thoughtfully argued positions that have earned his unrivaled position of leadership among that continent's intelligentsia."
--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard University
"The quality of mind and imagination revealed in the essays in this book on the African imagination confirm Abiola Irele's status as the doyen of Africanist literary scholars worldwide. Irele writes with full command of the most current idioms and protocols of critical theory and cultural criticism but does so with the elegance, clarity, and gravity that are often lacking in the intellectual culture of postmodernism. Without ignoring the defeats, dilemmas, and perplexities of the African humanities in the postcolonial era, this book plots the remarkable achievements of the literatures and literary movements of Africa and the African diaspora in the last half century. It will undoubtedly take its place as one of the most significant acts of sustained intellectual reflection on the articulations between African letters and cultural modernity in the last three or four decades."
--Biodun Jeyifo, Cornell University
"The African Imagination is a brilliant rethinking and rereading of both the canonical and emergent texts of African literature, as sensitive to its local sources as it is to its global reach, original in its conceptualization of themes and bold in its critical framework, and, ultimately, magisterial in its judgments. Irele writes with authority, and his style is both learned and inventive. His immense knowledge of both European and African literary traditions and texts enables him to open up a set of conversations between and across traditions that are sometimes assumed to be at odds with one another. His sense of relation between African literature and its intellectual and historical context takes us well beyond worn-out notions about postcolonial theory and black difference."
--Simon Gikandi, University of Michigan
Oxford Universtiy Press Web Site, October, 2002
1. The African Imagination
2. Orality, Literacy, and African Literature
3. African Letters: The Making of a Tradition
4. Dimensions of African Discourse
5. A Study in Ambiguity: Amadou Hampaté Bâ's The Fortunes of Wangrin
6. Narrative, History and the African Imagination: Amadou Kourouma's Monnè, outrages et défis
7. The Crisis of Cultural Memory in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
8. The Return of the Native: Edward Kamau Brathwaite's Masks
9. A National Voice: The Poetry and Plays of John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo
10. Parables of the African Condition: The New Realism in African Fiction
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